A culture is defined by its heroes, a hero being one who embodies the virtues and advances the idea of that culture. Most heroes have embodied the military virtues of valor and marital skill, but it is perfectly reasonable to say that there have been cultures in which the heroes were holy men, philosophers, artists, or men of science. The key is that the hero is held up as an object of emulation, and that he was, in his day, an agent of the culture’s telos.
The greatness of a hero thus has a personal and a social aspect. The personal aspect comprises his virtues, such as strength, audacity, intelligence or artistic genius. The social aspect is his employment of these gifts in the advancement of what Spengler called the “destiny idea” of his group. A true rebel cannot be a hero to the people he rebels against, since he has put his virtues in the service of their confusion or destruction. An “evil genius” is evil because he turns his genius against his own group.
From this it follows that there can be no culture where there are no heroes, and that tearing down heroes is almost always an act of sabotage against the culture of which they are the heroes. This tearing down can involve, as we nowadays witness, violent demolition of monuments raised to affirm these heroes, but it also takes in all the weaselly besmirching known as historical “nuance,” “contextualization,” “objectivity,” or (to take a word from the saboteurs of Christianity) “demythologization.”
Setting aside all subtleties, no man is your friend if he is working (whether with a crowbar or word processor) to remove your heroes from their pedestals. There is, of course, a chance that your hero worship is misplaced, and this is where the subtleties creep in, but be forewarned that an empty pedestal will not remain empty for long, and if the hero on that pedestal is not your hero, he will be someone else’s hero.
All of this is prompted by a report that yet another rotten tomato has been tossed at the tomato-spattered traditions of Texas. You may have seen that a bureaucratic rabble known as the “State Board of Education Social Studies TEKS Streamlining Work Groups” has recommended that Texas seventh graders no longer be taught to admire Travis, Crocket and Bowie, but instead be taught to look upon the Alamo battlefield as
“ . . . . . . . . . . . a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”
Naturally, this is being justified with a mix of pragmatic and theoretical arguments. We are told that teachers’ lesson plans are overcrowded and in need of “streamlining,” and it is at least implied that students should view the past with the cool detachment of a Leopold von Ranke. Both arguments are absurd, and so all the more obviously lies. Like students everywhere, those in the public schools of Texas spend half of each day plucking crusted mucus with a dirty fingernail, and these slouching nosepickers could teach old Leopold a thing or two about cool detachment.
The ten worthies of the “State Board of Education Social Studies TEKS Streamlining Work Groups” tell us that “‘heroic’ is a value-charged word.” Indeed it is. It would be more accurate to say that it is a term of evaluation that we use to transmit our values to the next generation. With this word we tell students that here are worthy men and worthy deeds, so that if you–the student–were thinking of giving up the life of a slouching nosepicker, they–the heroes–would be an example worth following.
We could, of course, tell our young people that there are no worthy men or worthy deeds, and that there are, therefore, no examples worth following, but to do this with integrity would require us to close the schools.
The ten worthies many not know it, but education is a value charged word! And those who eschew value charged words must leave slouching nosepickers alone!
But I do not for one minute believe that this bureaucratic rabble has a beef with “value charged words.” Like everyone else in this world, they have a beef with words that express values not their own. I do not for one minute believe that they have a beef with heroes, only with the heroes of funny foreign folk. Which means heroes like Travis and Crocket and Bowie. As I have written before, the new battle cry of Texas is Forget the Alamo.
Which might seem like a roundabout way of saying that these bureaucrats are aliens. Except they are the State Board of Education. Which means it is you, Big Tex. You are the alien now.