Courage Alone Does Not Suffice

“If cowardice is the thing that has allowed for all of this, the force that stops this cultural revolution can also be summed up by one word: courage.”

Bari Weis, “We Got Here Because of Cowardice.  We Get Out With Courage.”  Commentary  (November 2021)

“Your courage alone, Proarchus, slew you in battle.” 

Anyte of Tegea (3rd century B.C.)

Courage is the foundation stone of virtue; but courage alone wins nothing but an early grave.  Bari Weis says many sensible things in the article I quote above, but there is no sense in her claim that courage is a force.  Courage is a resolve to use whatever force one may have without flinching, and force that is used without flinching is as great as that force can be; but courage by itself not a force.  This is why courage by itself never wins anything but an early grave.

Weis is, of course, correct to say that men without courage cannot stop the cultural revolution of Woke.  This is because the men who oppose this revolution have so little force in their hands, and therefore must not diminish that force by flinching.  But she is wrong—suicidally wrong—to suggest that the cultural revolution of Woke will vanish like a bad dream if a few brave men have the courage to say, “enough!”

I daresay Weis makes this suicidal error because she believes, like so many conservatives, that the American electorate is a “sleeping giant” and the conservatives in that electorate are a “silent majority.”  This myth holds that it requires only a few brave men to declare that “the emperor has no clothes” for the sleeping giant to wake, the silent majority to find their tongues, and the Woke to scamper like cockroaches when the kitchen light is turned on.

Faithful readers with good memories may recall this from a gloomy philippic I wrote last year:

“We grow a little less foolish when we admit that the “sleeping giant” is not a giant and that he will never be roused.  Our fellow Americans are managed by an extremely efficient system of propaganda and social control, and can be made to believe and do just about anything they are told.”

* * * * *

 “All that had to change for the entire story to turn out differently was for the person in charge . . . to say: No.”

 Bari Weis, “We Got Here Because of Cowardice.  We Get Out With Courage.”  Commentary (November 2021)

If a person in charge says no to Woke, someone else will very soon be in charge.  Is Bari Weis unaware that millions of people who thought they were in charge have “stood athwart history yelling stop,” whereupon these millions were, very suddenly, no longer in charge?  It counts for nothing to “say no,” or even to “yell stop,” when your enemies have all the power and very different plans.

To understand what we are up against, consider this quatrain from the proto-Woke New England poetess, Aella Greene.

“Who wars for right, hope well befits;
To him the stars are true;
For him there’s always Austerlitz
And never Waterloo!”

Greene published these lines in 1897 and titled her quatrain “Warring.”  The same triumphant spirit breathes in these lines from her 1872 poem, “The Yankee Westward.”

“They go to win a lasting name
For Yankees and the right,
And show to ‘redskin,’ Dutch and Celt,
Their shrewdness and their might;
. . . .
All that is sacred, fresh, or strong,
In Plymouth Rock and shore,
Transplanted in the widening West,
Shall live for evermore.”

People who thought they were in charge have been saying “no” to sanctimonious shrews like Aella Green for close to two hundred years, and when they did, those people were (to their but not my astonishment), no longer in charge.  I offer these lines in honor of their memory:

“Who wars against the Woke despair;
Bold ardor ill befits;
For them it’s always Waterloo
And never Austerlitz.”

And for those who like a history of the cultural revolution in verse:

“They go to win an early grave
From pious Yankees might,
And be they ‘redskin,’ Dutch or Celt,
Their fate is death and night;
. . . .
All that is vile, stinking, vain,
In Plymouth Rock and shore,
Transplanted to a vanquished word,
Shall rule for evermore.”

27 thoughts on “Courage Alone Does Not Suffice

  1. It is perfectly correct to state that we of the West lack courage as a society – are indeed much less courageous than even 40 years go.

    But the question is *why*, and the answer is the absence or feebleness of Christian faith – because only those who believe in a life beyond life can have real courage; otherwise worldly expediency is the only and best answer to any problem.

    I was reading Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars yesterday when he remarks on the unmatched courage in battle of the Ancient Britons (Celts) which he attributed to their complete confidence in a life beyond death from their druidic religion.

    Quite a compliment from Julius, I thought – given who he was, and what he had done!

    (Julius says the belief was reincarnation – but if so, it was a type in which personal identity was retained; since a Celt could borrow money on an IOU to be redeemed in the afterlife – which suggests that both borrower and lender would still be themselves after death.)

    • I spent much of yesterday with a colleague who is, to my knowledge, the only other Christian in my academic department. We are also the only two who doffed our masks when we were permitted to do so. I don’t think this is because we are indifferent to death, but we may be somewhat less intimidated by prospect (in this case remote). The timidity of academics faced with covid is of a piece with the general timidity of the modern men of the West. I think some of this is due to the feminization of our institutions. Females find male courage sexually attractive, but they find it threatening in men who are sexually out of bounds. Men on the other hand admire male courage in other men. In my experience, professional women prefer “beta orbiters” and “beta orbiting” has become the model for many professional men.

      This is not the only way the West has been discouraged, of course. The modern media have magnified the discouraging impact of the exemplary punishment of dissidents. A good deal of courage depends on the idea that someone is admiring one for one’s courage. Often that someone is just God. If one doesn’t believe in God and is told that acts of courage bring universal condemnation, one isn’t going to be very courageous.

      • This is not the point. The point is to fight. No one with a true conviction surrenders. The prospect of the fight may frighten. But courage is essential to fight, and only with it can one fight to win.

        In the academies for decades we heard the about the “marketplace of ideas,” the value of argument and evidence, the supremacy of exquisite rhetoric of a winning argument, etc. But academics gave up the fight with a whimper in 1968. Who was courageous enough to fight for his ideas over the past fifty years in the academy? Precious few! The academics and the administrators were pusillanimous sots from the get-go. Their lack of courage and conviction has brought their world to this pass. Now they reap what they have sown. Is it any wonder?

        Be courageous and fight like Christopher Rufo. Superior intellect, persuasive writing skills and he does not back down. This man is deserving of our patronage. He is a sterling example of a courageous intellectual, a man with skin in the game. There are many more behind him, showing themselves now. I am very hopeful. Why? The courage to fight.

      • It seems to me that your example of Christopher Rufo illustrates my statement that courage is necessary but not sufficient. If his intellect was not superior, and his writing not persuasive, his courage would be of no use. His intellectual and literary gifts are his power, and his courage is to use that power unflinchingly.

        Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind had a big impact on me. It came out when I was in graduate school and I was reprimanded by some professors when they saw it under my arm. I was not and still am not entirely on Bloom’s side, but his account of the Cornell faculty’s capitulation to the radicals still rings true.

      • If this were true a man is brave only when he is acting brave. But Aristotle tells us that a virtue is the disposition to reliably act in a virtuous, in this case a courageous, way. Aristotle would put this down to habit, not a mindset. But I would say we should call a brave man brave even when circumstances do not require him to act brave.

      • We’re going to have to disagree about this. A virtue is a property of a person and is only instantiated (and strengthened) in an act.

      • Not at all. One cannot be courageous without courageous acts because the virtue of courage is a disposition to reliably act courageously. You could consider yourself Mr. Universe in appearance if you reliably appeared as Mr. Universe in appearance, which I gather is not the case. An intelligent man remains an intelligent man while he is sleeping, and therefore exhibiting no intelligence. A vicious man is a vicious man even when he happens to be brushing his teeth or twiddling his thumbs.

    • In addition to courage, you need actual fighting or command skills. Charles Murray is courageous, but he has to hide behind a security detail and doesn’t inspire young warriors.

      This fight is visceral and territorial, not intellectual. You can marshal all the facts and statistics you want; the Left will not stop until they get punched in the mouth. If you can’t physically dispatch your opponent, you’re going to lose your territory and that’s that.

      I wish I were younger. Thirty years ago I worked out regularly and was in the Marine Reserve and was as strong as could be. I should have been starting paramilitaries, not striving to get in graduate school. Now I’m 57; most of the Orthosphere appears even older. The future belongs to whoever can conquer territory.

      • I’ve never been physically pugnacious and haven’t been in a roll-in-the-dirt fight for fifty years. But I was always fit and very seldom afraid. I recently developed what I suppose is arthritis in my right hand and am surprisingly depressed by the thought that I could not throw much of a punch. I’m still reasonably fit for my age, but the qualifier “for my age” gives additional grounds for depression. I’m not at anything like the risk of Charles Murray, but I know there are people who hate what I have written here. If someone punches me for that, and if it choose to turn the other cheek, I’d like the cheek turning to be a choice and not a necessity.

        Controlling territory is the ultimate thing, but it is not the only thing. In modernity one must first control organizations. And in the modern west those organizations are all feminized. I’m afraid that manliness is the road to unemployment, not power, in a feminized organization. The university has never been a bastion of virility, but I remember manly presidents and deans from thirty years ago. Now the top people who are not women are decidedly womanish.

      • @JMS: This ended up being the great shortcoming with classical liberalism. It never figured out how to defend itself from illiberal peoples.

      • It was really only one sort of illiberal people, namely the Communists. Liberals could fight wars against Communists, but they could not hate Communism. They were always “soft on Communism” because they at least half wished that it was true.

  2. Pingback: Sunday 17 October 2021. – Dark Brightness

  3. Hmm – no.
    “Never fight anyone crazier than you are” is a good rule, and occasionally someone with no power but more courage than sense can win simply because their opponents back down in confusion. Also, it is sometimes better to fight a fight you cannot win rather than to back down, simply to make it clear that attacking you carries a cost.
    And the collapse of the Soviet Union shows that the power of propaganda is greatly overestimated by those who use it.

    • Soviet propaganda was very primitive compared with that used in the West. Everyone in the Soviet Union recognized propaganda for what it was, whereas a great many people in the West do not.

    • “Never fight anyone crazier than you are” is a good rule, and occasionally someone with no power but more courage than sense can win simply because their opponents back down in confusion.

      This bespeaks your misunderstanding of power. If you had asked some Pentagon analyst who was more powerful, the Afghan raj or the Taliban, he would have looked at his spreadsheets and reports and told you the Afghan raj. But it’s not just a numeric fight; it’s a visceral, territorial struggle, and the Taliban fighting for Allah and pro patria are going to beat a corrupt, subservient raj with no will to power.

      Similarly, ideological conservatives (i.e., “principled” conservatives, as opposed to the uncouth Donald Trump) assume if only the Left could just see their unimpeachable facts, their elegant argumentation, their impeccable syllogisms, then everyone would just vote Republican and nobody would ever question the carried interest exemption ever again. This is childish thinking.

    • From this little I know of her, I doubt that is her intention; but it might well be the effect. The decision is very difficult. Cowardice often pretends to be prudence, but that does not mean that prudence is not a real thing.

      • I take it that Miss (Ms?) Weiss is a triple-minority – she is Jewish, she is female, and she is apparently a lesbian to boot. I’m not sure therefore that she is qualified to speak to courage, or to cowardice for that matter. She also hits the right notes in her article quoting Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. She should rather quote General Lee or General Jackson, et al., if she is as courageous as she lets on to be. Meanwhile, perhaps it has escaped her attention that the demographics have changed drastically in America and the larger West over the last, oh, 90 years or so?

        As you say, courage is a cardinal virtue, but courage alone could never have prevented our current predicament. This is part of the reason, btw, that I for one am not and have never been one of the kool kid Boomer bashers.

  4. @JMS – “I was not and still am not entirely on Bloom’s side”

    And for sure Bloom was not on Your side! To discover the details of Bloom’s personality and ‘lifestyle’ (including his fictionalized self in Bellow’s Ravelstein) was, ahem, disillusioning…

    “I don’t think this is because we are indifferent to death”

    It’s more about having a bigger cause, which genuinely motivates Men. And nowadays a ‘bigger’ cause needs to go beyond the expediencies of this mortal life – because They now have both overall, and also increasingly detailed, control over the reward-punishment aspects of this mortal life.

    There used to be societal niches where Their sway did not hold (some institutions, professions, churches) – but since 2020 many of these niches are now, very obviously – from their enthusiastic and explicit compliance with Their agenda priorities – just parts of The System.

    • I am vaguely aware of Bloom’s seedy side, and of the large question mark this sets against everything he wrote about absolute value. But I smelled a rat soon after I entered graduate school nearly forty years ago, and Bloom gave me some inkling of the nature of that rat. I’ll thank him for that even now when I know there was a good deal of rat about him.

      I think you are right about near universal cynicism. So many of the plaudits of the world are so obviously sham, and nothing appears to be free of “that hideous strength.”

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