The Courage of Conviction: For the United States of America, This Memorial Day

I do not see the need to be a critical thinker you can get that in the streets or on the playground as a child the need to grow up and accept people for who they are is much more beneficial.

comment by fire75034 on “The Irate Nation”

Jacob Howland’s reflections on Xenophon (“Xenophon’s Philosophic Odyssey: On the Anabasis and Plato’s Republic”) give us another source for virtue besides orthodoxy (“right opinion”). He makes the case that there is a philosophical courage, distinct from courage which is more explicitly tied to convention. I want to take that idea and push it a little farther than he did in his paper, and so I want to consider a more traditional courage as one source of virtue, and the contemplative as another source.

For that source of virtue – the proper thinking through of things, done in such a way that one comes to love the matter of inquiry – is a much surer basis for love of another and the resulting beautiful deeds than an emphasis on simplicity.

Fire is saying above that rationality is a child’s game that leads to an inflation of the ego at the expense of caring for another. He is echoing some Biblical wisdom on this matter, as well as our own common presuppositions: to be courageous, we think, requires that one asks no questions, but rush out and work for the common good as it is received. Similarly, we know we are human: I can see people have limbs like I do and desires like I have. Is that large amount of literal similarity not enough to be a basis for love? (It certainly is a basis for sensual love in many instances).

The Biblical wisdom adds something more to the common opinion – to love is divine, and it is divine precisely because it is so simple that it can be so easily taken for granted. And so it would seem the labors of the intellect do take lots for granted, that the intellect is a product of one mind seeking imperial domination, whether through technology or psychology or any organization of forces.

We as Americans do not support our own country when we conflate the Biblical teaching with a purposeful will to ignorance. Jefferson and the Founders, if they were aware of this conflation, would spin in their grave.

This country was founded as a matter of deliberation. People sat in stuffy rooms and spoke too much. Oftentimes, they would talk through things and come to the most unjust and idiotic conclusion possible: Benedict Arnold had spent incredible amounts of money financing the army (he had also lost a leg at Saratoga); when not compensated by Congress in any way, he went over to the British side (his wife was British).

But for all its problems, self-rule is only possible if the life of the mind is taken seriously. Deliberation is a homage to the life of the mind, if not a perfect instantiation of it.

And without self-rule, love is not possible.

Slaves cannot love: the Biblical wisdom that is emphatic on this regard is the teaching of Christ. Servants are themselves served by the King of kings, who gives the best to each, and encourages others to act like Him. Christ shall be all in all – we are most certainly not slaves.

Self-rule is not the mere fact of independence, it must be noted. Plenty of students say to me “I want income to pay back debts/have a place of my own/see the world/etc.” That is really a form of slavishness to materialism. Self-rule is when one can make the most of every second one has in life. In one sense, it comes from love: thought itself is the ultimate manifestation of love, as it is invisible yet purely devoted to an object.

At the same time, to insist love is so manifold that it exists without regard to thought – without the ability to see more than what simply is for what truly is – well. Perhaps the relation between the two is not that one is prior to the other, but that both need each other to exist fully.

My prayers today are for my country, which is blessed to have in its possession a rich and vibrant tradition that can be used for the sake of ruling ourselves in the highest sense. May we never think anything “simple” except for that which is literally obvious, the first obvious thing being that we are indeed free, and therefore responsible for the highest things.

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