Phraseology of bravery

From the ideology of activity which rules out undergoing, the phraseology of bravery arises, the doctrine of those who in all circumstances prefer persevering to weathering, and therefore opposes his own violence to the violence in the world. Through this activism courage is distorted, while on top of that it got an ethical emphasis in a feudal society that makes the misgivings almost ineradicable. Certain elements crept into the appreciation of courage that have to be liquidated as remnants of superfluous institutional violence. Courage as a virtue should be as much a passive weathering as an active perseverance and only as a total and exclusive activity can it remain without protest opposite violence, even if it fights violence. For then it gets into a dialogue with violence like an equal partner and accepts out of a so-called healthy realism its existence in such a self-evident way, that it also accepts its own violence. The phraseology of courage creates around the constituted violence an atmosphere of ethical completeness, in which it becomes justified. Courage cannot end violence, but definitely gives it a leg up. Peace is not a military task, but a matter for the technique of justice. It’s sooner the civil servant than the hero that redacts and affirms peace.

The glorification of courage gives it a substance and perspective it does not earn. Even Tillich adds to this, when he describes courage as ‘the self-affirmation of the being despite its non-being. It is the deed of the individual ‘self’ through which it takes on the fear of non-being, be it through the affirmation of himself as a part in a comprehensive whole, be it through the affirmation of himself in his individual selfness.’ [7]

Why is there talk of ‘being’ in this meritorious description? There is only one being that can be brave and that is a self, namely humans. For every other being the description does not hold. If it still gets involved, courage unjustly gets something like a metaphysical root or a cosmic perspective and the phenomenon is given in a quasi-philosophical way an expansion that makes it into an almost heavenly matter. Not as being, but as human, so from his culture and his need, which is to say: from his provisionality, humans are brave and that that bravery must not be glorified to the extent that the need for it was as it were prolonged only to maintain courage, just like wars can be prolonged to support war industries. Courage is only necessary for as long as the need takes; it endures the need, but does not make it into a virtue. When the need has passed, courage should make room for lust and be liquidated, before it hardens into the irrational and irascible willingness to impossible deeds at a moment, in which they might already be technically realizable without the ethical contamination of a temporary virtue. The phraseology of courage keeps insisting on the manfully ‘handiwork’ and the offer, against the technical and officially ‘designated’ way. It is therefore the glorification of an inefficient behavior, which only still has a demonstrative, liturgical value. The daring in courage is totally and completely bound to the lacking in need, and whoever celebrates courage as something definitive, is also blessing the need.

It is therefore also annoying and tragic to see how protests against violence elapse into a liturgy of violence and the resistance eventuates to an eagerly seized on recreation. The phrase of courage is then wielded, far removed from real problems, to arrouse through an inefficient, purely expressive and ritualistic behavior, a self-awareness of a meritorious engagement, in which the annoyance is prematurely distracted by means of lust. It is an oppressive question, how long a resistance that finds its way out like that can last, before it’s given up upon for that most frivolous of motives, boredom. Or, to put it less frivolously: the protestor feeds on the illusion of being a Cato against people who aren’t senators, and burdens himself with a colosal frustration, in which also his noble intentions disappear. The protest against violence then degenerates into a show of free expression with all the grimaces of usefulness, in which only the annoyance about ones own powerlessness is ventilated, while precisely that annoyance should be a permanent guest of thought, because only that can courage to humility. That does not by any means mean that a protest is useless. Even if it was solely a ritual -and sometimes with expressions of democratic freedom it is hard to distinguish expressive actions from efficient ones- it would not be responsible to simply call it superfluous. But precisely because it competes with utilitarian actions, it would be necessary to give those a greater objective meaning by excluding all every intoxication of bravery, so that it gets a more technical than an adventurous character and leaves open the designated road as much as possible.

Opposed to this cult of ill-considered courage the thesis should be defended that courage without humility is a nonsensical and dangerous phenomenon, which plays into the hand of violence. Decorated with the awards of a definitive and acknowledged substantiality and glorified as the height of human and especially male behavior, courage is a contribution to violence and helps to conserve it. It doesn’t only reside itself in it and isn’t solely a suffering resignation, but it is a positive, problem-less, decorated acceptance, even a challenge. The instrumentarium of this courage is the exact same as that of violence: they both use it together and switch in playing each other’s role. Courage is a ‘logical consequence’ of a violence accepted as logical and self-evident, a blind jump over the non-identity. In courage humans claim the substantial density with which they become as ‘heavy’ and ‘hard’ as the violence they are about to play with. It is therefore also the meanings of ‘heavy’ and ‘hard’ that determine the etymology of the word ‘brave’.

cornelis verhoeven chair


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Filed under Against violence, essay

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