Protesters toppled statues of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and at the Oregon Historical Society on October 11, 2020 in Portland.

Some Thoughts About Courage

We are living through an epidemic of cowardice. The antidote is courage.

Why have things come so undone? And what can we do to rebuild them? 

Those are the questions, more than any others, that I’ve been turning over in my mind over the past year and they are the subject of an essay I just published in Commentary Magazine. 

Its headline: “We Got Here Because of Cowardice. Courage Is What Gets Us Out.”

If you read this newsletter and if you are new here, welcome! you are by now quite familiar with the features of the great unraveling. The politicization of everything. The re-racialization of everyone. The demonization of those with a different perspective. The forced conformity. The ideological capture of our schools. The betrayal of liberalism by the institutions meant to uphold it. The denial of obvious truths by our most trusted experts. The replacement of forgiveness and mercy with perpetual punishment. 

How did this happen? 

Here’s what I write in Commentary:

There are a lot of factors that are relevant to the answer: institutional decay; the tech revolution and the monopolies it created; the arrogance of our elites; poverty; the death of trust. And all of these must be examined, because without them we would have neither the far right nor the cultural revolutionaries now clamoring at America’s gates.

But there is one word we should linger on, because every moment of radical victory turned on it. The word is cowardice.

The revolution has been met with almost no resistance by those who have the title CEO or leader or president or principal in front of their names. The refusal of the adults in the room to speak the truth, their refusal to say no to efforts to undermine the mission of their institutions, their fear of being called a bad name and that fear trumping their responsibility — that is how we got here.

Allan Bloom had the radicals of the 1960s in mind when he wrote that “a few students discovered that pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears.” Now, a half-century later, those dancing bears hold named chairs at every important elite, sense-making institution in the country.

As Douglas Murray has put it: “The problem is not that the sacrificial victim is selected. The problem is that the people who destroy his reputation are permitted to do so by the complicity, silence and slinking away of everybody else.”

Each surely thought: These protestors have some merit! This institution, this university, this school, hasn’t lived up to all of its principles at all times! We have been racist! We have been sexist! We haven’t always been enlightened! I’ll give a bit and we’ll find a way to compromise. 

This turned out to be as naive as Robespierre thinking that he could avoid the guillotine.

Think about each of the anecdotes I’ve shared here and all the rest you already know. All that had to change for the entire story to turn out differently was for the person in charge, the person tasked with being a steward for the newspaper or the magazine or the college or the school district or the private high school or the kindergarten, to say: No.

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. And courage often comes from people you would not expect.

The piece goes on to name some of those courageous people, a good number of whom I am proud to say have written for Common Sense. Among them: Paul Rossi. Maud Maron. Gordon Klein. And Peter Boghossian.

Many of these people have been smeared and demonized. But Orwell explains why: “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” In an age of lies, telling the truth is high risk. It comes with a cost. But it is our moral obligation.

It is our duty to resist the crowd in this age of mob thinking. It is our duty to think freely in an age of conformity. It is our duty to speak truth in an age of lies.

As I write in the essay:

This bravery isn’t the last or only step in opposing this revolution — it’s just the first. After that must come honest assessments of why America was vulnerable to start with, and an aggressive commitment to rebuilding the economy and society in ways that once again offer life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to the greatest number of Americans.

But let’s start with a little courage.

Courage means, first off, the unqualified rejection of lies. Do not speak untruths, either about yourself or anyone else, no matter the comfort offered by the mob. And do not genially accept the lies told to you. If possible, be vocal in rejecting claims you know to be false. Courage can be contagious, and your example may serve as a means of transmission.

When you’re told that traits such as industriousness and punctuality are the legacy of white supremacy, don’t hesitate to reject it. When you’re told that statues of figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass are offensive, explain that they are national heroes. When you’re told that “nothing has changed” in this country for minorities, don’t dishonor the memory of civil-rights pioneers by agreeing. And when you’re told that America was founded in order to perpetuate slavery, don’t take part in rewriting the country’s history.  

America is imperfect. I always knew it, as we all do — and the past few years have rocked my faith like no others in my lifetime. But America and we Americans are far from irredeemable.

The motto of Frederick Douglass’s anti-slavery paper, the North Star — “The Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color — God is the Father of us all, and all we are brethren”—must remain all of ours.

I’d love for you to read the whole thing here.

I had an unusually busy weekend. The highlight was that I received the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism. It’s impossible to express how honored I feel. Judea Pearl, Danny Pearl’s remarkable father, presented it to me. 

You can read our speeches here. It includes what I am certain is the first Talmud lesson ever delivered at the LA Press Club.

I went on CNN’s Reliable Sources to talk about what we’re building at Common Sense. You can listen to my 30-minute conversation with Brian Stelter here. But it’s this clip, thanks to Joe Rogan and others, that seems to have gone viral. 

Ben Shapiro’s Sunday Special was also this past weekend, though we filmed it a few weeks ago in Florida. It was a pleasure to sit down with him. You can watch the whole thing here.

See you later this week.