As a culture, we are inspired by stories of heroes – some true, some fictional, some a mix of both – but it seems that we are entering an age where there are no more heroes. Where are our Charlemagnes, our Joan of Arcs, our George Washingtons, and our Winston Churchills? We have begun the age of mediocrity and are setting a pace that may make genuine heroes little more than historical footnotes. The question is, why?
First, we need to figure out what actually makes a person heroic. Alexander the Great is regarded as an embodiment of all that is heroic, brave, smart, achieving the impossible, but to the Persians of the time, he would be more considered a villain. It’s all about perspective: a hero to one side, but a monster to the other. Much like Lemony Snicket writes in his 13-book saga, A Series of Unfortunate Events:
“People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.”
Perhaps the best measure of a hero is one whom history has allowed to follow the Latin adage, Vincit Qui Patitur, or roughly, he who endures, ultimately conquers. The man or woman whose tale is told forever in a positive light is regarded as the hero, and he who is denigrated by those victors who finally write the history, are always the villains. It seems time and revisionism seeks to make villains of us all.
And when all are villains by the “new modern standard,” there can never be another hero.
Yet this is only a single branch of a greater tree. We also appear to have lost sight of what makes a hero. So often we hear folks talk about their heroes as athletes, musicians, actors, or even politicians; it’s difficult to compare the first three with the likes of Churchill or Martin Luther King. But politicians can certainly be heroic; it’s just so rare that they are.
Consider the usual career trajectory of a modern politician in just about any western nation. They go to university to study politics or law, get a cushy job with a “party-affiliated firm,” and wait for their spot on the ladder. They then spend a decade, or two, or three, climbing the ranks, and all of a sudden, they want to declare themselves a radical, ready to change the world. These are phony people who seek legacy and grandeur, and sadly, there are folks willing to give it to them.
So what is a real hero? We can perhaps all agree that to earn the label requires personal courage, character, often sacrifice – but is there a harder to define quality also? The philosopher Aristotle wrote:
“There are men, so godlike, so exceptional, that they naturally, by right of their extraordinary gifts, transcend all moral judgment or constitutional control. There is no law which embraces men of that calibre: they are themselves law.”
This is about as good a definition as one can get, and we can see that such words really don’t describe our modern politicians.
So it is not just the revisionism and cultural mores that stop us from having new heroes, it is also the ordering of present society. Aristotle says that heroes transcend constitutional control and that they are a law unto themselves. With our rigid structures of control, even those who seek to do good, if they go against the framework permitted by our rulers, are cast down from the heights they may have reached.
Is Heroism a Threat to the State?
We have allowed what was once simple scaffolding to become the bars of a prison that cage us. Could it be because the actual state fears the very idea of a hero?
In the United Kingdom in 2017, three terrorists struck on London Bridge. First, they rammed pedestrians with a van, then got out with long knives strapped to their wrists, wearing fake suicide vests. Eight people were killed and almost 50 injured, including four unarmed police officers. One man who tried to fight the attackers, himself unarmed, was Roy Larner. Instead of running, he fought, shouting “F— You, I’m Milwall,” referring to his football team. Larner received multiple stab and slash wounds and was left for dead. According to the Daily Mail newspaper, CCTV footage showed him lying on the floor, raising his fists yet again.
But the state doesn’t want heroes. Shortly afterward, Mr. Larner was convicted of spitting at a photographer and of hurling racist abuse. A perfect hero? Certainly not. But heroic in his actions.
How was Larner rewarded by the government for holding up the terrorists until the armed police could arrive? He was placed on the terrorist watch list for being a potential radical, monitored by the police and security services, and made to attend de-radicalization classes.
Churchill’s Inconvenient Heroism
What of more well-known heroes? What about Winston Churchill? The British government’s stance towards Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazi Germany was appeasement. In 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from the Munich Agreement announcing:
“The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine. Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you: ‘… We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.'”
Later that day, he uttered the historic phrase, “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
A year later, Hitler invaded Poland.
Churchill saw this as unbearable. He sought to build a defense against what he saw as a rot at the heart of British politics. He was not popular even within his party, and certainly not among the politicians in the opposition party. Yet he fought for the right to resist tyranny. In 1940 he said:
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: it is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: it is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”
For more than half a century, Churchill’s role in winning World War II cast him as “the Greatest of Britons.” He is a hero to many for his courage, his strength, and perhaps most importantly, his opposition to the status quo of the time. Yet even he has fallen under the ax of politically correct revisionism.
His life has been scrutinized under the microscope of the progressive orthodoxy and been found wanting. His statue in London is graffitied with the word “racist” and there is a push to teach young children not of his heroism but of his all-too-human failings.
As mentioned earlier: Heroes, real heroes, are a mixed bag. No one is perfect. Heroes of the past have flaws, but by denying their heroism, we are not only removing the legacies, but we are also destroying the possibility of creating new heroes.
With no examples of heroism around a new generation, they will look to pre-packaged phonies who are presented for sale and consumption to a public hungry for something – anything – magical.
This is what we are being denied by the audacious sweep only to permit state-sponsored heroes; we’re losing the magic and the promise of the future.
Read more from Mark Angelides.