On Virtue

On Virtue

Virtue, virtus, is that strength of character from which arise the qualities indispensable for standing up to the world–courage, resolution, perseverance, control of the constantly changing emotions and impulses. If I regarded nature sentimentally, I would treat virtue with less respect. Since nature is not a loving mother but ravages and murders us without qualms if we find ourselves be- €ore it without weapons or tools, virtue must be held in high esteem, for it alone permits the effective use of weapons and tools. The courage (fortitudo) of which Cicero speaks may reside in the evil and the good, the wise and the foolish. It manifests itself in situations that exist independent of our will, and it commands us to behave in one definite way and no other. Where the struggle with nature has imposed upon men the necessity of organization, thus dividing them into those who give orders and those who carry them out, the oppressors and the oppressed, the master cannot dispense with virtue without endangering his position as master while the slave is compelled to virtue by his desire to survive and to outwit his master. The history of mankind is astonishing in its endless example of virtue keeping societies, nations, and civilizations alive, the virtue of leaders and soldiers, torturers and tortured, saints and criminals, captains and crews, landlords and tenants. No one can deny strength of character to Ghengis Khan and his commanders, nor can it be denied to the knights Cortez and Pisarro, nor to the capitalist ascetics who tormented themselves as much as they did others, nor to the generations ‘of peasants who supported their families by hard labor on small plots of land. The human being is worthy of admiration because he suffers so much and remains undaunted in spite of it. If, for better or worse, our planet has been subjugated by technology, it most likely did not occur because of some impersonal, inevitable laws of development, but because of the virtue of the groups, clans, and classes whose self-discipline created the necessary conditions.


tote | University of California Press Lima