William James on “The Moral Equivalent of War”

William James, a committed pacifist, lived through the Civil War and the Spanish-American War and died during the run-up to World War I. In an incredible essay, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” first delivered as a talk at Stanford and later published in 1910, the year of his death, James observes that though everyone would prefer to have the peace issuing forth after the Civil War almost no one would want to eradicate from the human record the bloodiest war to have taken place on American soil, a war pitting brother against brother. Reviewing the history of war in an impressionistic sort of way, James allows himself to be entangled in the knot: war is terrible, cruelty and bloodshed are unconscionable, but what virtues it celebrates are excellent, and life without war is, it seems, impoverished and denigrated. Indeed, the socialists, of whom James is one, do not see what could arise were war to be a thing of the past: softness and squeamishness, the desire for pleasures and comforts, universal inferiority, a lack of vitality. It is not as if war has since disappeared from the lives of many in the developed world, but the ennobling virtues of war surely have, and with such a loss has come the emergence of softness. We have become soft period. What was alluded to has become a reality: “A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy,” James writes a hundred years ago, and yet it has.

James’s insightful approach is to take seriously the militaristic point of view, entering into it and seeing out of it. He writes approvingly, “Militarism is the great preserver of our ideals of hardihood, and human life with no use for hardihood would be contemptible.” War, he notes, makes men harder, tougher, and it makes a people more cohesive, the bonds uniting them stronger. What is more, so far in human history, the martial virtues and attitudes–courage, ambition, contempt of death, vitality, and intensity among them–have been manifested in war and nowhere else, and he writes that, for military apologists, “No ordeal is comparable to its winnowings.” War tests those involved, showing–and this is no cliche–what men are truly made of.

James’s philosophical problem can now be set forth:

1.) The martial virtues are worth affirming in their own right.

2.) Yet the arena in which the material virtues have historically been affirmed–that is, war–is ugly and horrible.

3.) Life without the martial virtues is “flat degeneration” or, as I would say, “softness.”

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The Predominance of Softness

I am trying to investigate the prevalence of softness and the rarity of toughness because I believe that we have learned to be soft when it is time to get, and be, tough.

Can we find another way into the predominance of softness? It has often been observed that ours is an Age of Anxiety or, more recently, a time of terror. Plainly, one sees this in the Seattle earthquake story from The New Yorker and in various tweets and replies to the possibility that an earthquake could, within the next 100 years, utterly decimate Seattle. Respondents stressed how scared, terrified, and nervous they were or remarked upon how scared, trepidatious, and anxious Seattle residents should be.

Fear is hinted at, spoken of, and often exacerbated when it comes to almost everything, including child-raising, city dwelling, terrorist attacks, flying, health, the precarity of work, academic pursuits, love, the death of others, doing most anything unconventional. People speak of “being safe,” of wanting to find “safe spaces,” of being “vulnerable,” of being “uncomfortable” or at the edge of discomfort, of always being “stressed out,” “overwhelmed,” or “freaking out.” Disgrace is terrifying, humiliation is terrifying, public speaking terrifying, any sensitive subject terrifying, offending someone terrifying, knowing the truth about yourself absolutely terrifying…

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Aristotle on Toughness

We have become soft and it’s time to get tough. Aristotle says that “it is softness to fly from what is troublesome” and so the coward does. But then most of us are flying from what is troublesome. Can we even recall what courage is?


The coward, the rash man, and the brave man, then, are concerned with the same objects but are differently disposed toward them; for the first two exceed and fall short, while the third holds the middle, which is the right, position; and rash men are precipitate, and wish for dangers beforehand but draw back when they are in them, while brave men are excited in the moment of action, but collected beforehand.

All three men are concerned with the fearful and the excellent (kalon), yet the rash man rushes headlong into something without having knowledge of what is to be feared whereas the coward is full of fear and reacts accordingly. What Aristotle observes is that both the coward and the rash man draw back, ultimately.

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The Limits of Leftist Thinking about Artists Making a Living

A couple of days ago, my partner Alexandra brought this article, “Culture isn’t Free,” in Jacobin Magazine (July 2, 2015) to my attention. What is remarkable is just how it shows, in nuce and with such concentration, (i) the limits of leftist thinking as well as (ii) many of the doxa (i.e., the unquestioned, commonly received stock of beliefs) of the left. Because of (i) and (ii), (iii) the author’s recommendations are decidedly marked by the very institutional thinking that we need to extricate ourselves from. Because I have just released a report on the economic situation of artists, I find myself quite fascinated by the leftist orthodoxy.

Miranda Campbell, an Assistant Professor of the School of Creative Industries at Ryerson University in Montreal (I believe the title is relevant to my subsequent remarks), observes that artists are having a great deal of trouble earning a living during this period of neoliberalism. She goes on to show the fruitless attempts some artists have made to voice their concerns, the unsympathetic replies often being that “art is a luxury.” She concludes the piece by seeking to shift the conversation from the status of an individual artist to the social structures with a view to urging us to reform our social institutions so that they make it easier for artists to earn a living.

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How an Artist Can Hack a Living: A Report

Can Modern Artists Make a Living?

This report was born of a query sent to 30 friends on April 30, 2015. I asked whether they knew anyone making a living at making art. The response was wintry.

Virtually no one knew of anyone who fit that description, yet nearly all expressed curiosity about reading my findings. This 32-page report details what I’ve discovered since that time.

A Factory or a Hustler?

hack a livingTo eke out a living, most artists have turned themselves into “factories” or “hustlers.” But being a factory or a hustler is at odds with the reason why artists wanted to become artists in the first place. Might there be some other way to live artistically?

4 Models for Making a Living

In this 32-page report, I don’t concern myself with the personal failures of particular artists, the burden of history, the rise of the precariat class, the perils of neoliberalism, or with waves upon waves of economic recession. Rather, I investigate what is possible for artists living today.

Counterintuitively, I show that there are four models that artists can use to live artistically:

  • They can become excellent Warriors, Merchants, and Priests.
  • They can forget about scaling and learn to love elitism.
  • They can become masters who offer their wares at a premium.
  • They can redefine the very nature of “being an artist.”

10-Page Excerpt

You’re welcome to read the first 10 pages of the 32-page report: How an Artist Can Hack a Living: A Report (Excerpt)

$5 Artist Report

To receive your copy of the report, simply offer $5 via PayPal.

Expect to receive your copy the same or the following day.

I hope this document opens your mind and expands your view of reality, enabling you to live artistically.