Reinstating the Project of Human Greatness

Fiery power is not the sole possession of the Right, and the aspiration for human greatness needn’t be relegated to the past. To make one’s powers, like a whirling dervish, more and more intense is the first task. To raise those powers to the very pitch of beauty is the second.

Why should talk of human greatness elicit snickering from the bleachers? Because it is superannuated and quixotic? True, Achilles was once great, Alexander was once great, but, true also, heroic societies are now gone. Generals and commanders were once great too, yet–again–the arena of battle, particularly after WWI and WWII, has been drawn into question. Statesmen like Pericles were once great, but Obama is ground down into little pieces. Keep running through more cases, and the implicit thesis would turn out to be that greatness–in war, in politics, in art, in business, in philosophy–is no longer really possible since modern life is set up to produce small, nice, easily harmed people.

The project of human greatness is nullified by softness, terminating in smallness. As one of my friends put it today, ‘Nice people make nice art.’ Also, ‘Softness doesn’t measure up in the world.’ Also, ‘Softness has no strength.’

We have had enough with the softness and the niceness. What if instead we were to stake ourselves to leading the most excellent human lives possible? Then wouldn’t this mean: I want my life to be great! Let it be so. Then couldn’t greatness just be the result of (1) building up one’s powers to the point where they reach maximum intensity and (2) making that intensity be felt everywhere yet quietly? It could be.

Witness the sharp distinctions:

  • Toughness is not a program of the Right but a prerogative of the human spirit.
  • A powerful spirit is not the same as a violent brute.
  • Rage and aggression are not the necessary outshoots of fieriness but their bastardizations.
  • Proper pride is be cultivated, the dissipation of energy flowing from compassion to be avoided.
  • Intensity is not the stuff of drugs and extreme sports but the exhilaration of Life at its best.
  • Dissemination is not the unwitting consequence of increased powers. Concentrated beauty, controlled grace is.
  • Greatness is not human beings’ transcending the human condition in order to become gods. It is rather their transcending the plight of the ordinary, the dull, the draining, the diurnal, hence becoming more than what they had been or thought they could be.

Bring on human greatness and The Big Thing.

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