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The Heroic Heart

Greatness Ancient and Modern

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Publication Details

Hardcover / 240 pages
ISBN: 9781594038235
PUBLISHED: 09/08/2015

The Heroic Heart
Greatness Ancient and Modern

What does it mean to be a hero? In The Heroic Heart, Tod Lindberg traces the quality of heroic greatness from its most distant origin in human prehistory to the present day. The designation of “hero” once conjured mainly the prowess of conquerors and kings slaying their enemies on the battlefield. Heroes in the modern world come in many varieties, from teachers and mentors making a lasting impression on others by giving of themselves, to firefighters no less willing than their ancient counterparts to risk life and limb. They don’t do so to assert a claim of superiority over others, however. Rather, the modern heroic heart acts to serve others and save others. The spirit of modern heroism is generosity, what Lindberg calls “the caring will,” a primal human trait that has flourished alongside the spread of freedom and equality.

Through its intimate portraits of historical and literary figures and its subtle depiction of the most difficult problems of politics, The Heroic Heart offers a startlingly original account of the passage from the ancient to the modern world and the part the heroic type has played in it. Lindberg deftly combines social criticism and moral philosophy in a work that ranks with such classics as Thomas Carlyle’s nineteenth-century On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History and Joseph Campbell’s twentieth-century The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

About the Author

Tod Lindberg is a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is the author of the critically acclaimed The Political Teachings of Jesus, a philosophical analysis of the view of worldly affairs presented in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Gospel parables.

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The modern world is, in short, very good at weeding out and breeding out those of a classically heroic bent who might seek to impose the old slaying ways in service to their personal sense of self.

This is good news for the egalitarian ethos, and for the aforementioned peace and personal security of its adherents. But two large problems loom. The first is the potential for a serious outside challenge to the modern world and its ethos. The second, more subtle, is the potential vulnerability of the modern world to internal disintegration.

To restate the first problem more baldly: What if an old-school slaying hero decides to conquer the world, i.e., our world — to conquer and subjugate us? Do we, generous in spirit and reluctant to slay as we are, have the capacity and will to resist? Would we even recognize the threat as it gathered?

And the second: What if our egalitarian ethos contains the seeds of its own destruction? Could illiberal internal forces use the doctrines and practices of freedom and equality to further a hidden agenda asserting their own claim of superiority? And if so, again, would we see it coming in time to act?

I wish these questions were merely hypothetical or theoretical. Unfortunately, they are not. In fact, they are frighteningly well-grounded historically. Before the collapse of Soviet communism gave impetus to the “end of History” vogue first popularized by Francis Fukuyama and still propounded with minimal alteration by the seers of globalization, the regnant impression among serious twentieth century thinkers ran quite the opposite direction: Far from pointing to the inevitability of progress, defined as the spread of liberal, democratic, capitalism — for our purposes, the modern world — the ghastly historical record of the twentieth century was mainly seen to constitute precedent for human-caused death and destruction on an ever more massive scale. The human propensity for assertion of claims of superiority and the seeking of exactions from the weaker, combined with the progress of technology and its capacity to kill people in exponentially increasing numbers, could best be understood as the precursors of Armageddon.

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