On the Enduring Importance of Humble Virtue
Do claims of “virtue” come off as insolent and provocative? Do those who talk about virtue seem like self-righteous prudes?
The impression is not entirely unearned. Often those who invoke the moral law take on an air of superiority rather than the introspection that self-awareness demands. In our hypocrisy, we are not quick enough to recognize our own depravity before we decry it in others.
But as the old adage goes, “hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue.” The answer is not to dismantle virtue, as some would have it, but to humbly acknowledge our own iniquity and then be about the business of forming good and virtuous habits that build character.
This is the aim of a classical education.
Many ideologies ascendant today, including within our schools, either redefine virtue as the unqualified pursuit of self-interest, or insist that the capacity for virtue depends entirely upon allegiance to a particular identity group.
These distortions are not exclusive to the political left or right. Ayn Rand’s objectivist libertarianism declares the atomizing “Virtue of Selfishness” just as Marxist humanism proclaims the balkanizing virtue of revolutionary class struggle.
But as Solzhenitsyn recognized, his oppressors were not uniquely wicked nor were he and his fellow victims simply good. Instead, he saw that “[t]he line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart...” His, theirs, yours, and mine.
And so, like Chesterton, we at Columbus Classical Academy respond to the question “What’s wrong with the world today?” by answering: “I am,” so that our pursuit of virtue is not about planting a flag of self-righteousness, but rather about planting the seeds of humility.