From the editor: virtue

Authored by Ray Nothstine

“Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot” by the late Admiral Jim Stockdale is a book I read almost 15 years ago that shaped a lot of my thoughts on virtue. He’s widely remembered today as a stand-in vice presidential candidate for Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential campaign but that’s in no way a worthwhile profile of his character and intellect. Just read his Medal of Honor citation. I’ve learned a lot from some of the men who flew combat missions over North Vietnam and were tortured under horrific prison conditions. As the leader of those men, Stockdale brings almost everything back to “You are your brother’s keeper.” He lived and nearly sacrificed his life embodying that line of thought.

There is another great word from this book that highlights so much of the failure today, particularly in Washington.

“Those who study the rise and fall of civilizations learn that no shortcoming has been surely fatal to republics as a dearth of public virtue, the unwillingness of those who govern to place the value of their society above personal interest.”

Back when the book was published in the mid-1990s his words were tied to our federal debt, which was still under $5 trillion.

Admiral James B. Stockdale (1923 – 2005)

Here at American Habits, we’ve recently rolled out a lot of content with public virtue in mind. The American Founders didn’t agree all the time. They certainly weren’t of one mind on a host of issues but there was universal agreement that the concepts and practice of liberty must be tied to virtue. “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea,” declared James Madison at the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1788. He added that the people must possess the virtue to elect leaders who themselves are virtuous. If not, no form of government will be successful. The overarching point is that a free society requires the ability to rule oneself first.

We offer a look at the deeper meanings of virtue in life and our Republic from a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge and notable Catholic priest. At the same time, the reader can delve into the practical side of giving of oneself through the stories profiled in our interview with businessman and former football coach Bill Courtney. One of the aspects of life that is so encouraging is the work and volunteerism of so many Americans. So many of these stories go on behind the scenes of the national media and those heavily invested in political divisions. Courtney is doing great work by bringing so many stories of sacrifice and the building up of civil society to the forefront.

A profile of Paso Robles, California school board member Kenneth Enney, an interview of Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson, and Anthony Hennen’s analysis of Ulysses S. Grant’s leadership style are just some of the other new content directly related to how virtue helps to sustain a flourishing republic.

I think when we look out at the nation today, we see virtue and a rise in counterfeit virtue. The counterfeit virtue requires no sacrifice and ultimately no skin in the game. Counterfeit virtue demands compulsion and it’s interesting that those who practice this form of “virtue” are often the most vocal in the public square – whether on the political right or left. It’s mostly about the noise or signaling a false compassion to centralize more political power while intending to dictate thoughts and actions.

You might see one or two more pieces of content roll out directly related to virtue but soon we will be turning towards a theme of localism and community here at American Habits. Localism is on the uptick so to speak, and I suspect that will only increase as centralized political entities and Washington itself become more dysfunctional and incapable of addressing the will of the people.

Authored by:Ray Nothstine


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