Robert Gould Shaw was the Union colonel who accepted command of “The 54th” – the first all African American regiment of the North in the civil war. He was portrayed by Matthew Broderick in the movie Glory (1989). The military heroism of Shaw was not his most admirable virtue. It was his decision to accept command of The 54th in the first place. He didn’t have to do that. Shaw left his friends in the comfortable, well respected 2nd Regiment to assume a “dubious” command of the lesser trained and inexperienced “negroes in the 54th”.
Their legendary military valor in the battle of Ft. Wagner (1863) was unexpected and Shaw may not have proved to be so honorable if things didn’t work out the way they did. His decision to accept the commission was a form of “lonely” or “civic” courage. It’s the willingness to sacrifice not just one’s life, but one’s sacred honor; one’s place of self-esteem in the eyes of others. Honor is a rare and extraordinary human virtue.
The paradox is that those who act or speak out against prevailing immoral beliefs or practices should be honored, but, and here’s that catch again, they cannot be, at least at the time of their courageous action or utterances. And the human attribute of honor becomes even rarer in a mass democracy like ours. Alexis de Tockqueville (1805-1859) articulated the “religious terror” of democracy. He called it “Tyranny of the Majority”.
It’s that soul crushing fear of being persecuted for having differing views from the masses; the extreme pressure to just go with the flow. And the masses are more wrong now than they’ve ever been; screaming ridiculous worldviews with increasing ferocity through their institutional advocates in the media, government and main-stream academia (Deneen is a dissident conservative). It’s vitally important that we honor our historic heroes like the founding fathers and Robert Gould Shaw because to honor, is to necessarily know what honor is. And that’s what gives us the strength and wisdom to live our lives honorably, even if that means risking our sacred honor in order to speak out or take action against prevailing majority views.