Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Cue Up The Band

 

shutterstock_106322621Peggy Noonan writes today in the Wall Street Journal that the US needs a military that acts swiftly and doesn’t brag. I agree with that first point — especially with the suggestion that we should have cut to the chase and sent in the troops to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. The military would have been delighted to execute such an assignment, a good thing would have been accomplished, and we would have demonstrated that America hasn’t completely forgotten how to flex its muscles. Nigeria’s not going to declare war on us. And is the international community likely to get on their high horse over the rescue of innocent girls? And so what if they do?

I wasn’t as convinced, however, by her assertion that great militaries shouldn’t brag. I understand the principle behind it: don’t showboat and let the guns do the talking. But I suspect the truth is that pomp and ceremony have always been a component of military might — and probably for good reason. Triumphalism is actually pretty effective at producing the “shock and awe” factor that great militaries like to inspire in civilian populations, both at home and abroad. I myself tend to react reflexively against propaganda, so the flag-waving jingoism often misses with me, but there’s no denying that plenty of people like it and it tends to make an impression. Compared to missiles and tanks, flags and musicians are cheap and safe. If there’s a chance of forestalling a war with a parade … throw the parade.

On a less utilitarian level, I’m inclined to think that the bragging may actually be a healthy and natural part of military prowess. Of course, I say that as someone who has never had any justification whatsoever to engage in that kind of self-aggrandizement. But I’m guided here mainly by reflection on how soldiers and military pomp were regarded historically. There seems to have been widespread agreement among the ancients that soldiers fought for honor and, insofar as they did their jobs valiantly, deserved it in a way that few other members of society did. Sedentary brainiacs (read: people like me or Peggy Noonan) find it easy to wrinkle our noses and piously suggest that war is no laughing matter. The people who are throwing the parades, however, know this far better than we.

In antiquity, I gather that it was pretty standard for victorious generals to throw themselves a showy parade after a successful campaign. I can recall a passage in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Disputed Questions on the Virtues in which he actually classifies these triumphalist displays as proper expressions of courage. He’s making a point about how virtue calls for different things at different times. He illustrates this through the example of a courageous solder, who before the battle manifests his virtue by soberly preparing himself to fight, during the battle manifests it by fighting valiantly, and afterwards shows the same virtue by participating in the parade. In other words, St. Thomas sees these displays of pomp as an organic part of the good soldier’s military life.

Are military parades pompously ostentatious? Or does the discomfort some people feel at them say more about our uneasy relationship to honor and military might more generally?

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  1. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Hmm. Undoubtedly most of our war fighters are worthy of such a display. Sadly, however, we do not have a government worthy of honoring them with it. We’ve lost honor in our culture as a virtue, so what would be attempted in this climate would most likely be pretense and therefore unworthy of the men and women (and their deeds) it was intended to celebrate. If half the nation can only celebrate the war fighters, but not the war in which they fought, then they will know it is simply an elementary exercise in false self esteem. They deserve real honor and respect, not a participation trophy.

    • #1
    • May 16, 2014, at 10:02 AM PDT
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  2. KC Mulville Inactive

    A deterrent that no one knows about is not a deterrent. 

    The problem is that to deter an adversary, you have to communicate that you have the means to deter him. That’s where the shows come in handy. You also must show that you have the willingness to deter him (that’s where aggressiveness comes in handy).

    But at the same time, a peaceful nation must simultaneously show that we will not use our force carelessly. If you don’t hurt us, we won’t hurt you. 

    It’s a balance. 

    You must show restraint, not hesitation. There’s a difference.

    • #2
    • May 16, 2014, at 10:11 AM PDT
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  3. Sisyphus Coolidge
    Sisyphus Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Military parades appear to have been a victim of multiple factors. Parades in general have declined over the last fifty years, probably owing to more high quality entertainment alternatives and the rise of individualism. The rise of the Left and nonsense like court ordered inclusion of the Lesbian Irish Prostitutes for Global Warming floats cannot have helped. It will be interesting to see how the NFL as Infomercial for the LGBT community will go over with an audience that might have been confused into thinking the NFL was about playing football games.

    There is a concept of glory in America, but it is the role of the dominant Leftist media to confound rather than validate those impulses. Our media is consumed in the thankless task of assuring that the American people are firmly on leash and not provoked into demanding, say, the rescue of African virgins from poor, disadvantaged Muslims engaging in the misunderstood traditions and liturgy of their rich and virtuous faith.

    (Okay, I did not get all the way through the last with a straight face, but I almost got there.)

    We the People are being managed by the JournoList media. Thankfully, there is an Internet.

    • #3
    • May 16, 2014, at 10:24 AM PDT
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  4. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A victory parade signals that it is over. Whatever “it” may be, those who have been conquered/freed/joined certainly benefit from the finality expressed therein.

    • #4
    • May 16, 2014, at 10:58 AM PDT
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  5. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu

    The King Prawn:

    If half the nation can only celebrate the war fighters, but not the war in which they fought, then they will know it is simply an elementary exercise in false self esteem. They deserve real honor and respect, not a participation trophy.

    Yes, it’s a hard problem. I have a slightly painful memory of an incident in my first year of grad school, in which some students (not themselves veterans or military members, but they seemed genuinely to think they were doing something good) attempted to recruit me to help in a Memorial Day “celebration” that was exactly along the lines of the “cemetery of innocents” displays sometimes done on college campuses to protest abortion, but that focused instead on soldiers killed in Iraq. I said that I thought such a “tribute” would be in poor taste, on Memorial Day especially, because they weren’t really honoring the soldiers so much as pitying them and casting them as victims. It’s not the kind of memorial that soldiers really want. My assessment was… not at all well taken. They were upset. And it’s an unhappy memory partly because it’s very uncomfortable for me to be in the position of making such points when I really have no “right” to speak on behalf of military members or their families. Nevertheless, I still feel like my read was basically correct.

    Don’t you think, though, that there are at least significant parts of America in which respect for the military is high, and the public at least could honor them fittingly? In my brief time living in Tennessee, I was impressed by the widespread respect people seemed to have for veterans. Thanking veterans for their service seemed to be a pretty common element of public events, for example. I’d like to think there are places in this country where soldiers can still be genuinely honored.

    • #5
    • May 16, 2014, at 11:01 AM PDT
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  6. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Rachel, I think you may be misconstruing Noonan a bit. Correct me if I’m wrong, but she’s saying that society as a whole shouldn’t brag after a major victory; I don’t think she’s specifically referring to the soldiers themselves. Also, the US armed forces don’t throw themselves victory parades; they are a decision of civilian leadership (in her example, Bush 41, who she served).

    • #6
    • May 16, 2014, at 11:03 AM PDT
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  7. Pilli Inactive

    I vividly remember the photos and video of the Soviet military parades with all the missiles, tanks, and thousands of soldiers. We see the same now from N.Korea. Military parades are more than just honoring the warriors. They are about how much power the marching military can bring to bear. Military parades are to impress the enemy as much as they are about honoring the brave fighters.

    • #7
    • May 16, 2014, at 11:07 AM PDT
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  8. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Rachel Lu: Don’t you think, though, that there are at least significant parts of America in which respect for the military is high, and the public at least could honor them fittingly? In my brief time living in Tennessee, I was impressed by the widespread respect people seemed to have for veterans. Thanking veterans for their service seemed to be a pretty common element of public events, for example. I’d like to think there are places in this country where soldiers can still be genuinely honored.

     From a veteran’s perspetive I can say that we humbly accept honor properly given. The problem is that although the public may be able to separate the war fighter from his war fighting, he cannot. He cannot accept praise for himself and condemnation for something now integral to himself.

    • #8
    • May 16, 2014, at 11:13 AM PDT
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  9. Liz Member
    Liz

    My parents took me to that parade celebrating the end of the Desert Storm which Noonan describes in her column. I’m a little annoyed by Noonan’s distaste for it. I remember it being a joyful affair; as a kid I was thrilled to see up close men I considered heroes and I think that was the general feeling in the crowd. Such a parade also displays continued strength to the enemy and any who may consider becoming an enemy: not only is our military victorious but it is beloved and supported by the people at home. The separation that now exists between our military and civilians hurts everyone and emboldens those who hate us.

    I agree that there are military operations that are better carried out on the quiet. Not every success needs a parade. If we were to rescue the girls, their safe homecoming would be reward enough for everyone, I think. Not that it will happen.

    • #9
    • May 16, 2014, at 11:26 AM PDT
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  10. Guruforhire Member

    I have complex feelings on these sorts of things.

    I also didn’t appreciate the lefts “hooray for our military! We have the best dang mass murdering baby rapists the world has ever known, don’t say we hate hte troops just because we call them mass murdering baby rapists.”

    2003-4 was an interesting time. I had contractors that I supervised that got assaulted in and out of the pentagon after a long night shift. Nobody ever messed with me, I parked in the other parking lot.

    • #10
    • May 16, 2014, at 11:42 AM PDT
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  11. Albert Arthur Coolidge

    In the podcast yesterday, Peter Robinson quoted George Schultz telling President Reagan not to make empty threats. Well, the same should hold true for boasting about military prowess. Don’t do it unless you can back it up.

    • #11
    • May 16, 2014, at 11:52 AM PDT
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  12. RobininIthaca Inactive

    Liz:

    My parents took me to that parade celebrating the end of the Desert Storm which Noonan describes in her column. I’m a little annoyed by Noonan’s distaste for it. I remember it being a joyful affair; as a kid I was thrilled to see up close men I considered heroes and I think that was the general feeling in the crowd.

     Thanks for sharing that, Liz. I understand Noonan’s point though. It wasn’t a hard fought four year war with many sacrifices shared broadly. It represented a new kind of warfare, and spiking the ball afterwards perhaps wasn’t in our best interests abroad even if it was well-deserved.

    I completely agree with her that rescuing those Nigerian schoolgirls was a no-brainer. My most liberal acquaintances have been very quiet on that subject, which is always an indicator that even they recognize how lame the president looks with his vapid response to their kidnapping. I do wonder though if John McCain is being completely honest with himself – would he really have sent in troops to rescue those girls?

    • #12
    • May 16, 2014, at 12:04 PM PDT
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  13. EThompson Inactive

    Peggy Noonan has lost all credibility with me after her enthusiastic support for the election of BHO along with her comrade and enfant terrible Christopher Buckley.

    Why should we risk American lives and spend severely depleted military monies when this country is unwilling to react to the invasion of Crimea or fund a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe? First and foremost, a country should spend blood and treasure on defending its security and economic interests.

    • #13
    • May 16, 2014, at 12:34 PM PDT
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  14. Yeah...ok. Inactive

    I know one should refrain from boasting they read Peggy Noonan and gave her arguments any consideration afterward.

    It seems women are advocating these kinetic action humanitarian missions to the arab Spring, Syria, now these victims of diversity. 

    Boast about helping after a tsunami, try to keep secret that it’s easy to shoot a man in the head, in the dark, in the ocean and you’ve got 1,000 other guys who can (and want to) do the same thing.

    • #14
    • May 16, 2014, at 12:45 PM PDT
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  15. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu

    I too was mad at Noonan for drinking the Obama kool-aid. She repented of it later, but who didn’t? I remember yelling at my computer monitor in 2008, I was so mad at the stuff she was writing. Still, I know conservatives don’t like to admit this, but she’s just one of the best essayists out there. Very elegant and enjoyable to read. And conservatives don’t have enough such people, in my opinion.

    • #15
    • May 16, 2014, at 1:19 PM PDT
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  16. Robert E. Lee Member
    Robert E. Lee Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    As a GI I’ll say this: public recognition was important to me. It made me feel my efforts were considered worthwhile. The military understands this and they let the families and friends gather to welcome their warriors home from deployments. It’s important in a way that’s impossible for me to explain.

    • #16
    • May 16, 2014, at 4:23 PM PDT
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  17. Crow's Nest Inactive

    There is a certain kind of bragging–say, at a bar–which stems from vice: a sort of inflated sense of self-importance or an un-earned swagger and sense of superiority. This sort of person thinks more of himself than he ought to. He is rightly derided.

    Then there is a certain kind of bragging that is conducive to small unit morale: a certain pride in demanding high standards and meeting them, doing what we do well–a certain sort of daring and a sense of insiders and outsiders that results in a proclamation of superiority when one has indeed performed in a superior fashion. This kind of man claims high things, and then delivers them–he accurately assess his worth.

    Question: is the second man a braggart? Or is it petty jealousy that afflicts those who despise him? Would you call him arrogant?

    With regard to Thomas, I recall in passing that he was compelled to adjust Aristotle’s praise of magnanimity to make it amenable to the demands of Christian humility. The fact that this quality is among Aristotle’s qualifications for a statesman (saints are absent from the Nicomachean Ethics) is probably of little importance…..

    • #17
    • May 16, 2014, at 4:52 PM PDT
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  18. Yeah...ok. Inactive

    Rachel Lu:
    …Still, I know conservatives don’t like to admit this, but she’s just one of the best essayists out there. Very elegant and enjoyable to read. And conservatives don’t have enough such people, in my opinion.

     She’s good with words, but no Mark Steyn. She may be more polished but I prefer P.J. O’Rourke. She is adept at making Republican policy sound almost conservative. That is talent.

    • #18
    • May 16, 2014, at 6:02 PM PDT
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  19. Sandy Member

    With my husband and young baby, I was on the Mall on July 4, 1970 when we had to scatter because the celebration was rudely disrupted by war protesters and tear gas. We were there again for Mr. Bush’s parade which, as at least one commenter on the WSJ article pointed out, was an important antidote to the poisonous remains of the anti-war movement. It was simply good to feel proud of one’s country and the people who were trying to defend it, and to loudly applaud them. It was a joyful crowd. [edited to correct the date]

    Noonan quotes Michael Kelly as saying that the parade was “creepy.” I loved Kelly’s writing, but he was wrong on that, and if he’d survived the second gulf war, he might have felt differently about it. I’d apply that adjective, rather, to Noonan’s notion that pride in military accomplishments should be quiet. Measured and dignified, yes. Quiet, hell no.

    • #19
    • May 16, 2014, at 7:00 PM PDT
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  20. Sandy Member

    Yeah…ok.:

    Rachel Lu: …Still, I know conservatives don’t like to admit this, but she’s just one of the best essayists out there. Very elegant and enjoyable to read. And conservatives don’t have enough such people, in my opinion.

    She’s good with words, but no Mark Steyn. She may be more polished but I prefer P.J. O’Rourke. She is adept at making Republican policy sound almost conservative. That is talent.

    I agree. There is an overly-feminine, precious quality to her writing that almost never fails to annoy. I have the impression that she writes so that the reader will see how carefully and wonderfully she has chosen her words.

    • #20
    • May 16, 2014, at 7:01 PM PDT
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  21. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Sandy:

    Yeah…ok.:

    Rachel Lu: …Still, I know conservatives don’t like to admit this, but she’s just one of the best essayists out there. Very elegant and enjoyable to read. And conservatives don’t have enough such people, in my opinion.

    She’s good with words, but no Mark Steyn. She may be more polished but I prefer P.J. O’Rourke. She is adept at making Republican policy sound almost conservative. That is talent.

    I agree. There is an overly-feminine, precious quality to her writing that almost never fails to annoy. I have the impression that she writes so that the reader will see how carefully and wonderfully she has chosen her words.

    Perfectly put. And devastating. I almost hope Noonan doesn’t read Ricochet.

    • #21
    • May 16, 2014, at 7:28 PM PDT
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  22. Karen Inactive

    Rachel Lu: I’d like to think there are places in this country where soldiers can still be genuinely honored.


    There are. A few weeks ago during Spring Break, I took my boys down to the WW2 Memorial to greet an honor flight from Phoenix, AZ (Two days later the Phoenix VA story broke, coincidentally). I told my kids it was important to thank these men and women for their service during WW2, because in a few years there won’t be anyone left to thank. It was an amazing experience watching my wide-eyed 6 and 8 year olds, both who aspire to be pilots, talk to a wheelchair-bound elderly man about his experience as an 18 year old turret gunner on a B-17 flying missions over Germany. We’ve even corresponded with the family, and they sent us these wonderful photos, interviews and stories about his service. If we don’t do things like that, the stories will get lost. The way I see it, parades and such aren’t about the guys who came back, they’re about acknowledging the sacrifice of the ones who didn’t.

    • #22
    • May 16, 2014, at 7:33 PM PDT
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  23. EThompson Inactive

    Western Chauvinist:

    Sandy:

    Yeah…ok.:

    Rachel Lu: …Still, I know conservatives don’t like to admit this, but she’s just one of the best essayists out there. Very elegant and enjoyable to read. And conservatives don’t have enough such people, in my opinion.

    She’s good with words, but no Mark Steyn. She may be more polished but I prefer P.J. O’Rourke. She is adept at making Republican policy sound almost conservative. That is talent.

    I agree. There is an overly-feminine, precious quality to her writing that almost never fails to annoy. I have the impression that she writes so that the reader will see how carefully and wonderfully she has chosen her words.

    Perfectly put. And devastating. I almost hope Noonan doesn’t read Ricochet.

     Actually, I think Noonan is a beautiful writer; I just dislike her post-Reagan politics. Intensely.

    • #23
    • May 16, 2014, at 7:36 PM PDT
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  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In this very military town, parades are a big deal, and some of my best civic memories. Without dipping too far into sentimentalism, let’s just say it’s not just the marching soldiers passing by (“marching” loosely applied to the Air Force — love you guys!), it’s your fellow citizens standing and putting their hands over their hearts as the color guard passes for each unit. The applause and the “thank you’s!” — the outpouring of love and gratitude. I’m not just proud of our military — I’m proud of our country and the citizens it produces who “get it.”

    It also doesn’t fail to stir the soul when a few Apache helicopters beat the air as they roar down the parade route at the close of the parade.

    • #24
    • May 16, 2014, at 7:41 PM PDT
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  25. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu

    Sandy:

    I agree. There is an overly-feminine, precious quality to her writing that almost never fails to annoy. I have the impression that she writes so that the reader will see how carefully and wonderfully she has chosen her words.

    That seems very unfair to me. She isn’t fussy; she’s firm without seeming unduly emotional; she always has a strong narrative thread running through her pieces. Her politics can annoy me too. But as someone who sometimes tries to work in a similar genre and style, I would say that it’s not easy to do it as well as she does.

    She writes like an essayist, not like an investigative reporter. Maybe that’s what’s hitting people wrong, but I like it. It’s something of a lost art.

    • #25
    • May 16, 2014, at 8:07 PM PDT
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  26. CuriousKevmo Member

    Western Chauvinist:

    In this very military town, parades are a big deal, and some of my best civic memories. Without dipping too far into sentimentalism, let’s just say it’s not just the marching soldiers passing by (“marching” loosely applied to the Air Force — love you guys!), it’s your fellow citizens standing and putting their hands over their hearts as the color guard passes for each unit. The applause and the “thank you’s!” — the outpouring of love and gratitude. I’m not just proud of our military — I’m proud of our country and the citizens it produces who “get it.”

    It also doesn’t fail to stir the soul when a few Apache helicopters beat the air as they roar down the parade route at the close of the parade.

     I wanna live where you live.

    • #26
    • May 16, 2014, at 9:41 PM PDT
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  27. Karen Inactive

    I think Noonan’s talking out of her fanny. Again. How do we know that there aren’t SF over there right now? We have no idea what’s going down. And if something were done, it wouldn’t be the military that would tell, it would be an Obama administration leak. We have the finest military the world has ever known, but not just that, if she’d take some time to have a few drinks with some military folks, she’d know that there’s plenty the military does and does well that they can’t talk about, much less brag about. It’s why they’re called covert operations. There are plenty of people walking around that have done some heroic and spectacular things in service to our country, the details of which they’ll take to their graves. And by the way, it wasn’t the military that was bragging, it was 41. I spent a lot of time around a VA hospital toward the end of Reagan’s term, and Noonan should be ashamed of how Vietnam Vets were treated by the Reagan administration. The first Gulf War was the first decisive military victory in a very long while. I won’t begrudge them a little hotdogging.

    • #27
    • May 16, 2014, at 9:54 PM PDT
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  28. Sisyphus Coolidge
    Sisyphus Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    From what I’ve heard today there are 50 military advisers in country on the case, drones and manned surveillance flights under our flag, and our posture is that we are assisting Nigeria in resolving this atrocity. Frankly, that sounds about right to me and there is probably more we don’t know about. I don’t care how the bastards get dealt with and the girls return to their families or who gets the credit, I just want any weasel who thinks that they want to follow Boko Harem’s lead to look in horror at the consequences they reap.

    • #28
    • May 16, 2014, at 10:05 PM PDT
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  29. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu

    It’s hard to imagine Barack Obama rescuing girls from Islamic militants and not bragging about it, loudly, at the earliest available opportunity. Emphasizing at every possible point his bold decision-making and command of the situation.

    • #29
    • May 17, 2014, at 8:12 AM PDT
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  30. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu

    “Question: is the second man a braggart? Or is it petty jealousy that afflicts those who despise him? Would you call him arrogant?

    With regard to Thomas, I recall in passing that he was compelled to adjust Aristotle’s praise of magnanimity to make it amenable to the demands of Christian humility. The fact that this quality is among Aristotle’s qualifications for a statesman (saints are absent from the Nicomachean Ethics) is probably of little importance…..”

    I say the second man is not a braggart. It was actually surprising to me how little St. Thomas scaled back Aristotle’s assessment of the magnanimous man, given that to our eyes he looks like a pompous jerk. 

    • #30
    • May 17, 2014, at 8:21 AM PDT
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