Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

skidelsky142_GeovienSoPacificPressLightRocketviaGettyImages_borisnemtsovsignsprotest Geovien So/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Fall and Rise of Public Heroism

The value of heroism is again on the rise, especially in countries where undemocratic regimes can no longer be relied on to deliver economic prosperity. The future may well lie not with politicians and diplomats, but with those men – and women – who are willing to die.

LONDON – Recently I watched The Man Who Was Too Free, a moving documentary about the Russian dissident politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in front of the Kremlin in 2015. A young, handsome rising political star in the 1990s, Nemtsov later refused to bend to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism and went into opposition, where he was harassed, imprisoned, and finally killed. The film left me thinking about the diminished role of heroism and courage in modern life, and also about the fate of Russia.

Heroism is a product of extreme situations – classically, involving war and violence. Because today’s Western way of life is non-extreme, the value of heroism has fallen. But its stock is rising in most of the rest of the world, including Russia.

The hero is both noble and self-destructive. He or she not only prefers an honorable death to a dishonorable life, but also would rather die young and gloriously than spin out a long and compromised existence loaded with easily gotten (and forgotten) honors. Hector in Homer’s Iliad says: “’Tis true I perish, yet I perish great.” The heroic life is inherently tragic; immortality is its only reward.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/FI4G5n1;
  1. mahroum18_HAIDAR HAMDANIAFP via Getty Images_iraqprotestfire Haidar Hamdani/AFP via Getty Images

    The Arab World Needs a Brexit Debate

    Sami Mahroum

    The Arab world has witnessed at least one big Brexit-like event every decade since 1948 – and these political, economic, and social ruptures never seem to heal. The impact of these self-inflicted disasters is now painfully evident, and ongoing street protests in several countries suggest that a moment of reckoning may have arrived.

    0
  2. lhatheway7_Claudio Santistebanpicture alliance via Getty Images_ECBFedLagardePowell Claudio Santisteban/picture alliance via Getty Images

    Restoring Central Banks’ Credibility

    Larry Hatheway

    The old central-bank playbook of slashing interest rates to spur consumption, investment, and employment has become less effective since the 2008 financial crisis. Yet without effective tools and the public's confidence, central banks will be unable to rise to the occasion when the next recession arrives.

    0
  3. fischer163_action press-PoolGetty Images_natoflagsoldiers Action Press-Pool/Getty Images

    The Day After NATO

    Joschka Fischer

    French President Emmanuel Macron has drawn criticism for describing NATO as brain dead and pursuing a rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But now that a wayward America could abandon the continent at any moment, Macron's argument for European defense autonomy is difficult to refute.

    9