Courage is the Rarest of Virtues
“According to Princeton law professor Robert George, nearly all his students declare that they would have been abolitionists had they lived in the South in the late 1850s. But he shows that only the tiniest fraction of them, or any of us, would have spoken out against slavery, or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them – and us – would have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and happily benefited from it. Here’s how Professor George makes his point.
He tells the students he will credit their abolitionist claims if they can show that in leading their present lives they have stood up for the rights of unpopular victims of injustice and where they have done so willingly.
- They would be loathed and ridiculed by powerful individuals and institutions in our society and;
- They would be abandoned by many of their friends and;
- They would be shouted down with vile names and;
- They would be denied valuable professional opportunities as a result of the moral witnessing and;
- They might even lose their jobs after such witnessing.
In short, he challenged the college students to show where they have – at risk to themselves and their futures – stood up for a cause that is unpopular within the elite sectors of today’s society. It is a revealing challenge to students but would be even more illuminating if applied to academic historians. It evokes an ancient wisdom, “Courage is the rarest of virtues.”
(Causes of the Civil War. Philip Leigh. Shotwell Publishing, 2020, pg. 163)