The timeless symbol of Stoicism is the lone knight fighting a war they cannot hope to win–but fighting bravely and honorably nonetheless. It’s Thrasea challenging Nero, even though the challenge will cost him his life and fail to stop the man. It’s Marcus Aurelius struggling not to be corrupted by absolute power, to be a good man even in the face of Rome’s decadence and decline. It’s the Percy family–the great Southern Stoics–generation after generation: LeRoy fighting the Klan in 1922. William Alexander giving up bachelorhood to adopt his three young cousins. Walker Percy resisting the rising tide of racism and hatred that consumed his generation, trying to be calm and philosophical through it all, to be a quiet beacon of goodness through his writing.
Each fight, even if somewhat futile, required enormous amounts of courage. Each required resisting the comfort of the status quo and coming to one’s own judgment. Thrasea had to stick his neck out–literally–when he put a spotlight on Nero’s tyranny and lost it as a result. The Percys risked their place in their community and their own safety on several occasions to stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens. Marcus Aurelius could have lost himself in oblivion and power, but instead fought a lifelong battle against himself, within himself, to improve and help others.
Again, all this took courage. Courage that wasn’t fully appreciated or even necessarily noticed at the time. It didn’t always win out either, but it still made the world a little bit better each time. It kept the light of humanity going, however briefly. As Solzhenitsyn asked, “Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end?
Which is why today we need the same kind of courage from you. The courage to take responsibility for yourself. The courage to resist the status quo and the passions of the mob. The courage to stand up for what’s right or for people who can’t stand up for themselves. The courage to put your own safety aside if the moment calls for it.
That’s what this tradition is about. Follow it