Death of the Slaying Hero: Modern egalitarian cultures can’t stomach the idea of military glory.
Mark Lee Greenblatt, Real Clear Politics, March 25, 2016
In The Heroic Heart, Tod Lindberg explores the evolution of the heroic ideal from the ancient world to today, examining how heroes shape politics and how the political world shapes heroism. Lindberg’s “classical heroic type” describes those rare individuals willing to risk death to fulfill their own inner sense of greatness. Historical and literary examples include Achilles, Julius Caesar, and Coriolanus. Political orders adjusted to such highly individualistic, destabilizing heroes by shifting their motivations from fighting for individual glory to fighting for a greater good. “The problem of the collision of heroism and politics found a path to resolution,” Lindberg writes, “when political authorities figured out how to put a hero to use in service of their ends.”
Civilized society evolved further, emerging into a new egalitarian political order that would eventually find no place for the classical hero. Egalitarianism “is in fact designed to prevent the emergence of such a character,” Lindberg writes, lest the next Alexander the Great emerge to restore anti-democratic autocracy. The tragedies of twentieth-century history also conspired against traditional heroism. Celebrating battlefield glory became less viable after the ghastly trench warfare of World War I. The individual soldier became an antihero, Lindberg says, and war-fighting became anti-glorious.