Peter Augustine Lawler died last week at the age of 65. Lawler, who referred to himself as a “postmodern conservative”, was a distinguished political philosopher and public intellectual who frequently wrote about the role of virtue in the modern (or postmodern) world.
In honor of his passing, here are six quotes by Lawler on virtue:
On virtue and knowing: “Virtue is the action that flows from knowing: 1. Who we are. 2. What we’re supposed to do. Doing, as Aristotle says, doesn’t flow automatically from knowing. But doing presupposes knowing. The conditions of knowing aren’t mainly about theory or philosophy. Knowing involves habituation. Knowing also involves ‘class’ (in the sense of being ‘classy’) or knowing your place in the world.”
On the realism of virtue: “It is and will remain the case that the best way to feel good for members of our species is to be good.”
On personal virtue: “Thinking realistically about personal virtue begins by correcting the autonomy freaks with the observation that persons or erotic or animated by love. That means that charity or caregiving is a higher virtue than justice, precisely because it’s more personal.”
On being “stuck with virtue”: “We’re stuck with virtue as human beings. There are natural reasons for that. We’re hardwired for virtue, so to speak, because we’re hardwired for a kind of language and or speech that opens us to the truth about ourselves and our world that no other animal can acquire. And we really can’t change our hardwiring in a way that will make us both distinctively or proudly human and genuinely happy—and we want both—without being good, without acting in a truthful and morally responsible way.”
On why “niceness” is not a virtue: “The key objection to niceness amounts to the fact that it’s not really a virtue. You can’t rely upon it as the foundation for the duties required of friends, family members, or fellow citizens. A nice person won’t fight for you; a nice person wouldn’t even lie for you, unless there’s something in it for him. A nice person wouldn’t be a Good Samaritan, if it required genuine risk or an undue deployment of time and treasure. A nice person isn’t animated by love or honor or God. Niceness, if you think about it, is the most selfish of virtues, one, as Tocqueville noticed, rooted in a deep indifference to the well-being of others. It’s more selfish than open selfishness, because the latter accords people the respect of letting them know where you stand. I let you do—and even affirm—whatever you do, because I don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t bother me.”
On the stoic virtues of “Friday Night Lights”: “A special place of honor has to be given to the best TV show ever—Friday Night Lights. There an honorable and hugely rational football coach—Eric Taylor—who cultivates and defends maybe the most genuine form of meritocracy (aside from military service) remaining in our country—high-school football. There honor and violence—disciplined by rules and not ending in death (although life-altering injuries)—produce a community of warriors that transcends the social boundaries of race and class. And that classy band of brothers is protected by their coach from the manipulative vulgarity of the trashy white oligarchy who run the town. The talents of Eric Taylor are those of a true aristocrat of talent and virtue that exists across time and space, and he does as well in leading men in inner-city Philadelphia as he does in Dylan Texas. His ‘Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose’ is, if you think about it, perfectly Stoic.”