The Courage to Be
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The Courage to Be

Paul Tillich

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eBook - ePub

The Courage to Be

Paul Tillich

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The imminent philosopher and theologian examines religion in light of science and philosophy in modern society. Originally published more than fifty years ago, The Courage to Be has become a classic of twentieth-century religious and philosophical thought. The great Christian existentialist thinker Paul Tillich describes the dilemma of modern man and points a way to the conquest of the prob-lem of anxiety. This edition includes a new introduction by Harvey Cox that situates the book within the theological conversation into which it first appeared and conveys its continued rele-vance in the current century. "The brilliance, the wealth of illustration, and the aptness of personal application…make the reading of these chapters an exciting experience."—W. Norman Pittenger, New York Times Book Review "The essential character of courage, for Tillich, is "in spite of." We must go on striving for freedom, justice, and our faith in spite of oppositions. In this age of late capitalism, globalization, and terrorism, we all need the virtue of courage as Harvey Cox admirably argues in the foreword."—Nimi Wariboko, Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, MA "Tillich struggled with the existential question how we may overcome the demoralizing effects, on the individual and society, of our Age of Anxiety. In this, his most popular book, Tillich gives us his deeply thought answers, and Harvey Cox provides a helpful new introduction."—Gerald Holton, Harvard University

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CHAPTER 3. Pathological Anxiety, Vitality, and Courage


We have discussed three forms of existential anxiety, an anxiety which is given with human existence itself. Non-existential anxiety, which is the result of contingent occurrences in human life, has been mentioned only in passing. It is now time to deal with it systematically. An ontology of anxiety and courage such as is developed in this book naturally cannot attempt to present a psychotherapeutic theory of neurotic anxiety. Many theories are under discussion today; and some of the leading psychotherapists, notably Freud himself, have developed different interpretations. There is, however, one common denominator in all the theories: anxiety is the awareness of unsolved conflicts between structural elements of the personality, as for instance conflicts between unconscious drives and repressive norms, between different drives trying to dominate the center of the personality, between imaginary worlds and the experience of the real world, between trends toward greatness and perfection and the experience of one’s smallness and imperfection, between the desire to be accepted by other people or society or the universe and the experience of being rejected, between the will to be and the seemingly intolerable burden of being which evokes the open or hidden desire not to be. All these conflicts, whether unconscious, subconscious, or conscious, whether unadmitted or admitted, make themselves felt in sudden or lasting stages of anxiety. Usually one of these explanations of anxiety is considered the fundamental one. A search for the basic anxiety, not in cultural but in psychological terms, is made by practical and theoretical analysts. But in most of these attempts a criterion of what is basic and what is derived seems to be lacking. Each of these explanations points to actual symptoms and fundamental structures. But because of the variety of the observed material the elevation of one part of it to central significance is usually not convincing. There is still another reason for the psychotherapeutic theory of anxiety being in a confused state in spite of all its brilliant insights. It is the lack of a clear distinction between existential and pathological anxiety, and between the main forms of existential anxiety. This cannot be made by depth-psychological analysis alone; it is a matter of ontology. Only in the light of an ontological understanding of human nature can the body of material provided by psychology and sociology be organized into a consistent and comprehensive theory of anxiety.
Pathological anxiety is a state of existential anxiety under special conditions. The general character of these conditions depends on the relation of anxiety to self-affirmation and courage. We have seen that anxiety tends to become fear in order to have an object with which courage can deal. Courage does not remove anxiety. Since anxiety is existential, it cannot be removed. But courage takes the anxiety of nonbeing into itself. Courage is self-affirmation “in spite of,” namely in spite of nonbeing. He who acts courageously takes, in his self-affirmation, the anxiety of nonbeing upon himself. Both prepositions, “into” and “upon,” are metaphoric and point to anxiety as an element within the total structure of self-affirmation, the element which gives self-affirmation the quality of “in spite of” and transforms it into courage. Anxiety turns us toward courage, because the other alternative is despair. Courage resists despair by taking anxiety into itself.
This analysis gives the key to understanding pathological anxiety. He who does not succeed in taking his anxiety courageously upon himself can succeed in avoiding the extreme situation of despair by escaping into neurosis. He still affirms himself but on a limited scale. Neurosis is the way of avoiding nonbeing by avoiding being. In the neurotic state self-affirmation is not lacking; it can indeed be very strong and emphasized. But the self which is affirmed is a reduced one. Some or many of its potentialities are not admitted to actualization, because actualization of being implies the acceptance of nonbeing and its anxiety. He who is not capable of a powerful self-affirmation in spite of the anxiety of nonbeing is forced into a weak, reduced self-affirmation. He affirms something which is less than his essential or potential being. He surrenders a part of his potentialities in order to save what is left. This structure explains the ambiguities of the neurotic character. The neurotic is more sensitive than the average man to the threat of nonbeing. And since nonbeing opens up the mystery of being (see Chapter 6) he can be more creative than the average. This limited extensiveness of self-affirmation can be balanced by greater intensity, but by an intensity which is narrowed to a special point accompanied by a distorted relation to reality as a whole. Even if pathological anxiety has psychotic traits, creative moments can appear. There are sufficient examples of this fact in the biographies of creative men. And as the example of the demoniacs of the New Testament shows, people far below the average can have flashes of insight which the masses and even the disciples of Jesus do not have: the profound anxiety produced by the presence of Jesus reveals to them in a very early stage of his appearance his messianic character. The history of human culture proves that again and again neurotic anxiety breaks through the walls of ordinary self-affirmation and opens up levels of reality which are normally hidden.
This however brings us to the question whether the normal self-affirmation of the average man is not even more limited than the pathological self-affirmation of the neurotic, and consequently whether the state of pathological anxiety and self-affirmation is not the ordinary state of man. It has often been said that there are neurotic elements in everybody and that the difference between the sick and the healthy mind is only a quantitative one. One could support this theory by referring to the psychosomatic character of most diseases and to the presence of elements of illness in even the most healthy body. Insofar as the psychosomatic correlation is valid this would indicate the presence of elements of illness also in the healthy mind. Is there then a distinction between the neurotic and the average mind which is conceptually sharp even if reality has many transitions?
The difference between the neurotic and the healthy (although potentially neurotic) personality is the following: the neurotic personality, on the basis of his greater sensitivity to nonbeing and consequently of his pro-founder anxiety, has settled down to a fixed, though limited and unrealistic, self-affirmation. This is, so to speak, the castle to which he has retired and which he defends with all means of psychological resistance against attack, be it from the side of reality or from the side of the analyst. And this resistance is not without some instinctive wisdom. The neurotic is aware of the danger of a situation in which his unrealistic self-affirmation is broken down and no realistic self-affirmation takes its place. The danger is either that he will fall back into another and much better defended neurosis or that with the breakdown of his limited self-affirmation he will fall into an unlimited despair.
The situation is different in the case of the normal self-affirmation of the average personality. That also is fragmentary. The average person keeps himself away from the extreme situations by dealing courageously with concrete objects of fear. He usually is not aware of nonbeing and anxiety in the depth of his personality. But his fragmentary self-affirmation is not fixed and defended against an overwhelming threat of anxiety. He is adjusted to reality in many more directions than the neurotic. He is superior in extensity, but he is lacking in the intensity which can make the neurotic creative. His anxiety does not drive him to the construction of imaginary worlds. He affirms himself in unity with those parts of reality which he encounters; and they are not definitively circumscribed. This is what makes him healthy in comparison with the neurotic. The neurotic is sick and needs healing because of the conflict in which he finds himself with reality. In this conflict he is hurt by the reality which permanently penetrates the castle of his defense and the imaginary world behind it. His limited and fixed self-affirmation both preserves him from an intolerable impact of anxiety and destroys him by turning him against reality and reality against him, and by producing another intolerable attack of anxiety. Pathological anxiety, in spite of its creative potentialities, is illness and danger and must be healed by being taken into a courage to be which is extensive as well as intensive.
There is a moment in which the self-affirmation of the average man becomes neurotic: when changes of the reality to which he is adjusted threaten the fragmentary courage with which he has mastered the accustomed objects of fear. If this happens—and it often happens in critical periods of history—the self-affirmation becomes pathological. The dangers connected with the change, the unknown character of the things to come, the darkness of the future make the average man a fanatical defender of the established order. He defends it as compulsively as the neurotic defends the castle of his imaginary world. He loses his comparative openness to reality, he experiences an unknown depth of anxiety. But if he is not able to take this anxiety into his self-affirmation his anxiety turns into neurosis. This is the explanation of the mass neuroses which usually appear at the end of an era (see the previous chapter about the three periods of anxiety in Western history). In such periods existential anxiety is mixed with neurotic anxiety to such a degree that historians and analysts are unable to draw the boundary lines sharply. When, for example, does the anxiety of condemnation which underlies asceticism become pathological? Is the anxiety about the demonic always neurotic or even psychotic? To what degree are present-day Existentialist descriptions of man’s predicament caused by neurotic anxiety?


Such questions prompt a consideration of the way of healing over which two faculties, the theological and the medical, struggle with each other. Medicine, above all psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, often claims that healing anxiety is its task because all anxiety is pathological. Healing consists in removing anxiety altogether, for anxiety is sickness, mostly in a psychosomatic, sometimes only in a psychological sense. All forms of anxiety can be healed, and since there is no ontological root of anxiety there is no existential anxiety. Medical insight and medical help—this is the conclusion—are the way to the courage to be; the medical profession is the only healing profession. Although this extreme position is taken by an ever-decreasing number of physicians and psychotherapists it remains important from the theoretical point of view. It includes a decision about the nature of man which must be made explicit, in spite of the positivistic resistance to ontology. The psychiatrist who asserts that anxiety is always pathological cannot deny the potentiality of illness in human nature, and he must account for the facts of finitude, doubt, and guilt in every human being; he must, in terms of his own presupposition, account for the universality of anxiety. He cannot avoid the question of human nature since in practicing his profession he cannot avoid the distinction between health and illness, existential and pathological anxiety. This is why more and more representatives of medicine generally and psychotherapy specifically ask for the cooperation with the philosophers and theologians. And it is why through this cooperation a practice of “counseling” has developed which is, like every attempted synthesis, dangerous as well as significant for the future. The medical faculty needs a doctrine of man in order to fulfill its theoretical task; and it cannot have a doctrine of man without the permanent cooperation of all those faculties whose central object is man. The medical profession has the purpose of helping man in some of his existential problems, those which usually are called diseases. But it cannot help man without the permanent cooperation of all other professions whose purpose is to help man as man. Both the doctrines about man and the help given to man are a matter of cooperation from many points of view. Only in this way is it possible to understand and to actualize man’s power of being, his essential self-affirmation, his courage to be.
The theological faculty and the practical ministry face the same problem. In all their teaching and practice a doctrine of man and with it an ontology is presupposed. This is why theology in most periods of its history has sought the assistance of philosophy in spite of frequent theological or popular protests (which are the counterpart to the protests of empirical medicine against the philosophers of medicine). However successful the escape from philosophy might have been, in regard to the doctrine of man it was plainly unsuccessful. Therefore in the interpretation of human existence theology and medicine unavoidably joined philosophy, whether they were conscious of it or not. And in joining philosophy they joined each other even if their understanding of man went toward opposite directions. Today the theological as well as the medical faculty is aware of this situation and its theoretical and practical implications. Theologians and ministers eagerly seek collaboration with medical men, and many forms of occasional or institutionalized cooperation result. But the lack of an ontological analysis of anxiety and of a sharp distinction between existential and pathological anxiety has prevented as many ministers and theologians as physicians and psychotherapists from entering this alliance. Since they do not see the difference they are unwilling to look at neurotic anxiety as they look at bodily disease, namely as an object of medical help. But if one preaches ultimate courage to somebody who is pathologically fixed to a limited self-affirmation, the content of the preaching is either resisted compulsively or—even worse—is taken into the castle of self-defense as another implement for avoiding the encounter with reality. Much enthusiastic reaction to religious appeal must be considered with suspicion from the point of view of a realistic self-affirmation. Much courage to be, created by religion, is nothing else than the desire to limit one’s own being and to strengthen this limitation through the power of religion. And even if religion does not lead to or does not directly support pathological self-reduction, it can reduce the openness of man to reality, above all to the reality which is himself. In this way religion can protect and feed a potentially neurotic state. These dangers must be realized by the minister and met with the help of the physician and psychotherapist.
Some principles for the cooperation of the theological and medical faculties in dealing with anxiety can be derived from our ontological analysis. The basic principle is that existential anxiety in its three main forms is not the concern of the physician as physician, although he must be fully aware of it; and, conversely, that neurotic anxiety in all its forms is not the concern of the minister as minister, although he must be fully aware of it. The minister raises the question concerning a courage to be which takes existential anxiety into itself. The physician raises the question concerning a courage to be in which the neurotic anxiety is removed. But neurotic anxiety is, as our ontological analysis has shown, the inability to take one’s existential anxiety upon oneself. Therefore the ministerial function comprehends both itself and the medical function. Neither of these functions is absolutely bound to those who exercise it professionally. The physician, especially the psychotherapist, can implicitly communicate courage to be and the power of taking existential anxiety upon oneself. He does not become a minister in doing so and he never should try to replace the minister, but he can become a helper to ultimate self-affirmation, thus performing a ministerial function. Conversely the minister or anyone else can become a medical helper. He does not become a physician and no minister should aspire to become one as a minister although he may radiate healing power for mind and body and help to remove neurotic anxiety.
If this basic principle is applied to the three main forms of existential anxiety other principles can be derived. The anxiety of fate and death produces nonpathological strivings for security. Large sections of man’s civilization serve the purpose of giving him safety against the attacks of fate and death. He realizes that no absolute and no final security is possible; he also realizes that life demands again and again the courage to surrender some or even all security for the sake of full self-affirmation. Nevertheless he tries to reduce the power of fate and the threat of death as much as possible. Pathological anxiety about fate and death impels toward a security which is comparable to the security of a prison. He who lives in this prison is unable to leave the security given to him by his self-imposed limitations. But these limitations are not based on a full awareness of reality. Therefore the security of the neurotic is unrealistic. He fears what is not to be feared and he feels to be safe what is not safe. The anxiety which he is not able to take upon himself produces images having no basis in reality, but it recedes in the face of things which should be feared. That is, one avoids particular dangers, although they are hardly real, and suppresses the awareness of having to die although this is an ever-present reality. Misplaced fear is a consequence of the pathological form of the anxiety of fate and death.
The same structure can be observed in the pathological forms of the anxiety of guilt and condemnation. The normal, existential anxiety of guilt drives the person toward attempts to avoid this anxiety (usually called the uneasy conscience) by avoiding guilt. Moral self-discipline and habits will produce moral perfection although one remains aware that they cannot remove the imperfection which is implied in man’s existential situation, his estrangement from his true being. Neurotic anxiety does the same thing but in a limited, fixed, and unrealistic way. The anxiety of becoming guilty, the horror of feeling condemned, are so strong that they make responsible decisions and any kind of moral action almost impossible. But since decisions and actions cannot be avoided they are reduced to a minimum which, however, is considered absolutely perfect; and the sphere where they take place is defended against any provocation to transcend it. Here also the separation from reality has the consequence that the consciousness of guilt is misplaced. The moralistic self-defense of the neurotic makes him see guilt where there is no guilt or where one is guilty only in a very indirect way. Yet the awareness of real guilt and the self-condemnation which is identical with man’s existential self-estrangement are repressed, because the courage which could take them into itself is lacking.
The pathological forms of the anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness show similar characteristics. Existential anxiety of doubt drives the person toward the creation of certitude in systems of meaning, which are supported by tradition and authority. In spite of the element of doubt which is implied in man’s finite spirituality, and in spite of the threat of meaninglessness implied in man’s estrangement, anxiety is reduced by these ways of producing and preserving certitude. Neurotic anxiety builds a narrow castle of certitude which can be defended and is defended with the utmost tenacity. Man’s power of asking is prevented from becoming actual in this sphere, and if there is a danger of its becoming actualized by questions asked from the outside he reacts with a fanatical rejection. However the castle of undoubted certitude is not built on the rock of reality. The inability of the neurotic to have a full encounter with reality makes his doubts as well as his certitudes unrealistic. He puts both in the wrong place. He doubts what is practically above doubt and he is certain where doubt is adequate. Above all, he does not admit the question of meaning in its universal and radical sense. The question is in him, as it is in every man as man under the conditions of existential estrangement. But he cannot admit it because he is without the courage to take the anxiety of emptiness or doubt and meaninglessness upon himself.
The analyses of pathological in relation to existential anxiety have brought out the following principles: I. Existential anxiety has an ontological character and cannot be removed but must be taken into the courage to be. 2. Pathological anxiety is the consequence of the failure of the self to take the anxiety upon itself. 3. Pathological anxiety leads to self-affirmation on a limited, fixed, and unrealistic basis and to a compulsory defense of this basis. 4. Pathological anxiety, in relation to the anxiety of fate and death, produces an unrealistic security; in relation to the anxiety of guilt and condemnation, an unrealistic perfection; in relation to the anxiety of doubt and meaninglessness, an unrealistic certitude. 5. Pathological anxiety, once established, is an object of medical healing. Existential anxiety is an object of priestly help. Neither the medical nor the priestly function is bound to its vocational representatives: the minister may be a healer and the psychotherapist a priest, and each human being may be both in relation to the “neighbor.” But the functions should not be confused and the representatives should not try to replace each other. The goal of both of them is helping men to reach full self-affirmation, to attain the courage to be.


Anxiety and courage have a psychosomatic character. They are biological as well as psychological. From the biological point of view one would say that fear and anxiety are the guardians, indicating the threat of nonbeing to a living being and producing movements of protection and resistance to this threat. Fear and anxiety must be considered as expressions of what one could call: “self-affirmation on its guard.” Without the anticipating fear and the compelling anxiety no finite being would be able to exist. Courage, in this view, is the readiness to take upon oneself negatives, anticipated by fear, for the sake of a fuller positivity. Biological self-affirmation implies the acceptance of want, toil, insecurity, pain, possible destruction. Without this self-affirmation life could not be preserved or increased. The more vital strength a being has the more it is able to affirm itself in spite of the dangers announced by fear and anxiety. However, it would contradict their biological function if courage disregarded their warnings and prompted actions of a directly self-destructive character. This is the truth in Aristotle’s doctrine of courage as the right mean between cowardice and temerity. Biological self-affirmation needs a balance between courage and fear. Such a balance is present in all living beings which are able to preserve and increase their being. If the warnings of fear no longer have an effect or if the dynamics of courage have lost their power, life vanishes. The drive for security, perfection, and certitude to which we have referred is biologically necessary. But it becomes biologically destructive if the risk of insecurity, imperfection, and uncertainty is avoided. Conversely, a risk which has a realistic foundation in our self and our world is biologically demanded, while it is self-destructive without such a foundation. Life, in consequence, includes both fear and courage as elements of a life process in a changing but essentially established balance. As long as life has such a balance it is able to resist nonbeing. Unbalanced fear and unbalanced courage destroy the life whose preservation and increase are the function of the balance of fear and courage.
A life process which shows this balance and with it power of being has, in biological terms, vitality, i.e. life power. The right courage therefore must, like the right fear, be understood as the expression of perfect vitality. The courage to be is a function of vitality. Diminishing vitality consequently entails diminishing courage. To strengthen vitality means to strengthen the courage to be. Neurotic individuals and neurotic periods are lacking in vitality. Their biological substance has disintegrated. They have lost the power of full self-affirmation, of the courage to be. Whether this happens or not is the result of biological processes, it is biological fate. The periods of a diminished courage to be are periods of biological weakness in the individual and in history. The three main periods of unbalanced anxiety are periods of reduced vitality; they are ends of an era and could be overcome only by the rise of vitally powerful groups that replaced the vitally disintegrated groups.
Up to this point we have given the biological argument without criticism. We now must examine the validity of its different steps. The first question to be asked refers to the difference between fear and anxiety as developed earlier. There can be no doubt that fear which is directed toward a definite object has the biological function of announcing threats of nonbeing and provoking measures of protection and resistance. But one must ask: Is the same true of anxiety? Our biological argument has used the term fear predominantly, the term anxiety only exceptionally. This was done intentionally. For, biologically speaking, anxiety is more destructive than protective. While fear can lead to measures that deal with the objects of fear, anxiety cannot do so because it has no objects. The fact, already referred to, that life tries to transform anxiety into fear shows that anxiety is biologically useless and cannot be explained in terms of life protection. It produces self-defying forms of behavior. Anxiety therefore by its very nature transcends the biological argument.
The second point to be made concerns the concept of vitality. The meaning of vitality has become an important problem since fascism and nazism transferred the theoretical emphasis on vitality into political systems which in the name of vitality attacked most of the values of the Western world. In Plato’s Laches the relation of courage and vitality is discussed in terms of whether animals have courage. Much can be said for an affirmative answer: the balance between fear and courage is well developed in the animal realm. Animals are warned by fear, but under special conditions they disregard their fear and risk pain and annihilation for the sake of those who are a part of their own self-affirmation, e.g., their descendants or their flock. But in spite of these obvious facts Plato rejects animal courage. Naturally so, for if courage is the knowledge of what to avoid and what to dare, courage cannot be separated from man as a rational being.
Vitality, power of life, is correlated to the kind of life to which it gives power. The power of man’s life cannot be seen separately from what the medieval philosophers called “intentionality,” the relation to meanings. Man’s vitality is as great as his intentionality; they are interdependent. This makes man the most vital of all beings. He can transcend any given situation in any direction and this possibility drives him to create beyond himself. Vitality is the power of creating beyond oneself without losing oneself. The more power of creating beyond itself a being has the more vitality it has. The world of technical creations is the most conspicuous expression of man’s vitality and its infinite superiority over animal vitality. Only man has complete vitality because he alone has complete intentionality.
We have defined intentionality as “being directed toward meaningful contents.” Man lives “in” meanings, in that which is valid logically, esthetically, ethically, religiously. His subjectivity is impregnated with objectivity. In every encounter with reality the structures of self and world are interdependently present. The most fundamental expression of this fact is the language which gives man the power to abstract from the concretely given and, after having abstracted from it, to return to it, to interpret and transform it. The most vital being is the being which has the word and is by the word liberated from bondage to the given. In every encounter with reality man is already beyond this encounter. He knows about it, he compares it, he is tempted by other possibilities, he anticipates the future as he remembers the past. This is his freedom, and in this freedom the power of his life consists. It is the source of his vitality.
If the correlation between vitality and intentionality is rightly understood one can accept the biological interpretation of courage within the limits of its validity. Certainly courage is a function of vitality, but vitality is not something which can be separated from the totality of man’s being, his language, his creativity, his spiritual life, his ultimate concern. One of the unfortunate consequences of the intellectualization of man’s spiritual life was that the word “spirit” was lost and replaced by mind or intellect, and that the element of vitality which is present in “spirit” was separated and interpreted as an independent biological force. Man was divided into a bloodless intellect and a meaningless vitality. The middle ground between them, the spiritual soul in which vitality and intentionality are united, was dropped. At the end of this development it was easy for a reductive naturalism to derive self-affirmation and courage from a merely biological vitality. But in man nothing is “merely biological” as nothing is “merely spiritual.” Every cell of his body participates in his freedom and spirituality, and every act of his spiritual creativity is nourished by his vital dynamics.
This unity was presupposed in the Greek word areté. It can be translated by virtue, but only if the moralistic connotations of “virtue” are removed. The Greek term combines strength and value, the power of being and the fulfillment of meaning. The aretés is the bearer of high values, and the ultimate test of his areté is his readiness to sacrifice himself for them. His courage expresses his intentionality as much as his vitality. It is spiritually formed vitality which makes him aretés. Behind this terminology stands the judgment of the ancient world that courage is noble. The pattern of the courageous man is not the self-wasting barbarian whose vitality is not fully human but the educated Greek who knows the anxiety of nonbeing because he knows the value of being. It may be added that the Latin word virtus and its derivatives, the Renaissance-Italian virtu and the Renaissance-English “virtue,” have a meaning similar to areté. They designate the quality of those who unite masculine strength (virtus) with moral nobility. Vitality and intentionality are united in this ideal of human perfection, which is equally removed from barbarism and from moralism.
In the light of these considerations one could reply to the biologistic argument that it falls short of what classical antiquity had called courage. Vitalism in the sense of a separation of the vital from the intentional necessarily reestablishes the barbarian as the ideal of courage. Although this is done in the interest of science it expresses—usually against the will of its naturalistic defenders—a prehumanist attitude and can, if used by demagogues, produce the barbaric ideal of courage as it appeared in fascism and nazism. “Pure” vitality in man is never pure but always distorted, because man’s power of life is his freedom and the spirituality in which vitality and intentionality are united.
There is, however, a third point on which the biological interpretation of courage demands evaluation. It is the answer biologism gives to the question of where the courage to be originates. The biological argument answers: in the vital power which is a natural gift, a matter of biological fate. This is very similar to the ancient and medieval answers in which a combination of biological and historical fate, the aristocratic situation, was considered the condition favorable for the growth of courage. In both cases courage is a possibility dependent not on will power or insight but on a gift which precedes action. The tragic view of the early Greeks and the deterministic view of modern naturalism agree in this point: the power of “self-affirmation in spite of,” i.e. the courage to be, is a matter of fate. This does not prohibit a moral valuation but it prohibits a moralistic valuation of courage: one cannot command the courage to be and one cannot gain it by obeying a command. Religiously speaking, it is a matter of grace. As often happens in the history of thought, naturalism has paved the way to a new understanding of grace, while idealism has prevented such understanding. From this point of view the biological argument is very important and must be taken seriously, especially by ethics, in spite of the distortions of the concept of vitality in biological as well as in political vitalism. The truth of the vitalistic interpretation of ethics is grace. Courage as grace is a result and a question.

CHAPTER 4. Courage and Participation



This is not the place to develop a doctrine of the basic ontological structure and its constituent elements. Something of it has been done in my Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Part I. The present discussion must refer to the assertions of those chapters without repeating their arguments. Ontological principles have a polar character according to the basic polar structure of being, that of self and world. The first polar elements are individualization and participation. Their bearing on the problem of courage is obvious, if courage is defined as the self-affirmation of being in spite of nonbeing. If we ask: what is the subject of this self-affirmation, we must answer: the individual self which participates in the world, i.e. the structural universe of being. Man’s self-affirmation has two sides which are distinguishable but not separable: one is the affirmation of the self as a self; that is of a separated, self-centered, individualized, incomparable, free, self-determining self. This is what one affirms in every act of self-affirmation. This is what one defends against nonbeing and affirms courageously by taking nonbeing upon one-self. The threatened loss of it is the essence of anxiety, and the awareness of concrete threats to it is the essence of fear. Ontological self-affirmation precedes all differences of metaphysical, ethical, or religious definition of the self. Ontological self-affirmation is neither natural nor spiritual, neither good nor evil, neither immanent nor transcendent. These differences are possible only because of the underlying ontological self-affirmation of the self as self. In the same way the concepts which characterize the individual self lie below the differences of valuation: separation is not estrangement, self-centeredness is not selfishness, self-determination is not sinfulness. They are structural descriptions and the condition of both love and hate, condemnation and salvation. It is time to end the bad theological usage of jumping with moral indignation on every word in which the syllable “self” appears. Even moral indignation would not exist without a centered self and ontological self-affirmation.
The subject of self-affirmation is the centered self. As centered self it is an individualized self. It can be destroyed but it cannot be divided: each of its parts has the mark of this and no other self. Nor can it be exchanged: its self-affirmation is directed to itself as this unique, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable individual. The theological assertion that every human soul has an infinite value is a consequence of the ontological self-affirmation as an indivisible, unexchangeable self. It can be called “the courage to be as oneself.”
But the self is self only because it has a world, a structured universe, to which it belongs and from which it is separated at the same time. Self and world are correlated, and so are individualization and participation. For this is just what participation means: being a part of something from which one is, at the same time, separated. Literally, participation means “taking part.” This can be used in a threefold sense. It can be used in the sense of “sharing,” as, for instance, sharing a room; or in the sense of “having in common,” as Plato speaks of the methexis (“having with”), the participation of the individual in the universal; or it can be used in the sense of “being a part,” for instance of a political movement. In all these cases participation is a partial identity and a partial nonidentity. A part of a whole is not identical with the whole to which it belongs. But the whole is what it is only with the part. The relation of the body and its limbs is the most obvious example. The self is a part of the world which it has as its world. The world would not be what it is without this individual self. One says that somebody is identified with a movement. This participation makes his being and the being of the movement partly the same. To understand the highly dialectical nature of participation it is necessary to think in terms of power instead of in terms of things. The partial identity of definitely separated things cannot be thought of. But the power of being can be shared by different individuals. The power of being of a state can be shared by all its citizens, and in an outstanding way by its rulers. Its power is partly their power, although its power transcends their power and their power transcends its power. The identity of participation is an identity in the power of being. In this sense the power of being of the individual self is partly identical with the power of being of his world, and conversely.
For the concepts of self-affirmation and courage this means that the self-affirmation of the self as an individual self always includes the affirmation of the power of being in which the self participates. The self affirms itself as participant in the power of a group, of a movement, of essences, of the power of being as such. Self-affirmation, if it is done in spite of the threat of nonbeing, is the courage to be. But it is not the courage to be as oneself, it is the “courage to be as a part.”
The phrase “courage to be as a part” presents a difficulty. While it obviously demands courage to be as oneself, the will to be as a part seems to express the lack of courage, namely the desire to live under the protection of a larger whole. Not courage but weakness seems to induce us to affirm ourselves as a part. But being as a part points to the fact that self-affirmation necessarily includes the affirmation of oneself as “participant,” and that this side of our self-affirmation is threatened by nonbeing as much as the other side, the affirmation of the self as an individual self. We are threatened not only with losing our individual selves but also with losing participation in our world. Therefore self-affirmation as a part requires courage as much as does self-affirmation as oneself. It is one courage which takes a double threat of nonbeing into itself. The courage to be is essentially always the courage to be as a part and the courage to be as oneself, in interdependence. The courage to be as a part is an integral element of the courage to be as oneself, and the courage to be as oneself is an integral element of the courage to be as a part. But under the conditions of human finitude and estrangement that which is essentially united becomes existentially split. The courage to be as a part separates itself from unity with the courage to be as oneself, and conversely; and both disintegrate in their isolation. The anxiety they had taken into themselves is unloosed and becomes destructive. This situation determines our further procedure: we shall deal first with manifestations of the courage to be as a part, then with manifestations of the courage to be as oneself, and in the third place we shall consider a courage in which the two sides are reunited.


The courage to be as a part is the courage to affirm one’s own being by participation. One participates in the world to which one belongs and from which one is at the same time separated. But participating in the world becomes real through participation in those sections of it which constitute one’s own life. The world as a whole is potential, not actual. Those sections are actual with which one is partially identical. The more self-relatedness a being has the more it is able, according to the polar structure of reality, to participate. Man as the completely centered being or as a person can participate in everything, but he participates through that section of the world which makes him a person. Only in the continuous encounter with other persons does the person become and remain a person. The place of this encounter is the community. Man’s participation in nature is direct, insofar as he is a definite part of nature through his bodily existence. His participation in nature is indirect and mediated through the community insofar as he transcends nature by knowing and shaping it. Without language there are no universals; without universals no transcending of nature and no relation to it as nature. But language is communal, not individual. The section of reality in which one participates immediately is the community to which one belongs. Through it and only through it participation in the world as a whole and in all its parts is mediated.
Therefore he who has the courage to be as a part has the courage to affirm himself as a part of the community in which he participates. His self-affirmation is a part of the self-affirmation of the social groups which constitute the society to which he belongs. This seems to imply that there is a collective and not only an individual self-affirmation, and that the collective self-affirmation is threatened by nonbeing, producing collective anxiety, which is met by collective courage. One could say the subject of this anxiety and this courage is a we-self as against the ego-selves who are parts of it. But such an enlargement of the meaning of “self” must be rejected. Self-hood is self-centeredness. Yet there is no center in a group in the sense in which it exists in a person. There may be a central power, a king, a president, a dictator. He may be able to impose his will on the group. But it is not the group which decides if he decides, though the group may follow. Therefore it is neither adequate to speak of a we-self nor useful to employ the terms collective anxiety and collective courage. When describing the three periods of anxiety, we pointed out that masses of people were overtaken by a special type of anxiety because many of them experienced the same anxiety-producing situation and because outbreaks of anxiety are always contagious. There is no collective anxiety save an anxiety which has overtaken many or all members of a group and has been intensified or changed by becoming universal. The same is true of what is wrongly called collective courage. There is no entity “we-self” as the subject of courage. There are selves who participate in a group and whose character is partly determined by this participation. The assumed we-self is a common quality of ego-selves within a group. The courage to be as a part is like all forms of courage, a quality of individual selves.
A collectivist society is one in which the existence and life of the individual are determined by the existence and institutions of the group. In collectivist societies the courage of the individual is the courage to be as a part. Looking at so-called primitive societies one finds typical forms of anxiety and typical institutions in which courage expresses itself. The individual members of the group develop equal anxieties and fears. And they use the same methods of developing courage and fortitude which are prescribed by traditions and institutions. This courage is the courage which every member of the group is supposed to have. In many tribes the courage to take pain upon oneself is the test of full membership in the group, and the courage to take death upon oneself is a lasting test in the life of most groups. The courage of him who stands these tests is the courage to be as a part. He affirms himself through the group in which he participates. The potential anxiety of losing himself in the group is not actualized, because the identification with the group is complete. Nonbeing in the form of the threat of loss of self in the group has not yet appeared. Self-affirmation within a group includes the courage to accept guilt and its consequences as public guilt, whether one is oneself responsible or whether somebody else is. It is a problem of the group which has to be expiated for the sake of the group, and the methods of punishment and satisfaction requested by the group are accepted by the individual. Individual guilt consciousness exists only as the consciousness of a deviation from the institutions and rules of the collective. Truth and meaning are embodied in the traditions and symbols of the group, and there is no autonomous asking and doubt. But even in a primitive collective, as in every human community, there are outstanding members, the bearers of the traditions and leaders of the future. They must have sufficient distance in order to judge and to change. They must take responsibility and ask questions. This unavoidably produces individual doubt and personal guilt. Nevertheless, the predominant pattern is the courage to be as a part in all members of the primitive group.
In the first chapter, while dealing with the concept of courage, I referred to the Middle Ages and its aristocratic interpretation of courage. The courage of the Middle Ages as of every feudal society is basically the courage to be as a part. The so-called realistic philosophy of the Middle Ages is a philosophy of participation. It presupposes that universals logically and collectives actually have more reality than the individual. The particular (literally: being a small part) has its power of being by participation in the universal. The self-affirmation expressed for instance in the self-respect of the individual is self-affirmation as follower of a feudal lord or as the member of a guild or as the student in an academic corporation or as a bearer of a special function like that of a craft or a trade or a profession. But the Middle Ages, in spite of all primitive elements, is not primitive. Two things happened in the ancient world which separate medieval collectivism definitively from primitive collectivism. One was the discovery of personal guilt—called by the prophets guilt before God: the decisive step to the personalization of religion and culture. The other was the beginning of autonomous question-asking in Greek philosophy, the decisive step to the problematization of culture and religion. Both elements were transmitted to the medieval nations by the Church. With them went the anxiety of guilt and condemnation and the anxiety of doubt and meaninglessness. As in later antiquity this could have led to a situation in which the courage to be as oneself was necessary. But the Church gave an antidote against the threat of anxiety and despair, namely itself, its traditions, its sacraments, its education, and its authority. The anxiety of guilt was taken into the courage to be as a part of the sacramental community. The anxiety of doubt was taken into the courage to be as a part of the community in which revelation and reason are united. In this way the medieval courage to be was, in spite of its difference from primitive collectivism, the courage to be as a part. The tension created by this situation is theoretically expressed in the attack of nominalism on medieval realism and the permanent conflict between them. Nominalism attributes ultimate reality to the individual and would have led much earlier than it actually did to a dissolution of the medieval system of participation if the immensely strengthened authority of the Church had not delayed it.
In religious practice the same tension was expressed in the duality of the sacraments of the mass and of penance. The former mediated the objective power of salvation in which everybody was supposed to participate, if possible by being present at its daily performance. In consequence of this universal participation guilt and grace were felt not only as personal but also as communal. The punishment of the sinner had representative character in such a way that the whole community suffered with him. And the liberation of the sinner from punishment on earth and in purgatory was partly dependent on the representative holiness of the saints and the love of those who made sacrifices for his liberation. Nothing is more characteristic of the medieval system of participation than this mutual representation. The courage to be as a part and to take upon oneself the anxieties of nonbeing is embodied in medieval institutions as it was in primitive forms of life. But medieval semicollectivism came to an end when the anticollectivist pole, represented by the sacrament of penance, came to the fore. The principle that only “contrition,” the personal and total acceptance of judgment and grace, can make the objective sacraments effective was impelling toward reduction and even exclusion of the objective element, of representation and participation. In the act of contrition everybody stands alone before God; and it was hard for the Church to mediate this element with the objective one. Finally it proved impossible and the system disintegrated. At the same time the nominalistic tradition became powerful and liberated itself from the heteronomy of the Church. In Reformation and Renaissance the medieval courage to be as a part, its semicollectivist system, came to an end, and developments started which brought the question of the courage to be as oneself to the fore.


In reaction to the predominance of the courage to be as oneself in modern Western history, movements of a neocollectivist character have arisen: fascism, nazism, and communism. The basic difference of all of them from primitive collectivism and medieval semicollectivism is threefold. First, neocollectivism is preceded by the liberation of autonomous reason and the creation of a technical civilization. It uses the scientific and technical achievements of this development for its purposes. Secondly, neocollectivism has arisen in a situation where it meets many competing tendencies, even within the neocollectivist movement. Therefore it is less stable and safe than the older forms of collectivism. This leads to the third and most conspicuous difference: the totalitarian methods of present collectivism in terms of a national state or a supranational empire. The reason for this is the necessity for a centralized technical organization and even more for the suppression of tendencies which could dissolve the collectivist system by alternatives and individual decisions. But these three differences do not prevent neocollectivism from showing many traits of the primitive collectivisms, above all the exclusive emphasis on self-affirmation by participation, on the courage to be as a part.
The relapse to tribal collectivism was readily visible in Nazism. The German idea of the Volksgeist (national spirit) was a good basis for it. The “blood and soil” mythology strengthened this tendency, and the mystical deification of the Führer did the rest. In comparison with it, original communism was rational eschatology, a movement of criticism and expectation, in many respects similar to the prophetic ideas. However, after the establishment of the Communist state in Russia, the rational and eschatological elements were thrown out and disappeared, and the relapse to tribal collectivism was pushed in all spheres of life. Russian nationalism in its political and in its mystical expressions was amalgamated with the Communist ideology. Today “cosmopolitan” is the name for the worst heretic in the Communist countries. The Communists in spite of their prophetic background, their valuation of reason, and their tremendous technical productivity have almost reached the stage of tribal collectivism.
Therefore it is possible to analyze the courage to be as a part in neocollectivism by looking mainly at its Communist manifestation. Its world historical significance must be seen in the light of an ontology of self-affirmation and courage. One would avoid the issue if one derived the characteristics of Communist neocollectivism from contributing causes like the Russian character, the history of Tsarism, the terror of Stalinism, the dynamics of a totalitarian system, the world political constellation. All these things contribute but are not the source. They help to preserve and to spread the system but they do not constitute its essence. Its essence is the courage to be as a part which it gives to masses of people who lived under an increasing threat of nonbeing and a growing feeling of anxiety. The traditional ways of life from which they got either inherited forms of the courage to be as a part or, since the 19th century, new possibilities of the courage to be as oneself, were rapidly uprooted in the modern world. This has happened and is happening in Europe as well as in the remotest corners of Asia and Africa. It is a world-wide development. And communism gives to those who have lost or are losing their old collectivist self-affirmation a new collectivism and with it a new courage to be as a part. If we look at the convinced adherents of communism we find the willingness to sacrifice any individual fulfillment to the self-affirmation of the group and to the goal of the movement. But perhaps the Communist fighter would not approve of such a description of what he does. Perhaps, like fanatical believers in all movements, he would not feel that he makes a sacrifice. He may feel that he has taken the only right way in which to reach his own fulfillment. If he affirms himself by affirming the collective in which he participates, he receives himself back from the collective, filled and fulfilled by it. He gives much of what belongs to his individual self, perhaps its existence as a particular being in time and space, but he receives more because his true being is enclosed in the being of the group. In surrendering himself to the cause of the collective he surrenders that in him which is not included in the self-affirmation of the collective; and this he does not deem to be worthy of affirmation. In this way the anxiety of individual nonbeing is transformed into anxiety about the collective, and anxiety about the collective is conquered by the courage to affirm oneself through participation in the collective.
This can be shown in relation to the three main types of anxiety. As in every human being the anxiety of fate and death is present in the convinced Communist. No being can accept its own nonbeing without a negative reaction. The terror of the totalitarian state would be meaningless without the possibility of producing terror in its subjects. But the anxiety of fate and death is taken into the courage to be as a part within the whole by whose terror one is threatened. Through the participation one affirms that which may become a destructive fate or even the cause of death for oneself. A more penetrating analysis shows the following structure: Participation is partial identity, partial nonidentity. Fate and death may hurt or destroy that part of oneself that is not identical with the collective in which one participates. But there is another part according to the partial identity of participation. And this other part is neither hurt nor destroyed by the demands and actions of the whole. It transcends fate and death. It is eternal in the sense in which the collective is considered to be eternal, namely as an essential manifestation of being universal. All this need not be conscious in the members of the collective. But it is implicit in their emotions and actions. They are infinitely concerned about the fulfillment of the group. And from this concern they derive their courage to be. The term eternal should not be confused with immortal. There is no idea of individual immortality in old and new collectivism. The collective in which one participates replaces individual immortality. On the other hand, it is not a resignation to annihilation—otherwise no courage to be would be possible—but it is something above both immortality and annihilation; it is the participation in something which transcends death, namely the collective, and through it, in being-itself. He who is in this position feels in the moment of the sacrifice of his life that he is taken into the life of the collective and through it into the life of the universe as an integral element of it, even if not as a particular being. This is similar to the Stoic courage to be; and it is in the last analysis Stoicism that underlies this attitude. It is true today as it was in later antiquity that the Stoic attitude, even if appearing in a collectivist form, is the only serious alternative to Christianity. The difference between the genuine Stoic and the neocollectivist is that the latter is bound in the first place to the collective and in the second place to the universe, while the Stoic was first of all related to the universal Logos and secondly to possible human groups. But in both cases the anxiety of fate and death is taken into the courage to be as a part.
In the same way the anxiety of doubt and meaninglessness is taken into neocollectivist courage. The strength of the Communist self-affirmation prevents the actualization of doubt and the outbreak of the anxiety of meaninglessness. The meaning of life is the meaning of the collective. Even those who live as victims of the terror at the lowest level of the social hierarchy do not doubt the validity of the principles. What happens to them is a problem of fate and demands the courage to overcome the anxiety of fate and death and not the anxiety of doubt and meaninglessness. In this certainty the Communist looks contemptuously at Western society. He observes the large amount of anxiety of doubt in it, and he interprets this as the main symptom of the morbidity and approaching end of bourgeois society. This is one of the reasons for the expulsion and prohibition of most of the modern forms of artistic expression in the neocollectivist countries, although they have made important contributions to the rise and development of modern art and literature in their last pre-Communist period, and although communism, in its fighting stage, has used their antibourgeois elements for its propaganda. With the establishment of the collective and the exclusive emphasis on self-affirmation as a part, those expressions of the courage to be as oneself had to be rejected.
The neocollectivist is also able to take the anxiety of guilt and condemnation into his courage to be as a part. It is not his personal sin that produces anxiety of guilt but a real or possible sin against the collective. The collective, in this respect, replaces for him the God of judgment, repentance, punishment, and forgiveness. To the collective he confesses, often in forms reminiscent of early Christianity or later sectarian groups. From the collective he accepts judgment and punishment. To it he directs his desire for forgiveness and his promise of self-transformation. If he is accepted back by it, his guilt is overcome and a new courage to be is possible. These most striking features in the Communist way of life can hardly be understood if one does not go down to their ontological roots and their existential power in a system which is based on the courage to be as a part.
This description is a typological one, as the descriptions of the earlier forms of collectivism were. A typological description presupposes by its very nature that the type is rarely fully actualized. There are degrees of approximation, mixtures, transitions, and deviations. But it was not my intention to give a picture of the Russian situation as a whole, including the significance of the Greek Orthodox Church, or of the different national movements or of individual dissenters. I wanted to describe the neocollectivist structure and its type of courage, as actualized predominantly in present-day Russia.


The same methodological approach is made to what I shall call democratic conformism. Its most characteristic actualization has taken place in present-day America, but its roots go far back into the European past. Like the neocollectivist way of life it cannot be understood in the light of merely contributing factors as a frontier situation, the need to amalgamate many nationalities, the long isolation from active world politics, the influence of puritanism and so on. In order to understand it one must ask: Which is the type of courage underlying democratic conformism, how does it deal with the anxieties in human existence, and how is it related to neocollectivist self-affirmation on the one hand, to the manifestations of the courage to be as oneself on the other hand? Another remark must be made at the outset. Present-day America has received, since the early 1930’s, influences from Europe and Asia which represent either extreme forms of the courage to be as oneself, like Existentialist literature and art, or attempts to overcome the anxiety of our period by different forms of transcendent courage. But these influences are still limited to the intelligentsia and to people whose eyes have been opened by the impact of world historical events to the questions asked by recent Existentialism. They have not reached the masses of people in any social group and they have not changed the basic trends of feeling and thought and the corresponding attitudes and institutions. On the contrary, the trends toward being as a part and toward affirming one’s being by participation in given structures of life are rapidly increasing. Conformity is growing, but it has not yet become collectivism.
The Neo-Stoics of the Renaissance, by transforming the courage to accept fate passively (as in the old Stoics) into an active wrestling with fate, actually prepared the way for the courage to be in the democratic conformism of America. In the symbolism of Renaissance art fate is sometimes represented as the wind blowing on the sails of a vessel, while man stands at the steering wheel and determines the direction as much as it can be determined under the given conditions. Man tries to actualize all his potentialities; and his potentialities are inexhaustible. For he is the microcosm, in whom all cosmic forces are potentially present, and who participates in all spheres and strata of the universe. Through him the universe continues the creative process which first has produced him as the aim and the center of the creation. Now man has to shape his world and himself, according to the productive powers given to him. In him nature comes to its fulfillment, it is taken into his knowledge and his transforming technical activity. In the visual arts nature is drawn into the human sphere and man is posited in nature, and both are shown in their ultimate possibilities of beauty.
The bearer of this creative process is the individual who, as an individual, is a unique representative of the universe. Most important is the creative individual, the genius, in whom, as Kant later formulated it, the unconscious creativity of nature breaks into the consciousness of man. Men like Pico della Mirandola, Leonardo da Vinci, Giordano Bruno, Shaftesbury, Goethe, Schelling were inspired by this idea of a participation in the creative process of the universe. In these men enthusiasm and rationality were united. Their courage was both the courage to be as oneself and the courage to be as a part. The doctrine of the individual as the microcosmic participant in the creative process of the macrocosm presented them with the possibility of this synthesis.
Man’s productivity moves from potentiality to actuality in such a way that everything actualized has potentialities for further actualization. This is the basic structure of progress. Although described in Aristotelian terminology, the belief in progress is completely different from the attitude of Aristotle and the whole ancient world. In Aristotle the movement from potentiality to actuality is vertical, going from the lower to the higher forms of being. In modern progressivism the movement from potentiality to actuality is horizontal, temporal, futuristic. And this is the main form in which the self-affirmation of modern Western humanity manifested itself. It was courage, for it had to take into itself an anxiety which grew with the growing knowledge of the universe and our world within it. The earth had been thrown out of the center of the world by Copernicus and Galileo. It had become small, and in spite of the “heroic affect” with which Giordano Bruno dived into the infinity of the universe a feeling of being lost in the ocean of cosmic bodies and among the unbreakable rules of their motion crept into the hearts of many. The courage of the modern period was not a simple optimism. It had to take into itself the deep anxiety of nonbeing in a universe without limits and without a humanly understandable meaning. This anxiety could be taken into the courage but it could not be removed, and it came to the surface any time when the courage was weakened.
This is the decisive source of the courage to be as a part in the creative process of nature and history, as it developed in Western civilization and, most conspicuously, in the new world. But it underwent many changes before it turned into the conformistic type of the courage to be as a part which characterizes present-day American democracy. The cosmic enthusiasm of the Renaissance vanished under the influence of Protestantism and rationalism, and when it reappeared in the classic-romantic movements of the late 18th and early 19th centuries it was not able to gain much influence in industrial society. The synthesis between individuality and participation, based on the cosmic enthusiasm, was dissolved. A permanent tension developed between the courage to be as oneself as it was implied in Renaissance individualism and the courage to be as a part as it was implied in Renaissance universalism. Extreme forms of liberalism were challenged by reactionary attempts to re-establish a medieval collectivism or by Utopian attempts to produce a new organic society. Liberalism and democracy could clash in two ways: liberalism could undermine the democratic control of society or democracy could become tyrannical and a transition to totalitarian collectivism. Besides these dynamic and violent movements a more static and unaggressive development could take place: the rise of a democratic conformity which restrains all extreme forms of the courage to be as oneself without destroying the liberal elements that distinguish it from collectivism. This was, above all, the way of Great Britain. The tension between liberalism and democracy also explains many traits of American democratic conformism. But behind all these changes remained one thing, the courage to be as a part in the productive process of history. And this is what makes of present-day American courage one of the great types of the courage to be as a part. Its self-affirmation is the affirmation of oneself as a participant in the creative development of mankind.
There is something astonishing in the American courage for an observer who comes from Europe: although mostly symbolized in the early pioneers it is present today in the large majority of people. A person may have experienced a tragedy, a destructive fate, the breakdown of convictions, even guilt and momentary despair: he feels neither destroyed nor meaningless nor condemned nor without hope. When the Roman Stoic experienced the same catastrophes he took them with the courage of resignation. The typical American, after he has lost the foundations of his existence, works for new foundations. This is true of the individual and it is true of the nation as a whole. One can make experiments because an experimental failure does not mean discouragement. The productive process in which one is a participant naturally includes risks, failures, catastrophes. But they do not undermine courage.
This means that it is the productive act itself in which the power and the significance of being is present. This is a partial answer to a question often asked by foreign observers, especially if they are theologians: the question For what? What is the end of all the magnificent means provided by the productive activity of American society? Have not the means swallowed the ends, and does not the unrestricted production of means indicate the absence of ends? Even many born Americans are today inclined to answer the last question affirmatively. But there is more involved in the production of means. It is not the tools and gadgets that are the telos, the inner aim of production; it is the production itself. The means are more than means; they are felt as creations, as symbols of the infinite possibilities implied in man’s productivity. Being-itself is essentially productive. The way in which the originally religious word “creative” is applied without hesitation by Christian, and non-Christian, alike to man’s productive activities indicates that the creative process of history is felt as divine. As such it includes the courage to be as a part of it. (It has seemed to me more adequate to speak in this context of the productive than of the creative process, since the emphasis lies on technical production.)
Originally the democratic-conformist type of the courage to be as a part was in an outspoken way tied up with the idea of progress. The courage to be as a part in the progress of the group to which one belongs, of this nation, of all mankind, is expressed in all specifically American philosophies: pragmatism, process philosophy, the ethics of growth, progressive education, crusading democracy. But this type of courage is not necessarily destroyed if the belief in progress is shaken, as it is today. Progress can mean two things. In every action in which something is produced beyond what was already given, a progress is made (pro-gress means going forward). In this sense action and the belief in progress are inseparable. The other meaning of progress is a universal, metaphysical law of progressive evolution, in which accumulation produces higher and higher forms and values. The existence of such a law cannot be proved. Most processes show that gain and loss are balanced. Nevertheless the new gain is necessary, because otherwise all past gains would also be lost. The courage of participation in the productive process is not dependent on the metaphysical idea of progress.
The courage to be as a part in the productive process takes anxiety in its three main forms into itself. The way in which it deals with the anxiety about fate has been described. This is especially remarkable in a highly competitive society in which the security of the individual is reduced to almost nothing. The anxiety conquered in the courage to be as a part in the productive process is considerable, because the threat of being excluded from such a participation by unemployment or the loss of an economic basis is what, above all, fate means today. Only in the light of this situation can the tremendous impact of the great crisis of the 1930’s on the American people, and the frequent loss of the courage to be in it, be understood. The anxiety about death is met in two ways. The reality of death is excluded from daily life to the highest possible degree. The dead are not allowed to show that they are dead; they are transformed into a mask of the living. The other and more important way of dealing with death is the belief in a continuation of life after death, called the immortality of the soul. This is not a Christian and hardly a Platonic doctrine. Christianity speaks of resurrection and eternal life, Platonism of a participation of the soul in the transtemporal sphere of essences. But the modern idea of immortality means a continuous participation in the productive process—“time and world without end.” It is not the eternal rest of the individual in God but his unlimited contribution to the dynamics of the universe that gives him the courage to face death. In this kind of hope God is almost unnecessary. He may be considered as the guarantee of immortality, but if not, the belief in immortality is not necessarily shaken. For the courage to be as a part of the productive process, immortality is decisive and not God, except that God is understood as the productive process itself as with some theologians.
The anxiety of doubt and meaninglessness is potentially as great as the anxiety of fate and death. It is rooted in the nature of finite productivity. Although, as we have seen, the tool as a tool is not important but rather the tool as a result of human productivity, the question: for what? cannot be suppressed completely. It is silenced but always ready to come into the open. Today we are witnessing a rise of this anxiety and a weakening of the courage to take it into itself. The anxiety of guilt and condemnation is deeply rooted in the American mind, first through the influence of puritanism, then through the impact of the evangelical-pietistic movements. It is strong even if its religious foundation is undermined. But in connection with the predominance of the courage to be as a part in the productive process it has changed its character. Guilt is produced by manifest shortcomings in adjustments to and achievements within the creative activities of society. It is the social group in which one participates productively that judges, forgives, and restores, after the adjustments have been made and the achievements have become visible. This is the reason for the existential insignificance of the experience of justification or forgiveness of sins in comparison with the striving for sanctification and the transformation of one’s own being as well as one’s world. A new beginning is demanded and attempted. This is the way in which the courage to be as a part of the productive process takes the anxiety of guilt into itself.
Participation in the productive process demands conformity and adjustment to the ways of social production. This necessity became stronger the more uniform and comprehensive the methods of production became. Technical society grew into fixed patterns. Conformity in those matters which conserve the smooth functioning of the big machine of production and consumption increased with the increasing impact of the means of public communication. World political thinking, the struggle with collectivism, forced collectivist features on those who fought against them. This process is still going on and may lead to a strengthening of the conformist elements in the type of the courage to be as a part which is represented by America. Conformism might approximate collectivism, not so much in economic respects, and not too much in political respects, but very much in the pattern of daily life and thought. Whether this will happen or not, and if it does to what degree, is partly dependent on the power of resistance in those who represent the opposite pole of the courage to be, the courage to be as oneself. Since their criticism of the conformist and collectivist forms of the courage to be as a part is a decisive element of their self-expression, it will be discussed in the next chapter. The one point, however, in which all criticisms agree is the threat to the individual self in the several forms of the courage to be as a part. It is the danger of loss of self which elicits the protest against them and gives rise to the courage to be as oneself—a courage which itself is threatened by the loss of the world.

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title Page
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright
  5. Dedication
  6. Contents
  7. Introduction to the Second Edition
  8. Chapter 1. Being and Courage
  9. Chapter 2. Being, Nonbeing, and Anxiety
  10. Chapter 3. Pathological Anxiety, Vitality, and Courage
  11. Chapter 4. Courage and Participation (The Courage to Be as a Part)
  12. Chapter 5. Courage and Individualization (The Courage to Be as Oneself)
  13. Chapter 6. Courage and Transcendence (The Courage to Accept Acceptance)
  14. Index
Stili delle citazioni per The Courage to Be

APA 6 Citation

Tillich, P. (2008). The Courage to Be ([edition unavailable]). Yale University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2008)

Chicago Citation

Tillich, Paul. (2008) 2008. The Courage to Be. [Edition unavailable]. Yale University Press.

Harvard Citation

Tillich, P. (2008) The Courage to Be. [edition unavailable]. Yale University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Tillich, Paul. The Courage to Be. [edition unavailable]. Yale University Press, 2008. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.