This morning, for reasons that shall remain undetailed, Varnson reminded me of a maxim of the Crow tribe. Namely, that the greatness of a people is determined by that of its enemies.
[At least, I think it was a maxim of the Crow. As with the bulk of my historical knowledge, this factoid was gleaned from a Hollywood western. Mountain man Robert Redford is embroiled in a vendetta with the tribe, whose braves regularly attack him, singly or in small groups, in order to find honour battling a venerated adversary.]
This is a widely-held but seldom-acknowledged view. Consider those that cling to intellectual positions in the face of overwhelming opposition. It may be that they are courageous truth-tellers, each a Copernicus for our time. They are more likely to be the equivalent of Crow warriors rushing Jeremiah Johnson, axe against Winchester. For thereby is status acquired in certain milieux of civilised society. Without a great enemy, a worthy foe, one is nothing. And what worthier foe can one have but the fact? The fact is powerful, to be slain only by truly heroic assumption.
Enmity to the truth is insufficient. The brave must also speak of the strength of the opponent, lest we forget the magnitude of their task. John Edwards sings a song of corporations. The “market”, the great Jeremiah Johnson of the modern left, is deemed “all-powerful”. Not that the economically illiterate are alone in exaggerating the vigour of the enemy; consider the old racist fear of the virile black.
One must, of course, be even-handed and examine one’s own motivations in such matters. Am I vaguely sceptical of the anthropogenic global-warming hypothesis because the underlying scientific “consensus” smacks of the post-war Keynesian hegemony in macroeconomics? Or because it’s a mighty windmill at which to tilt?
In any intellectual dispute, then, the truly self-aware will allow for this quirk of psychology and ask:
Who has the bigger Johnson?