Monday, December 12, 2016

Books of 2016, feminism and libertarianism

In my previous post back in April I gave the first impressions of my tour of feminism, which I concluded with this facebook post. I also previewed the tour of libertarianism I had planned to embark on, a syllabus to fill some gaps from my youthful libertarian indoctrination. It's amazing how these proposed lists differ so much from what I actually read. And then there was my New Years resolution to read more scifi and fantasy. I pretty much failed that as soon as I got inspired to read Les Misérables (just over 25% through that one ...).

Anyway, here's the list, with links provided to my reviews or relevant blog posts. Turns out I wrote a lot of book reviews this year.

Somehow I never got around to reviewing Elements of Justice, even though it was excellent. It argues for value pluralism. Our understanding of justice is a hodgepodge of multiple considerations, such as equality, need, desert, and reciprocation. Good judgment comes in understanding where and how these different kinds of reasons apply and why.

I'm finishing my tour of libertarianism (really classical liberalism) with Deirdre McCloskey's Bourgeois Equality. Though I do plan to read Jacob Levy's Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom when it appears in paperback.

I don't have anything too coherent planned for a new reading project. Gaus turned me onto some new thinkers I want to check out: Helene Landemore and Scott Page. With current events firmly in mind, I want to read more history and history-based accounts of civilization and political stability. And I also want to devote some energy to reading books that have been sitting on my shelf for a long time collecting dust.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Feminism update, libertarianism preview

I've started off 2016, according to plan, with a lot of feminism. I've been trying to be faithful with writing some kind of review of each book, whether it's a full-on blog post, a Goodreads review, or even a facebook status. The links are to those items, not to like, amazon pages.
  1. Women in Western Political Thought - Susan Moller Okin
  2. Feminine and Feminist Ethics - Rosemarie Tong
  3. Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men - Anne Fausto-Sterling
  4. Justice, Gender, and the Family - Susan Moller Okin (see also this facebook post)
  5. Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics - Seyla Benhabib
  6. Sex and Social Justice - Martha Nussbaum (See also this blog post on objectification).
This is in addition to the feminist works I read last year (Mill's Subjection of Women and Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, by bell hooks).

Benhabib's book ended up being a lot more about discourse ethics than feminism specifically, but I'm glad I read it. Feminism plays into discourse ethics by way of the necessity of including diverse perspectives in dialogue. Myths of Gender seemed very good, but I couldn't think of much to say about it. It's the kind of thing that unfortunately probably needs to be updated once every decade or so. And this has been done, both by Fausto-Sterling in newer books and by other feminist scientists. Okin's schtick of analyzing Western canonical philosophers through the feminist lens is pretty rewarding. I highly recommend Tong's book as an introduction to feminist ethics. My favorite book by far has been Nussbaum's book, which is a kind of harmonization of liberalism and feminism through a neo-Aristotelian approach. It also just includes great treatments of important figures in feminism, both good and bad (Andrea Dworkin and Christina Hoff Sommers, for example) and tricky topics (objectification, sex work, colonialism). I reckon I'm about 60% finished with this project. Here are the next books on deck:
  1. Women, Culture, and Development: A Study of Human Capabilities - Martha Nussbaum and Jonathan Glover (eds.)
  2. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing - Miranda Fricker
  3. Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women - Susan Moller Okin (ed.)
  4. A Vindication of the Rights of Whores - Gail Pheterson (ed.)
  5. Economics for Humans - Julie A Nelson
And this list may expand with new ideas or contract with fatigue. I'll almost certainly take a break after Women, Culture and Development in order to gobble up Deirdre McCloskey's thrilling conclusion to the Bourgeois Trilogy which came in the mail this week.

But I'm already looking forward to my next reading project, which is a deep dive into academic libertarianism. I've come a long way from my youthful Rand-influenced anarchism. Usually I feel more post-libertarian than libertarian, and have lately been calling myself just plain ol' "liberal" more and more. In part because of this, I want to read some classics I missed and read what some of libertarianism's best exponents have to offer. I'm thinking these:

  1. Anarchy, State, and Utopia - Robert Nozick
  2. Liberty and Nature: an Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order - Doug Rasmussen and Doug Den Uyl
  3. Elements of Justice - David Schmidtz
  4. Liberalism Beyond Justice: Citizens, Society, and the Boundaries of Political Theory - John Tomasi
  5. Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom - Jacob Levy
  6. Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community - Loren Lomasky
  7. Rationality in Economics: Constructivist and Ecological Forms - Vernon Smith
  8. Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism - Chris Matthew Sciabarra
  9. The Tyranny of the Ideal: Justice in a Diverse Society - Jerry Gaus
  10. Jason Brennan's and Bas van der Vossen's book on cosmopolitan justice.
Any suggestions welcome, for either good feminism or good libertarianism.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Books of 2015

I'm pretty proud of the reading I managed in 2015. I started the year finishing up my self-led course on virtue ethics (more on that in this post). I also honored my new year's resolution to read more substantive fiction this year (a resolution inspired in part by my interest in virtue ethics, incidentally). In addition to those below, I've got less than 100 pages to go in War and Peace, and I'll finish it by year's end barring hell, high water, and such.

Biggest surprise of the year: Structure of Scientific Revolutions was awesome, and made me realize I am apparently quite partial to postmodernism, at least as I currently understand it, and in what is probably one of its milder forms.

Socialism after Hayek was another delightful discovery. "Hayekian socialism" as a topic was just bound to be interesting, but I had no idea Burczak also appealed to the capabilities approach. This was fortuitous to find right after that little thing I wrote earlier this year.

Biggest disappointment was probably Burdened Virtues, which I expected to love based on my commitment to both feminism and virtue ethics. That said it was still interesting, and I don't regret reading it. Okay I take that back. The biggest disappointment of the year was Michel Foucault, which was so disappointing that I actually blocked it from my mind. I think I gave it one star on Goodreads.

Peace, Love, & Liberty, (Tom Palmer (ed.))
The Morality of Happiness (Julia Annas)
The State of the Art (Iain M Banks)
The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K Le Guin)
Bourgeois Dignity (Deirdre McCloskey)
Burdened Virtues (Lisa Tessman)
Pride & Prejudice (Jane Austen)
Practical Intelligence and the Virtues (Daniel C Russell)
Socialism After Hayek (Theodore Burczak)
Cordelia's Honor (Lois McMaster Bujold)
feminist theory: from margin to center (bell hooks)
On Liberty (John Stuart Mill)
The Subjection of Women (John Stuart Mill)
The History of Sexuality, Part 1 (Michel Foucault)
The Cambridge Companion to Virtue Ethics (Daniel C Russell (ed.))
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Thomas Kuhn)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy, tentative)

Great list, right? Well, one thing that bites is I basically sacrificed all my reading of the Economist. I regret this and I'm resolving not to let that happen again next year. I'll probably read many fewer books next year because I want to get back in the Economist's good graces. Consider that a resolution.

Another resolution: read more sci-fi/fantasy! A few months ago I took one of those online quizzes that ask you what sci-fi/fantasy books you've read. Almost all my friends blew me out of the water. I consider speculative fiction to be part of my identity, so this made me feel like a bit of an impostor. I want to read at least five books next year. Probably going to start with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, then read some more Bujold.

Otherwise, I plan to read a bit of feminism and a bit of libertarianism. Susan Moller Okin, Elizabeth Anderson, and Seyla Benhabib are all on the list. And it seems like a few of the libertarian public intellectuals I stalk have books coming out in 2016 (although maybe I'm being optimistic here). And there are some classics like Nozick I feel I should get to at some point.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Continuing self-education update

I'm pretty proud of myself. I'm about 15 pages out from finishing my year-or-so-long self-led course on virtue ethics. This, along with a few scattered papers here and there (okay mostly Nussbaum) was my syllabus:
  • The Bourgeois Virtues, by Deirdre McCloskey
    • The impetus for the whole project
  • After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre
    • Offers the side benefit of being part of the conservative intellectual canon
    • Basically I think he fails in his effort to smash modern ethics and begs a big question in my mind
  • Virtues and Vices, by Philippa Foot
    • Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives was a pretty interesting essay.
  • Natural Goodness, by Philippa Foot
  • On Virtue Ethics, by Rosalind Hursthouse
    • The best book length introduction to VE I've read
  • The Morality of Happiness, by Julia Annas
    • Walkthrough of the debates about ethics in the ancient world, and a very good source for understanding eudaimonistic virtue ethics
    • Damn, the ancient Greeks were really smart!
  • Burdened Virtues, by Lisa Tessman
    • Pretty interesting discussion about how conditions of oppression can stifle virtue, but I thought the book really needed a discussion of phronesis and the unity of virtue.
  • Practical Intelligence and the Virtues, by Daniel Russell
    • Probably my favorite of the set, but also the hardest. I'm glad I read it last.
Clearly, I'm missing a lot of books. I haven't even read Annas's Intelligent Virtue. And I want to read more MacIntyre ... but I have to stop somewhere and start reading other things again. I have a blog post half written about why I like virtue ethics so much, but I've been too lazy to finish it. Basically, it's an organic theory that is flexible enough to describe our extremely complex and open-ended moral world. Eudaimonistic theories of VE at least have the advantage of remembering that morality has a purpose beyond just facilitating social cooperation: it should describe a robust, broadly construed conception of human happiness (or, even better, flourishing). It's holistic, taking as its concern the whole character, rather than limiting its scope to actions-in-the-vacuum, and only those actions that affect other people. And I think VE is just descriptively closer to how actual people deal with actual ethical life. We do learn our morals from stories read to us at our mother's knee that describe admirable character traits and good reasons for acting; we learn from moral instruction by role models; and we learn from long years in the school of hard knocks. Maybe some day I'll elaborate with a proper blog post.

Anyway, now that I'm temporarily done with virtue ethics, I have to decide what to read next. The very first thing I'm gonna read is Socialism After Hayek, by Theodore Burczak. I've long been really curious to learn more about Marxism/socialism, but I'd like to do so from a source that isn't obviously insane (I know, not very charitable). From what I understand, this book is written by a proper socialist, but one who explicitly acknowledges that, yeah, the socialists just flat out lost the socialist calculation debate. Maybe afterward if I feel like it I can delve deeper. I hear Gramsci was good?

After that, what? I'm interested in learning more about Kant, but I don't want to read Kant himself, because it's common knowledge Kant is hard as hell to read and fuck that, this isn't my day job. Any Kantians or Kant-knowledgeable folks out there have a good suggestions?

To be honest I'm also interested in going back to my libertarian roots. I've never gotten around to reading some of the classics, like Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia or JS Mill's On Liberty. Never read Herbert Spencer either, and it seems like he's mentioned everywhere. Then there's also a whole bunch of libertarian works on the near horizon I'm pretty excited about. Kuznicki has a book coming out about the nature of government. Zwolinski and Tomasi have their intellectual history of libertarianism coming out (which will doubtlessly expand my reading list). Brennan and van der Vossen have a book on global justice coming, something of especial interest to me given my interest in cosmopolitanism and open borders. And of course, Deirdre McCloskey's thrilling conclusion to her Bourgeois trilogy is coming out next year ...

I feel like I'm a shoddy libertarian because I haven't read some classics, but I haven't read any classics of feminist thought, apart from like, the first third of Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman and a couple essays by Voltairine de Cleyre. Feminism has become increasingly important to me in recent years, so I should probably do something about this. Second Sex is staring at me from my shelf.

Then there are the odds and ends. I'm sort of interested in Charles Murray's Coming Apart, Nassim Taleb's Antifragile, and the Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, by Roberto Unger and Lee Smolin.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Burdened Virtues

In Burdened Virtues: Virtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles, Lisa Tessman's basic thesis is that conditions of oppression obstruct the development of certain virtues on the one hand and, on the other hand, require cultivation of "burdened virtues" that act counter to the agent's own flourishing. Consider, for example, anger at injustice. Anger at an unjust act is appropriate and obviously necessary if we want to advance justice. But for, say, an oppressed minority, injustice occurs not in discrete actions from time to time but rather in a pervasive pattern of social life. Constant rage to match the patterns of injustice cripples an individual's chance at flourishing. Anger in a state of powerlessness further increases the possibility that that anger will find outlets at inappropriate targets, like one's comrades or loved ones.

Another example is loyalty, a characteristic especially important to cultivate in political resistance movements. But loyalty can pull in multiple directions, and often does in cases of individuals belonging to more than one disfavored group. Tessman gives the example of black feminists facing charges of treason when they turn their feminist critiques onto black culture. Racial deconstructionists, who seek to abandon the concept of race altogether as invalid and harmful, are likewise condemned for abandoning their racial communities (and further charged with doing so for selfish reasons).

One of the more fascinating discussions within the book is of the impact conditions of oppression have on privileged persons, those individuals who would seem to benefit from the system. To the casual observer, of course, members of dominant classes benefit from a system where the cards are stacked in their favor to varying degrees and in varying ways. They can use their advantages to go on to lead flourishing lives. But of course, knowingly benefiting from unfair privilege and doing nothing to correct this state of affairs is clearly vicious. Moreover, ignorance is not bliss. It's incumbent upon every moral actor to try to understand the injustices around them. The outward appearance (and indeed, inward feeling) of virtue and flourishing among privileged persons may be illusory when their understanding of who falls within their spheres of ethical concern is blinkered.

The book is valuable, especially for students and activists of feminist and racial politics, providing a useful alternative framework for understanding character under oppression. And the concept of burdened virtues is a fruitful contribution to virtue ethics under adverse conditions, extending Rosalind Hursthouse's ideas of moral remainders and moral damage. 

I do have one big complaint. The burdening of the virtues that Tessman discusses are examples of virtues in conflict, pulling against one another. She mentions from time to time toward the end the need for balancing between virtues. But the whole project cries out for a detailed discussion of the unity of the virtues, a central concept within many theories of virtue. Conditions of oppression surely exacerbate conflicts between virtues, but even in everyday moral affairs among individuals of equal social advantage there will inevitably be situations where different virtues demand different responses. It's an advantage of virtue ethics that virtues can pull against one another without breaking the whole enterprise. Understanding how to respond (how to act as well as how to feel) with virtues in tension is often presented as a kind of skill of moral living, learned by attentive practice and moral reflection and honed over decades of moral life. This practice and reflection is our old friend phronesis, the virtue of practical moral wisdom that unites the rest of the virtues into some kind of organic whole. But there's no mention of either phronesis or the unity of the virtues in the index.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Hayekian feminism: a challenge to libertarians

It's an understatement to note that libertarians (who are often male) are frequently hostile to feminism, and especially to the concepts of male privilege and rape culture. A typical libertarian response I've seen to these ideas is that they unfairly put men in a defensive posture. The male libertarian who doesn't just automatically dismiss the idea that men have systematic advantages over women will often protest that he shouldn't have to apologize or feel guilty for the advantages he happens to have. But this is an uncharitable interpretation. Feminism asks not that men flagellate themselves with guilt, but to acknowledge their systemic advantages as a first step to addressing the root causes of the problems of patriarchy. Mention of rape culture provokes the response that not all men are sexual assailants, and they shouldn't be treated as such. Of course, not all men engage in violence, but not all men have to for a culture to exist and for its effects to be felt widely.

Charles Johnson's "Women and the Invisible Fist" describes the mechanism of this last point in terms libertarians can appreciate. His argument is that rape culture, or the patriarchy if you prefer, can be usefully understood as a spontaneous order, à la Hayek. The spontaneous order that libertarians typically extol is a thing of beauty: individuals, acting on their own initiatives, with their own limited information, for their own ends, create in aggregate a pattern of economic productivity and exchange capable of satisfying the needs and desires of millions of people, all without a central authority running the show.

This is all accomplished on the basis of dispersed, consensual interactions. But spontaneous order can just as well arise from dispersed, coercive or violent interactions. The obvious example of this is biological evolution itself, the original inspiration for Hayek's thinking about spontaneous order. Nature is famously red in tooth and claw, with nearly every innovation dearly bought at the cost of some predator starving to death or some prey being eaten alive. Order can just as well emerge out of dispersed, violent human relations, without conscious design. But Johnson can say this better than I can (emphasis in original):
But nothing conceptually requires that emergent orders need be benign orders. If widely distributed forms of intelligence, knowledge, virtue, or prudence can add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into a benign undesigned order, then there's no reason why widely distributed forms of ignorance, prejudice, folly or vice might not add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an unintended, malign order. So might widely-distributed, micro-level practices of violence; since libertarians are centrally concerned with individual freedom from violence and coercion, the possibility our threefold distinction raises of an emergent but non-consensual order must surely give us pause.*
[Susan Brownmiller's] hypothesis that stranger-rapists serve a Myrmidon function for male supremacy, with benefits that redound not only to practicing rapists but to all men, is best understood as arguing that the pervasive fact of rape, and the threat that its pervasiveness inflicts on all women, produces a spontaneous (emergent) but coercive order, in which non-consensual micro-scale actions inflicted by unrelated, anonymous stranger rapists, end up reinforcing a macro-scale pattern of male dominance over women, and the cultural and institutional superstructure of patriarchy. 
Feminists highlight the far-reaching significance of the everyday fact that the threat of rape constrains women's range of free action. These constraints operate through felt danger and through explicit warnings: don't walk alone; not after dark; not in that neighborhood; don't go to that party; not dressed like that; watch what you drink; watch what kind of "signals" you give off. Paternalistic double-binds often narrow the range to a vanishing point: don't leave a late-night event without a man to walk you back; don't leave with a man, unless you intend to invite him in--or you'll "give him the wrong idea," and who knows what could happen then? Women are warned about the dangers of crowded public spaces like subways, parties, or concerts while simultaneously being warned about the dangers of empty, secluded or private spaces like parking garages, alleys, empty country or a man's house or car. The double-binds construct both public space and private space, being either alone or accompanied, as pervaded with a lesser or greater degree of danger; ultimately the only space constructed as "safe" is male-protected space. And the reliability of male protection closely linked to personal connections with men, within a limited set of very specific, structured relations--usually either paternal authority, marital protection, or heterosexual availability. 
[...] The desire to protect others from violence is, in itself, a personal virtue, not a social problem. But the danger is how tempting and easy--and how corrupting--it is for men to take the psychological step of going from an attitude human solidarity [sic] to a fantasy of male rescue, of coming to see themselves as defined by their identity as a Protector in contrast to frail womanhood, and of coming to see women as uniquely dependent by nature--rather than uniquely threatened due to the chosen actions of other men. And to go even further, to try to make sure that women seek and depend on and stay within the scope of a man's "protection," whether or not they really want it--by using intimidating and restrictive warnings, by harassing women--blamed as foolish or wanton--who step outside the dependence of that "protection" or the stiflingly close boundaries of those "safety tips." That kind of imposed dependence can just as easily become frustrating and confining for women, and that kind of power can just as easily become corrupting and exploitative in men, as any other form of structural dependence and power can. Libertarians and anarchists who so readily see this dynamic when it comes to government police and military protection of a disarmed populace, shouldn't have any trouble seeing it, if they are willing to see it, when it comes to male protection of women.
Do read the whole thing. I think it's the most brilliant thing I've read all year. And for an example of rape culture at work, read this recent Rolling Stones article on UVA (possibly triggering recounts of rape). 

The challenge to libertarians resistant to feminism is to take this quite libertarian argument seriously. If libertarians genuinely seek a world in which voluntary relations are the norm and coercion is minimized, then they should seek to understand systemic coercion. To do this they must grapple with feminism in good faith.

*The three-fold distinction mentioned is consensual versus coercive, polycentric or participatory versus directive, and emergent versus consciously designed order. I'll leave the detailed explanation of these terms to the text.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Virtue of the Dragon

UPDATE 2014.10.31: I have added a bit of detail here and there and edited some typos.
The boy confuses them, [...]. He needs to be strong, and makes himself harder. Too hard, already, and he will not stop until he is stopped. He has forgotten how to laugh except in bitterness; there are no tears left in him. Unless he finds laughter and tears again, the world faces disaster. He must learn that even the Dragon Reborn is flesh. If he goes to Tarmon Gai’don as he is, even his victory may be as dark as his defeat. ~Cadsuane Melaidhrin
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time (completed by Brandon Sanderson) presents an excellent study in contrast of the pagan versus the Christian virtues, as well as a lesson in the balance of the virtues. I will assume FULL SPOILER knowledge of the Wheel of Time. This is regrettable, but the series is about 10 000 pages too long to facilitate easy summary, and the subject matter of the essay requires details up until at least the penultimate volume. This reduces the audience even more drastically than does the venue, but we march onward ...

Given the FULL SPOILER nature of this essay, the reader is aware that Rand al'Thor is the Dragon Reborn, the soul of Lews Therin Telamon recast into a shepherd boy's body in the twilight of the Third Age, when the seals of the Dark One's prison are weakening. The shepherd business is an early signal that Rand's story will at least partially parallel that of the Christian Jesus. But I am more concerned here with the so-called Christian virtues (which I will also refer to as the sentimental virtues), rather than the Christian story per se. 

The Christian virtues of Love, Faith, and Hope are a complement to the so-called pagan virtues of Courage, Justice, Temperance, and Prudence. This particular catalog of virtues isn't the one and only rendering. There's inevitably some arbitrariness, and I will be liberal with my interpretation of what these virtues comprise, especially Faith. My thesis is that our protagonist admirably embodies the pagan virtues, and his critical defect is his failure to attend to the Christian virtues.This imbalance of virtues corrodes his character--abetted of course by the taint on saidin--until it nearly culminates in the destruction of the world. This unhappy eschaton is only narrowly avoided by a redemptive moment when Rand opens himself to the full spectrum of virtues.

Courage is the easiest virtue to drape over the Dragon Reborn. Rand displays Courage throughout the series, from that first frightful flight to town with his wounded father in tow after the Trolloc attack. Courage doesn't lack in any of his early exploits, when the series reads more like an adventure than the drama it eventually grows into. The early days out on the road with Mat, out from under Moiraine's protective wing; befriending an Ogier--that requires courage as well. In the third book he sets out on his own to seek his destiny at the Stone of Tear, where the most conspicuous prophecies about the Dragon Reborn must either come true or not. And of course he knows that worldwide devastation at his hands and his own early death will result if he does turn out to be the Dragon Reborn. He ventures into the mysterious and deadly desert of the Aiel and enters their ter'angreal-assisted trial of worth. Most obviously, he spends the entire series hunting down the Forsaken, super-powered war criminals the tales of whom are regaled to frighten children--all as a prelude to facing the Dark One himself.

Rand's sense of Justice was in evidence especially in the middle to later books, after he has become a ruler by various conquests. One of the first things he does as de facto ruler of Tear, apparently an especially stratified society, is force the Tairen nobility to see to the needs of the commoners. Relief for the poor and those scattered by conflict would be a recurring concern for him throughout the story. In addition to the Prudential reasoning that he would need every channeler he could get, his creation of the Asha'man at least partially reflects his sense that no man should be persecuted or gentled just because of a condition he was born with. We see his sense of Justice in his agonizing over every woman that died due to his decisions (his flavor of Justice included a curiously chivalrous--sexist--element). And of course, Rand is rightly horrified by the Seanchan enslavement of women who can channel.

Feats of moderation don't often feature heavily in epic fantasy, but at the very least Rand's Temperance fulfills the basic requirements of not giving in to excess. He isn't a drunk; he certainly doesn't have the gambling and womanizing tendencies of Mat Cauthon. But his Temperance also manifests in his dedication to physical training. After beginning sword lessons early on with Lan, Rand sticks with this art form long after he has armies and loyal Aes Sedai and Maidens of the Spear surrounding him for protection. He adds to this hand-to-hand combat training after falling in with the Aiel, and carries this forward through the series. Rand resists using his political power abusively, or even frivolously. Rand's Temperance keeps him in control not only of the One Power, but power more generally. Early in the series, he obtains Callandor and the access keys to the Choedan Kal, items potentially giving him godlike power. But he resists the temptation to use them, knowing he isn't ready for them (file this under Prudence as well). And he resists this temptation to heavenly power even when it comes coupled with Lanfear's more earthly efforts at seduction. One counter-example to this is Rand's persistent problem with a very intemperate anger.

We see Rand's Prudence in his military campaigns as well as his political maneuvering, most of which are fairly successful. Much of this success comes of course from his gifted advisers, but here again his practical sense shines through in his choice of counsel. He knows too when to keep his own counsel. There were solid strategic reasons--laid out by Moiraine--why Ilium should have been his next destination after Tear, but he wisely chooses instead to seek out the Aiel, informed by his own readings of the Prophecies of the Dragon. In another example of shrewdness Rand, with the "help" of the creatures beyond the doorway ter'angreal, figures out how to cleanse saidin, a thorny problem left unsolved even by the luminaries of the Age of Legends. In doing so he cleverly manages to destroy Shadar Logoth. We will see later that Rand's Prudence and Courage labor also for the Dark Side.

Before moving on to Rand's experience with the sentimental virtues, I want to note that the lack of Christian virtue is surely not his only problem. I have already mentioned anger. Rand's biggest vice, though, is Pride. Certainly for much of the story Lews Therin holds forth in the back of Rand's head about his dangerous Pride. This is seen in his attitudes toward Moiraine, Cadsuane, and essentially every Aes Sedai who tries to guide him, or merely even help him. We've already encountered Rand's obsession with mentally punishing himself with every woman who dies either for him or at his order. This too is a species of Pride: he cannot keep everyone safe in his cosmic battle, and other individuals in the struggle for the Light deserve respect for their choices and sacrifices; it's not all about Rand all the time. Rand even believes he can kill the Dark One (at the end of Book One, he believes he did kill the Dark One).

Pride is one major weakness, but it is by no means the main event. His Pride is almost comic relief next to the way his sacrifice of Faith and Love on the altars of Courage and Prudence corrode his character and jeopardize the Pattern itself. This is what Cadsuane's epigraph at the beginning of this essay is all about. Rand believes that defeating the Dark One at Shayol Ghul is the only thing that matters, and it must be accomplished at any cost. This is the warped view of Prudence as ends-justify-the-means, where other virtues that normally soften Prudence are disregarded. Rand believes his struggle is to rid himself of the human weakness and attachment that might cause him to falter from his ultimate goal of defeating the Dark One. This is the Dark Side of his Courage.

Cadsuane Sedai. Source
Rand the young villager of Emond's Field has the full complement of virtues, but his Faith in people is first weakened when the seed of doubt about his origin is planted during Tam al'Thor's fever dream. He and Mat are hounded by their pursuers after they lose touch with Moiraine, and they are lost in a world of strangers of evil intent. As he takes on the mantle of the Dragon Reborn, Rand suspects more and more that Moiraine is just manipulating him for her own Aes Sedai ends. Thus the person the reader knows he probably should trust more than anyone is relegated to the status of just another schemer out for her own good. By the time he has reached his stride mid-series, Rand is a paranoid wreck, seeing darkfriends, the Forsaken, and Aes Sedai machinations everywhere. He only truly trusts the small band of friends he left his village with and his three lovers. In his bleakest paranoia, he nearly murders his own father, suspecting he was in thrall to Cadsuane. Cadsuane herself is a good example of a companion whose trustworthiness had been demonstrated (she rescues him from Padan Fain outside of Cairhien, protects him during the cleansing of saidin, and again rescues him from Far Madding where he can't channel his way out of his difficulties).

There is a delicate balance of Faith and Prudence that must be maintained lest one or the other slip into vice. Faith without Prudence is gullibility. Rand really is in danger of hidden darkfriends and the plots of the White Tower. But his loss of the ability to trust warps his relation to humanity. He only halfway trusts Aes Sedai when they have sworn fealty to him, and are literally compelled by the Oath Rod to serve him. He believes the only way the world can work together to fend off the Dark is if he reigns over them. He purposefully abuses his ta'veren tendency to distort the Pattern to compel adversary negotiators to bend to his will. Part of Faith is trusting one's fellow human beings enough to relate to them as free and equal beings, but Rand increasingly can only "trust" others if they are bound and subordinate to him.

Love lingers longer in Rand than Faith. He certainly never loses the Love he bears Elayne, Aviendha, and Min. But he also considers this a failure owing to his weakness and he struggles against these feelings, believing that the only thing he has to offer any woman is pain. He forces himself to forget his village. He briefly rekindles his roots when he meets girls from his village in Caemlyn, on their way to Tar Valon to become novices. This reunion is cut short when their Aes Sedai chaperones appear and Rand resumes his emotionless persona. At least, he tries to restrain his emotions, but he shouts at the girls that he is no longer the boy from their village and leaves them cowering with a demonstration of saidin, an instance of his intemperate facility to anger. He destroys the bonds of affection and common experience he had with these girls and resolves that this is all for the best.

I admit to some shoehorning here. I lump in the ideas of human connection under Love in addition to the traditional compassion/charity interpretation of that virtue. Love on this view is the virtue that sustains human relationships and connections of all kinds, and includes romantic love and friendship, the bonds of affection and obligation that make family and village life possible, and the compassion and solidarity that operate at longer distances and across frontiers.

Perhaps the one person Rand really treats as a true friend rather than merely an instrument is Lan, perhaps because both characters have a similar obsession with the idea that their deaths have already been purchased (Lan's lone war against the Shadow has only been postponed by his service to Moiraine as warder). But in the end Rand sacrifices even this friendship to his misguided single-mindedness; he cannot be distracted from his own efforts and anyway Lan has his own duty to discharge. Lan, having finally freed himself of other obligations and warder bonds, launches himself at the Blight in a certain--and certainly futile--suicide mission. Rand's duty as a friend here is clear: he should either talk Lan out of his foolishness or at least send him reinforcements. It is left instead to Nynaeve to rally the Borderlands around their living legend in his quest.

Rand's terrible Prudence leads him to break any social norm as long as it serves his purpose. This is the degradation of Faith in humanity required to sustain social morality as well as Love (compassion) for those impacted. He grows increasingly comfortable with the use of forbidden balefire as he progresses, literally unraveling the Pattern even as his single-minded purpose is to save it at all costs. In one horrific scene late in the series, Rand sends a human pawn to Graendal, knowing the victim will undergo Compulsion; the disappearance of the Compulsion weave will confirm Graendal is dead as Rand erases the entire Palace and all its inhabitants from the Pattern with balefire. This is Rand at his most inhumane. He has achieved the "hardness" he believes is required to do whatever it takes to defeat the Dark One, and it has made him capable of committing clear war crimes where innocent lives are treated as so much cannon fodder.

Hope is in some ways the hardest virtue for my argument to accommodate. Apart from a spell of depression following the assassination of Herid Fel, Rand admirably maintains Hope quite far into the story. He creates the Asha'man primarily to be his weapons for Tarmon Gaidon, but he also intends for the Black Tower to persist and provide a home for men who can channel. Rand establishes schools throughout the nations under his rule, betraying his optimism about the outcome of the Last Battle and what might come after. Perhaps his greatest article of Hope is the effort he puts into the Dragon's Peace, which promises a legacy of world peace following the Last Battle. Hope in his success against the Dark One is inherent even in his terrible Prudence; it is its purpose.

But Hope is just the last of the sentimental virtues to go. Rand finally loses Hope at the summit of Dragonmount, having transported himself there after nearly blasting the Seanchan territories out of the Pattern with balefire. Rand is suddenly gripped by nihilism, entertains the idea that there is no point to his rebirth, the renewal of the Wheel, really anything, and that perhaps the Dark One is right to will the destruction of the Pattern.
The Dragon is troubled. Source
“What if he is right?” Rand bellowed. “What if it's better for this all to end? What if the Light was a lie all along, and this is all just a punishment? We live again and again, growing feeble, dying, trapped forever. We are to be tortured for all time!” 
With this final dismissal of Hope he prepares to obliterate the Pattern itself with the power of the Choedan Kal. But, of course, something stays his hand, his humanity resurfacing.
Maybe... Lews Therin said, shockingly lucid, not a hint of madness to him. He spoke softly, reverently. Why? Could it be... Maybe it’s so that we can have a second chance.
In the end Rand thus does choose to hold on to Hope, and to abandon his internal war on the sentimental virtues. But we glimpse that with Love, Faith, and finally Hope all gone, there was nothing left but destructive nihilism, and Rand's heroic expression of the pagan virtues was all for naught. All the bravery, self-control, and cleverness of the Dragon was not enough, especially when the ruthless maximization of those virtues came at the cost of the humane virtues. Choosing to re-embrace his humanity, Love returns: "Because each time we live, we get to love again." And "He remembered love, and peace, and joy, and hope."

After this epiphany, the character of our protagonist radically changes for the rest of the series. Rand casually strolls into Tar Valon to visit the Amyrlin Seat, even submitting to shielding without a struggle, something quite remarkable after his abduction and torture at the hands of Elaida's Aes Sedai mid-series. One could sympathize if Rand was overcome with uncontrollable tremors at the mere sight of an ageless face after such an ordeal. Rand again puts himself in a vulnerable position when he meets with the Borderlander armies stationed in Far Madding, where channeling is impossible. And where before Rand struggled to remain cold and emotionless at the many deaths caused in his wars, now he allows himself to feel the losses, and dreads the loss of Hope among his people, and it makes him angry. Rand Travels in to break the siege of Maradon and, in a move unthinkable for the pre-epiphany Dragon, he sets Prudence to the side and exhausts himself by single-handedly destroying the horde of Trollocs poised to overwhelm the city. And he puts himself at risk both because he was inspired by the bravery and skill of the city's defenders and to show them that their Hope and Courage and sacrifice were not in vain. He has tamed his Prudence with the sentimental virtues.

In the end, Rand needs Christian virtue just to survive to reach the showdown with the Dark One. But he also needs Faith to succeed in that confrontation. He places his Faith in Egwene to, well, place her Faith in him and his frankly crazy-sounding plan to destroy the last seal on the Dark One's prison, as well as to know when the time is right to do so. And he needs to surrender control to Moiraine and Nynaeve in order to use Callandor for its ultimate purpose. And in the contest of dueling realities played by Rand and the Dark One, Faith and Hope are needed to finally understand that he cannot just kill the Dark One; human beings must grapple with evil in order to be fully human.

This last point reflects another major theme of the books, that evil exists intrinsically within the human soul, and it must be combated there. The Dark One is only a demonic embodiment of the evil within. This is seen with Shadar Logoth and Padan Fain, evils born of the same paranoid distrust that afflicts Rand and is actually antagonistic to the Dark One's brand of evil. And we have every reason to believe the banal, institutional evil of the Seanchan enslavement of channelers will persist well into the Fourth Age, long after the Dark One is sealed away; the a'dam is an invention of human weakness, not of the Shadow. It is significant that the greatest conflict in the story is internal, one of Rand struggling with his inner demons. I have labored to portray this long conflict in terms of the virtues of Courage and especially Prudence manifesting in the protagonist to a disproportionate--even vicious--degree, and their overwhelming what I have called the sentimental or Christian virtues of Hope, Faith, and Love. The most dangerous evil depicted in the story then is that evil which arises from disharmonies within the human soul, all too realistic, and not the fantastical evil of a dark deity.

Other stories could have been written to explore the harmony of virtue. Our Dragon could have been a sappy figure, in touch with sentimental virtues but lacking the Courage to march down the path ending with his blood spilt on the rocks of Shayol Ghul. Or he might have struggled instead with playing the cold-blooded utilitarian gambits that really were required of our hero from time to time. Much more might have been made of the allure of Berelain and Lanfear, and the temptations of world domination.

Mileage may vary of course, but I'm glad Jordan chose the particular imbalance he did. I began reading the series as a young teenage male, and I remember loving Rand's cold ruthlessness and talent for violence. I mean, what a badass! For the elderly harpy Cadsuane, of course, I had little to no patience, nor for his other moderating influences. In this I'm sure I was unexceptional among my fellow teenage male fans. I took a hiatus from the books around the time our Dragon nearly slaughtered his own armies in beating back the Seanchan from Ilium, and I returned with the publication of a Memory of Light, arguably an adult. I now see the macho virtues of our hardened hero I so appreciated before as maniacal vices in their obsessively amplified expression. I get the importance of Love, Hope, and Faith now in a way I never could while under the spell of youthful ideas of toughness, bravado, and above all immunity to sentiment.