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The Strength of a Free People

It’s not every day that a book is published that holds the potential to revitalize the core of the American spirit, but that seems to be the case with U.S. Representative Dan Crenshaw’s new book Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage.

Published in April of 2020, Fortitude makes the case that American civil discourse is deteriorating dangerously into incivility, what Crenshaw calls “outrage culture”. This is a cultural, not a political disease, and we see the antics of outrage culture on both the Left and the Right. What Crenshaw is diagnosing is a symptom of a deeper crisis, one which may aptly be called a crisis of “cultural philosophy,” and he is determined to reinvigorate the traditional American ethos, which is one of self-reliant strength, honor, and steel integrity, all of which are fundamentally at the service of American liberty.

Crenshaw argues that we are fast abandoning these classic virtues in Q1 of the 21st century, as is evidenced by the willingness of so many Americans to declare their outrage and offense at the drop of a hat. He makes it clear that he is not dismissing legitimate grievances or matters of true injustice, but rather he is criticizing the tendency of so many Americans today to lurch into outbursts of offense at the provocation of objectively minor matters. This is criticizable, argues Crenshaw, because it betrays a fundamental weakness of spirit, a narcissistic lack of perspective about how one’s pain compares to others, or even an inability to cope with the inevitable sufferings of life without flying into an emotional fit.

Fortitude is by turns autobiographical, psychological, and philosophical, and it strikes at the heart of America’s current cultural malaise, which Crenshaw identifies as the elevation of “aggrieved victimhood” to the status of the heroic. The book tells Crenshaw’s story as a U.S. Navy Seal, who suffered an IED explosion in 2012 while serving in Afghanistan, losing his right eye and requiring surgery to save his left. He tells us intimate details of his recovery from that injury, but also insists that he doesn’t have it all that bad. He remembers the brave men and women who have sacrificed everything to protect and defend America, and he expresses sincere gratitude that he not only survived the explosion, but was thereby given an opportunity to grow as a person in the aftermath. He thereby flips the narrative of post-traumatic stress on its head to uncover the potential for post-traumatic growth.

Crenshaw does not sugarcoat the fact that life is replete with brutal suffering and hardships. He has experienced many, not only in his military service but also in his personal life, including the loss of his mother to cancer at a very early age. He acknowledges that some people are indeed objectively victimized, and injustice is real. But people also subjectively identify with their victimization and project it back out onto the world, distorting their perceptions of everyone and everything in their lives through a narrative of disempowering self-pity. Crenshaw pushes back against this tendency and challenges us to recast our own hardships in light of the ancient archetypes of heroism, and to embrace our suffering as a necessary precondition for our growth to full human maturity.

Along the way, Crenshaw demonstrates the deep connection between self-pitying victimhood, outrage culture, and socialist political-economy. He argues that the philosophy he criticizes profoundly disempowers people, and serves as a collective disservice to the country and the world. He champions the ideal of personal responsibility, especially taking responsibility for how we react to the inevitable sufferings of our lives. Instead of whining about what happened to us, and demanding someone else to pay the price of restitution, Crenshaw shows us a way to take what another former Navy Seal, Jocko Willink, calls extreme ownership of our own problems, and our own solutions. Crenshaw shows us, in a word, how to have the strength of a free people, and how to live up to the glorious legacy of America that has been entrusted to our generation.

These are only a few of the takeaways from Crenshaw’s beautiful and powerful book. I urge you to read it, and I gladly give the last word and summary to the author, whose message is both timely and unbelievably consequential.

In his introduction, Crenshaw writes: “The basic message is this: If you’re losing your cool, you are losing. If you are triggered, it is because you allowed someone else to dictate your emotional state. If you are outraged, it is because you lack discipline and self-control. These are personal defeats, not the fault of anyone else. And each defeat shapes who you are as a person, and in the collective sense, who we are as a people. This book is about actively hardening your mind so that you can be the person you think you should be. It is about identifying who that person is in the first place, and taking responsibility for the self-improvement required to become them.”

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