Courage: The Politics of Life and Limb is a compelling and highly original study of the paradox of courage. Richard Avramenko contends that courage is not simply one virtue among many; rather, it is the primary means for humans to raise themselves out of their individualistic, isolated, and materialistic existence. As such, courage is an absolute and permanent good for collective human life. Specifically, Avramenko argues that when we risk “life and limb” for one another we reveal a fundamental care that binds our community together. Paradoxically, the same courage that brings humans together also drives us apart because courage is traditionally understood as manly, by definition, exclusionary, inegalitarian, and violent.
Avramenko explores the efforts of political thinkers throughout history—such as Aristophanes, Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, and Tocqueville—to reformulate courage so as to hold fast to all that is good about it while jettisoning that which is problematic. In addition to martial courage, the book looks at political courage, moral courage, and economic courage.
Courage: The Politics of Life and Limb makes a vital contribution to the discipline of political science. Clearly and engagingly written, the book will be of particular interest to students and scholars of political theory, ethics, and gender studies.
“In his ambitious book, Richard Avramenko has given us a profound and rigorous treatment of four important phases in the self-understanding of courage. Avramenko has done much more than provide a snapshot of the ‘red badge of courage’; he has taken courage as a prism within which the history of political thought can be viewed. As a consequence, he has also shown how courage is more than a one-dimensional invocation, but a many-faceted virtue whose meaning remains inexhaustible. He has mapped the terrain with a mastery that will be difficult to surpass.” — David John Walsh, The Catholic University of America
“In this engaging book, written with a sharp eye and keen sensibilities, Richard Avramenko traces the multifaceted history of courage from its Homeric manifestations to the modern day. Through creative and subtle readings of important texts, both ancient and modern, Avramenko chronicles the transformation of courage from its association with the manly violence of an Achilles or the Spartan three hundred into a virtue that, while still entailing an ever-essential care for others, sheds its connection with manliness and becomes compatible with the equality that is so much a part of today’s democratic regimes.” — Arlene Saxonhouse, University of Michigan
“. . . Richard Avramenko’s Courage: The Politics of Life and Limb [is] his veritable history of the ‘existential virtue par excellence’ from ancient Greece to modern times. . . . Subsequent chapters deal with martial courage and honor, political courage, moral courage, and economic courage. The last chapter, ‘The Aftermath,’ is Avramenko’s delightful effort to come to terms with his obvious reverence for courage’s lofty role in human affairs.” — ForeWord
“Courage, properly understood, requires deep commitment or ‘care’ on the part of the individual to a communally defined value. Avramenko traces these commitments in five chapters on Herodotus, Plato, Rousseau, and Tocqueville. . . Avramenko clearly seems nostalgic for an older sense of courage—one retaining some links with honor and martial prowess. In addition, Avramenko sees the lens of courage as a means of understanding traditions profoundly different from liberalism, some of which have been closely engaged in recent history.” — Choice
“[W]hen confronted with questions of, ‘What precisely does this courage entail and in what does it consist?’ or ‘What does it mean to be courageous and honorable and to be a man or woman of character?’, then we withdraw into platitudes, slogans, and clichés—anything except meaningful engagement with questions that demand substantive answers. It is precisely this need for meaningful engagement that makes Richard Avramenko’s study, Courage: The Politics of Life and Limb such a compelling read.” —_VoegelinView.com_
“Courage has come into disrepute, most often on display as the last refuge of nostalgics, reactionaries, and jingoists. This book is a welcome reminder, and a compelling demonstration, that courage is too powerful and too useful to leave to them. . . . Courage opens a worthwhile discussion, and is itself a worthwhile contribution. Anyone who is interested in the political cultures of the societies he treats will benefit from reading it.” — Bryn Mawr Classical Review
“This is a valuable book that can be read not just by social scientists, but ethicists, and indeed, any scholar interested in society and the political. Indeed, Avramenko ends by making a good case for courage as a social scientific virtue, pushing scholars to see the care and legitimate courage at work in honor cultures that are still present in our politics. Only then might we be able to dig deeper and see a sense of value that we missed in those we fear.” — Journal for Peace and Justice Studies
Bronze Winner in Foreword Magazine’s 2011 “Book of the Year Awards” in Political Science