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Fall and rise of public heroism

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11.09.2019

By Robert Skidelsky

LONDON ― Recently I watched "The Man Who Was Too Free," a moving documentary about the Russian dissident politician Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down in front of the Kremlin in 2015.

A young, handsome rising political star in the 1990s, Nemtsov later refused to bend to Russian President Vladimir Putin's authoritarianism and went into opposition, where he was harassed, imprisoned, and finally killed. The film left me thinking about the diminished role of heroism and courage in modern life, and also about the fate of Russia.

Heroism is a product of extreme situations ― classically, involving war and violence. Because today's Western way of life is non-extreme, the value of heroism has fallen. But its stock is rising in most of the rest of the world, including Russia.

The hero is both noble and self-destructive. He or she not only prefers an honorable death to a dishonorable life, but also would rather die young and gloriously than spin out a long and compromised existence loaded with easily gotten (and forgotten) honors. Hector in Homer's Iliad says: "'Tis true I perish, yet I perish great." The heroic life is inherently tragic; immortality is its only reward.

Nemtsov was cast in this mold. According to some of those interviewed in the film, he believed that, having previously been a government minister, and once Boris Yeltsin's preferred successor as Russia's president, he would never be assassinated. Yet it seemed to me that he was challenging Putin's regime to kill him.

Unlike........

© The Korea Times