Anyone who has read novels, biographies and histories of the Europe of the nineteenth, eighteenth, and seventeenth centuries knows that the motivating element in the lives of young men, especially those of the landed class and certainly of the aristocracy was hope of glory. The glory was usually military, either in battle with a worthy foe or in conquest of other peoples and lands. Explorers of earlier centuries are depicted as motivated by greed for riches but both religious fervor and this hope for glory were a major part of their motivation.
While conservatives of a certain strain bemoan the loss of such gallant desire for the glory coming from deeds of daring-do, they have certainly not gone amiss in their perception of current motivations. Glory is not one of them. Most young men these days do not picture themselves falling in battle grasping the flag. That is no longer part of our culture.
Some young men and their ladies hold on to the John Wayne ethos of our recent past. They, however, exercise their sense of loss and anger, resorting to gun worship to bolster their self-image.
This loss of a drive to glory – Glory as epitomized in the film “Glory” or the novel War and Peace – was inevitable in the military where cold, hard training and a high level of expertise reign along with good IT skills.
The reason I find this useful to keep in mind is that in the act of practicing presentism, many forget how differently motivated many of our recent ancestors were and ascribe to them the motives that predominate today. Wrong.

Another thought on this: I recall a moment when my dad, in his 80s, murmured, “All I wanted was recognition.” He said something like that because that was also a line from a movie. What they had in common was this drive for status which, among males at least, starts early in the little gangs of boys who keep jostling for status in the gang (see Deborah Tannen on this). I related this to ethnicity, to the Italian culture. I’m reading short stories and a novel in Italian now and I’ll look for that sort of thing.

OTOH, this may be universal, a drive for status, for recognition. Is that tied to this theme of glory?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *