In a piece for the The Imaginative Conservative, Bruce Frohnen bemoans our contemporary glorification of ‘niceness’ as an intellectual and cultural virtue. Niceness, he explains, is the “enemy of excellence” because it is:
A rather shallow set of habits and attitudes more concerned with comfort than engagement, ease than excellence, contentment than striving to do one’s best. It was and is the perfect complement to our contemporary liberal insistence on ‘tolerance’ as the chief virtue. … The result also is students, and graduates, who increasingly are immune to any call to excellence and virtue, more likely to take umbrage than to increase their efforts if called on to do better… [They are] spoiled by a cultural sensibility that values emotional comfort more highly than reality can support.
While I think Frohnen is absolutely right, the root of the problem goes much deeper, to a fundamental domestication of the definition of goodness. The goodness of niceness, it seems to me, is of an easy going and non-threatening kind. It is nothing more or less than moral tepidity writ large. Continue reading