The courage to be is the movement of self-affirmation in spite of the threat of anxiety as the existential awareness of nonbeing. This courage is conceptually clarified by Tillich through the use of the polar ontological principles of participation and individualization. The basic polar structure of being is the polarity of self and world. The first polar elements that emerge out of this foundational polar structure are the elements of participation and individualization. The relevance of these elements to Tillich’s doctrine of courage is evident. Courage expresses itself as “the courage to be as a part,” exemplifying the polar element of participation, and as “the courage to be as oneself,” exemplifying the polar element of individualization. Finally, these two polar exemplifications of courage are transcended and united in “absolute faith.” Absolute faith, grounded in transcendence, provides the final definition of the courage to be.
First, the author examines the manifestation of courage as the courage to be as a part. This is one side of people’s self-affirmation. They affirm themselves as participants in the power of a group, a historical movement, or being as such. This side of courage counters the threat of losing participation in the world. The social forms that embody this manifestation of courage are varied. Tillich briefly discusses four of these forms: collectivism, semi-collectivism, neocollectivism, and democratic conformism.
All of these forms attempt to deal with the three types of anxiety—ontic, moral, and spiritual—by channeling their individual expressions into an anxiety about the group. Thus, it becomes possible to cope with these existential anxieties with a courage that affirms itself through collective or conformal participation. The individual anxiety concerning fate and death is transcended through a collective identification. There is a part of oneself, belonging to the group, that cannot be hurt or destroyed. It is as eternal as the group is eternal—an essential manifestation of the universal collective. So, also, a self-affirmation is made possible in spite of the threat of guilt and condemnation. Individual guilt is translated into a deviation or transgression of the norms of the collective, and the courage to be as a part accepts guilt and its consequences as public guilt. The anxiety of emptiness and meaninglessness is dealt with in the same way. The group becomes the bearer of universal meaning, and the individual derives his or her personal meaning through a participation in the group. The ever-present danger in the radical affirmation of the courage to be as a part is the absorption of the self into the collective, with the consequent loss of the unique, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable individual.
The courage to be as oneself expresses the other side of self-affirmation. This movement is made possible through the ontological polar element of individualization. The courage to be as oneself has found a concrete embodiment in romanticism, naturalism, and existentialism.
Romanticism elevated individuals beyond all cultural content and conferred upon them a radical autonomy. In some of its extreme expressions, as in Friedrich von Schlegel, the courage to be as oneself led to a complete rejection of participation.
Naturalism, whether of the “philosophy of life” variety or of the American pragmatic variety, follows basically the same path. Nietzsche, in his definition of nature as the will-to-power, granted priority to the individual will and made it...