Aside from allusions to such phrases as Ernest Hemingway’s “grace under pres-sure,” Kennedy never defines courage itself in the book. This omission is deliberate: He prefers that readers define courage for themselves as they encounter the virtue in the specific examples that he has provided. A careful reading of Profiles in Courage makes it clear, however, that Kennedy saw courage as the willingness to stand one’s ground regardless of consequences. While all of Kennedy’s examples have been drawn from politics, this type of personal integrity is applicable to any sphere of endeavor. The ordinary citizen who refuses to be swayed by mob, psychology would, in Kennedy’s view, be no less courageous than the eight senators who are the focus of his study.
In an opening essay entitled “Courage and Politics,” Kennedy indicates that he does not regard courage as mere inflexibility. “All government,” the British orator Edmund Burke once concluded, “is founded on compromise and barter.” This principle was dear to Kennedy’s own heart, and he regarded those who refused to compromise on any issue not as courageous, but merely as obstinate. Kennedy’s own political life was devoted to finding a proper balance between his lofty ideals and the realities of the congressional system.
According to Kennedy, the politician who is unwilling to negotiate will ultimately be ineffective. Senators cannot effectively defend a principle...
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