This miserable way is taken by sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


In Dante’s Inferno, the moral cowards are not granted admission to Hell; they are consigned to the vestibule, where they are doomed to follow a rushing banner that is blown about by the wind. When Dante asks his guide, Virgil, who they are, he explains:

This miserable way is taken by sorry souls of those who lived without disgrace and without praise.

They now commingle with the coward angels, the company of those who were not rebels nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.

…Unfortunately, this is where the G.O.P.’s Faustian bargain has led: Their moral compromises and silence have become a habit. The small surrenders become larger ones until there is nothing left.

Some of them are motivated by fear of the president’s wrath or by the political pragmatism of politicians who are obsessed with self-preservation. Others simply hope to ride out the news cycle, hoping the entire incident will be quickly forgotten.

But at some level, I suspect, they know that this was a defining moment. And it reminds us that while we celebrate political and moral courage, we forget that genuine political courage is vanishingly rare. We remember St. Thomas More but gloss over the fact that he stood virtually alone among his peers in speaking truth to the power of his age. Hilaire Belloc captured the moment:

Most of the great bodies—all the bishops except Fisher—had yielded. They had not yielded with great reluctance but as a matter of course. Here and there had been protests, and two particular monastic bodies had burst, as it were, into flame. But that was exceptional. To the ordinary man of the day, anyone, especially a highly placed official, who stood out against the King’s policy was a crank.

Unlike his colleagues, Thomas More did not make a bargain with his soul.

And those who did? Who remembers them now? As Virgil counseled, “Let us not talk of them, but look and pass.”

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