Reputation is the shadow. Character is the tree. -- Abraham LIncoln Cultural historian Warren Susman researched the rise and fall of the concept of character, tracing its prevalence in literature and the self-improvement manuals and guides popular in different eras. He found that the use of the term “character” began in the 17th century and peaked in the 19th -- a century, Susman, writes, that embodied “a culture of character.” During the 1800s, “character was a key word in the vocabulary of Englishmen and Americans,” and men were spoken of as having strong or weak character, good or bad character, a great deal of character or no character at all. Young people were admonished to cultivate real character, high character, and noble character and told that character was the most priceless thing they could ever attain. Starting at the beginning of the 20th century, however, Susman found that the ideal of character began to be replaced by that of personality. But character and personality are not the same things. As society shifted from producing to consuming, ideas of what constituted the self began to transform. The rise of psychology, the introduction of mass-produced consumer goods, and the expansion of leisure time offered people new ways of forming their identity and presenting it to the world. In place of defining themselves through the cultivation of virtue, people’s hobbies, dress, and material possessions became the new means of self identification and self expression. Susman observed this shift through the changing content of self-improvement manuals, which went from emphasizing moral imperatives and work to personal fulfillment and self-actualization. “The vision of self-sacrifice began to yield to that of self-realization,” he writes. “There was a fascination with the peculiarities of the self.” While advice manuals of the 19th century (and some of the early 20th as well), emphasized what a man really was and did, the new advice manuals provided guidance on how to control what others thought he was and did. One's true substance, and whether one actually had any, was secondary to whether others perceived one to have it. In a culture of character, good conduct was thought to spring from a noble heart and mind; with this shift, perception trumped inner intent. Readers were taught how to be charming, control their voice, and make a good impression. One sees this in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. The guide focuses on how to get people to like you and how to get others to perceive you well versus trying to improve your actual inner moral compass. (Might Carnegie have been among the founders of political correctness?) What is character? I think the picture above is a gem of good one that captures the multifaceted nature of character for it conveys not only character's most obvious and straightforward aspects, but also those that come at it obliquely. The components of character, like the facets of a diamond reflect the light of our true selves to outside word. Also like a diamond, few among us have unflawed characters, yet also like cut stones, one or two minor misgivings doesn't make one thoroughly unacceptable. Character is many things that only when found in finely crafted balance reflect brilliantly. Too much contentment, for instance, contributes to hubristic zealotry , not enough, sloth. Too much heroism will kill you, yet not enough means doom for those around you. Can we more broadly than the pic above define what character is? Well, yes. The etymology of character helps us in this endeavor. The word comes from the Greek kharakter for “engraved mark,” “symbol or imprint on the soul,” and “instrument for marking,” and can be traced further back to the words for “to engrave,” “pointed stake,” and “to scrape and scratch.” Anciently, a character was the stamp or marking impressed into wax and clay, and as Henry Clay Trumbull explains in 1894’s Character-Shaping and Character-Showing, it served as: “another name for the signature, or monogram, or personal superscription, or trade-mark, of the potter, the painter, the sculptor, the writer, or any other artist or artisan, or inventor, as indicative of the personality of the maker, or of the distinctive individuality of the article marked. It is the visible token by which a thing is distinguished from every other thing with which it might otherwise be confounded.” In the 17th century, the word came to be associated with “the sum of qualities that defines a person.” These qualities included a man’s intellect, thoughts, ideas, motives, intentions, temperament, judgment, behavior, imagination, perception, emotions, loves, and hates. All of these components, William Straton Bruce writes in 1908’s The Formation of Christian Character, “go to the shaping and coloring of a man’s character. They have all some part in producing that final type of self, that ultimate habit of will, into which the man’s whole activities at last shape themselves.” The balance of these components within the soul of each man, and the way one or another predominates over others, is what makes a character unique and sets apart one individual from another. It should not be thought, however, that character is synonymous merely with personal tastes, temperaments, and preferences. Things like one's sartorial style, favorite music, or introversion/extroversion have little to nothing to do with character. Rather, character is defined in how one's habits, motives, thoughts, and so on relate to morality, particularly as it concerns integrity. Character was defined as “one's moral self,” the “crown of a moral life,” and referred to as a “moral structure,” something one built through virtuous behavior. Bruce writes: Character is nature and nurture. It is nature cultured and disciplined, so that natural tendencies are brought under the sway of the moral motive. His natural individuality marks off a man from his fellows by clear and specific differences. But this individuality may be non-moral. To produce character it must be brought under discipline, and organized into the structure of a true moral being… Above all, [character] includes a choice, a settled habit or bent of will, so that it can be seen in its outcome in conduct. Character takes up the raw material of nature and temperament, and it weaves these into the strong, well-knit texture of a fully moralized manhood. Those of you who read my posts know that almost daily I make some sort of admonition about Donald Trump on the basis of his exhibiting few to none of the qualities intrinsic to one's being of integrity, which is the term I use for character. (If you haven't seen my posts deriding Trump for his lack of fine character/integrity, here're a sampling of them.) Today is no different. This post wouldn't exist but for the fact that Trump has overwhelmed us with his lack of character, thus sadly verifying that turpitude such as he exhibits is not rare. I rail against the degradation of character's role in American public life because it is what the Founders had in spades. But for it, there would be no U.S. Most importantly, however, I do because I know that so long as men and women of truly fine character run the show, their political affiliation doesn't matter because such individuals seek objective truths and act in light of them, even when doing so goes against their party or their own personal self-interest. When it comes to people given the privilege of serving in high office, character is "everything." It is because as Lawrence Reed points out, "Character is the key....Little of value is possible without it." Reed's modern discussion of the parallels between the U.S. and the Roman Empire highlights the importance of character. In the following and only slightly longer version of it, Stefan Molyneux reads Reed's 1970s era paper that introduced tacitly the theme of character and its role in a civilization's demise and crash. Stefan has his own telling of the same ideas, and MisterBeale shared them with us in another thread. (It's unclear to me whether the member's purpose was to relay the immigration impacts, or to introduce the notion of character's role in state's endurance, or merely to call attention to a handful of discrete characteristics..) Toward the end of his video essay, Molyneux notes the same thing as Reed. He's clear: for all the discrete ills the Roman Empire expressed, the underlying cause of them was Roman society's, its leaders in particular, lack of character.