No-Fault Narcissism?

PRIDE: n. a high or overweening opinion of one’s own qualities and attainments; an attitude of superiority over and contempt for others; inordinate self-esteem


The earliest recorded use of pride in this sense appears in Anglo-Saxon in the Homilies by Aelfric of Eynsham. By 1205 it had taken on the sense of “arrogance; haughtiness.” In 1597, Shakespeare used the word in Henry IV, Part 2 to express a much softened sense: “a feeling of elation, pleasure, or high satisfaction derived from some person or possession.” In 1970, members of the LGBT movement began to use the word in reference to what, until then, had been more commonly associated with shame.


The modern noun pride derives from Anglo-Saxon pryto, which became prede in Middle English. The Mercian dialect even spelled the word as it is today, and it carried the meaning of “unreasonable self-esteem, especially as one of the deadly sins; haughtiness, overbearing treatment of others; pomp, love of display.” The late Old English adjective prud, “proud,” is the root of them all. It meant “excellent, splendid; arrogant, haughty, having or cherishing a high opinion of one’s own merits.”


Like many other English words, pride has over the centuries belonged to two related yet distinct semantic domains: sin and esteem. Though pride has long been regarded as the chief of the seven deadly sins and was defined by Aquinas as “the appetite for excellence in excess of right reason,” it has also carried a positive meaning in reference to the esteem with which a person regards, for example, a spouse or child, or a service or accomplishment.

If the esteem exceeds what is appropriate to the object, however, pride becomes vanity. As Mary Bennet says in Pride and Prejudice, “A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.” As the Taliban who blew up statues of Buddha now treat the site of their violence as a tourist attraction, so activists who seek to topple Western civilization make the vanity of individual sexual aberration into a celebration of the idolatry of a “pride parade.”

Until 1970, the former understanding of pride was regarded as a foundational moral truth. With the advent of “Gay Pride,” the word assumed the positive connotation. The semantic shift facilitated a cultural shift from moral authority to individual preference. What right reason calls sin, individual preference now celebrates with ostentation and vainglorious ornamentation. The new use of the word has become a tool for canceling centuries of moral and cultural disapproval. The shift paved the way for overturning longstanding law, the established and biblically founded definition of marriage, and even the definition of what a woman is. The new concept of pride now moves institutions to enforce acceptance of aberrant individual preferences on everyone, even to the denial of reason itself.

As George Orwell’s 1984 shows, semantic manipulation is a basic tool of tyranny. The new use of pride has resulted in the individual replacing the family as the primary unit of social order. Rather than focusing on a spouse and children, on marriage and family, the new emphasis has made esteem of the individual central. The result has brought the forces of government, schools, corporations, and even some religious denominations to bear in enforcing on all the preferences and desires of the individual, especially desires that run counter to natural law and traditional morality. Once the principal cardinal sin, pride now denies the very existence of sin, other than resistance to its prideful demands.

is a retired secondary teacher of English and philosophy. For forty years he challenged students to dive deep into the classics of the Western canon, to think and write analytically, and to find the cultural constants reflected throughout that literature, art, and thought.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #63, Winter 2022 Copyright © 2024 Salvo |


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