I. An Action of Moral Providence
The first and principal defining factor of cowboy ethics is an embracement of a
sense of “moral providence.”25 The romanticized cowboy was said to be a man of
superior moral character. This upholding of a higher set of standards is seen in the
classic cowboy films like those of John Wayne. On film, Wayne is the hard man, gentle
with friends and family, who perceives evil and eradicates it (Savage 1979, 28). Wayne
the cowboy epitomizes superior morality; he does not waver (Savage 1979, 28). As a
cowboy, he doesn’t just emphasize morality, he also asserts himself as a guardian of
justice whose moral clarity arises from a “higher calling.” While he acts brutally, he does
so “justifiably within the context of the plot” with outlaws and desperadoes (Emmert
1996, 31). Wayne’s movies, along with other Western classics, have captured the essence
of the Western hero’s character: “his unshakable moral confidence in the face of evil”
(Bernstein 2003, 5). In other words, moral providence serves as the guiding light behind
the cowboy’s action.
Moral providence also guides the Bush administration’s objectives of U.S. global
engagement. Podhoretz wrote that having previously been unsure as to why he should
have been chosen to become president, Bush had “a kind of revelation” on September 11,
2001 that “God” had “put him in the Oval Office for a purpose”; He had put him there to
lead a war against the evil of terrorism (Podhoretz 2002, In Praise of the Bush Doctrine).
At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. on February 6, 2003, Bush
embraced that sense of moral providence: “We also can be confident in the ways of
25 By referring to “moral providence,” I mean a higher calling. A born-again Christian, Bush’s vision of postmodern geopolitics is underwritten by a now-familiar strong message of evangelical moralism (Podhoretz 2002, In Praise of the Bush Doctrine). Bush uses “providence” to refer to God, whereas the cowboy applies it to refer to the guidance Nature grants him.