Like other neo-Stoic authors of the period, Gournay admits that the nature and authenticity of virtue is elusive. But unlike many of her contemporaries, she does not simply dismiss virtue as a mask of the vice of pride. In Vicious Virtue , she argues that the elusiveness of virtue is tied to the hidden motivations behind virtuous acts. While one may observe external actions, one cannot observe the occult motives inspiring the moral agent to act in an apparently virtuous manner. “One cannot remove from humanity all the virtuous actions it practices because of coercion, self-interest, chance, or accident. Even graver are the external virtues which follow on some vicious inclination…To eliminate all such virtuous acts would place the human race closer to the rank of simple animals than I would dare to say.” Much, if not all, of human moral action is motivated by immoral or amoral factors. External virtuous conduct is caused more by personal interest or accident than by conscious virtuous intention. To eliminate all the moral actions inspired by less than virtuous motives is to eliminate practically all deliberative moral action; the only remaining activity is comparable to that manifested by non-rational animals.
A third serious setback was Egypt. The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, amid giant protests, raised hopes that democracy would spread in the Middle East. But the euphoria soon turned to despair. Egypt’s ensuing elections were won not by liberal activists (who were hopelessly divided into a myriad of Pythonesque parties) but by Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Morsi treated democracy as a winner-takes-all system, packing the state with Brothers, granting himself almost unlimited powers and creating an upper house with a permanent Islamic majority. In July 2013 the army stepped in, arresting Egypt’s first democratically elected president, imprisoning leading members of the Brotherhood and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Along with war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, this has dashed the hope that the Arab spring would lead to a flowering of democracy across the Middle East.