A man is more than his tweets. Every “canceled” story is just the tip of the iceberg—not only because there are so many cases that never get reported or gain attention, but because behind every cancellation is a human being, with a life story.
Nick Buckley’s Lessons in Courage: How I Fought Back Against Cancel Culture and Won is part memoir, part motivational series, part manifesto. What makes this book exceptional is the man who wrote it. Born in Manchester, Buckley grew up fatherless and impoverished. Finding himself at loose ends after a tumultuous youth, he applied to serve with the Manchester City Council.
Buckley discovered an affinity for community service, and ultimately decided to invest his personal capital in founding the Mancunian Way. This private, local charity intervenes on the streets with young people to promote personal responsibility and secure employment. It received awards for “Small Charity Big Impact” in 2018 and “Greater Manchester Homeless Project of the Year” in 2019, among others.
Taking on Giants
Lessons in Courage opens with the account of Buckley’s cancellation in 2020: his initial bemusement and ultimate objections to BLM activism, the blog post opinion he dashed off in half an hour, the chain reaction of hostility and outrage, and the capitulation of his charity’s board. “The catalyst to this reaction was when the article was copied and posted onto Twitter,” Buckley recalls. “The mob had to have its say.”
Without further introduction, the next chapters take on three giants of society’s ills as Buckley understands them: the welfare state, man-hating feminism and failing public schools. He then digresses into some personal reflections on his upbringing and travel. Near the end, a Jordan Peterson-esque chapter lists twelve steps to courage, included at a reader’s request. Buckley expands on his offending blog post by denouncing BLM, along with Antifa and Extinction Rebellion, as collectivist movements aimed at destroying British culture. To close his account of the cancellation, Buckley works through his decision to fight back and the supportive article that turned the tide. In a move characteristic of a man who built his charity on tangible impact, Buckley ends with practical solutions and a call to join his new initiative, Go Woke Go Broke.
Buckley’s reflections reveal what’s at the heart of the cancel culture: not ideology, but fear. “I thought my termination was over a matter of principle, a moral code, doing what they thought was right, even if it ruined our friendship,” Buckley writes. “They were successful in appeasing the angry mob with a blood sacrifice” but then “a new angry mob of my creation came along.”
It saddened Buckley that the charity board made no effort to defend their decision to terminate him, instead resigning eighteen hours after Buckley’s pro-bono solicitor contacted them. “I thought I was cast aside to protect the charity, but now the charity had been cast aside just as casually.” Better, he concludes, to have resisted the mob in the first place, than to cower and cringe at its whims.
Inspiration and a Goad
Written in an informal style intended to reflect Buckley’s public speaking, the book is most compelling for its personal stories. As promised by the title, there are lessons to be learned from a man who turned his life around and dedicated it to helping others. From the underage boy he saved from prostitution to the teenagers his charity convinced to exchange drug running for earning a paycheck, Buckley’s accomplishments speak louder than his words.
Buckley writes frankly, at times roughly, in support of his beliefs. He raises commonsense objections to the creeds of the progressive gospel, at a time when many are afraid to say as much: “The top earning fashion models in the world are all women. Where is the outcry?” and “I judge how successful a country is by the number of people who are literally dying to get in, compared to the number literally dying to get out.” His social critiques rest on the bedrock of his life experiences, from growing up in a single-parent household dependent on the welfare state, to establishing his award-winning charity. He further earns trust by readily confessing to his own mistakes.
As Buckley acknowledges on page one, he is no writer and makes no pretence at literary erudition or sophisticated prose. His often harsh assessments of society’s ills make the book unlikely to persuade anyone who hasn’t already reached similar conclusions. For those sympathetic to his perspective, and respectful of his history of service, however, Buckley offers both inspiration and a goad: to take nothing for granted, to open our eyes to the genuine suffering around us, and to respond with action.
Lessons in Courage brings humanity to the political debates so often rehashed online in fuzzy abstraction by giving faces to the students failed by the government school system, the rudderless young men unable to apply for work because they don’t have their own email addresses, and to the well-intentioned and even heroic citizens whose lives are ruined by the relentless malice of strangers online.