Two Footnotes on the Obsolescence of Honor
Published on: June 20, 2012
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  • Anthony

    Honor as being discussed infers ethical conduct and integrity; attributes not culturally given widespread play in our modern mass cultural apparatus. The abstractions loyalty and honor have altricial roots – must be nourished to avoid obsolescence. Further, the honor (integrity and ethnics) we talk about may differ in both their state and human iterations – to better perhaps distinguish between “crime and mistake.”

    Finally, in a society of strangers where we must constantly deal with people under abstract rules loyalty as a societal tie becomes abstraction requiring more than faithfulness – it must be a practice and handmaiden to honor while recognizing state contingencies.

  • Anthony

    Correction @1: third sentence 1st paragraph should read…(integrity and ethics)….

  • Ed Holder

    Minor quibble: the Shah was actually allowed into the U.S. for cancer treatment, though this process was convoluted: http://www.nytimes.com/1981/05/17/magazine/the-shah-s-health-a-political-gamble.html?pagewanted=all

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    The only recent President I can recall who invoked “honor” as part of a foreign policy was Richard Nixon who promised “Peace with Honor” in withdrawal from Vietnam War. But there is no getting around the fact that the U.S. abandoned its allies in the Vietnam War with disastrous consequences in South Vietnam (‘the re-education camps, the ‘boat people,’ etc.), Cambodia (Pol Pot’s genocide), and elsewhere (the proverbial ‘failure or nerve’).

    Historian Thomas E. Madden in his book Empires of Trust: How Rome Built – and America is Building – a New World (2008), notes that trust cannot be based on what leaders say but what they do. Madden makes the case that there are three types of empires: empires of conquest, of commerce, and of trust. He convincingly describes how Rome built an empire based on trust and that America has done the same.

    Dr. Berger reminds us that honor may be an obsolescent cultural concept in modern society but no less necessary. Leaders no longer duel over lost honor (Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr) and there has been a decline in the Southern ‘culture of honor’ where people avoid unintentional offense to others and not accepting improper conduct by others. But nonetheless honor is still necessary to maintain an “empire of trust.”

  • Brendan Doran

    The phenomenon of the Law undermining honor is also affecting the Military, see Rules of Engagement and the many prosecutions of exclusively lower ranks; mostly enlisted men and very few lower ranking Officers.

    I think the Princes who betrayed trust will find they purchased insurance against their liberty being impugned at a very dear price.

    They were acting on the advice of their attorneys – JAG Officers – who are now consulted on every decision to include artillery and air support.

    You may have Lawyers or Honor, but not both.
    Silent Enem Leges Intra Armas. Or ruin.

  • Michael McKegney

    Dear Mr. Berger- Re your final paragraph, on the alleged “American enthusiasm for the events on Tahrir Square” – I myself didn’t read Obama-Clinton response this way – I would say this was a VERY RELUCTANT “enthusiasm” – USA was forced by circumstances to become (at least publically) “enthusiastic”.

  • I agree with your point connecting honor and loyalty. However, there are other ways to treat honor.
    Honor is also how we view other people. To honor them is to treat them with dignity, respect and trust. From that basis, honesty and candor are possible, where they are not when dishonor is at the core of the relationship.
    The problem with governments treating other government with honor and loyalty is that for the most part the relationship is an economic one. We give honor to get back something in return. The question that I have is whether our loyalty was to Mubarak or the nation of Egypt. I don’t think there is an simple answer to this. But when we personalize loyalty to another country as loyalty to the current regime, we ask for conflicts going forward.
    I wrote about this issue last year in a post called Honor and the Lost Art of Diplomacy – http://edbrenegar.typepad.com/leading_questions/2011/05/honor-and-the-lost-art-of-diplomacy.html. I offer it for your readers edification. Thank you.

  • WigWag

    The credo of powerful nations used to be “reward your friends and punish your enemies”. Unfortunately under President Obama all too often it’s America’s enemies who are rewarded while its our fiends who are punished.

    As for Whitey Bulger’s common-law wife; her punishment was ridiculous. Her situation does bring up an interesting ethical question; what would we do if we were in her place?

    Personally I would have done what she did. If one of my loved one’s did something illegal or even heinous would I offer them sanctuary or turn them in. I’d vote for sanctuary.

    What would most people do? I think most would say that they would reluctantly expose their loved ones to the vagaries of the law. Most people who would say this are either lying or deceiving themselves.

    Putting Greig in prison serves no purpose. Remaining silent and eventually sanctioning the overthrow of Muburak was bad policy that will turn out badly for everyone, especially the Egyptians.

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