Friday, May 18, 2007

Honor

Guard Duty has a remarkable post about honor, quoting a speech by James Bowman:

Nowadays, hardly anyone even knows what honor means, or what it once meant.

Let me pause, then, to explain what I think it means. In a few words, it’s the good opinion of the people who matter to us. The people who matter to us are what I call the “honor group.” You will have noticed right away how honor differs from morality. The principles of morality are universally true, in all times and places. But what is honorable will depend to some extent on the composition of the honor group. Looking good in their eyes thus becomes for the individual, a greater cause than himself, even than saving his own life. Hence the expression, Death before dishonor! The dominant honor group in European countries used to be socially and economically determined and largely confined to a hereditary aristocracy, but honor underwent a revolution in the 18th century. Suddenly the honor group expanded enormously, and America led the way. In fact, the American revolution was more revolutionary in this way than in any other. George Washington and the other founding fathers taught the world that all men, and not just a hereditary élite, could aspire to honor. And their lesson was echoed by the European romantics, especially Sir Walter Scott and the popular novelists who came after him.

That synthesis of progressive political ideas and traditional honor reached its apogee under the Victorians with the idea of the Christian gentleman, but it is now all but gone. Share

2 comments:

alaughland said...

Honor was often carried to a ridiculous degree which may have been part of the reason it was tempered and now almost non-existent. Once a society starts worshiping money and material goods that becomes their god and they will do anything in order to fulfill their desires for it. Honor does not often play a part in achieving these goals.

elena maria vidal said...

That is very true and it is sad because in some ways, honor adds another dimension to morality. Once I accidentally walked out of a store without paying for some inexpensive item that got lost in the shopping cart. It was worth $2 at the most and to be morally technical, it would have not really been a terrible sin if I had gone home with the item. But honor compelled me to go back across the vast parking lot, back into the store (with a babe in arms), wait in line again and pay for the item. I could not stand the thought of being a thief, even in a small degree. It was a matter of personal integrity.