Monday, May 19, 2014

Andrew Jackson's Mother Teaches Him About Honor

According to Andrew Jackson, these were his mother’s last words to him. They comprise a pretty straightforward definition of honor.
Andrew, if I should not see you again, I wish you to remember and treasure up some things I have already said to you: in this world you will have to make your own way. To do that you must have friends. You can make friends by being honest, and you can keep them by being steadfast. You must keep in mind that friends worth having will in the long run expect as much from you as they give to you. To forget an obligation or be ungrateful for a kindness is a base crime-not merely a fault or a sin, but an actual crime. Men guilty of it sooner or later must suffer the penalty. In personal conduct be always polite but never obsequious. None will respect you more than you respect yourself. Avoid quarrels as long as you can without yielding to imposition. But sustain your manhood always. Never bring a suit in law for assault and battery or for defamation. The law affords no remedy for such outrages that can satisfy the feelings of a true man. Never wound the feelings of others. Never brook wanton outrage upon your own feelings. If you ever have to vindicate your feelings or defend your honor, do it calmly. If angry at first, wait until your wrath cools before you proceed.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Prestage on Chivalry

From Edgar Prestage’s Chivalry (1928):
In its medieval form--that is to say, during the period of its prevalence in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and still more during the age of its decadence in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries--Chivalry was marked by the following vices. First, it glorified war for its own sake; exalted fighting as the only occupation worthy of a gentleman; instituted a love of bloodshed, and at the same time a contempt for human suffering; and yet, at the same time, because of its excessive individualism, remained as a military instrument amazingly inefficient, retarding rather than advancing the science of warfare. Secondly, it was an exclusive class-institution; it placed a gulf between the knightly order and the commonality, and restricted its code of honor and courtesy peculiarly to members of its own caste; it generated a contempt for social inferiors and a disregard for their feelings which explain, if they do not justify, the retaliatory outrages of the Peasants’ Revolt and the Jacquerie. Thirdly, its religion was at once formal and obscurantist. On the one hand it was engrossed in ceremonies and external observances; on the other hand, it was merciless in waging war on so-called infidels, in carrying through crusades against heretics, in persecuting and suppressing freedom of thought. The Inquisition found in the knighthood a ready instrument of its worst atrocities. Finally, under cover of its improved and refined manners, it concealed and disseminated a code of debased and deadly immorality; at its worst, in Provence, it elevated fornication and adultery to the rank of social obligations.

These are grave indictments, and they are sufficient to prevent us from regarding Chivalry, in its medieval manifestation, as an ideal way of life. In mitigation, however, of an undue severity of judgment, it should be borne in mind that our standard of comparison ought not to be the more enlightened religion and morality of the present day, but rather the less elevated condition of superstition and barbarism which preceded the emergence of Chivalry. In war, in faith, in manners, and even in morals, Chivalry marked an advance on the savagery of the dark ages which came before it. It was distinctly an upward move; a move towards the light and air of the more perfect day. It manifested, if sometimes only in a crude and rudimentary form, the elelments of virtues and graces which display themselves as the fine flowers of the cultured and Christian society of this later age. Purged of its grossest imperfections, and refined by the educated conscience of Christendom, it has, throught the agency of our public schools and universities, our military and naval services, our churches and ethical associations, transmitted to us an incalculably valuable treasure of lofty principle and noble precedent.

What are the typical virtues of Chivalry in its purified and ideal form? We have seen that Chivalry was a compound of three elements, viz. war, religion, and gallantry. Each of the three respectively emphasized and exalted three qualities as essential to the true knight. The three primary virtues of Chivalry, based on its military character, were courage, loyalty, and generosity. The three secondary virtues, derived from religion, were fidelity to the Church, obedience, and chastity. The three tertiary virtues, social in their nature, were courtesy, humility, and beneficence. On the side of theory and principle, at any rate, Chivalry stressed the duties and obligations of knighthood, rather than its rights and privileges. It held up a high standard of honour, and required it to be maintained without any diminution. It insisted on a truthfulness, a trustworthiness, an adhesion to plighted word, a fidelity to engagement, from which no allurements of advantage and no plea of necessity could cause any deviation. It required a liberality which lavished largesses, even though they reduced the donor to poverty. It demanded a regular observance of the offices of religion; a full acceptance of the Catholic faith; a complete submission in things spiritual to the authority of the clergy, and, as a counsel of perfection for the elect, a respect for marriage vows. It instilled a courtesy (courtoisie), a code of fine manners based on heartfelt consideration and genuine regard which immensely added to the deligbht of the intercourse of social life. Courtesy, especially in the relations of men towards women, although it had been anticipated in the Christian Church, was a new thing in the hard and general world. It differed in its grace and charm and geniality from the mere politeness, civility, or urbanity, which (as the words themselves imply) were the forms of good manners evolved amid the crowded and commercial population of the towns. Above all, it inculcated an ideal of social service; service without remuneration; service, however humble its nature, free from degradation or disparagement; service of the weak by the strong; service of the poor by the wealthy; service of the low by the high.

Thus, even though in the day of its dominance Chivalry had defects grave and deplorable, nevertheless, it remains a glorious and honourable name, and its principles, freed from their medieval accidents, are among the noblest and most splendid that have assisted the progress of the human race.

Honor and the Lie

In the Tattler (June 6, 1709) Richard Steele wrote:
The great violation of the point of honour from man to man, is giving the lie. One may tell another he whores, drinks, blasphemes, and it may pass unresented; but to say he lies, though but in jest, is an affront that nothing but blood can expiate. The reason perhaps may be, because no other vice implies a want of courage so much as the making of a lie; and therefore telling a man he lies, is touching him in the most sensible part of honour, and indirectly calling him a coward. I cannot omit under this head what Herodotus tells us of the ancient Persians, that from age of five years to twenty they instruct their sons only in three things: to manage the horse, to make use of the bow, and to speak truth.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Glorious natures doth put life into business"

From Francis Bacon’s Essays:
Essay LIV--Of Vain-glory.
Lies are sufficient to breed opinion, and opinion brings on substance. In military commanders and soldiers, vainglory is an essential point; for as iron sharpens iron, so by glory one courage sharpeneth another. In cases of great enterprise, upon charge and adventure, a composition of glorious natures doth put life into business; and those that are of solid and sober natures have more of the ballast than the sail.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mandeville on Honor

These cynical observations on honor are from Bernard Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees (1714):
In great families [honor] is like the gout, generally counted hereditary, and all lords’ children are born with it. In some that never felt anything of it, it is acquired by conversation and reading (especially of romances), in others by preferment; but there is nothing that encourages the growth of it more than a sword, and upon the first wearing of one, some people have felt considerable shoots of it in four and twenty hours.

The great art to make man courageous is first to make him own this principle of valor within and afterwards to inspire him with as much horror against shame as nature has given him against death; and that there are things to which man has, or may have,a stronger aversion than he has to death is evident from suicide.

The courage, then, which is only useful to the body politic, and what is generally called true valor, is artificial and consists in a superlative horror against shame, by flattery infused into men of exalted pride.

One man in an army is a check upon another, and a hundred of them, that single and without witness would all be cowards, are, for fear of incurring one another’s contempt, made valiant by being together. To continue and heighten this artificial courage, all that run away ought to be punished with ignominy; those that fought well, whether they did beat or were beaten, must be flattered and solemnly commended; those that lost their limbs rewarded; and those that were killed ought, above all, to be taken notice of, artfully lamented, and to have extraordinary encomiums bestowed upon them; for to pay honors to the dead will ever be a sure method to make [dupes] of the living. 

Politics ... discovered in men a mixed-metal principle, which was a compound of justice, honesty, and all the moral virtues joined to courage, and all that were possessed of it turned to knights-errant, of course. They did abundance of good throughout he world by taming monsters, delivering the distressed, and killing the oppressors; but the wings of all the dragons being clipped, the giants destroyed, and the damsels everywhere set at liberty, except some few in pain and Italy who remained still  captivated by their monsters, the order of chivalry, to whom the standard of ancient honor belonged, has been laid aside some time. It was like their armors, very [massive] and heavy; the many virtues about it made it very troublesome, and as ages grew wiser and wiser, the principle of honor in the beginning of the last century was melted over again and bought to a new standard; they put in the same weight of courage, half the quantity of honesty, and a very little justice, but not a scrap of any other virtue, which has made it very easy and portable to what it was. However, such as it is, there would be no living without it in a large nation; it is the tie of society, and though we are beholden to our frailties for the chief ingredient of it, there is no virtue, at least that I am acquainted with, that has been half so instrumental to the civilizing of mankind, who in great societies would soon degenerate into cruel villains and treacherous slaves, were honor to be removed from among them.

You may as well deny that it is the fashion what you see everyone wear as to say that demanding and giving satisfaction is against the laws of true honor.

The only thing of weight that can be said against modern honor is that it is directly opposite to religion. The one bids you bear injuries with patience; the other tells you if you do not resent them you are not fit to live. Religion commands you to leave all revenge to God; honor bids you trust your revenge to nobody but yourself, even where the law would do it for you; religion plainly forbids murder; honor openly justifies it; religion bids you not  shed blood on any account whatever; honor bids you fight for the least trifle; religion is built on humility, and honor upon pride; how to reconcile them must be left to wiser heads than mine.
The reason why there are so few men of real virtue and so many of real honor is because all the recompense a man has of a virtuous action is the pleasure of doing it, which most people reckon but poor pay; but the self-denial a man of honor submits to in one appetite is immediately rewarded by the satisfaction he receives from another, and what he abates of his avarice or any other passion is doubly repaid to his pride; besides, honor gives large grains of allowance and virtue none. A man of honor must not cheat or tell a lie; he must punctually pay what he borrows at play, though the creditor have nothing to show for it;  but he may drink and swear and owe money to all the tradesmen in town without taking notice of their dunning. A man of honor must be true to his prince and country while he is in their service; but if he thinks himself not well used, he may quit it and do them all the mischief he can. A man of honor must never change his religion for interest; but he may be as debauched as he pleases and never practice any. He must make no attempts upon his friend’s wife, daughter, sister, or anyone that is trusted to his care; but he may lie with all the world besides.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Honor as Discussed by William Ian Miller

The following passages are quoted from William Ian Miller's book Humiliation: And Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence (1995):
One way of defining honor is as a susceptibility for having a certain set of dispositions and the likelihood that certain emotive states will be evoked in certain settings. Honor is above all the keen sensitivity to the experience of humiliation and shame, a sensitivity manifested by the desire to be envied by others and the propensity to envy the successes of others. To simplify greatly, honor is that disposition which makes one act to shame others who have shamed oneself, to humiliate others who have humiliated oneself. The honorable person is one whose self-esteem and social standing is intimately dependent on the esteem or the envy he or she actually elicits in others. At root honor means “don't tread on me.” But to show someone you were not to be trod upon often meant that you had to hold yourself out as one who was willing to tread on others. The style of honor did not mean you were reluctant to give offense because you knew the other would retaliate, it meant that you had to look not at all fearful about giving offense.

Honor was more than just a set of rules for governing behavior. Honor permeated every aspect of consciousness: how you thought about yourself and others, how you held your body, the expectations you could reasonably have and the demands you could make on others; it determined the quality of your marriage and the marriage partners of your children. It was your very being. For in an honor based culture there was no self-respect independent of the respect of others, no private sense of "hey, I'm quite something" unless it was confirmed publicly. Honor was then not just a matter of the individual; it necessarily involved a group, and the group included all those people worthy of competing with you for honor. Your status in this group was the measure of your honor, and your status was achieved at the expense of the other group members who were not only your competitors for scarce honor but also the arbiters of whether you had it or not. In other words, your good standing depended on the judgments of your enemies. Your good standing was also aided by friends, not so much because of their judgment of you, but because you had them. Having friends was a sign to others of your honor and only the honorable had friends. Of course friends constituted the possible class of future enemies and in that sense their judgments mattered.

Although the honorable man might be emulated, the mathematics of honor usually meant you could never be just like someone else without taking what he had, appropriating his status to yourself. For the most part, people acted as if the mechanics of honor had the structure of a zero-sum or less-than-zero-sum game. The shortest road to honor was thus to take someone else's, and this meant that honorable people had to be ever-vigilant against affronts or challenges to their honor, because challenged they would be. The man or woman beyond challenge was no longer in the game of honor, but in the world of lords and kings who conferred honors on retainers and courtiers who competed with one another for honor as measured by the honors conferred on them by a superior. And if some people got too big to play the game, others became too small. The person who could or would not respond to challenges eventually lost all honor and thus all his moral being by being condemned to the invisibility of the pariah or servant.

Honor goes hand in hand with shame. In a culture of honor one can be shamed only if one has honor, if one is a member of the group competing for honor. Shame is, in one sense, nothing more than the loss of honor. Shame depends on the failure to measure up to the external standard imposed by the honor group. Like honor, it depends on the judgment of others, although it can be felt without the actual presence of the judging group. One can feel shame even when no one is looking, for the judgment of others is already congealed within the social norms internalized by the person feeling shame. The honorable person is socialized to entertain the sentiment and sensibility of honor; one judges oneself as harshly as one would judge others, even perhaps more harshly. A player in the game of honor suffers shame for shameful deeds. Not to feel shame for such acts would type one as shameless, as a person of no honor. To the extent that a person's very social being is dependent on one’s being honorable, one must palpably feel the loss of honor, that is, shame. The person who does not subscribe to the norms of honor will not feel shame for having violated them even if real third parties try to make him or her feel so. This invulnerability is simply an aspect of the social quality of shame. Shame requires membership in a society, a community of people sharing norms of right action and caring deeply about what others in their community think of them.

Nothing is more honorable than reclaiming one's honor, than paying back affronts, humiliations, and shames. One of the many little paradoxes of honor is that the honorable person must not only be shamable, he must also occasionally suffer shame or remain forever untested. We can imagine, however, a regime in which a person is so dominant that no one would risk shaming him, where he could, in the proverb of the Kabyle, “sleep and leave the door open.”

The honorable person did not become dishonorable the moment he suffered a shame. He was dishonored but not dishonorable; he suffered shame but he was not shameless. We should distinguish between the experience of shame of the person shamed as a part of an expected continuing exchange of somewhat hostile social reciprocities and the experience of the person shamed as a result of a judgment by others and confirmed by himself that he simply cannot meet the standards of a fully moral and respectable being. The first shame is the shame of the honorable man suffering a dishonor in the game of challenge and riposte; the second shame is the shame of the person finally adjudged to be an inappropriate player in the game. This latter is the person who feels shame as self-loathing and despair, although to those who judged him so utterly shamed he is seen to have lost the capacity to feel shame. This is another paradox of honor and shame. The most deeply felt shame is that of the person who is finally adjudged incapable of experiencing honorable self-doubt. He is shameless. The honorable person feels shame too, but with a different admixture of accompanying emotions. In place of self-loathing sits anger, indignation, apprehension, and no small amount of anxiety. For this person, the pain of self-loathing is held mostly in abeyance and remains ready to descend with full weight only when he has shown himself incapable of riposte. A clock started running the moment the shame occurred. It was now his turn to move, to show himself a person of honor. Honor was not to be reclaimed with indecorous haste. Vengeance was to be savored. Too quick a vengeance was only slightly more honorable, it was said, than never taking it at all. As the Old Norse proverb would have it: “Only a slave avenges himself immediately, but a coward never does” (Grettis saga chap. 15). If, however, requital never came and no honorable reconciliation had occurred in the meantime, the clock ran out. This was a serious matter, and it could, if it led others reasonably to assume a general incapacity to avenge the next offense, bring about a kind of social death as one passed from the ranks of the shamable to the oblivion of the shameless. Even those who had built up a lot of social credit and for whom the presumption of honor worked to great effect could not risk too many discomfitures of this sort.

The acquisition and possession of honor had its costs. Acquiring honor meant having to step on a few toes and thus assuredly gave rise to specific enmities, but the simple fact of having honor meant incurring envy and hence eventually enmity from people with whom you may not have had any prior hostile dealings. Yet these costs were the very joys of honor. What, after all, was honor if not the ability to elicit envy in others, the ability to extract from them a judgment of your superiority? In this regard, La Rochefoucauld's "The mark of a special achievement is to see that those who most envy it are compelled to praise it" is almost tautological, for it is the envy itself that is the initial judgment of the praiseworthiness of the other.

Honor says you should not fear eliciting envy and in fact rewards it by making it honorable. The honorable person, above all, could not appear fearful. And although honor and prudence could coexist, the ability to behave prudently often had to be earned at the price of having a reputation for occasionally behaving grandly and imprudently. People of honor knew the difference between foolhardiness and courage, but failures of courage were very seldom excused. It was one thing to avoid flaunting your position by obnoxious behavior toward others and quite another to avoid excelling out of fear for the consequences of excellence. Honor could have no truck with such pusillanimous people. If in the sagas people do not consciously limit their designs because they wish to avoid the envy of others, they are still treated to counsel warning them of the problems the envy of others will bring them (Njals saga chap. 32). People were thus not unaware of the costs of provoking envy, but their tragedy was that they could not avoid provoking it if they succeeded in the game of honor. The field in which envy operates, much of this discussion assumes, is bounded like the field of the honor game. If disparities among the players are too great there could be no honor game. As other anatomists of envy have noted, envy is something that exists among near equals or among people in proximate social standings. David Hume sums it up:
A common soldier bears no such envy to his general as to his sergeant or corporal; nor does an eminent writer meet with so great jealousy in common hackney scribblers, as in authors, that more nearly approach him.... The great disproportion cuts off the relation, and either keeps us from comparing ourselves with what is remote from us, or diminishes the effects of the comparison.
Jonathan Swift is more succinct:
We all behold with envious eyes
Our equal raised above our size.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chivalry in the First World War

I've always been interested in examples of chivalry in modern warfare. An unusual case is described in the Daily Mail, September 4, 2013:
Revealed: Extraordinary story of British WWI captain released by Kaiser from German prison camp so he could see his dying mother in Kent - on condition that he returned to his cell... and he DID

When British prisoner of war Robert Campbell asked the Kaiser if he could visit his dying mother, he was astonished to be given permission – on condition that he promised to return.

The Army captain kept his word and returned to the German camp after the two-week trip in November 1916, remaining in captivity until the end of the First World War.

Historian Richard van Emden, who discovered the incredible incident, said such an act of chivalry was rare even a century ago. ‘Capt Campbell was an officer and he made a promise on his honour to go back,’ he said. ‘Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners.

‘What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany. The British could have said to him, “You’re not going back, you’re going to stay here”.’

Capt Campbell, who joined the Army in 1903, was leading the 1st Bn East Surrey Regiment when his battalion took up a position on the Mons-Condé canal in north-west France just weeks after war broke out in July 1914.

A week later, his troops were attacked by the German forces and Capt Campbell was seriously injured and captured. The 29-year-old was treated in a military hospital in Cologne before being sent to the prisoner-of-war camp in Magdeburg.

In 1916, he received word from home that his mother Louise was dying of cancer. He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II, begging to be allowed to see her one last time. The Kaiser gave him two weeks’ compassionate leave, including two days travelling in each direction by boat and train, on the proviso Capt Campbell gave his word as a British Army officer that he would return.

Capt Campbell reached his mother’s bedside in Gravesend, Kent, on November 7 and spent a week with her before keeping his promise and returning to Germany. His mother died three months later in February 1917.

Mr van Emden, 48, discovered the amazing story after reading correspondence between the Foreign Office and their German counterparts and it is told in his new book, Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War.

He said of Capt Campbell’s amazing story: ‘I think it is such a unique example that I don’t think you can draw any parallels. In my experience, this is a one-off and is one of those things that just tickles your fancy.’

After the war, Capt Campbell was released and returned to Britain where he served in the military until retiring in 1925.

However, he rejoined his regiment in 1939 on the outbreak of the Second World War, serving as the Chief Observer of the Royal Observer Corps on the Isle of Wight. He survived that war unscathed and died in Britain in July 1966 aged 81.

Mr van Emden’s book charts the personal contacts between Britons and Germans and their feelings towards each other as the First World War progressed.

The highest display of respect he discovered was between pilots fighting above the lines. The pilots did not carry parachutes because they were too bulky for the narrow cockpits of the day.

If their aircraft caught fire, they faced the choice of burning alive or jumping out.

German pilots made it a habit to find their victims, dead or alive. If dead, they sent details of their names and burial sites across British lines. If found alive, they would invite them to a slap-up meal in their mess.

Both sides were ruthless when fighting each other in the air but observed the rules of chivalry on the ground.