Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Massinger on Honour

Philip Massinger (1583 - 1640) was an English dramatist. In his play, "A Very Woman," an old soldier provides this description of honor:
Speak the height of honour:
No man to offend,
Ne’er to reveal the secrets of a friend;
Rather to suffer than do a wrong;
To make the heart no stranger to the tongue,
Provok’d not to betray an enemy,
Nor eat his meat, I choke with flattery;
Blushes to tell wherefore I wear my scars,
Or for my conscience, or my country’s wars;
To aim at just things; if we have wildly run
Into offences--wish them all undone.
‘Tis poor in grief, for wrong done to die,
Honour to dare to live, and satisfy.

Monday, January 14, 2013

"Who General Washington Is"

Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart

George Washington is foremost among America's men of honor, rivaled only by Robert E. Lee. The most famous portrait we have of Washington, the one that appears on the dollar bill, was painted by the English portrait artist Gilbert Stuart. Here is an anecdote demonstrating Washington's sense of himself. According to James Thomas Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensable Man, Washington and Stuart did not get on.
The portraitist usually kept his sitters amused and their faces alive by a flood of showy and outrageous talk. Washington always felt uneasy at having to remain still and being stared at and was put out rather than being amused. Stuart, who felt that “artists were fundamentally superior to all other men including Presidents, resented Washington’s formality. He could not forget what had resulted when, in trying to unstiffen the hero, he had gone to the length of saying, “Now, sir, you must let me forget that you are General Washington and I am Stuart the Painter. Washington replied (as it seemed to him politely), Mr. Stuart need never feel the need for forgetting who he is and who General Washington is.”
Washington's sense of who he was, and where he stood in relation to other men, was characteristic of the man of honor.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Some Observations on Honor

The following observations are from Edward L. Ayers' article, "Legacy of Violence," which appeared in American Heritage in 1991:
White women played crucial roles in a society based on honor. A man who blustered his way into a duel might win honor among his male compatriots, but women would decide the full meaning of that honor. It was often women who decided the boundaries of who was and was not admitted to proper society, who determined whether a man’s wife and family belonged. Many women refused to marry men who could not or would not defend their honor; no woman wanted to share in a dishonored name. And women’s chastity and behavior played a crucial role in maintaining a family’s honor, no matter how that honor had been won and no matter what class that family occupied.

Northern culture reviled Southern honor. “About certain silly abstractions that no practical businessman ever allows to occupy his time or attention they are eternally wrangling, and thus it is that rencounters, duels, homicides, and other demonstrations of violence have become so popular in all slaveholding communities,” writes one 1850’s observer. Puritan influenced Northern culture celebrated “dignity,” the belief that every white man at birth possesses an intrinsic value at least theoretically equal. Men were expected to shrug off insults that a man of the South was expected to resent. Restraint was valued over display. It was inward- rather than outward-looking. Dignity was more appropriate to a culture built on business, a culture centered around character, self-control, discipline, and delayed gratification.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why the Aristocracy Was Violent

An interesting quote from the Italian sociologist and political philosopher Vilfredo Federico Damasco Pareto (1848-1923), writing in 1902:
A sign which almost invariably presages the decadence of an aristocracy is the intrusion of humanitarian feelings and of affected sentimentalizing which render the aristocracy incapable of defending its position. Violence, we should note, is not to be confused with force. Often enough one observes cases in which individuals and classes which have lost the force to maintain themselves in power make themselves more and more hated because of their outbursts of random violence. The strong man strikes only when it is absolutely necessary, and then nothing stops him. Trajan was strong, not violent; Caligula was violent, not strong.

When a living creature loses the sentiments which, in given circumstances are necessary to it in order to maintain the struggle for life, this is a certain sign of degeneration, for the absence of these sentiments will, sooner or later, entail the extinction of the species. The living creature which shrinks from giving blow for blow and from shedding its adversary’s blood thereby puts itself at the mercy of this adversary. The sheep has always found a wolf to devour it; if it now escapes this peril, it is only because man reserves it for his own prey. Any people which has horror of blood to the point of not knowing how to defend itself will sooner or later become the prey of some bellicose people or other. There is not perhaps on this globe a single foot of ground which has not been conquered by the sword at one time or other, and where the people occupying it have not maintained themselves on it by force.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Values of a Warrior

From Morale and its Enemies (1918) by William Ernest Hocking.
In ancient and in feudal times, it was considered not that the soldier, but that most of the rest of society, was a little peculiar. City life, trade life, farm life, were supposed to sap the warlike temper and produce an unspirited human variety. The former contempt for the merchant was due not only to the idea that he was given over to an unmanly sort of competition, that he liked too well the rule of the civil order whereby everything must be got by wit and nothing by courage, that he too willingly forgot how far the security of that very rule depends on men of another fiber: it was due also, I presume, to sad experience in various attempts to turn him, in an emergency, into a warrior. For in the earlier stages of the division of labor, a very real division of mental quality took place with it, and these mental grooves between occupational groups tended to deepen. Agricultural populations became an easy prey to the wilder tribes about them; wealthy cities had to buy their protection from sounder-spirited professional fighters. Even to-day, the phrase "a nation of shopkeepers" has just enough sting in it to make the eagle and the lion squirm.

Monday, January 7, 2013

William Paley on Honor

In The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, vol. II, published in 1799, the English philosopher William Paley describes the law of honor:
The Law of Honour is a system of rules constructed by people of fashion, and calculated to facilitate their intercourse with one another; and for no other purpose.

Consequently, nothing is adverted to by the Law of Honour, but what tends to incommode this intercourse.

Hence this law only prescribes and regulates the duties betwixt equals; omitting such as relate to the Supreme Being, as well as those which we owe to our inferiors.

For which reason, profaneness, neglect of public worship or private devotion, cruelty to servants, rigorous treatment of tenants or other dependents, want of charity to the poor, injuries done to tradesmen by insolvency or delay of payment, with numberless examples of the same kind, are accounted no breaches of honour; because a man is not a less agreeable companion for these vices, nor the worse to deal with, in those concerns which are usually transacted between one gentleman and another.

Again, the Law of Honour being constituted by men occupied in the pursuit of pleasure, and for the mutual conveniency of such men, will be found, as might be expected from the character and design of the lawmakers, to be, in most instances, favourable to the licentious indulgence of the natural passions.

Thus it allows of fornication, adultery, drunkenness, prodigality, dueling, and of revenge in the extreme; and lays no stress upon the virtues opposite to these.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Honor and Enemies

Beyond a readiness to defend it, does honor assume an eagerness to fight? Charles Mackay (1814-1887) seemed to think so, as revealed in a popular poem he wrote.
You Have No Enemies, You Say?

You have no enemies, you say?
Alas, my friend, the boast is poor.
He who has mingled in the fray
Of duty, that the brave endure,
Must have made foes.
If you have none,
Small is the work that you have done.
You’ve hit no traitor on the hip,
You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip,
You’ve never turned the wrong to right,
You’ve been a coward in the fight.
Mackay was the author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which contains an excellent chapter on dueling.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Honor Among Women

Personal honor made different demands on women than it did on men. In the following article, which appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in November 1912, Elisabeth Woodbridge discussed honor in general as well as how it applied specifically to women.

By Elisabeth Woodbridge
Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word honour? What is that honour? Air. Who hath it? He that died o' Wednesday. 
Falstaff was the prince of special pleaders, but he does not shake our belief that honor is something besides air, that it is more important than legs and arms, and that 'he that died o' Wednesday ' may be an object of envy and emulation. And yet, as we reflect on the different ideals of honor that men have held, —not only different but mutually incompatible, —we see some justification for the derisive spirit.

Honor has had countless local and temporary forms. For the ancient Roman it enjoined certain forms of courage and branded certain forms of cowardice, while at the same time it permitted hideous brutality toward the weak. For the medieval knight it prescribed in some respects an extravagant courtesy toward the weak, while in other ways it did not encourage even a scant justice. Coming nearer to our own times, we find that honor among soldiers is one thing, among doctors another, among lawyers another, among 'gentlemen' another, among businessmen yet another. It looks a little hopeless. Henry M. Stanley in his autobiography calls attention to this conflict of standards. He says, 'With regard to his "honor" it seemed to bear a different meaning on different banks of a river. On the eastern shore of the Mississippi, it meant probity in business; on the western shore it signified popular esteem for the punishment of a traducer, and he who was most prompt in killing anyone who made a personal reflection obtained most honor, and therefore every peddler or clerk in Arkansas hastened to prove his mettle.'

Yet one thing all codes of honor have in common: they are outside the law. Law has taken care of certain large sections of human conduct: it has explicitly prohibited killing and stealing and various other flagrantly anti-social acts. But other large sections of conduct are left. The Mosaic Law did not forbid lying, but only malicious false witnessing. Modern law covers perjury and libel, but many forms of lying are still untouched. The law compels men to keep their contracts, but not to keep their word, when given without witnesses. It controls to some extent the abuse of power, but only to some extent. It protects the weak, but it does not compel them to have courage. Accordingly, in these regions of con duct where the law falls short, honor steps in, laying emphasis on the need of truth, of good faith, of courtesy, of courage. It does this in many different ways, but its concern is almost always with the things that the law cannot or does not control. Where law ends, honor begins.

And one other thing all standards of honor have in common: that is, the kind of tribunal to which they appeal, the kind of penalty which follows upon their disregard. A gentleman pays his card debts. Why? Because if he repudiates them he is 'no gentleman.' A soldier responds to a challenge, or gives one, under the proper conditions. Why? Because if he does not he will find himself compelled, by an intangible but irresistible force, to resign his commission. A scholar is scrupulous in his acknowledgment of every intellectual debt owed to other scholars. Why? Because if he fails in this he is in danger of the scathing condemnation of other scholars. A doctor will not criticize the work of a colleague, though a scholar will freely criticize the work of any other scholar. Why? Because among doctors custom forbids this.

Now, in all these cases, though the specific acts required or forbidden may be, and are, very different, the tribunal of reference is the same, and the penalty is the same. The tribunal is the opinion of a man's peers, more or less crystallized as the customs or the etiquette of his class. The penalty is spiritual ostracism from his class. A man who has disregarded these customs may be passed over by the law, —he may even be supported by it, he may be blessed in his basket and in his store, —yet he is in danger of losing something immeasurably precious to him, more precious even than basket and store: the right to hold up his head among his equals.

Defined in terms of its penalties, then, honor may be described as a man's sense of obligation with regard to those rules of social conduct which are not outwardly or legally binding, but whose infringement will, in the opinion of his equals, and therefore in his own opinion, tend to declass him.

In this sense there can be, and is, honor among thieves as well as among businessmen, honor among gamblers as well as among statesmen. This explains, too, the curious inconsistencies, the laxities and rigidities, of the various honor-codes. For, since honor is a class affair, its specific rulings will naturally grow out of the conditions governing the particular class. And we can understand cases like the one that puzzled Stanley. For on the two banks of the Mississippi there were two distinct kinds of people, living under distinctly different conditions. On the west bank it was still pioneer life, on the east bank there was a tolerably settled community. Now, among the pioneer class, courage is, on the whole, more obviously important than any other quality. In a settled community, honesty is more obviously important. It would seem to follow, that the more distinct and close-knit a class is, the more distinct and rigid will be its code of honor. And this is indeed the case. The class which has always been bound together in the closest possible way is probably the soldier class. Now it is precisely among soldiers that codes of honor have been most elaborately and tyrannically developed. Only less close-knit than the soldiers are the other two great professions, the doctors and the lawyers, and these, too, have developed codes of professional honor which have been the jest, when they have not been the despair, of the ages. Loyalty to these has often seemed to lead to disloyalty toward a higher ideal, and a complete betrayal of the interests of the non-professional outsider.

This, too, is inevitable from the very nature of the case. For it will necessarily happen that the interests of one class will clash with those of another, and if a man belongs partly in two classes, whose requirements are incompatible, he must choose between them, for no man can serve two masters. Thus, the soldier finds himself required by his honor as a soldier to do things which his honor as a citizen prohibits. And many a young recruit must have been dazed, as Stanley was during his brief service with the Confederate troops, by this subversion of standards. 'The "Thou shalt not" of the Decalogue,' he says, 'was now translated, " Thou shalt." Thou shalt kill, lie, steal, blaspheme, covet, and hate.' Nor does this occur among soldiers alone. Many a gentleman has found himself forced to decide between his business debts and his 'debts of honor.' Gentlemen of his class play for money. When they lose, they pay, for a gentleman's word is as good as his bond— a gentleman's word, that is, given to another gentleman. Given to the grocer, the rule does not necessarily hold. For the grocer has the law to protect him. If he is not paid, he can bring suit. But if debts of honor are not paid, no suit will be brought. The retribution will be of another sort—a sort not to be encountered. Can we blame the gentleman? It is a choice of penalties. He chooses the one he is best able to endure.

This attitude, in this particular sort of case, is becoming somewhat antiquated, at least in theory. Yet there are, I fancy, few men who can withstand the temptation to pay their club dues first, and let their coal bill wait.

This grazes the subject of business honor, and business honor is a particularly difficult matter. Businessmen are only emerging from a past whose traditions are characterized by vagueness and expediency. The trader was bound, even to his kind, by no close ties. His honor was the honor of the wolf, of the pirate, or of the slave. Gradually came the realization that honesty was really the best policy, that stability and reciprocity were necessary, that credit was the condition of progress, and that behind credit stood integrity. Moreover, it began to be recognized that a man could be at the same time a gentleman and a trader, or, speaking more generally, a man of business. Thereupon, the standards of the gentleman and those of the businessman began by a kind of spiritual and social osmosis, to affect each other. The end is not yet, but the code of the gentleman is being stripped of some of its narrowness and whimsicality, and at the same time the code of the businessman is growing ashamed of its opportunism.

Naturally, this is what is happening, or going to happen, to all narrow honor-codes. With the breaking-down of class distinctions, the class-codes that have grown up within their boundaries must become blurred. The process of osmosis is going on everywhere. The growing conviction of the real solidarity of the human race is slowly working itself out in practical ways, and in the end it must give rise to a code of human honor which is the result of human needs. When this occurs, we shall get a code whose rulings, far from running counter to those of general morality, will reinforce them with the utmost rigor and universality. From this condition we are yet a long way off. We still have visions of lands where 'there ain't no Ten Commandments.' Indeed, they are more than visions, as any one may know by glancing at the condition of the African tribes in contact with Europeans, or of the Jews in Russia, or of the Indians in our own country. Many otherwise high-minded men are not keenly conscious of any obligations of honor toward the Chinese.

And even leaving out differences of race, which for historical reasons always tend to blur such obligations, we need not go far afield to find cases where a community is divided against itself. Take our large universities. Here the students have their own standards of honor, whose unwritten laws are more binding than any of those which either the police or the faculty stand for. The matter of cheating in studies is a case in point. Feeling about this has varied, and still varies widely, in the different institutions. It is probably gradually squaring itself with ordinary standards of morality. Yet the hoodwinking of an instructor by a student in the ordinary routine of the class-room is still regarded as, at worst, a venial offense. It is better not to cheat, says the code, the best fellows don't; yet on the whole it is 'up to the instructor.' But, on the other hand, if the students are competing for a prize, the ruling is quite different. It becomes sternly intolerant of the least shadow of dishonesty. For now it is not a case of the student against his instructor, but of the student against his fellow students. To take advantage of his instructor is one thing. To take advantage of a fellow student, snatching the prize by dishonest means, this is quite another. This is in the highest degree dishonorable.

Honor among men, then, originally a narrow class matter, whose standards were always independent of the law, and often at variance with it, is gradually, with many back-currents and side-eddies, making progress toward a wider jurisdiction and a broader set of standards. As the sense of class distinctions upon which it originally rested fades, and a sense of general human obligation grows, we may call it honor, or we may call it morality. Honor then becomes what Wordsworth calls it: —
Say, what is honour?'T is the finest sense
Of justice which the human mind can frame,
Intent each lurking frailty to disclaim.
And guard the way of life from all offense
Suffered or done.
Indeed, Wordsworth's meaning is much more the one we commonly have in mind now, than are any of the narrower interpretations which we have been considering. This is the kind of honor that will ultimately be required of men, whether they are business men, or lawyers, or soldiers. This is the kind that must ultimately be required of women. But men have been slowly working toward this through the narrower codes of their class-life. Have women been achieving it in the same way?

To a certain extent, women have, through the ages, shared men's sense of honor — at least as regards men. Their judgments of men have usually confirmed men's judgments of themselves. They have to some extent awarded the prizes of honor in accordance with the rules that men laid down. They have grown familiar with men's ideals of courage, of truth, of courtesy. Such familiarity was worth something, but it did not deeply affect women's standards for themselves, because it did not affect men's standards for women. For example, the mere fact that women prized courage in men did not make women themselves courageous.

And it was men's standards for women that really counted. For women never had, in the past, a class-sense in the same way that men had. Their relations were not primarily with one another, but with men. They had, indeed, certain broad class-affiliations, but these were established through their men — their fathers or brothers or husbands. In this way they were aristocrats or serfs, they were English or French or Turkish. But they had practically no classes corresponding to the class of knights, or of doctors, or of lawyers, or of masons. And it was impossible that any code should develop such as these classes evolved.

They were, to be sure, women. This was a bond. True. But it will be noticed that men's codes of honor have developed, not through the fact that they were men, but through the fact that they were special kinds of men, — knights or lords or masons, — and, as we have seen, the narrower code usually took precedence of any which they recognized as binding them merely because they were men. This was pale, that was vivid. This was vague, that was definite.

Again, it may be said, men have developed a code of honor as gentlemen. Could not women develop a corresponding code as gentlewomen? To some extent, indeed, they did this. But the rulings which they thus developed were, perhaps, more regarding details than principles, more touching manners than morals.

This was quite natural. They had more to do with details than with principles. They were expected to be more conversant with manners than with morals, except along certain very narrow lines.

And here we come squarely up against the whole matter of the historic position of women. Perhaps, for our purposes, the question is nowhere better put than in the dictionary definition of honor. Any dictionary will do, but Webster's happens to be most succinct. After giving various definitions, we find it explaining it as 'more particularly, in men, integrity; in women, purity, chastity.'

Dictionaries are condensed history, and this little phrase, assuming as it does one standard for men and another for women, is very significant. The word 'honesty' has gone through a similar stage. In Elizabethan usage it meant square dealing, when used of men; but when used of women, it meant chastity. This meaning of the word is now ignored except by the dialect dictionaries, but the similar meaning of honor is still in good and regular dictionary standing, though actually passing out of common use.

Now this fact, that the words honor and honesty were at one time used of men in one sense, while they were used of women in another and very different sense, gives us something to think about. Evidently, integrity and honesty were not expected of women as they were of men. Why not? Probably because they were not needed by women as they were by men. We have seen that men, through the necessities of social intercourse, arrived at certain roughly formulated ideals of courage and honesty, certain traditions of class solidarity. Each man had his personal dignity to maintain, his place among his equals. But women, meanwhile, were holding intercourse, not with equals, but with superiors — men — and inferiors — children and servants. Through the necessities of such intercourse they, on their part, were working out ideals of tenderness, of industry, of adaptability, and management. In their environment these were the things that were above all necessary. And these are good things, but not the stuff of which honor is made.

As for honor which gives a human being the sense of personal dignity, the right to hold up his head among his peers, this came to a woman, not through any qualities she herself possessed, but through those of her lord, provided always that she preserved herself as clearly and unquestionably his possession. Hers was the honor of the thing possessed. The ownership of the owner must be jealously guarded, even by the thing owned, so far as it had any volition. This done, she must adapt herself as well as possible to his needs. And this adaptation followed one or both of two main lines — the lines of usefulness and the lines of ornament. A woman was expected to be useful, or to be, in one way or another, pleasant. If she were very useful, she did not need to be quite so pleasant; if she were very pleasant, she did not need to be quite so useful. This gives us the rationale of the relations of most women in the past.

The theories about woman's position correspond with these two lines of usefulness and ornament. They go all the way from the theory of woman as a drudge, to the theory of woman as a rose, or a goddess.

The first theory is often not clearly formulated, although it is very clearly implied in the tenth Mosaic commandment, which classified a man's wife with his house and his ox and his ass. It is exemplified with rare neatness in the answer made to a missionary in the Far East by a coolie whose wife had just carried him across a muddy stream. 'Aren't you ashamed to let your wife carry you across?' the Western woman exclaimed indignantly. He looked puzzled. She repeated her question. He still looked dazed, and finally asked, 'Whose wife should carry me across?'

The second theory has been often formulated with great elaborateness, and never, perhaps, with greater charm than in Lord Houghton's little poem, 'To Doris.'

'If, my Doris, I should find
That you seemed the least inclined
To explore the depths of mind
Or of art;
Should such fancies ever wake,
Understand without mistake,
Though our hearts, perhaps, might break,
We must part.
I 'd as lief your little head
Should be cumbered up with lead
As with learning, live or dead,
          Or with brains.
I have really doated less
On its outline, I confess,
Than the charming nothingness
          It contains.

Do you think the summer rose
Ever cares or ever knows
By what law she buds and blows
          On the stem?
If the peaches on the wall
Must by gravitation fall,
Do you fancy it at all
          Troubles them?

So, as sun or rain is sent.
And the happy hours are spent,
Be unaskingly content
          As a star.
Yes, be ever of the few
Neither critical nor blue.
But be just the perfect you
         That you are.'
This is delightful, but if Doris took it seriously, it would end matters for her, so far as honor is concerned. Roses and peaches do not concern themselves with honor, any more than with gravitation or the laws of growth. The same theory is implied in the younger Donne's characterization of woman as 'the most excellent toy in the world.' Honor is not found among toys, even the most excellent ones.

But we do not have to go back to Donne, or even to Lord Houghton, to find this attitude toward women. It was never more attractively summarized than in Barrie's play, What Every Woman Knows, when Maggie gives her quaint definition of 'charm.' To quote from memory, it runs about as follows: 'Charm is something, that if a woman has it, it doesn't matter whether she has anything else or not; and if she doesn't have it, it doesn't matter what else she has.' Indeed, there could be no better illustration than is furnished by this whole play of the kind of thing women have, by the force of inexorable necessity, trained themselves to be and to do.

These two theories, the drudge theory and the rose-theory, are, of course, not the only ones that have been held about women. They are the two extremes, which have shaded into and interpenetrated each other, with various modifications. All that we are concerned with here is the fact that neither the extremes nor any of their variants provide the kind of soil and climate in which women's ideals of honor — except of the one narrowly restricted sort — would be likely to grow and burgeon.

In fairness it ought, perhaps, to be added, that these theories never absolutely corresponded with the whole situation. Theories never do. Theories of child-training were once, perhaps, even less sound than they are to-day, yet many children were doubtless excellently trained. So, in spite of theories, many women undoubtedly lived lives which offered every encouragement to their honor-sense, and many more, even without such stimulus, developed this sense in its highest form, just as many women, without any tradition of courage to incite them, have displayed the most brilliant courage.

As to the theories themselves, they are sometimes discussed with too much heat. No one was particularly to blame for them, any more than any one was to blame for the prevalence of curious theories concerning disease, or the movements of the sun. Moreover, even the women themselves acquiesced in these ideas. As late as the Victorian era, we find the Honorable Mrs. Norton, one of the most brilliantly endowed women who ever lived, writing in this way: —

'The wild and stupid theories advanced by a few women, of "equal rights "and "equal intelligence" are not the opinions of their sex. I, for one (I, with millions more), believe in the natural superiority of man, as I do in the existence of a God. The natural position of woman is inferiority to man. Amen! That is a thing of God's appointing not of man's devising. I believe it sincerely, as a part of my religion. I never pretended to the wild and ridiculous doctrine of equality.'

And yet it is clear that nothing but this wild and ridiculous doctrine of equality could ever furnish women with the incentive to develop a sense of honor at all like men's. It is a curious fact that, while Mrs. Norton was denouncing the theory, she was, indirectly through the tragedy of her life, and directly through her immense personal influence, doing all that she could to make it prevail by bringing about an important change in the laws concerning women. And it is not her fault that she furnished Meredith the model for his Diana and gave him the suggestion for Diana's great act of treachery — the selling of a state secret intrusted to her in the intimacy of friendship. The real Mrs. Norton, in spite of rumors, did not actually commit such an act,but it is for our purposes deeply significant that Meredith, who, of all our literary artists, has most fully understood the possibilities of women, should have made so excellent a creature as Diana do so abominable a thing. The motives that he assigns her are vanity — the longing to display her power — and a desperate need of money. The excuses he offers are her ignorance of usage, her lack of fundamental training, bringing about in her a complete blindness to the nature of her own act.

It is virtually the same excuse that Ibsen furnishes Nora, in The Doll's House, for her act of forgery. It is the excuse all women must submit to have offered in their behalf, so long as they still do queer things with money and checks and contracts and confidences, — and, it must be admitted, that women still do the queer things; either this excuse, or else the excuse which has the sanction of much older tradition, namely, that women, training or no training, have no sense of honor at all.

On this point women are still not entirely in agreement. 'Sense of honor?' said one young woman to whom the question was brought up; 'Women's sense of honor? They haven't any.' On the other hand, an older lady—one who is wise through long and sweet living — answered, 'Sense of honor? Of course women have it — as high as any man's. Only — I should want to choose my woman.' Where, then, does the truth lie?

About forty years ago, in a young ladies' seminary where the 'higher branches' were taught, the principal was addressing his class of graduates on this very subject of honor. Young ladies, he explained, had little of it. 'If,' he went on, in effect, 'one of your number should commit a breach of school discipline, what would the rest of you do? You would, of course, tell.' The young ladies listened with demure attention, and the principal never knew that the very situation he was describing had been existent in the class for a year. They had recognized it, dealt with it, and kept silence.

Probably these were extraordinary young ladies. It was chiefly the" extraordinary ones who, at that period, pursued the 'higher branches.' However that may have been, the significant thing, for our present purpose, is, not that the secret was kept, but that an intelligent educator — one of the most advanced of those who, at that time, were engaged in women's education — should have still held this opinion about women. We shall see how far we have come since, if we try to imagine a principal of a girls' school or college addressing his class in this strain to-day.

It is, of course, a truism that the education of girls—using education in a very broad sense — has undergone during the last three generations, and with cumulative speed and effectiveness, a radical revolution. With most of its results we are not now directly concerned, but as regards this one matter of honor, the effect is already obvious.

For, as we have seen, honor develops most conspicuously where men are closely knit together as equals, in such a way that they feel at once their own personal dignity and their interdependence. For the first time in history, young women are coming together in just this way, in large masses, in the schools and colleges. They had come together before, in small numbers, in royal courts and in nunneries, but the atmosphere of courts is, for various reasons, unsuited to the development of honor, even among men, and still more among women, while the whole postulate of the nunnery, as of the monastery, clearly precludes it.

In the college, then, and to a less degree in the school, honor ought to develop as clear and strong among young women as among young men. And in fact it does. No college boy will 'give away' a fellow student to an instructor. No college girl will do it either. Everything that can be said in this regard about boys may also be said about girls, if we make a certain allowance for two things: first, the fact that, for obvious reasons, faculty surveillance is, though gradually being reduced,still much greater over the girls than over the boys; and second, that owing to their extreme youth the girls' colleges have not had time to acquire any such body of student tradition, on all subjects, as has accumulated in the older colleges. It is, perhaps, all the more impressive that the college girl's sense of honor — of the honor of her college, the honor of her class, the honor of her team, and her own honor as inextricably bound up with these— should have reached the keenness that it has.

But it is not alone in the college world that this is happening. In the business world the story is the same. A New York business man was recently asked what he thought about women in business, — were they, on the whole, as businesslike, as honorable, as men? He answered promptly, 'More so.' Perhaps his' more so' can be discounted a little. Perhaps it was the accent residuary from an earlier surprise at finding women businesslike at all. Or perhaps women in business, like the woman who, forty years ago, studied the 'higher branches,' are still to some extent a picked lot, and would therefore in some respects average a little higher than men. Or perhaps women, knowing the line along which their reputation has been weak, have made rather special efforts to counteract this.

Finally, it is possible that women through lack of experience have brought the standards of an abstract morality to bear on business matters, and these standards are, probably, in some respects higher than those now governing ordinary business transactions. As illustrative of this, a young woman, not in business, but following her husband's affairs with intelligent interest, said to me the other day,'I am beginning to learn what business men call business honor. It is often quite different from what I should expect. I shouldn't do some things that they would, and they wouldn't do some things that I should. It seems to be a case of knowing what is customary and expected.'

These are cases where women are responding to a new environment. But there is a class, dwelling in our midst, whose environment has nothing about it particularly new, a class who lack the training and opportunities granted to the college and the business woman, but who yet have developed an honor-code binding and explicit, although little recognized. The servants within our doors, drawn together in the comradeship of similar conditions, have such a code among themselves, which, when it runs counter to our own interests, we sometimes resent, never realizing that it is in essence the same as the code that binds one gentleman to another, one white man to another, one doctor or lawyer to another. Many a servant has left a satisfactory position because she knew another servant to be dishonest, and there was no way,according to her code, of honorably meeting this situation. She could not countenance dishonesty, she could not accuse a fellow servant. There was nothing to do but leave.

This is doubly interesting because it shows that the sense of honor may be strong where it has, apparently, little to feed on, so long as it has these two conditions: class feeling, and some degree of personal independence. In the matter of independence, it is perhaps worth noting that women-servants have, for a long time, stood upon their own feet in a sense in which few other women have done so. The mistress, to take a trifling but significant example, cannot return home at night alone, but her maid may come for her alone, and is counted a sufficient escort.

It would appear, then, that the sense of honor in women has been, not an absent, but a latent quality. All it has needed for its development has been the proper environment.

But this does not mean that, the proper environment now being given, women are to pass through all the successive honor-stages that men have — that they must swathe themselves in all the honorable red tape of the Roman, the knight, the gentleman, the lawyer, and the doctor. Heaven forbid! There is no reason why they should adopt standards which, though once useful, have now been superseded. We have noticed that all codes of all classes are gradually being modified by the growing consciousness of a broadly human solidarity, and it is on this plane that women will naturally fall into line.

Neither men nor women have so far been able to build up, to a point of practical and universal efficacy, such a code of honor as Wordsworth suggests, but both men and women are now working toward this. It is perhaps not altogether Utopian to anticipate that what they have not been able to do apart, they may be able to do, with somewhat greater success, together.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Honor, by Julian Pitt-Rivers

The following article on the subject of honor  was written by the great British anthropologist Julian Pitt-Rivers (1919 - 2001) and published in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences,  volume 6 (1968), pages 503-11. It does a remarkable job of describing the complexities and contradictions of the concept.

The notion of honor has several facets. It is a sentiment, a manifestation of this sentiment in conduct, and the evaluation of this conduct by others, that is to say, reputation. It is both internal to the individual and external to him--a matter of his feelings, his behavior, and the treatment that he receives. Many authors have stressed one of these facets at the expense of the others; however, from the point of view of the social sciences it is essential to bear in mind that honor is simultaneously all of these, for both its psychological and social functions relate to the fact that it stands as a mediator between individual aspirations and the judgment of society.

Like the other self-regarding sentiments, honor expresses an evaluation of self in the terms which are used to evaluate others--or as others might be imagined to judge one. It can, therefore, be seen to reflect the values of the group with which a person identifies himself. But honor as a fact, rather than as a sentiment, refers not merely to the judgment of others but to their behavior. The facets of honor may be viewed as related in the following way: honor felt becomes honor claimed, and honor claimed becomes honor paid. The payment of honor involves the expression of respect which is due to a person either by virtue of his role on a particular occasion, as when a guest is honored in accordance with the laws of hospitality, or by virtue of his status or rank, which entitles him to a permanent right to precedence marked by honorific insignia, expressed in modes of address and titles and demonstrated in deference. Honor is also exchanged in mutual recognition: in salutations and the return of invitations and favors.

The same principles that govern the transactions of honor are present in those of dishonor, though in reverse: the withdrawal of respect dishonors, since it implies a rejection of the claim to honor and this inspires the sentiment of shame. To be put to shame is to be denied honor, and it follows that this can only be done to those who have some pretension to it. He who makes no such claim has nothing to lose; he cannot be denied precedence if he prefers to go last. Those who aspire to no honor cannot be humiliated. Honor and dishonor, therefore, provide the currency in which people compete for reputation and the means whereby their appraisal of themselves can be validated and integrated into the social system--or rejected, thus obliging them to revise it. Hence, honor is not only the internalization of the values of society in the individual but the externalization of his self-image in the world.

The sentiment of honor seeks validation, but from what quarter? From God or from the conscience of the person himself? From friends or from kinsmen? From persons in authority or from the crowd? Public opinion, allegedly the arbiter of reputations, arbitrates with anything but a firm hand, since it varies according to the activity and the context. Consensus is not easily established in a complex society; individual views differ, and different groups have different standards. The significance of the acts of public honor and the granting of dignities is, therefore, this: they place the seal of public recognition on reputations that would otherwise stand in doubt and endow them with permanence. It is the function of authority to impose consensus, and it does this with regard to the worth of persons: it converts prestige into status.

Theories of honor have varied greatly as to the relative importance which they accord to different qualities, and this is due to the different social contexts and reference groups from which they derive.

Honor as a moral concept. Honor is commonly considered by moral philosophers to be a state of the individual conscience and, as such, equivalent to the absence of self-reproach. It relates to intentions rather than to the objective consequences of action, and a man is therefore said to be the only judge of his own honor. If he knows his intentions to be "above reproach," then he is indifferent to the comments of others, who cannot evaluate the quality of his motives. He is committed by his honor to the fulfillment of duties that are recognized as attaching to social roles. The casuists recognized honor as a personal responsibility and admitted the defense of honor as a licit form of self-defense which could excuse actions that would otherwise be sinful. Nevertheless, the churches have always considered that, in the evaluation of his own motives, a man is bound to refer to their authority, which claims for itself the right to define honor in terms of religious virtue.

Somewhat different is the view of honor which derives it from civic virtue, for here it is ratified not by religious doctrine but by the market place. Popular acclaim comes in to qualify, if not to guide, the judgments of the individual conscience, and honor becomes the reputation for virtue. (This was Aristotle's view.) But once the notion of reputation is admitted as a constituent of honor, its value as a purely moral concept faces ambiguities: a potential conflict emerges between the dictates of conscience and the facts of recognition. This is brought to the forefront by those moralists (not by any means confined to churchmen) who have upbraided the code of honor of their day from the standpoint of morality. Public opinion cannot be trusted to confirm even the most modest man’s claim to civic virtues or even to accord reputation on that basis at all. It is apt to give its applause to more spectacular qualities and to pay honor to other sorts of excellence. With regard to dishonor, it is yet more capricious, for here its great weapon is ridicule, which seldom employs a moral criterion at all, but destroys reputations on the grounds of a man's pretentiousness, foolishness, or misfortune, not his wickedness. As Moliere observed, one would rather be Tartuffe than Orgon. Public opinion, in its sympathy for the successful, betrays the notion of honor as a purely moral concept.

Honor as precedence. In contrast to the moral view of honor, which relates it to merit—whether religious, civic, or professional--other writers have insisted upon its factual aspect. For example, Hobbes (Leviathan, chapter 10) saw no more in honor than the achievement of precedence and the competition for worldly honors. Honor, in his view, is not a matter of sentiment and aspirations (since all men would like to be honored), but one of individual preferment, to the attainment of which virtue is quite irrelevant.

It is, moreover, from this aspect that the word honor derives etymologically: it first applied to grants of land or the privilege of levying taxes ceded by a sovereign to his eminent servants and supporters. Royal favor was, therefore, not only the "fountain of honor," as in the view of many later political theorists, but literally the origin of the word. As might be expected, honor was particularly to be earned through military prowess, and originally, it should be noted, it conceded not only social dignity but economic advantage as well.

Honor in this sense accorded precedence. This, however, is not only conferred by royal statute but derives from social interaction at every level in a society; the claim to honor depends always, in the last resort, upon the ability of the claimant to impose himself. Might is the basis of right to precedence, which goes to the man who is bold enough to enforce his claim, regardless of what may be thought of his merits.

Worldly honor validates itself by an appeal to the facts, submitting always to the reality of power, whether military, political, social, or economic and whether it rests upon the consensus of a community, the favor of superiors, or the control of sanctions. For this reason courage is the sine qua non of honor, and cowardice is always its converse. This fact is inherent in its nature and not merely the heritage of a class which once earned its status, or so it claimed, through feats of arms. The mottoes of the nobility (which may serve as a gloss upon their conception of honor) commonly emphasize not only the claim to prestige and status but, above all, the moral quality necessary to win and to retain them; when "all is lost save honor," this at least has been preserved, and while this is so, a return of fortune is always possible. Willingness to stand up to opposition is essential to the acquisition, as to the defense, of honor, regardless of the mode of action that is adopted. No amount of moral justification validates the honor of a coward, even where retaliation to an affront is ruled out on moral grounds; to turn the other cheek is not the same thing as to hide it. Indeed, in terms of the code of honor, turning the other cheek is simply a means of demonstrating contempt. Christian forgiveness cloaks a claim to superiority that cannot but irritate the sensitivities of the forgiven, for it not only implies disdain, it attempts to alter the rules whereby honor is achieved or lost.

However well courage may promote the claims of the courageous, the fact of triumph is ultimately what counts. The distribution of the spoils is the privilege of the victor; where claims to precedence conflict, the decision goes to the big battalions. It is the fact of precedence that establishes the right to command and the privilege of speaking first or last. In this sense, therefore, honor and leadership imply one another, for both are subject to the reality of power.

Honor as a personal attribute. Since honor is felt as well as demonstrated, it is allied to the conception of the self in the most intimate ways. It is a state of grace. It is liable to defilement. It is linked to the physical person in terms of the symbolic functions attached to the body: to the blood, the heart, the hand, the head, and the genitalia. Honor is inherited through the "blood," and the shedding of blood has a specially honorific value in transactions of honor--the stains of honor, it was said, could be cleansed only by blood. The heart is the symbol of sincerity, since it is thought of—in the European tradition at least--as the seat of the intentions and therefore the home of the true self, which lies behind all worldly disguises. The right hand is the purveyor of honor: it touches; it shakes or is shaken; it is kissed or waved; it wins honor, for it wields the sword and pulls the trigger. The head is the representation of the self in social life, that by which a man is recognized, that which is placed in effigy on coins, and that which is touched in salute, crowned, covered or uncovered, bowed, or shorn. The private parts are the seat of shame, vulnerable to the public view and represented symbolically in the gestures and verbal expressions of desecration. In their association with the excretory function they are the source of pollution, yet as the means of procreation they are intimately connected with honor, for they signify the extension of the self in time. Sexual purity is, therefore, often regarded as the essence of honor in women, whose feminine status precludes their striving for it by might. The body as a whole is especially associated with honor, since physical contact implies intimacy and makes explicit the honorific relationship with another, whether to express attachment, obeisance, or contempt.

Because honor centers in the physical being, a person's presence bears a particular significance, as Simmel observed when he spoke of a sacred aura surrounding each individual. Whatever occurs in a person's presence obliges him to react in one way or another, positively or negatively, for he cannot hide his cognizance of it: he is inescapably a party to what he witnesses, and his will is thereby committed. This is important because the essence of the social person comprises his will and (as the moralists understood, though in a different context) his intentions. Hence, apologies for an affront normally take the form of denying the intention, thereby making the affront in a sense fortuitous because not willed. The true affront to honor must be intended as such. For the same reason oaths are binding only if freely sworn and, like the rites of the church, are invalid if devoid of good intention. The oath commits the honor of the swearer by guaranteeing his intentions, for it is not dishonoring to deceive another man, only to "break faith"--that is to say, to rescind an established commitment, for this implies cowardice. This is underlined by the mottoes of the aristocracy (so often devoted to the theme of steadfastness), the broken weapons which clutter up their arms, and the defiant invitations to fate to put them to the test. This emphasis on intention or will marks an essential point: the essence of honor is personal autonomy. All men are bound by certain irrevocable ties, but the man of honor cannot otherwise be committed; he can only commit himself. To be forced by whatever circumstance to revoke his intentions once they are committed is to abnegate his personal autonomy. Thus, the concept of honor is tied to precedence, for to command over others enhances it, while obedience restricts it.

Collective honor. The group possesses collective honor, in which the individual members participate. It affects their honor and is affected by their behavior. The honor of a collectivity is vested in its head and in symbolic representations; flags, crests, coats of arms, badges, uniforms, and all the insignia whereby members of the group are recognized are the objects of a greater or lesser degree of reverence and are treated as though they possess honor in themselves. In the anthropological language of an earlier generation, such objects have mana, a concept that also expresses the idea of honor when it is applied to individuals or to parts of their person.

While some types of groups are joined voluntarily and may be left in the same way (or may expel one of their number), membership in other groups is ascribed at birth. In the latter type of group, honor is bound up integrally, for the group defines a person's essential nature. The family (and in some societies the kin group) and the nation are the most fundamental of these collectivities, and thus traitors to their fathers or their sovereigns are the most execrable of all. (Parricide and regicide are sacrilegious but homicide is not.) The family is the repository of personal honor, for honor is hereditary, not merely in its aspect as social status but also with regard to the moral qualities which attach to it. Therefore, the dishonor cast on one member is felt by all.

Male and female honor are clearly differentiated with regard to conduct. A moral division of labor operates within the family, especially in the Latin countries: the aspect of honor as precedence becomes, according to this system of values, the prerogative of the male, while honor as sexual purity is restricted to the female. Hence, sexual conquest enhances the prestige of men; sexual liberty defiles the honor of women. (Congruently, a high value is attached to virginity in unmarried girls.) The defense of female purity, however, is a male responsibility, and men are therefore vulnerable to dishonor not through their own sexual misconduct but through that of their womenfolk--that is to say, members of the same nuclear family, including mother, wife, unmarried sister, and daughter.

Hence, sexual insults that impugn the honor of men refer not to them but to their women.

The aspect of honor that is associated with social status descends preferentially in the male line--as hereditary titles, for example--but in its moral aspect a man's honor comes to him primarily from his mother, and further, his sister's honor reflects upon his through their mother. However, if a man inherits his honor in this way, he is, above all, actively responsible for the honor of his wife, and the cuckold (expressed in the Mediterranean by an analogy with the he-goat) is the paragon of dishonor, equal only, if in a different way, to the traitor. It should be noted that the cuckolder is exculpated: though he represents the cuckoo in the analogy on which the word is based, the title is reserved for the man whose marital right is usurped (and the same transposition is performed in the symbolism of the Mediterranean by endowing the wronged husband with the horns). Although the cuckolder may be thought immoral, he bears no stigma of dishonor. Once more dishonor goes to the defeated, and ridicule is visited on the defiled one rather than on the guilty. This code of honor is attenuated to the degree that women are regarded as independent of male authority.

Honor and the sacred. The connection between honor and the sacred does not derive simply from the ambition of the church to stand as the arbiter of honor, a role that it has never entirely succeeded in achieving in the popular view, but rather from the sacred nature of honor itself, which, as the essence of the social personality and the personal destiny of the individual, stands in a preferential relation to the deity; a man's true self is known only to God, from whom nothing can be hidden and in whose eyes honor is ultimately vindicated, Honor is committed by invoking the sacred, whether in the form of a conditional curse witnessed by the spiritual powers or by implicating any other agency from which honor derives. The appeal to the sacred acts as a guarantee that the swearer will accept his shame under the prescribed circumstances. Hence, even in modern law courts oaths are required. The commitment of honor to the sovereign derives also from the fact that he stands, as divinely authorized ruler, in a preferential relationship to the Deity, a conception that has survived centuries of rebellion and even the passing of the monarchy altogether in many instances. Sacredness attaches to the notion of legitimate rule, regardless of the doctrine in which this is expressed. For this reason republics have tended to conserve the sanctifying rituals of the monarchies they superseded.

Honor and social status. The distribution of honor in communities of equals, whether local groups or specialized institutions, tends to relate to eminence, recognized virtue, and age. However, in a stratified society it accords with social status, and as such, it is more often ascribed by birth than achieved, Thus, medieval society was ranked in terms of honor, from the aristocracy, who had the most--on account of their power, their valor, and their proximity to the king--to those who had none at all, the heretics and the outcasts, those who indulged in infamous occupations or had been convicted of infamy.

Honor is hereditary, as we have seen; the excellence that once brought honor to the forebears is credited to their offspring, even though it may no longer be discernible in their conduct. Titles and property, the honorific and effective forms of hereditary power, endow the social system with continuity in this regard; honor is ascribed. Yet, the supposition of excellence derived from birth is constantly betrayed, and a conflict therefore emerges between the criterion of prestige derived from personal worth and that which looks to social origins. This has provided one of the favorite themes of European literature from the twelfth-century Poem of the Cid onward, a theme which is matched in popularity only by its counterpart: the role of money rather than excellence in the acquisition of honor. The ideal unity of honor is apt to fragment when it strikes the facts, and the different bases for according it become opposed to one another.

Moreover, the criteria by which honor is bestowed have greatly varied in time: occupation and religious orthodoxy were once important, although they are no longer. With the evolution from a system of legal status to a class system, economic privileges ceased to be attached to status, and the contrary came to be true. In the modern world the criteria appear to be changing again: titles can no longer be purchased and wealth gives way to fame as the measure of reputation--a fact not unconnected with the development of the communications industry. The theater, which was once a dishonorable occupation, now presents candidates for the British sovereign's Honours List, which also finds a place for jockeys and football players.

The struggle for honor is palliated by a provision that saves society from anarchy. Indeed, this struggle is not only the basis upon which individuals compete but also that on which they cooperate. Here the notion of steadfastness is crucial, whether it binds together those who recognize their mutual equality or those whose relationship is one of patron and client. The reciprocal demonstrations of favor, which might be called mutual honoring, establish relationships of solidarity. The notion of a community of honorable men replaces the competition for honor; reputation attaches to honesty, and the steadfastness that honor enjoins is seen in financial reliability and contractual faith--the "honoring" of a check or bond displays this sense. Honor then comes to be the guarantor of the credit system. This notion of honor was, in particular, the ideal of the Puritans, who attempted to suppress all its competitive and flamboyant aspects in favor of equating it to conscience (only to see them reemerge triumphant with the Restoration, whose literature pays more tribute to cuckoldry than that of any other period in the English language). The relation of the puritan ethic to capitalism, first stressed by Max Weber and R. H. Tawney, restricts competition to the field of wealth and, while giving financial probity a prime place in the notion of honor, makes financial success the arbiter of prestige. Under such conditions social status inevitably becomes increasingly an economic matter, to the exclusion of all other criteria.

Honor is always bound to wealth and possessions, for they provide an idiom in which to express relationships of relative inequality. Thus, hospitality, charity, and generosity are highly honorific; provided that they derive from free will, they gain as expressions of magnanimity. Beneficence transforms economic power into honor. However, honor is thus gained at the potential expense of the recipient. By doing someone a favor you humiliate him unless he may reciprocate. Hence comes the necessity for the return of hospitality and for accepting its return. The Northwest Coast Indians of America carried this principle to its limits in the potlatch, in which the demonstrations of largesse and the destruction of property were performed with the open intention of humiliating a rival. Through the challenge to reciprocate hospitality, they expressed their hostilities and as they put it, "fought with property."

Honor is the backbone of the system of patronage. He who admits his inferiority and accepts patronage is not dishonored by attaching himself to a superior. On the contrary, his honor is enhanced by participating, through this attachment, in his patron's honor. The honor of a patron is equally enhanced by the possession of clients; he gains prestige in return for the protection that he affords to those who recognize his power. Honor accrues through being paid and is lost through being denied where it is due. By giving it away, you show that you have it; by striving for it, you imply that you need it. This is the meaning of magnanimity.

The struggle for honor takes place, therefore, only where precedence is both of value and in doubt. Competition for it has understandably been more acute in the higher reaches of society, where family pride and also the practical importance of precedence are greatest (this can be clearly seen, for example, in the descriptions of the French aristocracy in the memoirs of the duke of Saint-Simon). It must not, however, be thought that there is no competition for honor in plebeian communities. The agonistic quality of personal and kin-group relations in the villages of the Mediterranean is most striking, especially among pastoralists, whose unstable fortunes urge them to compete. This competition occurs, nonetheless, within a framework of moral values that public opinion upholds. The point of honor, whether among the aristocracies of former times or the modern Greek shepherds or Arab peasants, imposes a code for the distribution of honor that contains conflict within boundaries set by the ethical code of the community.

The point of honor
In the courts of Renaissance Italy there arose a code of behavior which regulated the exchange of honor and the competition for it and whose ultimate sanction was the duel. This code spread, not without changes and adaptations, throughout Europe and America and persisted in many places into the twentieth century. A flow of published works four centuries long defined the modes and pretexts for taking offense, the formalities of challenge and the duel, and the circumstances in which honor could be judged to be lost or redeemed. A veritable jurisprudence of honor was elaborated, which makes explicit certain fundamental characteristics of the concept.

The point of honor, as this code of behavior was called, was confined to the upper class. The honor of a man could not be impugned by someone who was not a social equal--that is, someone with whom he could not compete without loss of dignity. The impudence or the infidelity of an inferior could be punished, but honor was not attained by reacting to the action of an inferior. Thus, honor was impregnable from below. Willingness to enter a duel depended upon the recognition of equality of class (but not of rank).

An affront depends upon being made public, for repute is lost only in the eyes of others. Hence, it was even sometimes maintained that no affront could be given in a purely private conversation. On the other hand, against public ridicule there is no recourse, since an affront must be performed individually to be resented by an individual. The act of resentment is always an individual responsibility; whether or not a man wishes to accept humiliation depends upon his own will. According to the code of honor, an insult could only be resented by the recipient himself, unless he were impeded from doing this because of age, sex, infirmity, or clerical status. Even then it could be resented only by a close kinsman--that is, one who participated in his honor. Briefly, the duel decided quarrels between individuals who competed for precedence and repute in the eyes of a public composed of their social equals. It was even at one time suggested that by destroying the honor of another man one might add to one's own, just as knights once added to their fame by their victories in single combat.

The affront placed honor in jeopardy, a state of threatened desecration from which it could only be saved by the demand for satisfaction. By showing his readiness to fight, a man restored his honor to a state of grace. Honor, however, was indifferent to the result of the duel, which demonstrated only the prowess of the victor and the choice of fate. The form of the act of resentment which constituted a challenge was the mentita, "giving the lie." Since deception was not in itself considered dishonorable behavior, it seems anomalous that the accusation of lying constituted the paramount indictment of honor. However, first of all, the accusation constituted a counterinsult and bound the man who delivered the original insult to issue the challenge, thereby permitting his antagonist to gain the choice of weapons. Yet, other than as a tactical device, this form of challenge relates to the obligation to tell the truth: one is under no obligation to tell it to an inferior; one owes it to a superior. (Children are required to tell the truth to adults who feel no reciprocal duty.) To lie to an equal is an affront, since it represents an attempt to treat him as an inferior. On the other hand, lying could be interpreted as the subterfuge of one who lacked the courage to tell the truth or to act openly. The mentita, therefore, committed the response of the accused person, since failure to respond confirmed this implication of cowardice, while honorable response invalidated it at the cost of making manifest the intention to insult.

Failure to react to a slight was open to two conflicting interpretations. Either it implied cowardice and the acceptance of humiliation, which entailed the loss of honor, or it implied contempt, the denial that the author of the slight possessed sufficient honor to affront, that is, a denial of his equality. In the latter case the author, not the victim, of the slight was dishonored. Disregarding a slight could even be treated as magnanimity, on condition that the insulted person possessed the right to forgive or to overlook--that is to say, that he was indeed superior. On the other hand, to pick quarrels over nothing, to exploit the humiliation of others beyond the point that public opinion recognized as legitimate in order to establish precedence, was considered dishonorable, for it spelled lack of magnanimity. It was the court of public opinion that judicated between rival interpretations of the failure to react to a slight; in the last resort, a man was dishonored only at the point where he was forced to realize that he had been, where his shame was brought home to him. Those who possessed impregnable honor could afford not to compete for precedence, but to show those magnanimous qualities which are associated with it in the figurative senses of the words that denote high status; nobility, gentlemanliness, etc. Words which denote low status imply the contrary of magnanimity: meanness, villainy.

Although the point of honor was much criticized from the moral viewpoint, it provided a means of settling disputes. It did not permit the unbridled use of violence. Once satisfaction was accorded, the quarrel could not rightfully be taken up again. In this way it can be contrasted with the moral obligation to seek vengeance in order to redeem honor and with the state of feud that this commonly leads to. The point of honor was, therefore, a pseudolegal institution governing the sphere of social etiquette where the law was either not competent or not welcome.

Honor and the law
The code of honor associated with the duel appeared in history at a time when the state was endeavoring to suppress private violence; dueling was made illegal, as well as condemned by the church, almost from its inception as a formalized mode of settling disputes. Yet, the duel was also, in some ways, a continuation of an earlier tradition. The right of knights to prove their worth in single combat was at one time inherent in the right to bear arms, and jousting provided a festive occasion on which to do so (though it finally developed into a sport). During the Middle Ages the private encounter was also recognized as a form of legal process. The judicial combat allowed for the settlement of disputes by remitting the decision to divine judgment; it was a form of ordeal.

With the development of the legal system and the increased centralization of power, sovereigns aspired to take the settlement of disputes out of the unpredictable hands of the Deity and submit it to the adjudication of courts, The courts, however, are ill-designed to fulfill the requirements of the man of honor, in that, first of all, they oblige him to place his jeopardized honor in the hands of others and thus prevent him from redeeming it for himself--the only way in which this can be done. The legal process involves delay (prejudicial to its state), expense (unwarranted for one who would settle accounts at once and for nothing), and publicity, which aggravates instead of mitigating the affront which is the cause of the dispute. Moreover, honor is not commutable into payment, so the compensation that courts impose offers no valid satisfaction. Finally, the settlement of a dispute in court excludes the possibility of demonstrating personal worth through the display of courage. The law has never, therefore, appealed to adherents to the code of honor, even where it has provided a means of redress against the kind of conduct that constitutes an affront. This it cannot easily do in any case, since it operates according to a different reasoning. Thus, although in all the countries of Europe legislation against dueling was passed repeatedly from the sixteenth century onward, the custom continued, with a large measure of connivance from the judicial authorities, until the twentieth century.

Although all the countries of Europe use the concept of honor in their ceremonial pronouncements, it is explicitly recognized only in the laws of the countries of southern Europe, where honor appears not only as a factor in the cultural background of court proceedings but also as a legal concept. In these countries the legal codes define the jural significance of honor. However, honor relates to conduct as a disculpating factor by making otherwise reprehensible behavior justifiable in terms of the legitimate motive which derives from the sense of honor. The right of a man to defend his honor is far more clearly recognized in the judicial procedures of southern European countries than in Anglo-Saxon law, which generally requires the demonstration of material damage for an affront to be actionable.

The constancy required by honor prefigures the law's demand for regularity; both establish a commitment upon the future. Nevertheless they differ in the way they commit the future, for honor demands fidelity to individuals, law to abstract principles. Therefore, where they exist together, they are liable to conflict, for one relates to persons and is centered in the will; the other aspires to reduce persons to legal categories, which involves attacking the fundamental principle of personal autonomy. The man of honor is a law, but a law unto himself. Wherever the authority of law is questioned or ignored, the code of honor re-emerges to allocate the right to precedence and dictate the principles of conduct: among aristocracies and criminal underworlds, schoolboy and street-corner societies, open frontiers and those closed communities where reigns "the Honorable Society," as the Mafia calls itself.

Honor in literature
As we have seen, the different aspects of honor are liable to come into conflict with each other and to present individuals with an unenviable choice. This was the theme of the Spanish theater of the "Golden Century" in which concern for honor had become exacerbated. The dramatists presented this theme in the form of tragedy in an aristocratic setting while the novelists tended to treat it with comic satire in a plebeian context. Hence, the teatro de honor concerns such matters as marital honor, honor as precedence, honor as social status, civic virtue represented by plebeian honor, female purity, fidelity to the king, the duty to redeem honor by vengeance, the difficulty of hiding dishonor, and the power and perfidy of public opinion. The Spanish dramatists were, on the whole, critical of aristocratic honor and sometimes betrayed a reformatory intention, while the satires of the novelists frequently attacked the very notion of honor itself, contrasting it with the real power of money. The greatest and most savage satire on honor is assuredly the Lazarillo de Tormes, which antedates Falstaff's famous tirade by nearly half a century.

Every ruling power claims the right to distribute honor; to lay down the principles by which it is to be won is the essence of authority and the process of legitimation. Authority, like honor, is allied both to the sentiments and to the reality of social status and looks both to the possession of force and to popular consent, for authority is, as it were, the judicial aspect of honor, whose transactions and rituals set the seal of legitimacy upon the social order, making its commands appear necessary and right. The king can do no wrong. His word imposes consensus. Yet, if what is done in his name is unpopular, it does not escape criticism. His legitimacy is eventually brought into question. The frailty in authority qualifies its sacredness by exposing it to the danger that a counterconsensus will emerge to brand as infamous the fount of honor. The withdrawal of consent reveals the Achilles' heel of authority; the loss of respect foreshadows delegitimation.

Therefore, the polemics with regard to the nature of honor mirror the social conflicts of their age, for they reflect the interests of different groups and classes striving to impose their evaluations of behavior. The polemics both reflect and promote the struggle between these groups. The facts of power decide the moral arguments. Through its social function as a mediator, honor dictates the modes of allegiance that obtain throughout the social structure, and each particular notion of honor favors a certain faction. Hence, the aristocracy and the church adhered to quite different definitions of honor throughout the history of modern Europe. The new middle classes had a different notion of it, again, as Speier (1935) has pointed out. Different classes differ in their concepts of honor, and the concepts of rural communities differ from those of the city, though not always in accordance with that romanticized image of Arcadia which has stirred the literary imagination ever since Horace. A particular code of honor must be seen against its social background in order to be understood.

Modern urban society accords precedence largely on an economic basis. The independence of women has relieved men to some extent of their responsibility for them and, thus, of their vulnerability through them. The power of the law and the range of its competence have greatly increased, thus eliminating the possibility of winning honor through physical courage, save in certain sports and in war. The power of personal patronage has declined in favor of impersonal and institutional allegiances. The vocabulary of honor has acquired archaic overtones in modern English, yet the principles of honor remain, for they are not, like the particular conceptions in which they are manifested, the product of a given culture at a given time, but universal principles of social action that may be found clothed in the idiom of head-hunting, social refinement, financial acumen, religious purity, or civic merit. Whatever the form the principles of honor may take, they serve to relate the ideal values of a society to its social structure and to reconcile the world as its members would see it with the world as it is.

Julian Pitt-Rivers


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