Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rory Miller on Honor

At his always-interesting blog Chiron, the author, martial artist, and veteran corrections officer Rory Miller had these insights on the subject of honor:
The Budoshoshinshu says that the three qualities a warrior must possess are integrity, loyalty and courage.

My interpretation: Integrity, because if a man's beliefs, words and actions contradict, if he says one thing and does another, he is at best worthless and at worst, evil. Simply, integrity limits your value as a human being. You can only be as good, as human or as honorable as you are true.

Loyalty, because there must be something more important to you than your own life. If you are the most important thing in your life, you will harm others to further your self-interest. A skilled warrior who serves only himself causes harm to many and must be put down like a rabid dog.

Courage, because it is the job of a warrior to walk into the places where no one else wishes to go and make them better.

All human beings need the elements of Integrity and loyalty to be worthwhile, but only the warrior requires courage, and only the warrior is defined as facing danger.

A note on this--Warrior is a loaded word and people jump on it as a crutch for their self image. I use it here because the translation I use used the word. It is nothing noble or heroic or special--it is a small group of people who have chosen to face conflict as a job. If someone defines or seeks to define themselves as a 'warrior' they need to get over themselves.

Honor, then, is acting in accordance with the three virtues. Any act of honor will have all three of these elements--it will be true (this does not eliminate the ruse de guerre), it will be done for the betterment of someone or something other than the person who acts and it will be risky.

'Face' is reputation. When a person acts because it must, by his moral code, be done, he acts from honor. When he acts from fear of what people will think of him, he acts to save or increase face.

Fighting fair--consideration of honor in conflict comes in before the conflict. The question of honor is decided in what I will fight for. Once conflict begins, the goal is to subdue or destroy. When the need rises to the level and there are no other options (or at least no time to find them) and that goal is set, either to subdue or destroy, the battle is on.

Two quotes to think about:

"No matter whether a person belongs to the upper ranks or the lower, if he has not put his life on the line at least once he has cause for shame." -Nabeshima Naoshige

"The foundation of a man's duty as a man is in truth. Beyond this there is nothing to be said." --Torii Mototada
--Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mark Twain on the Motive for Dueling

Mark Twain on honor and dueling from What is Man? The essay presents a dialog between a naive, idealistic Young Man (Y.M.) and a perceptive, cynical Old Man (O.M.).
Y.M. Do you really believe that mere public opinion could force a timid and peaceful man to-- 
O.M. Go to war? Yes--public opinion can force some men to do ANYTHING.


O.M. Yes--anything.

Y.M. I don't believe that. Can it force a right-principled man to do a wrong thing?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. Can it force a kind man to do a cruel thing?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. Give an instance.

O.M. Alexander Hamilton was a conspicuously high-principled man. He regarded dueling as wrong, and as opposed to the teachings of religion--but in deference to PUBLIC OPINION he fought a duel. He deeply loved his family, but to buy public approval he treacherously deserted them and threw his life away, ungenerously leaving them to lifelong sorrow in order that he might stand well with a foolish world. In the then condition of the public standards of honor he could not have been comfortable with the stigma upon him of having refused to fight. The teachings of religion, his devotion to his family, his kindness of heart, his high principles, all went for nothing when they stood in the way of his spiritual comfort. A man will do ANYTHING, no matter what it is, TO SECURE HIS SPIRITUAL COMFORT; and he can neither be forced nor persuaded to any act which has not that goal for its object. Hamilton's act was compelled by the inborn necessity of contenting his own spirit; in this it was like all the other acts of his life, and like all the acts of all men's lives. Do you see where the kernel of the matter lies? A man cannot be comfortable without HIS OWN approval. He will secure the largest share possible of that, at all costs, all sacrifices.

Y.M. A minute ago you said Hamilton fought that duel to get PUBLIC approval.

O.M. I did. By refusing to fight the duel he would have secured his family's approval and a large share of his own; but the public approval was more valuable in his eyes than all other approvals put together--in the earth or above it; to secure that would furnish him the MOST comfort of mind, the most SELF- approval; so he sacrificed all other values to get it.

Y.M. Some noble souls have refused to fight duels, and have manfully braved the public contempt.

O.M. They acted ACCORDING TO THEIR MAKE. They valued their principles and the approval of their families ABOVE the public approval. They took the thing they valued MOST and let the rest go. They took what would give them the LARGEST share of PERSONAL CONTENTMENT AND APPROVAL--a man ALWAYS does.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why All Honest Work Is Considered Honorable in America

The following observations on honor in early America are from De Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1840):

Among a democratic people, where there is no hereditary wealth, every man works to earn a living, or has worked, or is born of parents who have worked. The notion of labor is therefore presented to the mind, on every side, as the necessary, natural, and honest condition of human existence. Not only is labor not dishonorable among such a people, but it is held in honor; the prejudice is not against it, but in its favor. In the United States a wealthy man thinks that he owes it to public opinion to devote his leisure to some kind of industrial or commercial pursuit or to public business. He would think himself in bad repute if he employed his life solely in living. It is for the purpose of escaping this obligation to work that so many rich Americans come to Europe, where they find some scattered remains of aristocratic society, among whom idleness is still held in honor.

Equality of conditions not only ennobles the notion of labor, but raises the notion of labor as a source of profit.

In aristocracies it is not exactly labor that is despised, but labor with a view to profit. Labor is honorable in itself when it is undertaken at the bidding of ambition or virtue. Yet in aristocratic society it constantly happens that he who works for honor is not insensible to the attractions of profit. But these two desires intermingle only in the depths of his soul; he carefully hides from every eye the point at which they join; he would gladly conceal it from himself. In aristocratic countries there are few public officers who do not affect to serve their country without interested motives. Their salary is an incident of which they think but little and of which they always affect not to think at all. Thus the notion of profit is kept distinct from that of labor; however they may be united in point of fact, they are not thought of together.

In democratic communities these two notions are, on the contrary, always palpably united. As the desire of well-being is universal, as fortunes are slender or fluctuating, as everyone wants either to increase his own resources or to provide fresh ones for his progeny, men clearly see that it is profit that, if not wholly, at least partially leads them to work. Even those who are principally actuated by the love of fame are necessarily made familiar with the thought that they are not exclusively actuated by that motive; and they discover that the desire of getting a living is mingled in their minds with the desire of making life illustrious.

As soon as, on the one hand, labor is held by the whole community to be an honorable necessity of man's condition, and, on the other, as soon as labor is always ostensibly performed, wholly or in part, for the purpose of earning remuneration, the immense interval that separated different callings in aristocratic societies disappears. If all are not alike, all at least have one feature in common. No profession exists in which men do not work for money; and the remuneration that is common to them all gives them all an air of resemblance.   This serves to explain the opinions that the Americans entertain with respect to different callings. In America no one is degraded because he works, for everyone about him works also; nor is anyone humiliated by the notion of receiving pay, for the President of the United States also works for pay. He is paid for commanding, other men for obeying orders. In the United States professions are more or less laborious, more or less profitable; but they are never either high or low: every honest calling is honorable.

Honor in America; De Tocqueville's View

The following observations on honor in early America are from De Tocqueville's Democracy in America (1840):

Of Honour in the United States and Democratic Communities
It would seem that men employ two very distinct methods in the judgment which they pass upon the actions of their fellow men; at one time they judge them by those simple notions of right and wrong which are diffused all over the world; at another they appraise them by a few very special rules which belong exclusively to some particular age and country. It often happens that these two standards differ; they sometimes conflict, but they are never either entirely identified or entirely annulled by each other.  Honor at the periods of its greatest power sways the will more than the belief of men; and even while they yield without hesitation and without a murmur to its dictates, they feel notwithstanding, by a dim but mighty instinct, the existence of a more general, more ancient, and more holy law, which they sometimes disobey, although they do not cease to acknowledge it. Some actions have been held to be at the same time virtuous and dishonorable; a refusal to fight a duel is an instance.

I think these peculiarities may be otherwise explained than by the mere caprices of certain individuals and nations, as has hitherto been customary. Mankind is subject to general and permanent wants that have created moral laws, to the neglect of which men have ever and in all places attached the notion of censure and shame: to infringe them was to do ill; to do well was to conform to them.

Within this vast association of the human race lesser associations have been formed, which are called nations; and amid these nations further subdivisions have assumed the names of classes or castes. Each of these associations forms, as it were, a separate species of the human race; and though it has no essential difference from the mass of mankind, to a certain extent it stands apart and has certain wants peculiar to itself. To these special wants must be attributed the modifications which affect, in various degrees and in different countries, the mode of considering human actions and the estimate which is formed of them. It is the general and permanent interest of mankind that men should not kill each other; but it may happen to be the peculiar and temporary interest of a people or a class to justify, or even to honor, homicide.

Honor is simply that peculiar rule founded upon a peculiar state of society, by the application of which a people or a class allot praise or blame. Nothing is more unproductive to the mind than an abstract idea; I therefore hasten to call in the aid of facts and examples to illustrate my meaning. I select the most extraordinary kind of honor which has ever been known in the world, and that which we are best acquainted with: namely, aristocratic honor springing out of feudal society. I shall explain it by means of the principle already laid down and explain the principle by means of this illustration. I am not here led to inquire when and how the aristocracy of the Middle Ages came into existence, why it was so deeply severed from the remainder of the nation, or what founded and consolidated its power. I take its existence as an established fact, and I am endeavoring to account for the peculiar view that it took of the greater part of human actions. The first thing that strikes me is that in the feudal world actions were not always praised or blamed with reference to their intrinsic worth, but were sometimes appreciated exclusively with reference to the person who was the actor or the object of them, which is repugnant to the general conscience of mankind. Thus some of the actions which were indifferent on the part of a man in humble life dishonored a noble; others changed their whole character according as the person aggrieved by them belonged or did not belong to the aristocracy.

When these different notions first arose, the nobility formed a distinct body amid the people, which it commanded from the inaccessible heights where it was ensconced. To maintain this peculiar position, which constituted its strength, not only did it require political privileges, but it required a standard of right and wrong for its own special use. That some particular virtue or vice belonged to the nobility rather than to the humble classes, that certain actions were guiltless when they affected the villein which were criminal when they touched the noble, these were often arbitrary matters; but that honor or shame should be attached to a man's actions according to his condition was a result of the internal constitution of an aristocratic community. This has been actually the case in all the countries which have had an aristocracy; as long as a trace of the principle remains, these peculiarities will still exist. To debauch a woman of color scarcely injures the reputation of an American; to marry her dishonors him.

In some cases feudal honor enjoined revenge and stigmatized the forgiveness of insults; in others it imperiously commanded men to conquer their own passions and required forgetfulness of self. It did not make humanity or kindness its law, but it extolled generosity; it set more store on liberality than on benevolence; it allowed men to enrich themselves by gambling or by war, but not by labor; it preferred great crimes to small earnings; cupidity was less distasteful to it than avarice; violence it often sanctioned, but cunning and treachery it invariably reprobated as contemptible. These fantastic notions did not proceed exclusively from the caprice of those who entertained them. A class which has succeeded in placing itself above all others, and which makes perpetual exertions to maintain this lofty position, must especially honor those virtues which are conspicuous for their dignity and splendor and which may be easily combined with pride and the love of power. Such men would not hesitate to invert the natural order of conscience in order to give these virtues precedence over all others. It may even be conceived that some of the more bold and brilliant vices would readily be set above the quiet, unpretending virtues. The very existence of such a class in society renders these things unavoidable.

The nobles of the Middle Ages placed military courage foremost among virtues and in lieu of many of them. This, again, was a peculiar opinion, which arose necessarily from the peculiar state of society. Feudal aristocracy existed by war and for war; its power had been founded by arms, and by arms that power was maintained; it therefore required nothing more than military courage, and that quality was naturally exalted above all others; whatever denoted it, even at the expense of reason and humanity, was therefore approved and frequently enjoined by the manners of the time. Such was the main principle; the caprice of man was to be traced only in minuter details. That a man should regard a tap on the cheek as an unbearable insult and should be obliged to kill in single combat the person who struck him thus lightly is an arbitrary rule; but that a noble could not tranquilly receive an insult and was dishonored if he allowed himself to take a blow without fighting were direct consequences of the fundamental principles and the wants of a military aristocracy.

Thus it was true, to a certain extent, that the laws of honor were capricious; but these caprices of honor were always confined within certain necessary limits. The peculiar rule which was called honor by our forefathers is so far from being an arbitrary law in my eyes that I would readily engage to ascribe its most incoherent and fantastic injunctions to a small number of fixed and invariable wants inherent in feudal society.

If I were to trace the notion of feudal honor into the domain of politics, I should not find it more difficult to explain its dictates. The state of society and the political institutions of the Middle Ages were such that the supreme power of the nation never governed the community directly. That power did not exist in the eyes of the people: every man looked up to a certain individual whom he was bound to obey; by that intermediate personage he was connected with all the others. Thus, in feudal society, the whole system of the commonwealth rested upon the sentiment of fidelity to the person of the lord; to destroy that sentiment was to fall into anarchy. Fidelity to a political superior was, moreover, a sentiment of which all the members of the aristocracy had constant opportunities of estimating the importance; for every one of them was a vassal as well as a lord and had to command as well as to obey. To remain faithful to the lord, to sacrifice oneself for him if called upon, to share his good or evil fortunes, to stand by him in his undertakings, whatever they might be, such were the first injunctions of feudal honor in relation to the political institutions of those times. The treachery of a vassal was branded with extraordinary severity by public opinion, and a name of peculiar infamy was invented for the offense; it was called felony.

On the contrary, few traces are to be found in the Middle Ages of the passion that constituted the life of the nations of antiquity; I mean patriotism. The word itself is not of very ancient date in the language.  Feudal institutions concealed the country at large from men's sight and rendered the love of it less necessary. The nation was forgotten in the passions that attached men to persons. Hence it was no part of the strict law of feudal honor to remain faithful to one's country. Not indeed that the love of their country did not exist in the hearts of our forefathers, but it constituted a dim and feeble instinct, which has grown more clear and strong in proportion as aristocratic classes have been abolished and the supreme power of the nation centralized.

This may be clearly seen from the contrary judgments that European nations have passed upon the various events of their histories, according to the generations by which such judgments were formed. The circumstance that most dishonored the Constable de Bourbon in the eyes of his contemporaries was that he bore arms against his King; that which most dishonors him in our eyes is that he made war against his country. We brand him as deeply as our forefathers did, but for different reasons.

I have chosen the honor of feudal times by way of illustration of my meaning because its characteristics are more distinctly marked and more familiar to us than those of any other period; but I might have taken an example elsewhere and I should have reached the same conclusion by a different road. Although we are less perfectly acquainted with the Romans than with our own ancestors, yet we know that certain peculiar notions of glory and disgrace obtained among them which were not derived solely from the general principles of right and wrong. Many human actions were judged differently according as they affected a Roman citizen or a stranger, a freeman or a slave; certain vices were blazoned abroad, certain virtues were extolled above all others. "In that age," says Plutarch, in the Life of Coriolanus, "martial prowess was more honored and prized in Rome than all the other virtues, in so much that it was called virtus, the name of virtue itself, by applying the name of the kind to this particular species; so that virtue in Latin was as much as to say valor." Can anyone fail to recognize the peculiar want of that singular community which was formed for the conquest of the world?

Any nation would furnish us with similar grounds of observation, for, as I have already remarked, whenever men collect together as a distinct community, the notion of honor instantly grows up among them; that is to say, a system of opinions peculiar to themselves as to what is blamable or commendable; and these peculiar rules always originate in the special habits and special interests of the community.

This is applicable to a certain extent to democratic communities as well as to others, as I shall now proceed to prove by the example of the Americans. Some loose notions of the old aristocratic honor of Europe are still to be found scattered among the opinions of the Americans, but these traditional opinions are few in number, they have but little root in the country and but little power. They are like a religion which has still some temples left standing, though men have ceased to believe in it. But amid these half-obliterated notions of exotic honor some new opinions have sprung up which constitute what may be termed in our days American honor. I have shown how the Americans are constantly driven to engage in commerce and industry. Their origin, their social condition, their political institutions, and even the region they inhabit urge them irresistibly in this direction. Their present condition, then, is that of an almost exclusively manufacturing and commercial association, placed in the midst of a new and boundless country, which their principal object is to explore for purposes of profit. This is the characteristic that most distinguishes the American people from all others at the present time. All those quiet virtues that tend to give a regular movement to the community and to encourage business will therefore be held in peculiar honor by that people, and to neglect those virtues will be to incur public contempt. All the more turbulent virtues, which often dazzle, but more frequently disturb society, will, on the contrary, occupy a subordinate rank in the estimation of this same people; they may be neglected without forfeiting the esteem of the community; to acquire them would perhaps be to run a risk of losing it. The Americans make a no less arbitrary classification of men's vices. There are certain propensities which appear censurable to the general reason and the universal conscience of mankind, but which happen to agree with the peculiar and temporary wants of the American community: these propensities are lightly reproved, sometimes even encouraged; for instance, the love of wealth and the secondary propensities connected with it may be more particularly cited. To clear, to till, and to transform the vast uninhabited continent which is his domain, the American requires the daily support of an energetic passion; that passion can only be the love of wealth; the passion for wealth is therefore not reprobated in America, and, provided it does not go beyond the bounds assigned to it for public security, it is held in honor. The American lauds as a noble and praiseworthy ambition what our own forefathers in the Middle Ages stigmatized as servile cupidity, just as he treats as a blind and barbarous frenzy that ardor of conquest and martial temper which bore them to battle.

In the United States fortunes are lost and regained without difficulty; the country is boundless and its resources inexhaustible. The people have all the wants and cravings of a growing creature and, whatever be their efforts, they are always surrounded by more than they can appropriate. It is not the ruin of a few individuals, which may be soon repaired, but the inactivity and sloth of the community at large that would be fatal to such a people. Boldness of enterprise is the foremost cause of its rapid progress, its strength, and its greatness. Commercial business is there like a vast lottery, by which a small number of men continually lose but the state is always a gainer; such a people ought therefore to encourage and do honor to boldness in commercial speculations. But any bold speculation risks the fortune of the speculator and of all those who put their trust in him. The Americans, who make a virtue of commercial temerity, have no right in any case to brand with disgrace those who practice it. Hence arises the strange indulgence that is shown to bankrupts in the United States; their honor does not suffer by such an accident. In this respect the Americans differ, not only from the nations of Europe, but from all the commercial nations of our time; and accordingly they resemble none of them in their position or their wants.

In America all those vices that tend to impair the purity of morals and to destroy the conjugal tie are treated with a degree of severity unknown in the rest of the world. At first sight this seems strangely at variance with the tolerance shown there on other subjects, and one is surprised to meet with a morality so relaxed and also so austere among the selfsame people. But these things are less incoherent than they seem to be. Public opinion in the United States very gently represses that love of wealth which promotes the commercial greatness and the prosperity of the nation, and it especially condemns that laxity of morals which diverts the human mind from the pursuit of well-being and disturbs the internal order of domestic life which is so necessary to success in business. To earn the esteem of their countrymen, the Americans are therefore forced to adapt themselves to orderly habits; and it may be said in this sense that they make it a matter of honor to live chastely.

On one point American honor accords with the notions of honor acknowledged in Europe; it places courage as the highest virtue and treats it as the greatest of the moral necessities of man; but the notion of courage itself assumes a different aspect. In the United States martial valor is but little prized; the courage which is best known and most esteemed is that which emboldens men to brave the dangers of the ocean in order to arrive earlier in port, to support the privations of the wilderness without complaint, and solitude more cruel than privations, the courage which renders them almost insensible to the loss of a fortune laboriously acquired and instantly prompts to fresh exertions to make another. Courage of this kind is peculiarly necessary to the maintenance and prosperity of the American communities, and it is held by them in peculiar honor and estimation; to betray a want of it is to incur certain disgrace.

I have yet another characteristic point which may serve to place the idea of this chapter in stronger relief. In a democratic society like that of the United States, where fortunes are scanty and insecure, everybody works, and work opens a way to everything; this has changed the point of honor quite around and has turned it against idleness. I have sometimes met in America with young men of wealth, personally disinclined to all laborious exertion, but who had been compelled to embrace a profession. Their disposition and their fortune allowed them to remain without employment; public opinion forbade it, too imperiously to be disobeyed. In the European  countries, on the contrary, where aristocracy is still struggling with the flood which overwhelms it, I have often seen men, constantly spurred on by their wants and desires, remain in idleness in order not to lose the esteem of their equals; and I have known them to submit to ennui and privations rather than to work. No one can fail to perceive that these opposite obligations are two different rules of conduct, both nevertheless originating in the notion of honor.

What our forefathers designated as honor absolutely was in reality only one of its forms; they gave a generic name to what was only a species. Honor, therefore, is to be found in democratic as well as in aristocratic ages, but it will not be difficult to show that it assumes a different aspect in the former. Not only are its injunctions different, but we shall shortly see that they are less numerous, less precise, and that its dictates are less rigorously obeyed.

The position of a caste is always much more peculiar than that of a people. Nothing is so exceptional in the world as a small community invariably composed of the same families (as was, for instance, the aristocracy of the Middle Ages) whose object is to concentrate and to retain, exclusively and hereditarily, education, wealth, and power among its own members. But the more exceptional the position of a community happens to be, the more numerous are its special wants and the more extensive are its notions of honor corresponding to those wants.

The rules of honor will therefore always be less numerous among a people not divided into castes than among any other. If ever any nations are constituted in which it may even be difficult to find any peculiar classes of society, the notion of honor will be confined to a small number of precepts, which will be more and more in accordance with the moral laws adopted by the mass of mankind.

Thus the laws of honor will be less peculiar and less multifarious among a democratic people than in an aristocracy. They will also be more obscure, and this is a necessary consequence of what goes before; for as the distinguishing marks of honor are less numerous and less peculiar, it must often be difficult to distinguish them. To this other reasons may be added. Among the aristocratic nations of the Middle Ages generation succeeded generation in vain; each family was like a never dying, ever stationary man, and the state of opinions was hardly more changeable than that of conditions. Everyone then had the same objects always before his eyes, which he contemplated from the same point; his eyes gradually detected the smallest details, and his discernment could not fail to become in the end clear and accurate. Thus not only had the men of feudal times very extraordinary opinions I matters of honor, but each of those opinions was present to their minds under a clear and precise form.

This can never be the case in America, where all men are in constant motion and where society, transformed daily by its own operations, changes its opinions together with its wants. In such a country men have glimpses of the rules of honor, but they seldom have time to fix attention upon them.

But even if society were motionless, it would still be difficult to determine the meaning that ought to be attached to the word honor. In the Middle Ages, as each class had its own honor, the same opinion was never received at the same time by a large number of men; and this rendered it possible to give it a determined and accurate form, which was the more easy as all those by whom it was received, having a perfectly identical and most peculiar position, were naturally disposed to agree upon the points of a law which was made for themselves alone.

Thus the code of honor became a complete and detailed system, in which everything was anticipated and provided for beforehand, and a fixed and always palpable standard was applied to human actions. Among a democratic nation, like the Americans, in which ranks are confounded and the whole of society forms one single mass, composed of elements which are all analogous though not entirely similar, it is impossible ever to agree beforehand on what shall or shall not be allowed by the laws of honor.

Among that people, indeed, some national wants exist, which give rise to opinions common to the whole nation on points of honor: but these opinions never occur at the same time, in the same manner, or with the same intensity to the minds of the whole community; the law of honor exists, but it has no organs to promulgate it.

The confusion is far greater still in a democratic country like France, where the different classes of which the former fabric of society was composed, being brought together but not yet mingled, import day by day into each other's circles various and sometimes conflicting notions of honor, where every man, at his own will and pleasure, forsakes one portion of his forefathers' creed and retains another; so that, amid so many arbitrary measures, no common rule can ever be established, and it is almost impossible to predict which actions will be held in honor and which will be thought disgraceful. Such times are wretched, but they are of short duration.

As honor among democratic nations is imperfectly defined, its influence is of course less powerful; for it is difficult to apply with certainty and firmness a law that is not distinctly known. Public opinion, the natural and supreme interpreter of the laws of honor, not clearly discerning to which side censure or approval ought to lean, can only pronounce a hesitating judgment. Sometimes the opinion of the public may contradict itself; more frequently it does not act and lets things pass.

The weakness of the sense of honor in democracies also arises from several other causes. In aristocratic countries the same notions of honor are always entertained by only a few persons, always limited in number, often separated from the rest of their fellow citizens. Honor is easily mingled and identified in their minds with the idea of all that distinguishes their own position; it appears to them as the chief characteristic of their own rank; they apply its different rules with all the warmth of personal interest, and they feel ( if I may use the expression ) a passion for complying with its dictates.

This truth is extremely obvious in the old black-letter law-books on the subject of trial by battle. The nobles in their disputes were bound to use the lance and sword, whereas the villeins among themselves used only sticks, "inasmuch as," to use the words of the old books, "villeins have no honor." This did not mean, as it may be imagined at the present day, that these people were contemptible, but simply that their actions were not to be judged by the same rules that were applied to the actions of the aristocracy.

It is surprising, at first sight, that when the sense of honor is most predominant, its injunctions are usually most strange; so that the further it is removed from common reason, the better it is obeyed; whence it has sometimes been inferred that the laws of honor were strengthened by their own extravagance. The two things, indeed, originate from the same source, but the one is not derived from the other. Honor becomes fantastic in proportion to the peculiarity of the wants that it denotes and the paucity of the men by whom those wants are felt; and it is because it denotes wants of this kind that its influence is great. Thus the notion of honor is not the stronger for being fantastic, but it is fantastic and strong from the selfsame cause.

Further, among aristocratic nations each rank is different, but all ranks are fixed. Every man occupies a place in his own sphere which he cannot relinquish, and he lives there among other men who are bound by the same ties. Among these nations no man can either hope or fear to escape being seen; no man is placed so low but that he has a stage of his own, and none can avoid censure or applause by his obscurity.

In democratic states, on the contrary, where all the members of the community are mingled in the same crowd and in constant agitation, public opinion has no hold on men; they disappear at every instant and elude its power. Consequently the dictates of honor will be there less imperious and less stringent, for honor acts solely for the public eye, differing in this respect from mere virtue, which lives upon itself, contented with its own approval.

If the reader has distinctly apprehended all that goes before, he will understand that there is a close and necessary relation between the inequality of social conditions and what has here been styled honor, a relation which, if I am not mistaken, had not before been clearly pointed out. I shall therefore make one more attempt to illustrate it satisfactorily.

Suppose a nation stands apart from the rest of mankind: independently of certain general wants inherent in the human race, it  will also have wants and interests peculiar to itself. Certain opinions in respect to censure or approbation forthwith arise in the community which are peculiar to itself and which are styled honor by the members of that community. Now suppose that in this same nation a caste arises which, in its turn, stands apart from all the other classes, and contracts certain peculiar wants, which give rise in their turn to special opinions. The honor of this caste, composed of a medley of the peculiar notions of the nation and the still more peculiar notions of the caste, will be as remote as it is possible to conceive from the simple and general opinions of men.

Having reached this extreme point of the argument, I now return.

When ranks are commingled and privileges abolished, the men of whom a nation is composed being once more equal and alike, their interests and wants become identical, and all the peculiar notions which each caste styled honor successively disappear. The notion of honor no longer proceeds from any other source than the wants peculiar to the nation at large, and it denotes the individual character of that nation to the world.

Lastly, if it were allowable to suppose that all the races of mankind should be commingled and that all the nations of earth should ultimately come to have the same interests, the same wants, undistinguished from each other by any characteristic peculiarities, no conventional value whatever would then be attached to men's action; they would all be regarded by all in the same light; the general necessities of mankind, revealed by conscience to every man, would become the common standard. The simple and general notions of right and wrong only would then be recognized in the world, to which, by a natural and necessary tie, the idea of censure or approbation would be attached.

Thus, to comprise all my meaning in a single proposition, the dissimilarities and inequalities of men gave rise to the notion of honor; that notion is weakened in proportion as these differences are obliterated, and with them it would disappear. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson on Honour

"The problem to the poor is one of  necessity: to earn wherewithal to live, they must find  remunerative labor.  But the problem to the rich is one of  honour: having the wherewithal, they must find serviceable  labor.  Each has to earn his daily bread: the one, because  he has not yet got it to eat; the other, who has already  eaten it, because he has not yet earned it."

--Robert Louis Stevenson, The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson: Miscellanies, Volume 4, p. 368

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Nine Reasons Why Dueling Is More Honorable Than Warfare

(The following short essay, “Mean Warfare,” was reprinted in Literary Digest, April 1, 1916,  p. 937-938.)

Colonel Homer B. Sprague of Boston wrote, in the Spokane Spokesman Review:

Dueling has been prohibited in most civilized countries, and war flourishes. Yet the duel was always a highly civilized proceeding, and war is not. War undeniably is mean and sneaking, a good share of the time. The duel strove to be fair, and to take no advantage save that of strength, endurance, and skill....let us regard the customs of the duel, and compare them with those of war.

In dueling there is first of all a distinct challenge to fight, and this challenge is accepted in due form.

Next, seconds are chosen to make sure that all is done according to the “code of honor.”

Thirdly, the  challenged party is always allowed to choose the weapons, and these must be the same for both.

Fourthly, the combatants shall be placed in the field on a plane of perfect equality.

Fifthly, there shall be no trick, no deception, no concealment.

Sixthly, the seconds must be alert to seize the opportunity, when either antagonist bleeds, to ask if enough has not been done to satisfy the demands of honor and a peaceful settlement of the quarrel.

Seventhly, there is never an intention to slay more than one.

Eighthly, there is never any attempt to get possession of antagonist’s property.

Ninthly, there is no design or desire to injure an opponent’s friends, relatives, or countrymen.

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Gang Member Explains the Importance of Honor

A description of what it means to enjoy honor among your peers, and how important it is to maintain it, transcribed from a BBC interview of a young English gang member in the 1960s. From Lionel Tiger's Men in Groups (1969). The same sentiments might have been expressed by a French nobleman in the court of Louis XIV, if in different words.
“If I lose face in front of me mates, well I mean that is it I mean I have got no right to say anything, I have got no right to say well, no right to walk into a pub and say ‘that is my girl’ sort of thing. I might be out with my girl one night and someone starts some thing, I mean what can I do? They can all turn around and say we might as well have a go at Tony's girl, I mean he won't do any thing about it anyway. So I just can't afford to lose face.... There is a lot of us hang about together you know and they are pretty terrific, they are not like average blokes, I mean they would help each other out, but what they all depend on--if you can't fight for yourself, you can't fight, you are not fit to fight with them.... I don't think I could lose face, I would rather get hurt and be put in hospital than refuse to fight whether the geezer, whether the bloke is ten times bigger than me, I mean the thing is you have lost such a terrible lot not to be able to fight. I mean how could you walk out, how could you speak to them, I mean, you just could not, I mean, they could always just throw that back in your face. You could never argue a point with them after that because they would say he would go to one extreme but he won't fight so we win the argument anyway.... One day (a bloke) refused to fight two people . . . and every time he says anything now, they say, it’s all right, we remember the time you refused to fight. And his standards have got so low now that he would not fight anyway. I mean everybody was scared of him, but now even the littlest one of them says you are a load of rubbish. And no one likes him and they won't let him, they just won’t, no one will talk to him, but if we ever go out he is never included, never included in anything we do or say.”

Warriors vs. "Shopkeepers"

Napoleon famously described England as "a nation of shopkeepers." The following is 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.  

“The Roots of Honor” by John Ruskin

An excerpt from “The Roots of Honor” by John Ruskin, reprinted in Essays and Letters Selected from the Writings of John Ruskin (1894), pp.126-133:
I have already alluded to the difference hitherto existing between regiments of men associated for purposes of violence, and for purposes of manufacture; in that the former appear capable of self-sacrifice — the latter, not; which singular fact is the real reason of the general lowness of estimate in which the profession of commerce is held, as compared with that of arms. Philosophically, it does not, at first sight, appear reasonable (many writers have endeavored to prove it unreasonable) that a peaceable and rational person, whose trade is buying and selling, should be held in less honor than an unpeaceable and often irrational person, whose trade is slaying. Nevertheless, the consent of mankind has always, in spite of the philosophers, given precedence to the soldier.

And this is right.

For the soldier's trade, verily and essentially, is not slaying, but being slain. This, without well knowing its own meaning, the world honors it for. A bravo's trade is slaying; but the world has never respected bravos more than merchants: the reason it honors the soldier is, because he holds his life at the service of the State. Reckless he may be — fond of pleasure or of adventure — all kinds of bymotives and mean impulses may have determined the choice of his profession, and may affect (to all appearance exclusively) his daily conduct in it; but our estimate of him is based on this ultimate fact — of which we are well assured — that, put him in a fortress breach, with all the pleasures of the world behind him, and only death and his duty in front of him, he will keep his face to the front; and he knows that this choice may be put to him at any moment, and has beforehand taken his part — virtually takes such part continually — does, in reality, die daily.

Not less in the respect we pay to the lawyer and physician, founded ultimately on their self-sacrifice. Whatever the learning or acuteness of a great lawyer, our chief respect for him depends on our belief that, set in a judge's seat, he will strive to judge justly, come of it what may. Could we suppose that he would take bribes, and use his acuteness and legal knowledge to give plausibility to iniquitous decisions, no degree of intellect would win for him our respect. Nothing will win it, short of our tacit conviction, that in all important acts of his life justice is first with him; his own interest, second.

In the case of a physician, the ground of the honor we render him is clearer still. Whatever his science, we should shrink from him in horror if we found him regard his patients merely as subjects to experiment upon; much more, if we found that, receiving bribes from persons interested in their deaths, he was using his best skill to give poison in the mask of medicine.

Finally, the principle holds with utmost clearness as it respects clergymen. No goodness of disposition will excuse want of science in a physician or of shrewdness in an advocate; but a clergyman, even though his power of intellect be small, is respected on the presumed ground of his unselfishness and serviceableness.

Now, there can be no question but that the tact, foresight, decision, and other mental powers, required for the successful management of a large mercantile concern, if not such as could be compared with those of a great lawyer, general, or divine, would at least match the general conditions of mind required in the subordinate officers of a ship, or of a regiment, or in the curate of a country parish. If, therefore, all the efficient members of the so-called liberal professions are still, somehow, in public estimate of honor, preferred before the head of a commercial firm, the reason must lie deeper than in the measurement of their several powers of mind.

And the essential reason for such preference will be found to lie in the fact that the merchant is presumed to act always selfishly. His work may be very necessary to the community; but the motive of it is understood to be wholly personal. The merchant's first object in all his dealings must be (the public believe) to get as much for himself, and leave as little to his neighbor (or customer) as possible. Enforcing this upon him, by political statute, as the necessary principle of his action; recommending it to him on all occasions, and themselves reciprocally adopting it; proclaiming vociferously, for law of the universe, that a buyer's function is to cheapen, and a seller's to cheat, — the public, nevertheless, involuntarily condemn the man of commerce for his compliance with their own statement, and stamp him forever as belonging to an inferior grade of human personality.

This they will find, eventually, they must give up doing. They must not cease to condemn selfishness; but they will have to discover a kind of commerce which is not exclusively selfish. Or, rather, they will have to discover that there never was, or can be, any other kind of commerce; that this which they have called commerce was not commerce at all, but cozening; and that a true merchant differs as much from a merchant, according to laws of modern political economy, as the hero of the Excursion from Autolycus. They will find that commerce is an occupation which gentlemen will every day see more need to engage in, rather than in the businesses of talking to men, or slaying them; that, in true commerce, as in true preaching, or true fighting, it is necessary to admit the idea of occasional voluntary loss ;— that sixpences have to be lost, as well as lives, under a sense of duty; that the market may have its martyrdoms as well as the pulpit; and trade its heroisms, as well as war.

May have — in the final issue, must have — and only has not had yet, because men of heroic temper have always been misguided in their youth into other fields, not recognizing what is in our days, perhaps, the most important of all fields; so that, while many a zealous person loses his life in trying to teach the form of a gospel, very few will lose a hundred pounds in showing the practice of one.

The fact is, that people never have had clearly explained to them the true functions of a merchant with respect to other people. I should like the reader to be very clear about this.

Five great intellectual professions, relating to daily necessities of life, have hitherto existed — three exist necessarily, in every civilized nation:—

The Soldier's profession is to defend it.

The Pastor's, to teach it.

The Physician's, to keep it in health.

The Lawyer's, to enforce justice in it.

The Merchant's, to provide for it.

And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, to die for it. "On due occasion," namely: —

The Soldier, rather than leave his post in battle.

The Physician, rather than leave his post in plague.

The Pastor, rather than teach Falsehood.

The Lawyer, rather than countenance Injustice.

The Merchant — What is his "due occasion" of death?

It is the main question for the merchant, as for all of us. For, truly, the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live.

Observe, the merchant's function (or manufacturer's, for in the broad sense in which it is here used the word must be understood to include both) is to provide for the nation. It is no more his function to get profit for himself out of that provision than it is a clergyman's function to get his stipend. The stipend is a due and necessary adjunct, but not the object, of his life, if he be a true clergyman, any more than his fee (or honorarium) is the object of life to a true physician. Neither is his fee the object of life to a true merchant. All three, if true men, have a work to be done irrespective of fee — to be done even at any cost, or for quite the contrary of fee; the pastor's function being to teach, the physician's to heal, and the merchant's, as I have said, to provide. That is to say, he has to understand to their very root the qualities of the thing he deals in, and the means of obtaining or producing it; and he has to apply all his sagacity and energy to the producing or obtaining it in perfect state, and distributing it at the cheapest possible price where it is most needed.

And because the production or obtaining of any commodity involves necessarily the agency of many lives and hands, the merchant becomes in the course of his business the master and governor of large masses of men in a more direct, though less confessed way, than a military officer or pastor; so that on him falls, in great part, the responsibility for the kind of life they lead; and it becomes his duty, not only to be always considering how to produce what he sells in the purest and cheapest forms, but how to make the various employments involved in the production, or transference of it, most beneficial to the men employed.

And as into these two functions, requiring for their right exercise the highest intelligence, as well as patience, kindness, and tact, the merchant is bound to put all his energy, so for their just discharge he is bound, as soldier or physician is bound, to give up, if need be, his life, in such way as may be demanded of him. Two main points he has in his providing function to maintain: first, his engagements (faithfulness to engagements being the real root of all possibilities in commerce); and, secondly, the perfectness and purity of the thing provided; so that, rather than fail in any engagement, or consent to any deterioration, adulteration, or unjust and exorbitant price of that which he provides, he is bound to meet fearlessly any form of distress, poverty, or labor, which may, through maintenance of these points, come upon him.

Again: in his office as governor of the men employed by him, the merchant or manufacturer is invested with a distinctly paternal authority and responsibility. In most cases, a youth entering a commercial establishment is withdrawn altogether from home influence; his master must become his father, else he has, for practical and constant help, no father at hand; in all cases the master's authority, together with the general tone and atmosphere of his business, and the character of the men with whom the youth is compelled in the course of it to associate, have more immediate and pressing weight than the home influence, and will usually neutralize it either for good or evil; so that the only means which the master has of doing justice to the men employed by him is to ask himself sternly whether he is dealing with such subordinate as he would with his own son, if compelled by circumstances to take such a position.

Supposing the captain of a frigate saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of a common sailor; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of the men under him. So, also, supposing the master of a manufactory saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of an ordinary workman; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of his men. This is the only effective, true, or practical Rule which can be given on this point of political economy.

And as the captain of a ship is bound to be the last man to leave his ship in case of wreck, and to share his last crust with the sailors in case of famine, so the manufacturer, in any commercial crisis or distress, is bound to take the suffering of it with his men, and even to take more of it for himself than he allows his men to feel; as a father would in a famine, shipwreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his son.

All which sounds very strange; the only real strangeness in the matter being, nevertheless, that it should so sound. For all this is true, and that not partially nor theoretically, but everlastingly and practically; all other doctrine than this respecting matters political being false in premises, absurd in deduction, and impossible in practice, consistently with any progressive state of national life; all the life which we now possess as a nation showing itself in the resolute denial and scorn, by a few strong minds and faithful hearts, of the economic principles taught to our multitudes, which principles, so far as accepted, lead straight to national destruction. Respecting the modes and forms of destruction to which they lead, and, on the other hand, respecting the farther practical working of true polity, I hope to reason further in a following paper.

The Point of Honor

The following essay appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, April 1861, pages 695-699.
THE POINT OF HONOR.—It has been said truly that in the history of nations decoration takes precedence of dress, and the passion for ornament shows itself before the desire for comfortable clothing. Painting and tattooing are older than flannel and silks; and in many a savage tribe the men, and even the women, would far sooner appear in public undressed than unpainted. In cold countries there mast, of course, be much greater regard for warm clothing; yet even there, and nearest to the icy pole, it will be found that the expense given to ornament is far beyond that given to comfort, and all uncivilized tribes invest most of their capital in trinkets. It would be easy to throw contempt on this flashy taste as a piece of disgusting barbarism, did not something of the same kind show itself in our boasted civilization, and were it not evident that not only in dress, but in education, what is ornamental is thought far more fondly of than what is useful. We may own and lament the fact, and, like Herbert Spencer and his school of utilitarians, we may lay down a new code of positive science and solid utility, without making any great headway against the prevailing current. We find a very occult, yet very obstinate and mighty, force working against us, and, like a strong wind or tide, overturning the solid walls that we had been so carefully rearing. We may, indeed, think that we have overcome the passion for display by doing away with some absurd fashion, yet are we not generally startled to find that the old folly appears in a new form, and the painting and tattooing break out in some new modes of tinting the skin, or bedizening the person, or flourishing the hands or feet or talents. Even the most imperious appetites can be made to wait on display, and the savage will bear starvation and pain that he may prove his courage and hardihood to his enemy, and the dainty belle will curtail her sleep, her rations, and even her breath, to win the delicacy or grace that may enable her to distance a rival's pretensions.

We are ready to confess to a considerable disappointment at the slow progress of the common-sense school, and at the obstinate vitality of most of the follies that we had been taught to look upon as on their last legs. The schoolmaster is indeed abroad; but the dancing-master, hairdresser, milliner, tailor, and jeweler are close at his heels, and seem sometimes to get the eye and ear of his pupils more thoroughly than he, and to hold it when some of his lessons are forgotten. In some way almost all persons show the same craving for some kind of display, and long before ample provision is made for the necessaries, to say nothing of the comforts, of living. The family is ready to make sacrifices for ornament. The servant-girl, who has not money enough saved to buy a bedstead and bureau to furnish the best room for her expected house, is sure to have a silk dress and flashy bonnet to walk to church with her beau; and the laborer, who finds it hard to pay his rent, tries hard to hire, if he can not buy, a piano for his daughter's ambitious fingers. Enter into any house, and you will see marks of the same instinct, according to the prevailing degree of culture; and the most judicious family that you know will be likely to have articles of no small cost that serve no substantial use. In the matter of dress surely the taste for ornament is never weary, and not the beauty or duration of the material, but the newness of the fashion, gives the costume its value and charm. Manners and accomplishments follow the same rule; and it is by no means the best sense or the highest virtue that wins and wears the highest social honor.

This word honor opens the whole secret; and evidently it is not any magical quality in the things themselves, but the idea that is attached to them, that gives such ornaments their value; and we start altogether in the wrong unless we take it for granted that we have a natural passion for honor, which makes us willing to do and bear almost any thing rather than not appear well in the eyes of our neighbors. The point of prudence is a great element in life, but the point of honor, in a certain sphere, is greater. If prudence is the law of business, honor, or what is called such, is the law of society; and all the circles and lines of etiquette, like the axioms of geometry, begin with a point of honor. Much as is said of this subject at seasons of excitement, as when a duel or a war is on the carpet, we are convinced that it is little understood, and that many of the greatest mistakes are made, and highest opportunities overlooked, from ignoring the nature and power of the prevailing ideas of honor. Sometimes the gravest questions of public interest turn more upon social sensibilities than upon financial or territorial values; and there are matters that men are far more ready to fight about than gold or lands—nay, for which they are willing to sacrifice gold and lands.

Perhaps the most difficult task of the historian or the traveler is precisely in this direction; and in manners, as in language, it is not so hard to understand the usages that refer to universal ideas and wants as those that turn upon local idioms and etiquette. Any eye may see what the Hindoos or Chinese eat and drink and wear, but it takes a philosopher and historian to understand the manner in which they do it; and the Hindoo's ablutions, and the China woman's nails and feet set forth a social as well as a religious creed. We do not so readily perceive the peculiarities of our own manners and customs, and are apt to acquiesce in familiar usages as having their own reason in themselves; and nothing would probably surprise a thoughtful man more than a full and fair exhibition of the social usages that he complies with in their relation to what is absolutely good and true. The subject is, indeed, quite subtle, yet not by any means unreal; and every honest attempt to give a just measure of honor must bring us nearer, if it can not reach, the mark. The illustration with which we introduced this article helps us to a definition of this ethereal essence. The painting or tattooing which the Indian prefers to comfortable clothing evidently affirms the great social instinct, and claims admiration at the eyes of his neighbors, while a dress chosen merely for comfort concerns only his own private individuality, and would be just as useful to him in this way if he were the only person on earth. The physical wants, such as for food, drink, warmth, and shelter, are in themselves wholly private, and they become social in the best sense only when they are connected with taste and refinement, and more or less effectively appeal to the sense of the beautiful, with its attendant claim to respect . Thus every ornament on the person or the table asserts a social creed, and exacts its share of social honor. It is a symbol of the faith that the man cares for something more than his private appetites, and insists upon standing well with his neighbors.

If we interpret fairly the various decorations that so distinguish the condition and reveal the ambition of men, we shall see that they practically set forth their claim to respect, and that they do this in a manner according to the claimant's circumstance or character, as craving or commanding favor. A coat of arms, for example, is regarded as the sign of a man's or a family's honor, and it is certainly considered as representing the respect which the wearer claims from the community on account of the services or merit common to himself and his ancestry. It is the part of honor for him to vindicate his title to such regard, while it is the part of justice for him to concede whatever is due to his neighbor's name or worth. May we not say that honor, as a sentiment, is a due sense of our worth in the eyes of our neighbor, while justice is a due sense of our neighbor's worth in our own eyes? Thus honor claims at once reputation and character, and not content merely with possessing worth, it insists upon vindicating it before others. A man of true honor, indeed, will insist, first of all, upon being right in his own purposes and deeds, and when conscious of such rectitude he is sustained against all calumny; yet even then he protests against the wrong done him, and is moved to do and suffer much to vindicate a worthy character by a worthy reputation. He claims thus not only his own good opinion, but his neighbor's, and the very generosity of his nature, instead of making him keep his conscience to himself, will move him to open it to his neighbor, and so establish a broad fellowship of interior goods. He is, of necessity, a public-spirited, humane man, and can not live to himself alone. Allowing generously all worth in his neighbor, he expects a fair recognition of his own; and as his plane of life rises, the higher is the style of respect that he gives and takes. The most devout characters in religious history are found true to this spirit, and it is one of the essential traits of a Christian to depend upon a social fellowship, a friendly communion, in which his worth is appreciated as much as it is appreciative. Of course we have no disposition to approve the captious, irritable temper that is always on the watch for insults, and forever demanding notice or apology. Such temper begins at the wrong end, more sensitive as to reputation than character, and so bent on whitewashing the surface as to fail to purify the interior. But let a man purify the interior, and he will not be tempted to leave the surface unclean. True honor begins with character, and works thence outwardly into reputation. False honor affects to begin with reputation, and vainly hopes to work thence inwardly into character.

The aspects of the spirit of honor depend much upon the man's circumstances and disposition. Thus honor is receptive or communicative, yielding or commanding, according as it is found in servant or master, courtier or king. Sensitive men, like delicate plants, live in the dew and sunshine of patronage; while proud men challenge notice, and, like oaks, are ready to wrestle for the mastery with the winds and the lightnings. We find these distinctions of character constantly under our eye, and among a dozen of boys at school you will find that most of them live in the breath of general opinion, and wish to hear what others say and do as others do, quite unhappy at standing alone, and sometimes heart-broken at being made the butt of a jest; while there are apt to be two or three dashing fellows, who never stop to ask what others think, but go straightway to their mark in spite of the clamor of the whole class, and even of the expostulations and threats of teachers. The ringleader, however, in his way, is as eager for honor as the sensitive little fag whom he bullies and flatters by turns. Sometimes we see these two classes of character seated side by side in a manner illustrative of their idiosyncracies—as when some harebrained scapegrace procures a fast and fiery horse, and takes some quiet crony to ride, and holds the reins in royal style, while his demure companion, in his own way, enjoys the daring fun that he would never presume to originate. In fact, the probable delight that so many take in fast horses is far less in the pleasure of the movement than in the sense of power, and the whip is the cheapest sceptre that our lords of creation can flourish.

The distinction between the sensitive and exacting forms of honor shows itself in every sphere of life, throughout all grades of natural temperament, social condition, intellectual and moral culture. It is very important to note it carefully, and to train each mind according to its need, and not treat the trailing vines as we treat the steadfast oaks. Some children are best governed by judicious praise, and j others by just self-reliance. A breath of affectionate interest will send gentle Mary to her task with buoyant step and dancing pulses, while her brother Bob might call that style of speech too namby-pamby for him, and is stimulated far more by being put on his own manly pluck, and told to lead off in study or in play after his own fashion, and let the other boys see how the thing is to be done. Something is to be said in favor of these two styles of character, for each has its own merit. We think, however, that, under good training, the sensitive, dependent nature has its full share of promise, and although exposed to suffer mortification and indulge in vanity, it may be trained to the peace of a steadfast principle and the fortitude of a loyal service. Perhaps the pliant, loyal class of men furnish more good, serviceable material than the domineering class. Certainly, as we look back upon our own life and times, we must own that many sensitive, dependent characters have done far more than was ever expected of them, and that they have a wonderful faculty of assimilating themselves to the most elevating influences within their reach; while no small number of high-spirited youths, who seemed born to command, have wrecked themselves by overambition or self-will. It is wise, then, to appreciate both types of character, and to try to help the other, seeking to soften the kingly will by something of the courtier's pliancy, and to stiffen the courtier's sensitiveness by a little of the royal pride. Society certainly is complete only when the elements are found in tolerable harmony, and the true gentleman, as his name denotes, has gentleness and manhood combined in his composition. The feminine portion of the social world helps him on in this schooling, and toward women he is the suitor, even when toward men he is entitled to be imperious, for in the drawing-room the king is only the head courtier. The king can not use a higher sanction than the honor of a gentleman; and when used in the highest sense, it implies all gentleness and all manhood, promising to be at once true to the faith and the service, with a mind open to the best influences and a will faithful to every obligation. The honor of a gentleman is not of private interpretation or policy, but of public and universal worth. It commits him to principles dearer to him than his ease or his life, compelling him to protect the feeble who confide in him, and obey the superiors who have just rule over him. In every bearing of his temper and conduct, it is determined by the supreme law, by the supreme truth, and the supreme right. It opens upward into the higher light and higher power, and alike in his sense and his will he gives proof of his gentle manhood.

We win a clearer idea of the spirit of manly honor when we consider it in connection with some of its leading objects. These are mainly of two kinds, according as they are more external or internal, circumstantial or characteristic. The circumstances upon which honor is most frequently based are wealth and position, especially when these are the gift of birth or inheritance; since, when these are acquired, they indicate traits of character and have an intellectual and moral significance beyond circumstances. We are not ready to ascribe honor to wealth or family in themselves considered, yet we can not deny that great power attaches to both circumstances; and the man who begins with fortune and name has far less to do than his poor and obscure neighbor to secure and enjoy a very high social worth. He is born inside of the fortress, and certainly has a much easier battle than he who has to take the fortress by storm, or build another for himself. At the same time we are compelled to Fay that no honor attaches to wealth and birth so long as they are mere circumstances and put forth no honorable characteristics. Honor is a quality, and it is not made merely by the addition of quantities. If one dollar of itself has no honor in it, a million has none, and the worth of wealth is measured precisely by the worthy qualities evinced in the acquisition or use of it. The millionaire, as such, has indeed a name, but not always an honorable one, and it is very rare that the richest men in a community are held in the highest respect. It is very desirable, indeed, that a generous man should have means to carry out his spirit, and a certain air of freedom and humanity goes easily with a large purse in liberal hands. There is something, moreover, in poverty that exaggerates the private wants and keeps down the nobler and more universal instincts and ideas. A man who is at his wit's-end to pay his rent or to get his bread is not easily in the heroic vein, and is tempted to shifts that his better nature despises; and Sidney learned at tables of plenty, not in hovels of wretchedness, the magnificent courtesy that led him to take the cup of water from his own parched lips and give it to the fainting soldier at his feet. Yet, if self-sacrifice, not courtly elegance, be the measure of honor, then the poor are entitled to their full share; and no man can have been a just observer of the life of the people who are not favored with riches, without ample proofs that the noblest qualities adorn the humblest homes. We expect little good, indeed, from squalid poverty; but the common lot, with its constant limitation, its daily necessity of helping others by its own toil, is the great nursery of true honor—the brown earth from which all stately growths proceed. In fact, when noble families spring, as they all have done, from the common people, they are obliged to send their sons back to the same hardy school to save them from degenerating; and the discipline of the camp, the navy, and the field are an imitation of the old track woods or sea-faring life, from which our best blood traces its pedigree. It is hard, indeed, to be poor; but poverty is a good tonic, and the noblest men have tasted fully of its bitterness. It sadly stints the honor that measures itself by tasteful habits and lavish generosity; yet it may help the higher honor that schools the will in self-denying virtue, and enables the possessor to give—what Dives does not own—an electric force that is a better treasure than hoards of gold. Without such gift from minds thus disciplined, inherited wealth is full of dangers —more fruitful in shame than in honor.

Birth is thought a surer ground of respect than wealth, and is often able to command wealth; and in the Old World and the New the scion of a good family without a penny is thought an even match for the daughter of a vulgar millionaire. Yet we have inglorious examples of the degeneracy of gentle blood in successive generations; and the man who trusts mainly in his blood builds upon the sand, since he ignores the very force upon which his ancestry rose to name. He can not live upon their respectability long unless he has their energy, and he can not have their energy unless he learns it in a sterner school than the Herald's College, or the looking-glass, or in the study of his own pulse and complexion. We are well aware of the clannishness of what are called old families, and are glad to find them studious of the lives of their worthy founders. Yet we are quite as well aware of the utter nothingness of their claims to self-sufficiency, and of the undeniable fact that they would generally vanish out of sight were it not for the new life that rises up from the people to protect them; and the best honors of every age are generally won by men whose nobility does not need the voucher of an ancient parchment. We believe, indeed, in the education of race through successive generations, and in the continuous and associate life and growth of loyal virtues. But this education all good citizens share; and even in a conservative country like England the men who have done most to keep alive the name of loyalty are not the titled heirs of coronets. The great Commoners, such as Pitt, Burke, Peel, and Wellington, have been the masters of English loyalty; and character, not the circumstance of birth, has given the British empire its great conservatives. The traditional honors of a nation culminate in its leading thinkers and heroes; and these, when born to name and fortune, are more honored by the new birth of spirit or genius than by the first birth of blood and gold.

It is mental and moral worth that is the ground of honor; and complex as may be the scales of social merit, and difficult as it is to adjust wisely the various orders of claims, the human mind is evidently approximating to such adjustment, and in the face of all books of peerage, and laws of etiquette, and votes of academies, it is deciding that those men are most worthy of honor who put the greatest and best powers to the greatest and best uses. We surely are not content with any less comprehensive definition, nor are we willing to leave out of the estimate any element of human worth. Intellect, energy, affection, all belong to humanity, and they bear their true fruit only when put to true uses. The use made of them is the test, but not the sole test of their value; for without original endowments there would be no powers to use, and it is wholly vain to deny honor to original endowments, and to take account merely of personal fidelity. A man who is half idiot deserves praise for doing as well as he can with his half-wit; but who would think of ranking him in the list of honor by the side of Newton or Shakespeare? The endowments of mind and will, before they are carefully used, are to be honored in themselves as good gifts, for the sake of God the giver, apart from any ascription of merit to the receiver; and we surely reckon without the host, if in the distribution of honors we forget the source whence they proceed, whether from a temporal or an eternal throne. Whether from the hand of God or man great powers and responsibilities win respect, and when used faithfully we estimate the fidelity not only in itself but in relation with the authority to which it is rendered and the amount of talents employed. In all relations of life the representative wears something of the honors of his principal, and it is right to see in every good or great man not only his own merit, but the truth and grace of the God who endowed and guided him. We do instinctively insist, however, that all shining gifts shall be used in a spirit in keeping with themselves, and we can not honor for a moment the selfishness that separates itself from the life of the community or the race, and lives only for its own private ends. We expect a great poet to have a living, but we deny inspiration and fame to every line in which he seemed thinking of his bread and butter. We allow that a great philosopher like Bacon may have an eye to his own emolument, but we deny that any bribes can stand between him and the truth of nature to which he sacredly gave himself. We are ready to believe that a soldier or statesman may seek to himself a fortune; but we refuse all honor to him the moment he ceases to identify his interest with his country, and to be willing to share in her struggles and calamities. We arc not unwilling that a preacher should have a good salary; but we refuse to listen to him the moment that we think him bent solely on his pay, and indifferent to the truth and the people. In short, we insist upon a certain largeness of mind and effort, a certain humanity as the ground of honor; and however private may be the candidate's sphere, we refuse him the palm unless he evinces traits that are essentially generous and universal in their bearing. We can not honor a man for keeping a clear and correct account-book of his business, for this is the part of common prudence; but we look with very different feelings on the books of Washington, when we know that he entered scrupulously every item of expense during the wars of liberty, that the nation might refund only the outlay and might receive his priceless services as a free gift. Something of the same spirit may, indeed, enter into all the daily work of life; and we can not refuse any man honor who lives for the highest aims, and eats his broad with a patriot's loyalty or a Christian's faith. All gifts and all acts are to be judged by the relation's in which they stand; and the sovereign power, whether human or divine, gives its own dignity to whatever it animates with its motive. True nobility is decided not by nearness but by fidelity to the throne; and, in this view, the distant workman at his loyal post may be nobler than the adroit courtier who belies the royal ear. So all the manual arts are to be judged in reference to the liberal professions, and the ruling idea that animates all toil is to be the criterion of its dignity."

Every form of society tends to establish its own scale of rank, and to frame its own code of honor. However strange or ridiculous the distinctions may in some cases appear, they originate in powerful causes if not in sufficient reasons; and if we marvel at the Hindoo castes, the Hindoo may equally marvel at our own, wholly at loss to understand on what principle it is that in a country without hereditary rank there are so many indefinable social grades; and in some of our cities the quality of the family depends upon the more or less quantity of butter or sugar sold by the merchant, or by the street or square of his residence. Our social code it is very hard to embody; yet it is not wholly formless, and the peace of American families turns in no small degree upon the point of social honor. Every festive party abounds in real or imagined slights, and there is more diplomacy by far in our private domestic relations than in our foreign affairs. The estimate put upon the various names upon our visiting lists would puzzle Metternich or Antonelli to analyze; and many a nice question of propriety is handled with a shrewdness that Talleyrand might admire. Perhaps the great difficulty with us comes from adjusting the different codes of honor to each other. We have some remains of the feudal code, with its hereditary distinctions; and one is amazed as well as amused to find at what a bounty some very commonplace people hold their blood and coat of arms, and remember pedigrees that the whole world has forgotten. This often clashes with the mercantile code, and it is a difficult point to decide how much money is an offset to ancient blood or established dignity. Then, too, there is a professional code, whether military, civil, or scholastic, which estimates honor from its own aspect, and fixes intellectual and social standing accordingly.

Probably the most frequent and fatal disputes arise from questions of honor rather than of interest, and most wars arise from sensitiveness on the score of national glory. The matter in dispute may be in itself comparatively trifling; but a brave nation can not allow its position to be damaged by taking any insult tamely, and must, at least, prove its own spirit by resistance. In view of this danger, the cautious language of diplomacy is well worthy of our study; and certainly our journalists, and even our preachers, would gain vastly in temper if they were as careful to avoid offense as our public ministers. It is especially worthy of note that, where two nations of different institutions and even languages and faiths enter into negotiations, every effort is taken to avoid whatever may seem insulting; and even when war is declared, the declaration is so worded as not to put any obstacle in the way of future peace. It would be well if this pacific policy could be followed in our own sectional disputes; and we believe that much of our trouble comes not only from rival interests, but from different codes of honor. Our Northern people chiefly follow the mercantile code, while our Southern neighbors go more by the military code. The mercantile code insists chiefly upon honesty, and values veracity mainly in its bearings upon trade; the military code insists most upon courage, and values veracity mainly in its social and official relations. The merchant has, of course, his ideal of honor, and much of his business rests upon personal confidence, yet his habits lead him to measure damages mostly by costs. The soldier lives wholly in professional confidence, and generally having small property, he resents the least suspicion of his courage or fidelity as a blow at his vitals. So the merchant tends to satisfy his wounded honor by a lawsuit, while the soldier challenges the offender to mortal combat or strikes him down by a blow. Southern life has a mingling of the feudal with the military code, and family pride combines with the habits of the plantation and the camp to make the people peculiarly sensitive and high-spirited. Evidently many of our editors and orators are ignorant of their temper and usages, and offend them bitterly without being aware of it. Some of the sharpest provocations have undoubtedly been given thus unawares; and it is the rhetoric rather than the logic of some of our vehement debaters that has raised so much bad blood. The same mistake has been made in the opposite quarter, and, probably without knowing it, our neighbors have wounded us to the quick by flings at our industry and manners. It is in the region of the nerves that the sensibility is most quick; and while the muscles, like our material interests, are the most prominent and bulky, the delicate and invisible nerves are the seats of sensation. We can carry a great load on our backs or in our arms, but a little weight agonizes our fingers and toes. We have probably confounded the muscles with the nerves to a very considerable extent, and have been treading upon each other's toes and wondering that the process was not pronounced more amusing or desirable. A new day might come if a more considerate and chivalrous tone were adopted, and if a single powerful organ of national opinion could call the disputants to order before the tribunal of courtesy, justice, patriotism, and humanity. We need a court of honor more than a court of law; and if our statesmen and States had learned to respect each other's rights and characters duly, the nation would stand on wholly different footing both at home and abroad.

This whole subject we regard as having very close and important bearings upon education; for the young are moved quite as much by what they are taught to regard as honorable as by what is good or true or useful. If we would know what our children are likely to be and do, consider what they are praised for and what they are practically encouraged to do. If virtue is praised in cold generalities and self-will is commended by obvious admiration, there can be little doubt as to which will win the upper hand. Honor is the breath of social life, and every growth of humanity opens upward if it opens at all. The little child and the aged man can not live out of its atmosphere, and the difference between the good and the bad is not only in the bent of their mind, but in the spirit of their fellowship. To try to educate a child to do without human favor and to live within his own soul and his God, might, perhaps, save him from some follies; but it might expose him to some peculiar forms of pride and selfishness, and surely would excommunicate him from that humanity apart from which no man can see the true God. The best culture, like the best faith, dethrones false honor to put the true in its place, and the most perfect society is that which best appreciates and encourages all substantial worth.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Addison on Honour, 1711

Joseph Addison wrote the following on "Honour" in the Spectator, no. 99 (June 23, 1711):
The club, of which I have often declared myself a member, were last night engaged in a discourse upon that which passes for the chief point of honour among men and women; and started a great many hints upon the subject, which I thought were entirely new. I shall therefore methodize the several reflections that arose upon this occasion. . . .

The great point of honour in men is courage, and in women chastity. If a man loses his honour in one rencounter, it is not impossible for him to regain it in another; a slip in a woman's honour is irrecoverable. I can give no reason for fixing the point of honour to these two qualities, unless it be that each sex sets the greatest value on the qualification which renders them the most amiable in the eyes of the contrary sex. Had men chosen for themselves, without regard to the opinions of the fair sex, I should believe the choice would have fallen on wisdom or virtue; or had women determined their own point of honour, it is probable that wit or good nature would have carried it against chastity.

Nothing recommends a man more to the female sex than courage; whether it be that they are pleased to see one who is a terror to others fall like a slave at their feet, or that his quality supplies their own principal defect, in guarding them from insults, and avenging their quarrels; or that courage is a natural indication of a strong and sprightly constitution. On the other side, nothing makes women more esteemed by the opposite sex than chastity; whether it be that we always prize those most who are hardest to come at, or that nothing nothing besides chastity with its collateral attendants, truth, fidelity, and constancy, gives the man a property in the person he loves, and consequently endears her to him above all things.

In books of chivalry, where the point of honor is strained to madness, the whole story runs on chastity and courage, the heroine’s chastity undergoing as many trials as the hero’s courage.

I am very much pleased with a passage in the inscription on a monument erected in Westminster Abbey to the late duke and duchess of Newcastle. "Her name was Margaret Lucas, youngest sister to the Lord Lucas, of Colchester; a noble family, for all the brothers were valiant, and all the sisters virtuous."

In books of chivalry, where the point of honour is strained to madness, the whole story runs on chastity and courage. The damsel is mounted on a white palfrey as an emblem of her innocence: and. to avoid scandal must have a dwarf for her page. She is not to think of a man, until some misfortune has brought a knight errant to her relief. The knight falls in love, and, did not gratitude restrain her from murdering her deliverer, would die at her feet by her disdain. However, he must wait some years in the desert, before her virgin heart can think of a surrender. The knight goes off, attacks everything he meets that is bigger or stronger than himself, seeks all opportunities of being knocked on the head, and after seven years' rambling returns to his mistress, whose chastity has been attacked in the mean time by giants and tyrants, and undergone as many trials as her lover's valour.

In Spain, where there are still great remains of this romantic humour, it is a transporting favour for a lady to cast an accidental glance on her lover from a window, though it be two or three storeys high; as it is usual for the lover to assert his passion for his mistress in single combat with a mad bull.

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 the 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.

The placing the point of honour in this false kind of courage, has given occasion to the very refuse of mankind, who have neither virtue nor common sense, to set up for men of honour. An English peer, who has not been long dead,* used to tell a pleasant story of a French gentleman that visited him early one morning at Pans, and, after great professions of respect, let him know that he had it in his power to oblige him; which, in short, amounted to this, that he believed he could tell his lordship the person's name who justled him as he came out from the opera; but before be would proceed, he begged his lordship, that he would not deny him the honour of making him his second. The English lord, to avoid being drawn into a very foolish affair, told him, he was under engagements for his two next duels to a couple of particular friends. Upon which the gentleman immediately withdrew, hoping his lordship would not take it ill if he meddled no farther in an affair from whence he himself was to receive no advantage.

The beating down this false notion of honour, in so vain and lively a people as those of France, is deservedly looked upon as one of the most glorious parts of their present king's reign. It is pity but the punishment of these mischievous notions should have in it some particular circumstances of shame and infamy; that those who are slaves to them may see, that, instead of advancing their reputations, they lead them to ignominy and dishonour.

Death is not sufficient to deter men who make it their glory to despise it; but if every one that fought a duel were to stand on the pillory, it would quickly lessen the number of these imaginary men of honour, and put an end to so absurd a practice.

When honour is a support to virtuous principles, and runs parallel with the laws of God and our country, it cannot be too much cherished and encouraged: but when the dictates of honour are contrary to those of religion and equity, they are the greatest depravations of human nature, by giving wrong ambitions and false ideas of what is good and laudable; and should therefore be exploded by all governments, and driven out as the bane and plague of human society.

* Thought to be William Cavendish, first duke of Devonshire.

An Apologia for the Duel

An apologia for the duel from Mrs. St. Julien Ravenel's Charleston: The Place and the People (1912):
The evil [of dueling] was great, but some things can be said in its favour. The knowledge that an account would be required of his words and actions brought constantly to a man's mind, not as a menace but as a principle, the belief that his words were a part of his character and his life. False or cruel speech was to be answered for, as was an evil act; it, therefore, was held to be an act, not mere empty breath, as it is too often considered now. "The word" had its true value. Other injuries were thus punished also. An affront to a man's character or family, a wrong or even a discourtesy to a woman or to an absent friend, evoked a challenge, but business difficulties were not cause of battle. Those were settled by courts of law; the duel guarded personal honour, which the law was powerless to defend. One who can remember the exquisite urbanity of the social intercourse of fifty years ago, and contrast it with the careless expressions, the rough give and take, of the present, can but wonder how much the old way had to do with the self-respect and consideration for others of that society which people now call half civilized.
At its worst — and its worst was very grievous — duelling was not so bad as those shocking unregulated encounters which occur now when the passions of men are beyond control, and which cost more lives than were ever sacrificed to the old duello.