Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mandeville on Honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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