Iron Mark? Cheeky Bob? Listen up.
has been big business in the US since conservative commentator William
J Bennet published his “treasury of great moral stories” The Book of Virtues back in 1996. It’s spawned a sanctimony industry of its very own – but also sparked some interesting dialogue.
Part of this is contained in a journal called In Character,
which “seeks to illuminate the nature and power of the everyday virtues
– and how these virtues shape our vision of the good life.” Too much?
Hold on a moment. The current issue carries an article that may be of
interesting to a few Australian pols. It’s called To Thine Own Self Be
True: What Tell-all Memoirs Tell Us About Ourselves, by Christine
In his book, Authority, sociologist Richard Sennett begins
with an observation that at first glance appears obvious: Without the
ties of loyalty, authority, and fraternity,’ he writes, ‘no society as
a whole, and none of its institutions, could long function.’ Sennett
links loyalty to authority and fraternity for a reason – as a virtue,
loyalty cannot exist in isolation. Historically, it has always been
tied inextricably to institutions, to authority, and to traditions.
Authority is ‘a bond between people who are unequal,’ Sennett reminds
us, and it was this bond that formed the basis for lasting loyalty: the
reciprocal loyalty of landowner and tenant, lord and serf, and
sovereign and knight…
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But loyalty need not be felt only toward
other human beings; a person can exercise loyalty toward a high ideal,
an institution, a country, and a faith – often all at the same time.
There are, it seems, no natural limits to loyalty. But as times and
mores change, and as respect for authority and hierarchy declines, what
becomes of loyalty? Can it continue to exist without ties to its
traditional sources of legitimacy? After all, no one used to ask (to
borrow the title of a recent book about the Bush administration) the
price of loyalty; they noticed only its presence or absence. In earlier
ages, disloyalty to his superior could cost a man his life. Until
recently, it could cost him his job. Today, however, it will almost
certainly land him a book contract. It is worth asking, then, if we
have developed a more sophisticated and flexible concept of loyalty to
suit the times, or if we are, instead, witnessing the last vestiges of
loyalty succumb to the inexorable forces of market democracy…
Got you interested? The article is available here.