Read the rhetoric used by political and military leaders for wars in the past few decades, and you will be struck by the repeated references to ‘credibility’. The justification of war is very often that it is necessary to uphold our reputation for strength, without which we would become targets for attack. The Vietnam domino theory was a good example of this mode of thought, and similar thinking continues to drive foreign policy today. Yet academic studies into the origins of war suggest that upholding your ‘credibility’ does not actually make you less likely to be attacked. Would-be aggressors pay very little attention to whether you have proved willing to fight in the past. Authors such as Daryl Grayson Press in his book Calculating Credibility and Christopher Fettweis in a number of related articles, have illustrated this very well. What this means is that waging wars for reputation makes no sense. Why then do states persist in doing so? Continue reading
On behalf of honorethics.org, I’m pleased to announce that Sharon Krause has graciously accepted our invitation to join us as a contributor.
Sharon is a Professor of Political Science at Brown University. Her first book, Liberalism With Honor, was a major contribution to the field of honor research. In it, she argues that a strong sense of honor, although long reviled as anti-democratic and illiberal, actually serves an important role in liberation movements. Drawing on Montesquieu’s thesis that an honor-minded aristocracy provides a socially beneficial check on the autocratic ambitions of monarchs, she argues that honor “combines self-concern with principled higher purposes and so challenges the disabling dichotomy between self-interest and self-sacrifice that currently pervades both political theory and American public life.” For her, honor-mindedness nurtures a high self-regard, which disposes people to take risks on behalf of their liberation that cannot be explained in terms of an egoistic gamble for benefits or a liberal commitment to cooperate. Thus, although the democratic and other-oriented liberal mindset is in tension with the aristocratic and self-directed honor mindset, oppressed peoples often cannot gain their freedom without at least some honor-minded “champions” willing to stand firm and suffer the consequences of protesting their rights.
Sharon’s more recent book, on political psychology, Civil Passions, won the 2010 Spitz Prize from the Conference for the Study of Political Thought for best book in liberal or democratic theory and the 2009 Alexander George Book Award from the International Society of Political Psychology for best book in political psychology. She is currently working a book on freedom: Freedom Beyond Sovereignty.
One of the characteristics of something we might term the “honor ethos” is that honor-minded people tend to respond favorably to those who resist, even if that resistance is aimed at the honor-minded people themselves.
This is distinctive: a Christian evangelical might protest, say, slavery by arguing that we are all created in God’s image; a liberal might decry slavery by appeal to human rights grounded on a hypothetical contract; a Kantian might invoke the slave’s humanity; a utilitarian the non-optimal consequences of slavery, and so forth.
But two considerations against oppression seem uniquely honor-based. The first is that (in my opinion, at least) honor-minded people tend to want to compete for status and to compete for it fairly. If it is realized that some groups aren’t given a “level playing field” (I insist this is an honor trope!), then honor-based sentiments are activated and the honor-minded person wants to rectify this—not for the sake of the disadvantaged party, but for the advantaged one.
But the second honor-based consideration against oppression is what I’m interested in here. One sees time and time again, in history, literature, and one’s own intuitions (if attentive to them), that honor-typical sentiments are stirred when an oppressed person or group stands up and fights. Our sense of honor forces us to note and admire these heroes. The idea seems to be, “We thought your people were just weaker in whatever way, and that you lacked the spirit to fight for higher status. But now we see that you at least are a fighter. So welcome to the club.” Thus, heroic figures who resist oppression are important for winning freedom for their people in part because they force honor-minded people (and the honor-minded side of each of us) to see—perhaps for the first time—that the oppressed people or class isn’t inferior by nature. At least some of them are willing to fight.
One of my favorite examples of this dynamic is the story of the Amistad, a Spanish-Cuban slave-ship commandeered by kidnapped Africans.
On behalf of honorethics.org, I’m pleased to announce that Shannon French has graciously accepted our invitation to join us as a contributor.
Although Shannon has published work on various subjects, she has written numerous papers and a book on military ethics, which in her work overlaps strongly with issues having to do with honor and associated virtues. I would direct readers especially to her The Code of the Warrior, which grew out of her popular courses on war ethics and military leadership while she taught at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Shannon is currently the director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence and Inamori Professor of Ethics at Case Western Reserve University. She received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, classical studies and history from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1990. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in philosophy from Brown University before joining the Naval Academy faculty.