This is an interesting but problematic article because HONOR is a difficult concept. Honor is something felt than explained. Because honor is a sense, people are bound to disagree as to what it is or isn’t. There is family honor, individual honor, military honor, gangster honor, etc. There is honor among men, among women, among friends, among thieves. Honor is a mark of civilization. It can also lead to the fall of civilization. It can open eyes or close them.
First off, I’m not sure I agree with James Bowman definition of ‘reflexive honor’. Sure, one could argue honor is rooted in the survival instinct, but retaliation isn’t in and of itself a form of honor. In that case, a dog that bites back has honor. Meeting violence with violence is INSTINCT, not honor. It’s not even basic or reflexive honor. It is just animal nature. To the extent that human society or civilization needs to defend itself, this INSTINCT is necessary and indeed can be elevated to a form of honor if idealized into duty and code. But in its elemental form, it is not honor. It is, at most, proto-honor.
Also key to civilization is the ability NOT to retaliate but to forgive and forget. Animals and children bicker and fight over everything. Mature adults with a sense of honor are supposed to see things in context. Thus, if a honorable man is walking down the street and a stinking wino says, “hey, come here and suck my dick”, the honorable thing is to ignore the bum, hold one’s head high, and walk on. People often make mistakes and do harm, but we learn to take it in stride on many occasions. Honor is related to manners and social form. So, if someone drops a hammer by accident and your foot goes ouch, you realize it was an honest mistake and don’t reflexively attack him. Honor, in this sense, is related to trust and understanding(which requires a degree of forgiveness and live-and-let-die-ism). So, ‘reflexive honor’ is an oxymoron. Reflexive violence can be molded into honor but cannot in and of itself be honor.
Idealists or proponents of honor should know that honor is like shit–and I mean it in a good way. True honor is and should be the byproduct of truth and justice, just like healthy shit is the result of good eating. One should not think of shit but just take care to eat healthy. If one eats well, one shits well. Similarly, if one is committed to truth and justice, honor will follow. Focusing on honor above or equal to other virtues is a crass pursuit. Why is this?
Because honor is a secondary virtue that must serve primary virtues. Without primary virtues to serve, honor is shallow, stupid, or dangerous. Omerta is a honor among thieves, but what does it serve? Crooks. We generally associate honor with courage and maturity, but it can just as easily serve cowardice and immaturity.
People throughout history have abandoned or sacrificed individual conscience or truth in the name of honor. Admiral Yamamoto knew that Japan’s plan to attack the US was nuts, but his sense of honor made him do it anyway. Those who cannot or are afraid to think for themselves or stand up to social pressure hide behind honor. They prefer to follow orders in the name of honor. They even prefer self-destruction as long as they remain a part of community–no matter how crazy it may be.
Some people choose honor even when it serves injustice because they fear being socially ostracized as a traitor if they question official honor. They may courageously run into battle and die for honor, but they lack the courage to face their superiors/peers and say their policies or orders are crazy or evil.
Honor can also be petulant and childish, as with the junior Japanese officers who played an instrumental role that led to the Pacific War. Mature officers and politicians respected and knew of the world outside Japan and sought compromise with China and the US, but purist junior officers were blinded by narrow and purist notion of NATIONAL HONOR. For them, Japan and the Emperor were the ONLY reality. Chinese were seen as less than human. And any Japanese officer or politician who sought peace or compromise was condemned as a traitor or whore who must be killed. They assassinated anyone who wasn’t 100% for national honor and even killed themselves in the name of the Emperor because their whole being and meaning of life were invested in Japanese pride and sacred honor. Given what this class of fools brought upon Japan–not to mention rest of Asia–, it’s no wonder HONOR got a bad rap.
And honor also got a bad name during WWII because the German military class caved to Hitler’s every whim, no matter how crazy or evil. I suppose there was some kind of HONOR involved here. They gave their oath to Hitler and kept their word. Giving and keeping your word are indeed virtues, but it also depends on whom you give you it to–as Dutch Angstrom says to Pike Bishop in THE WILD BUNCH.
With the rise of mass movements and totalitarian radicalism, honor became all the more dangerous because an entire nation could give its word to psychos like Hitler or Stalin. At Nuremberg, nearly every German officer said he’d only honorably followed orders and did his duty. Technically, they were right, but if that’s honor, it’s shit–in a bad way. Honor is only as good as the values and system it serves, just as a gun is only as good as the man who uses it. Given the nature of modern regimes in all five continents and given the mass nationalist forms of politics, political honor was more dangerous than useful in the modern world.
A duel between two noblemen involved only them. But when national honor inflamed by demagogic leaders dragged entire nations to war, that was another matter. Mussolini made a Pact of Steel with Hitler, and he kept his word. In that sense, he was honorable. But again, why give one’s word to a shit like Hitler?
The dangers of honor was understood from the beginning of history. The Iliad is a story of a tragic and mutually destructive war–even the victorious Greeks lose more than they gain–fought in the name of honor. Two worlds collide and countless die because of one man’s loss of honor upon losing his wife to another man.
Though Bowman blames feminism for the loss of honor, the reverse is even truer. Feminism rose in the aftermath of disasters wrought by male honor. In nations like Liberia and Rwanda, women are beginning to take charge in government and business because men have robbed, raped, and murdered left and right through the decades. With bones piled up high thanks to crazy men, people want something better and different–and women are seen to be the answer. Most of 20th century was dominated by men on all five continents, and what did masculine honor and big talk bring? WWI and WWII. And much of the madness was based on honor or served by honor. Sometimes, the personal sense of pride or honor of a dictator decided the lives of entire nations.
Hitler knew nothing of honor–except in his relation to Mussolini, for whom he had a genuine affection. He broke his word to UK and France. He then broke his word to USSR in 1941. Hitler saw honor as a kind of weakness, an outdated aristocratic or haute bourgeois sentimentality. He practiced a crude God-Is-Dead Nietzscheanism where the only values that mattered were whatever that was cooked up by the SUPERIOR MAN–namely himself. He didn’t need to keep his word to anyone since he was the Man of Destiny prophesied by Nietzsche. There can be no honor among men who are into the so-called RE-EVALUATION OF ALL VALUES. Values for such people are merely whatever ‘spiritual’ or ‘visionary’ madness they feel at any given moment. So, if Hitler suddenly said USSR is Germany’s friend, so it was. If the next minute he said Germany must attack the USSR and turn Slavs into human cattle, so it was too. Hitler had no sense of honor, yet why did so many honorable German officers, doctors, professors, and others give their oaths to him? Why did they stand by his side to the very end when his craziness brought Germany–not to mention rest of Europe–to the brink? So much for honor. Honor without truth and justice aint worth much, and indeed can be more dangerous than no honor.
This is why I say one should not think of honor. One should think of truth and justice, out of which honor naturally flows. Nazi officers who broke their oath and tried to kill Hitler had higher sense of honor. Germans like Thomas Mann who left Germany and waged moral and intellectual war on Nazi Germany also had higher honor, honor truly worthy of its name. They saw Nazi Germany for what it was and in their higher love of Germany, refused to give their word to Hitler and his henchmen.
Though the article attacks therapeutism as one of corrosive enemies of honor, there is more than one kind of therapeutism. And it could be argued that honor too can be a form of therapeutism. If the purpose of therapeutism is to make people feel good, honor served that role in many societies. Honor is related to self-esteem, group unity, a sense of protection and security. It can serve as a primitive form of therapeutism. The concept of noblesse oblige is a progenitor of the welfare state, the idea that people should be taken care of. In an honor society like Italy, you went to the local don to ask for favors. If you were loyal, he took care of you.
Therapeutism also has roots in Christian theology, which has roots in Judaism and Greco-Roman culture. To the extent that the Greeks sought to map out and understand the human mind and came up with endless schools of thought–everything from hedonism to stoicism–, they were searchers for relief from pain, suffering, and absurdity of life. It’s no wonder that Greek myths figure so prominently in the ideas of Freud and Jung. Judaism has lots of stories where man finds moral meaning and psychological peace through meditative(therapeutic) interaction with God. Christianity offered spiritual sustenance for those without means and hope. Catholics went to confessions to unload their sins to priests who listened with compassion as well as with judgment.
Honor can be therapeutic because it makes one feel part of a community. In the film KAGEMUSHA by Akira Kurosawa, a thief enters a great clan and gains a sense of belonging. In the end, he would rather die as a member of the clan than live the life of a loner. To be a free-thinking individual who must draw his or her own conclusions is tough. It feels better to belong to a community where some form of honor opereates–even among thieves. In GOODFELLAS, it aint difficult to understand why young Henry wants to be part of the mafia. It’s not just the power and money but sense of camaraderie and honor among the hoods.
Also, there is more than one kind of therapeutism, just as there is more than one kind of honor. We generally associate therapeutism with feel-good New Age huggy tuggy stuff, but there’s another kind which is closer to its original spirit. “Honor” is related to “Honesty”, and the tougher form of therapeutism is not feely-good and nurturing but hard, courageous, and HONEST. Freud didn’t try to make his clients feel good by telling them heartwarming fairytales they wanted to hear. If anything, he wanted his clients to face their inner demons which takes a great deal of courage. We all wear masks and self-protective clothing in our psychological lives. We wanna feel good about ourselves. Honor is one of those things that make us feel good. But, what are the demons and dragons we are repressing? Freud’s therapeutism required courage and honesty in order to take the journey into mental and emotional infernos. Now, it may well be that many of Freud’s methods, conclusions, and ideas were bunk. Even so, it would have been better for mankind if all those German Nazi lunatics, Italian Fascist lunatics, Jewish communist lunatics, Radical Islamic lunatics, Japanese militarist lunatics, and Neocon lunatics underwent therapy–the hard kind–than devoted their lives to blind honor or duty.
Of course, one could argue that communism wasn’t about honor but justice. Unlike atavistic rightism, leftism was supposedly scientific and moral. Given what communism did to mankind, one is tempted to conclude that the cult of justice is no less dangerous than honor.
This is why I say we need TRUTH + JUSTICE. Communism was a lie, and so is modern liberalism with its race denial, sex denial, and political correctness. Real justice is based on truth. So if we pursue justice and truth, real honor will follow. It’s like if you wanna get straight A’s, you shouldn’t think of A’s but just practice diligence and intelligence. The A’s will naturally follow.
I don’t much care for the aristocratic era when the so-called men of honor were mostly second-rate noblemen born into privilege. They were good-for-nothings whose luxuriant lifestyles were paid for by the blood and toil of peasants. These so-called men of honor banged mistresses left and right and killed one another over silly stuff like being slapped in the face with a velvet glove. You can learn much about this idiot bunch in novels like WAR and PEACE. Well, they sure knew how to dress and dance well, but I say good riddance. The culture of honor in display in a movie like EARRINGS OF MADAME DU isn’t my cup of tea. That was essentially the honor of spoiled brats putting on airs. When this class of useless pompous fools lost their power and privilege with the rise of ordinary people like you and I, they turned to monsters like Hitler who promised them power and prestige as long as they followed orders, and they did. Hell with that kind of honor.
Personally, I see honor all around me. Not in our popular culture for the most part to be sure but in real life and among real people. There are many men and women of honor. It’s about being honest with the truth, caring for justice based on truth, and keeping one’s word–if given to the right people. That’s honor enough for me.
It’s true that our PC politics and culture are anti-honor, but this is because they are also anti-truth, anti-courage, and anti-honesty. Therefore, their idea of justice–affirmative action, anti-white-ism, Afrophilia, homophilia, and etc–is unjust and dishonorable. Justice based on lies can never be true justice, and false justice is either dishonorable or dubiously honorable.
If we want honor–with little ‘h’ than big ‘H’–, then we simply need to pursue truth and justice with honesty and courage. If we do that, honor will drop like shit–and I mean it in a good way.