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Edited by William Connolly and Steven Lukes Language and Politics edited by Michael Shapiro Legitimacy and the State edited by William Connolly Liberallsm and Its Critics edited by Michael J. Sandel Power edited by Steven Lukes Rational Choice edited by Jon Elster

Liberalism and Its Critics


New YorkUniversity Press New York


On the Obsolescence of the Concept of Honour

would be unthinkable without the peculiar constellations of the mogern world. To reject them is unthinkable ethically. By the same token, it is not possible to simply trace them to a false anthropology . The task before us, rather, is to understand the empirical processes that have made modern man lose sight ofhonour at the expense of dignity - and then to think through both the anthropological and the ethical implications of this. Obviously these remarks can do no more than point up some dimensions of the problem. It may be allowed, though, to speculate that a rediscovery of honour in the future development of modern society is both empirically plausible and morally desirable. Needless to say, this willhardly take the form of a regressive restoration of traditional codes. But the contemporary mood of anti-institutionalism is unlikely to last, as Anton Zijderveld implies.9 Man's fundamental constitution is such that, just about inevitably, he will once more construct institutions to provide an ordered reality for himself. A return to institutions will ipso facto be a return to honour. It will thenbe possible again for individuals to identify themselves with the escutcheons of their institutional roles, experienced now not as self-estranging tyrannies but as freely chosen vehicles of selfrealization. The ethical question, of course, is what these institutions will be like. Specifically, the ethical test of any future institutions, and of the codes of honour they will entail, will bewhether they succeed in embodying and in stabilizing the discoveries of human dignity that are the principle achievements of modern man.

Michael J. Sandel: Justice and the Good~:-



NOTES 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Cited in J. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (New York: Doubleday-Anchor, 1954), p. 33 (myitalics). J. K. Campbell, Honour, Family and Patronage(Oxford, 1964). Ibid.,pp. 271. Norbert Elias, Der Prozess der Zivilisation (Bern:Francke, 1969). Cervantes, Don Quixote, trans. Walter Starkie (New York: New AmericanLibrary, 1964),1:25, p. 243. Ibid., n:74. W. Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, v:i. Arnold Gehlen, Moral and Hypermoral (Frankfurt: Athenaum, 1969). Anton Zijderveld, Abstract Society (NewYork: Doubleday, 1970).

The difficulty withRawls' theory of the good is epistemological as well as moral, and in this it recalls a problem that arose in connection with the concept of right - that of distinguishing a standard of assessment from the thing being assessed. If my fundamental values and final ends are to enable me, as surely they must, to evaluate and regulate my immediate wants and desires, these values and ends must have asanction independent of the mere fact that I happen to hold them with a certain intensity. But if my conception of the good is simply the product of my immediate wants and desires, there is no reason to suppose that the critical standpoint it provides is any more worthy or valid than the desires it seeks to assess; as the product of those desires, it would be governed by the same contingencies. Rawlsresponds to this difficulty in the case of the right by seeking in justice as fairness an Archimedean point that 'is not at the mercy, so to speak, of existing wants and interests' (1971, p.261). But as we have seen, Rawls' concept of right does not extend to private morality, nor does any other instrument of detachment save the good from thoroughgoing implication in the agent's existing wants and...