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What price loyalty?

26 Jul 11 | Re: The wisdom of a pseudo-virtue

Recently I found myself remembering the Scout Law. Here it is, in full:

Whether you’re a scout or not, and whatever you think of scouting, I hope you’ll agree that, by and large, that’s a code that anyone would do well to live by. But there is one point that I consider to be problematic, and that is the question of loyalty.

As a younger man, I would have made a strong argument against loyalty having any intrinsic value. Yes, it can cause you to do good, but it can also cause you to do wrong. It can make you defend the indefensible, and aid or condone others in doing what they should not do. It’s the virtue of knaves, tending to treat people as good people, however they act in general, purely because they happen to be good to you. In short, I would have categorised loyalty as a pseudo-virtue, on a moral par with thinking that doing what helps your family justifies any behaviour (“I only want what’s best for my kids”), when in reality it is nothing more than selfishness by proxy.

However, as I get older I tend to see some value in loyalty. I have friendships that I am convinced derive some of their value simply from the length of their standing. Now, if you are friends with anyone for long enough, they will make a mistake sooner or later. If you’re a good scout, you will be prepared for this moment and make sure you have enough loyalty to forgive them, or even to put them on the right track, instead of ditching them and going off to try and find someone more perfect.

Incidentally, the question of loyalty seems to be one where religion is only of limited use. There are plenty of saints, notably Peter, who could be praised for their loyalty; but if they’d shown the same loyalty to, say, Herod rather than Jesus then they wouldn’t be saints at all - they’d be the bad guys. I feel like literature might be more help. If you can think of a good literary example to elucidate whether loyalty is good or bad I’d be pleased to hear it.

Posted by BRUTUS at 18:12

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