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Loyalty, An Old Fashioned Virtue Still Prized in Some Quarters

Scouts: Loyalty Is Expected - Sam Soneja
Has loyalty declined to merely a commercial exercise in customer building, or are some elements of fidelity still worth preserving today?

The Free Dictionary offers definitions of loyalty as ‘The state or quality of being loyal. A feeling or attitude of devoted attachment and affection. Often used in the plural: My loyalties lie with my family. A feeling of allegiance’. However, there is little agreement on what one can or cannot be loyal to. Other people, institutions, places of work, belief systems, the personal family, the extended family, the criminal family, sports teams, the government, the country: all engage philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, marketing/media gurus, political theorists in debate.

At one end of the scale loyalty is patriotism; it’s antithesis is betrayal/treachery. It encompasses regimes regarded as odious (like Nazism, the wilder reaches of repressive Communism, dictatorships in general). It covers banks and financial institutions who choose to offer deals/bargains only to attract new customers, and ignore old, long-serving, loyal ones. It covers groups, cliques, clubs and cabals of like-minded peoplewho have behaviour codes.

The Philosophy of Loyalty

John Kleinig, Philosophy Professor at John Jay College and holding other distinguished offices in USA and Australia, is writing (2010) a book to be called Loyalty and Loyalties. He argued that the notion of loyalty is “an essential ingredient in any civilized and humane system of morals”. He further observed that from the 1980s onwards loyalism has also become attached to such issues as ‘professional ethics, whistle-blowing, friendship, and virtue theory.

In his book The Limits of Loyalty (2007) Simon Keller, from Universities at Boston and Melbourne said,. ‘We prize loyalty in our friends, lovers, and colleagues, but loyalty raises difficult questions. What is the point of loyalty? Can the requirements of loyalty conflict with the requirements of morality?’ He concluded that loyalty is an essential but fallible part of human life, and dealt with filial duty, disloyalty, patriotism, ethics, friendship and belief and posed the questions: is loyalty a value? is it a virtue?

He suggested that people act out of loyalty, venerate something, treat it with respect, follow its orders or act as its advocate. However, ‘it is also a matter of how you think, and how you are motivated. If you are loyal to something, then thoughts of it may inflame your passions, it may be something towards which you feel warmth and affection, and you may be saddened by thoughts of its suffering or demise’.

People think of something as their own, like a country or flag, which affects judgments, commitments and imaginations. Loyalty, in short, helps to define who people are with their identities, morals and finally Fuller wondered if ‘just because something counts as a loyalty, there is something good about it’.

Creativity Uses Fidelity

Staying loyal, betraying trust are natural elements of creative literature, movies, plays and dramas generally. There is a rich source of inspiration in fidelity, or infidelity. Loyalties (Double Allegiance) is a British Canadian drama film shot in 1986. There was an earlier one in 1933, starring Basil Rathbone. There is a 1985 novel with the name by Raymond Williams.

It is the concepts behind loyalty that have inspired creatives down the ages. From the Bible, with its account of Cain killing his brother Abel when family loyalty might be expected to rise above rivalry, to the wider Christian belief that loyalty is owed to a proper authority (‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s’), but loyalty to God is paramount.

Library Thing tag books based around some aspect of the loyalty theme, ranging from Charlotte’s Web, through the Harry Potter stories, The Yellow Star, The Hobbit and JD Robb’s Loyalty in Death through to The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value by Frederick F. Reichheld, which is creative from a business perspective.

A selection of movies tagged with loyalty include the Harry Potter stories (2001+), of course, plus Toy Story 1 (1995) and 2 (1999), Kill Bill 2 (2004), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Casablanca (1942), Pulp Fiction (1994), Stand By Me (1986) and Dead Poets Society (1989). Fancast has a different list, which includes We Own the Night (2007), Blood & Chocolate (2007), Jailhouse Rock (1957), The Remains of the Day (1993), The Painted Veil (1934), Band of Angels (1957) and Hachi-Ko (1987).

The Loyalties of Immigrants

In 2010, David Laskin of the History News Network wrote about Immigrant Loyalties During the Great War and Today. ‘Italians, Poles and Jews, the three largest groups of newcomers during the peak years of immigration at the turn of the last century, arrived in the United States with deep cultural traditions, fervent religious beliefs, great expectations, and a hunger to succeed. One thing these groups did not bring with them from Europe was a strongly developed sense of national allegiance to their countries of origin’.

Laskin wondered why these people so enthusiastically embraced national loyalty to the USA, enlisting, voting, becoming part of the fabric of US life. He submitted that the answer was opportunity (jobs and economic freedom, social fluidity, human/civil rights and military service: acceptance). Both world wars, with American drafting of servicemen, led to some home country conflicts, as for many around the world, but the fact remains, in essence, loyalty to the adopted country took over. A new loyalty was born.

This assimilation has remained largely true. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) was part funded by Irish base-nationality Americans at the end of the twentieth century was more due to misunderstanding the nature of their terrorism than a forging of totally new pro-Irish/anti-British loyalty, though some individuals may have felt that.

Loyalty programmes, like those offered by many airlines and hotel groups, supermarkets and other stores, are just ways of buying loyalty. The muddying of old, once-deep political allegiances in the past fifty years, between Republican and Democrat empathies in the US and Conservative and Labour in Britain, demonstrates that old fashioned, tribal loyalties can no longer be taken for granted. But they are important historically and culturally.

First published on Suite 101, 2nd October 2010.

Photo:  Scouts: Loyalty Is Expected – Sam Soneja

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