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The commonality of loyalty and tolerance.

The essays in this symposium are gratifying for a number of reasons. First, the six writers, including the editor John Kleinig, have read me fairly and obviously understood my central claims. Their comments testify to the possibility of productive discourse on these difficult philosophical issues. I do have some quibbles with Nathanson's stressing my treatment of minimal loyalty and ignoring my chapter on maximal loyalty, but there is no reason to bore the reader, who would do better to read Loyalty than endure a defense of my vies on tangential points.

Further, the topics that the reviewers have selected for criticism are partly predictable, partly refreshingly idiosyncratic. It never occurred to me, as Oldenquist argues, for example, that my position on public flag burning had something in common with Lord Devlin's views on punishing private homosexuality. The difference between Devlin and myself, it seems, is quite simple. If Devlin lived in a society where homosexuality were the norm (and children were produced in laboratories), he would presumably defend the practices of the Queer Nation against those who enjoyed the "unnatural practice" of meshing different kinds of genitalia. The same thought experiment does not extend to flag burning and other acts of public indecency. Burning the flag every day would hardly have a point: that ritual would become as banal and meaningless as using "fuck" in every sentence. And if we lived in a society in which corpses were served up for lunch, one might well come upon the idea that we would all feel better about our bodies and our spirits if we changed our ways. Public fornication could conceivably become so normal that no one would notice it, but I tend to doubt that we could become so callous in our sexual vulnerability. Our sentiments of indecency draw on sources deeper than conventional morality. There is happily little in my argument that intersects with Devlin's brand of moral priggishness.

The more predictable challenges to my arguments are Ewin's balking at my treating loyalty as a virtue in itself and the related argument, raised in several papers, that loyalty is in fact compatible with the impartial ethics of Kant and Bentham. Marantz's probing when we actually act out of loyalty highlights the same concern. Whether loyalty is an intrinsic value is indeed a difficult and enduring question. I doubt that repeating the arguments of my book would be persuasive a second time around, and therefore I defend my position on the value of loyalty by taking a new tack. There is much to be learned about the role of loyalty in our lives by exploring the commonalities of loyalty and tolerance.

At first blush it seems that loyalty and tolerance are addressed to different issues. Loyalties define the bonds by which some people relate to us as insiders, relegating others to the status of outsider. Tolerance is a value that addresses the fair and decent treatment of outsiders. Thus, for example, loyalty to my people or my nation, my duty to stand by them in times of trouble, implies that other peoples and nations stand beyond the range of this duty. I treat these outsiders less favorably; I need not stand by them, fight for them, or care for them with the same solicitude. But still I owe them, as members of distinct cultures, a duty of respect.

Paradoxically, we might tolerate the idiosyncracies of outsiders even more than those of people to whom we are loyal. This point has always been reflected in the principles of international comity in the field of marriage and divorce. We do not recognize polygamous marriages among Americans, and at various times in our history we have been viciously intolerant of the American Mormons who engaged in multiple marriages. But if a Sheik comes to the United States from Saudi Arabia with several wives in tow, we recognize the status of each woman as his legal wife. Jewish law applied in the Israeli courts does not recognize the marriage between a Gentile and a Jew, but if the couple goes to Cyprus, marries, and then returns to Israel, the marriage will of course be recognized. The difficult test for this principle of international respect will occur some day in the case of homosexual marriages, which will be permissible in some jurisdictions and not in others. The principle of tolerance for foreign legal systems should lead to the general acceptance of these marriages, provided they are valid in the place of celebration. Out of respect for and tolerance of foreign cultures, we permit outsiders to engage in practices that we deny ourselves.

Though they are nominally addressed to different questions, loyalty and tolerance have in common a partial suspension of moral judgment. When I make this point in the context of loyalty, many of my readers take umbrage. How is it possible, they say, to suspend moral judgment? That leads, they believe, to something like "my country right or wrong." But it is fairly easy to see how tolerance requires a partial suspension of moral judgment. If I applied the same moral criteria to others as I applied to myself, I would never tolerate those who smoke, who eat red meat and drink too much beer, who say "girl" when they are supposed to say "woman," who vote Republican or worse, or who engage in any number of acts that I regard as harmful, insensitive, or sinful.

Among the politically correct in the United States, tolerance has in fact fallen on hard times. Our problem in the United States used to be moral relativism; now it is the righteousness of those who know the right way to refer to the fat and the lame. We no longer tolerate the idiosyncracies of those who want to choose their own language or indeed want to hold unconventional political views. The enemy of tolerance, therefore, is moral self-confidence. Those who know what is right need not truckle to the morally offbeat and politically deviant.

The same moral conviction endangers loyalty, as we see in Ewin's argument that loyalty can be good only when it serves a good cause. As there is no honor among thieves, loyalty to a thief is supposedly a vice rather than a virtue. Loyalty to the nation is right only when the cause is right. This is a common objection to the case I make for loyalty. The argument typically turns on extreme examples, as in Ewin's rhetorical question: "Does anybody suggest that it is immoral to try to persuade a criminal to drop his loyalty to his gang?" (p. 37) Among criminals, "it is clear that loyalty is a bad thing" (p. 37). It is not so clear to me, however, that these extreme cases tell us anything about the value of loyalty.

First, note that if this argument undercuts the value of loyalty, it has the same impact on the value of tolerance. Since there surely is no need to be tolerant of stealing, it should follow, by like logic, that the value of tolerance would be a function of the object of tolerance. But this would be a contradiction because tolerance of the good is hardly necessary. The only time that tolerance becomes necessary is when the object of tolerance is questionable. And the same is true of loyalty. There is no need to be loyal to the good and the right. If the Democrats reduce the deficit, create jobs, and appoint good judges, I of course will vote for them: But voting for the party doing the right thing is not a matter of loyalty. Loyalty, like tolerance, clicks in only when things are not going so well. It is the fallen who need our loyalty. Standing by them could make a difference in their chances for recovery.

Also, further, loyalty to those in the wrong need not take the form of literal deference to their worst side. As Charles Fried argued in his book about loyalty as Solicitor General to the President, his duty was to act in the interests of his superior as these interests were ideally construed. Loyalty to a child addicted to heroin may require acting contrary to her immediate wishes in the conviction that coercive treatment would be to her long-range benefit. Loyalty to a nation is of the same form. Those who protested the Vietnam war were loyal to the nation as were those who went off to fight. Count von Stauffenberg was indeed more loyal to his nation than the throngs who raised their arms in salute to the Fuhrer.

Recall the way journalists taunted Vice President Dan Quayle in the last campaign about his stern moral position on abortion. They asked him how he would react if his daughter unexpectedly became pregnant. Would he and Marilyn stand by her? Would they be loyal to her in a pinch? Would they be tolerant of her if she had a different position on abortion? We can see in this example the way in which loyalty and tolerance interact. They both require a partial suspension of moral convictions. To be a good parent--and the journalists' audience obviously knew this--you cannot always impose your moral convictions on those whom you love. Doing so demonstrates indifference to the relationship as such. No one wants a censorious moral philosopher as a friend or as a parent.

Interestingly, this way of taunting the Quayles was the Gegenstuck to Bernard Shaw's embarrassing question to Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988 about how he would react if he suddenly learned that his wife had been raped. The "right" answer would have revealed strong emotion. Dukakis could have shown that he was loyally attached to his wife by reacting in horror. He should have demonstrated deeper intolerance of the hypothetical crime. Here, significantly, loyalty and tolerance run in opposing directions.

The American public cares about how their politicians view their personal relationships. We have come, fortunately, to tolerate divorce, but no blatant womanizer (or "manizer"), no one who has abandoned his children, no one who has turned a deaf ear to needy parents, could possibly get elected under the reigning sensibility of the electorate. Why do we care so much about these matters? We assume, I take it, that candidates reveal their character in their capacity to act both loyally and tolerantly toward those with whom they stand in intimate relationships. If a person revealed the vices of disloyalty and intolerance toward his family members, imagine how he would treat us, the electorate? Given the kind of moral leadership we expect of presidents in the United States, I think this concern about character is well taken. And probing questions about loyalty and tolerance seem to be a good way of getting the measure of the candidate's humanity.

Now I know that when philosophers insist that loyalty is inseparable from the morality of the cause, they are not inclined to express a rigid moral position about controversial matters such as abortion. Morality for moral philosophers always seems to lie on some distant, abstract plane. But if you read your Kant, you cannot but take a very strong position on suicide, lying, coming to the aid of those in need, and fornication (using another's body outside of marriage simply as a means to your sexual pleasure). And what do we say, then, to friends who have committed or who have contemplated these sins? Do we break off the relationship because, as Ewin piously tells us, loyalty in these cases is a bad thing? Would you want a friend who had so little play in the joints? God save us from the pure and righteous who are incapable of standing by us when we are morally weak.
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Title Annotation:Loyalty; response to articles in this issue, p. 34-68
Author:Fletcher, George P.
Publication:Criminal Justice Ethics
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:1951
Previous Article:Loyalty and identity: reflections on and about a theme in Fletcher's 'Loyalty.' (George P. Fletcher) (Loyalty)
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