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Editor's introduction.

Professional loyalties evoke feelings of considerable ambivalence. On the one hand, they integrate their practitioners into a group ethos and conception of what they are doing that enhances the work they do. On the other hand, such loyalties frequently undermine personal and group accountability and foster the corruption of service. Nowhere is this clearer than in law enforcement. The fellowship of risk, hardship, and fear that characterizes police culture requires and inspires loyalty of sometimes heroic proportions. At the same time, the "us vs. them" mentality it produces and "the blue wall of silence" it erects have often shielded police misconduct and corruption from public scrutiny.

The ambivalence that attaches to professional loyalties is no less applicable to other loyalites--to friends, family, tribe, and nation. And it is easy to wonder whether loyalties, so natural to our incorporation into the communities of which we are part, ought to be fostered. If so, to what limits are they subject, and what constraints should be placed on them? At one level, loyalties seem to demand an unquestioning--unconstrained--commitment. At another, unquestioning commitment seems irresponsible and violative of wider, more universal moral demands. Furthermore, since our lives tend to be structured by various communities of loyalty, how should we handle the conflicts of loyalty that sometimes confront us?

Surprisingly few writers have given these questions the attention they deserve. Josiah Royce's 1908 opus, The Philosophy of Loyalty,(1) still remains the locus classicus on the subject. Indeed, it remains one of the few serious explorations of the topic. Political theorists gave the issue some attention during the McCarthy years,(2) but unitil recently philosophers have generally avoided it. Somehow it does not easily mesh with the dominantly individualistic and impartialist tradition of moral theory. David Hume, indeed, spoke of it as a virtue holding "less of reason than of bigotry, and superstition."(3)

The recent publication, however, of George P. Fletcher's Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships,(4) provides us with a new opportunity to address some of the wider and more specific questions with which loyalty confronts us. Divided into two parts, Fletcher's discussion addresses first some of the broader conceptual and moral underpinnings of loyalty, and then considers ways in which loyal bonds may enrich--and sometimes corrupt--various aspects of our interpersonal and social life.

Loyalty, Fletcher emphasizes, is barely understood in a world that characterizes itself by reference to the contractual bonding and unbonding of atomistic individuals. Contracts recognize duty but not loyalty [3-6, 54-55]. Loyalty can be understood only within the framework of communities--human relationships of varying magnitudes: friends, families, ethnic, religious, and national groups. Only so can human life be understood as well.

A key to Fletcher's understanding of loyalty is his recognition that the human self is both historical and universal [ch. 1]. We become the individuals we are through our incorporation into various quite particular personal, group, and institutional networks. Yet at the same time we become identified with a larger humanity, bound by ties of reason and respect [13]. Loyalty, Fletcher suggests, is an expression of the historical self, manifested in the ties that identify family, friends, nation, and God as mine [16-18, 25, 38-39]. There are, he claims, always three parties to such loyalties: "A can be loyal to B only if there is a third party C...who stands as a potential competitor to B, the object of loyalty" [8]. But because one's loyalty to B is marked by the contingency that is associated with the historical self (I might have been born of different parents, in a different country, with a different religious tradition...), loyalty ought to be tempered with tolerance [9]. Even so, loyalties may be minimal or maximal--they may demand no more than resistance to temptation (non-betrayal), or they may require devotion to their object [chs. 3, 4].

Although Fletcher sees loyalty as a form of attachment, he does not view it simply as attachment. Loyalty is a principled human bond, and breaches of loyalty are breaches of duty [9-10, 16-21]. Although loyalties may shift, so too may our duties. And sometimes our loyalties, like our duties, may come into conflict. There may be conflicts within and between the concentric circles of our loyalty--to individual persons and groups, and to God--and there may be conflicts between the demands of loyalty and the demands of impartial, universal morality. Resolution of some of these conflicts may constitute some of the most difficult--and even tragic--choices to confront us.

It is to some of these conflicts and difficult choices that Fletcher devotes the second half of his book. Consideration is given to various "private" relationships in which loyalty is a manifest consideration--exempting family members from the duty to testify in court [79-82]; invalidating surrogate motherhood contracts [82-87]; recognizing gift-giving and inheritance [87-89]; and exempting those who belong to certain close-knit religious and ethnic groups from certain civic duties [89-100]. It is Fletcher's view that only when we see that these various relationships are constituted by bonds of loyalty can we understand and justify their privileged status.

Recitation of (some form of) the Pledge of Allegiance as a means for instilling attachment to the United States is defended against free speech objections, though Fletcher does not wish to enforce its recitation against those whose objections have conscientious origins [ch. 6]. The educational process inevitably inculcates values; and there is, Fletcher believes, an important value to be realized in the promotion of national--albeit pluralistic--solidarity.

Should support for such symbolic expressions of national identity extend to the prosecution of flag burning [ch. 7]? Fletcher believes that so long as flag burning is treated simply as symbolic speech or as behavior that is deemed offensive, no decisive case can be made for its prohibition. Yet he believes that if we look beyond the individualistic discourse that pervades much American jurisprudence, and give some weight instead to a jurisprudence of respect, with its roots in communitarian values, we could see flag burning as the violation of a duty of self-restraint [147-50]. Such values are acknowledged in some European systems, and Fletcher believes that were we to pay more attention to the embeddedness of the individual self in a network of relationships, we might gain a better grasp of what is at stake in the controversy over flag burning.

It is one thing to appreciate the value of loyalty; it is another to establish its proper limits. Loyalty, as Alasdair MacIntyre recognizes, and Fletcher acknowledges, is a "permanent source of moral danger."(5) Several strategies for confining loyalty within morally acceptable bounds are canvassed by Fletcher. There is Royce's formulaic "loyalty to loyalty"--choice of those loyalties that maximize the possibilities for loyalty--others' loyalty, as well as one's own. But this founders, Fletcher believes, on the assumption that loyalties are chosen [151-53]. An alternative approach, one that involves the hierarchicalization of loyalties--ascending from individual others through one's group and country to God--leads to counterinturitive conclusions: Was Robert E. Lee wrong to put loyalty to kith and kin before the Unionist cause (in which he also believed) [154]? Are there certain moral demands, such as those of justice, to which our loyalties must conform [161-64]? There is no simple answer. A place must be found for both: an exclusively impartial morality is too demanding, as an excessively loyalist morality is corrupting. We must work with both, recognizing that as loyalties conflict with certain of the demands of impartial morality they may reach a "breaking point" [171-72].

As tribute to Fletcher's richly illustrated argument, the Editors of Criminal Justice Ethics invited several scholars to reflect on his discussion, and, if appropriate, to link that reflection to some of the problems of loyalty that confront criminal justice practitioners. Our invitation was extended to Andrew Oldenquist, from Ohio State University, whose 1982 article, "Loyalties,"(6) has done much to revive philosophical interest in loyalty; to Steven Nathanson, from Northeastern University, who has recently authored Patriotism, Morality and Peace, a study of patriotic loyalties;(7) and the Western Australian philosopher, Robert Ewin, known already to readers of this journal for his paper on police loyalty.(8) They are supported by Neil Richards, a philosopher from the Police Staff College, Bramshill, in the United Kingdom, and Haim Marantz, from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. George Fletcher has responded to these commentaries in a final essay. It is our hope that through their discussions, further light will be cast on the central, though obscurely understood, problem of loyalty.


(1)J. ROYCE, THE PHILOSOPHY OF LOYALTY (1908); reprinted in 2 THE BASIC WRITINGS OF JOSIAH ROYCE, (J.J. McDermott ed., 855-1013 (1969).


(3)D. HUME, TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE, 562 (ed. L.A. Selby-Bigge ed., 1888).

(4)New York, 1993.

(5)Is PATRIOTISM A VIRTUE? Lindley Lecture, University of Kansas (1984).

(6)79 JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY 173 (1982).

(7)Rowman & Littlefield, 1993.

(8)Loyalty: The Police, 9 CRIMINAL JUSTICE ETHICS, 3, Summer/Fall, 1990.
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Title Annotation:Loyalty
Publication:Criminal Justice Ethics
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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