Loyalty is a subject, or perhaps a virtue, that interests me. I recently gave a talk to a group of Christian academics on the subject of institutional loyalty. In that lecture I tried to offer an alternative vision of the academic vocation that might take loyalty to a college or university more seriously. (In case anyone is interested, this talk will be published in a forthcoming issue of The Cresset under the title “Does the Way of Improvement Leads Home?: Rooted Cosmopolitanism and the Church-Related College.”).
I was thus excited to learn about Eric Felton’s new book, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue (Simon & Schuster, 2011). I was also excited to see that Jim Cullen decided to review the book at his excellent blog, American History Now. Here is a taste of Cullen’s review:
Strictly speaking, loyalty has no ideological valence. But in early 21st century public discourse, it skews Right more than Left. One of the more reliable stratagems by which the Left has tried to dislodge the dominant libertarianism of contemporary politics is the embrace of “social justice,” a term whose egalitarian overtones resist the individualist accents of a Reaganesque vernacular. But social justice has little room for loyalty. Its great strength is its rejection of privilege; its great weakness is its perceived bloodlessness. Felten notes that cosmopolitan liberals all too often dismiss patriotism as a pernicious zero-sum ideology, while glibly maintaining that a critical stance toward one’s country represents a higher form of loyalty. In many cases, that’s surely true. Such people would surely cringe at Theodore Roosevelt’s characteristically bombastic 1918 pronouncement that “The man who loves other countries as much as his own stands on a level with the man who loves other women as much as he loves his wife.” But it may be no accident that marriage and patriotism have declined in tandem with a broader anti-institutional tendency in U.S. society in recent decades. And maybe that’s been a good thing, at least in some respects. But people lacking strong loyalties of their own will always be vulnerable to the terrible loyalties of others.