Jim Cullen on Loyalty

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.

4 thoughts on “Jim Cullen on Loyalty

  1. I am glad you got to see my post about the moral responsibility of the historian. As you saw I had a horrible time trying to get it to stick in the comments section of the post. If there is a way for me to participate in further discussion on this topic or to see your thoughts as you put together your book chapter I would love to be involved. Is there an email address I can send something too? I think I might have something for your series on what to do with a history major. I just need to find a little time to write it.


  2. Mark: Yes, institutional loyalty in academic circles has given way to a sort of Lockean individualism that leads people to thinking about their “careers” in terms of ambition and self-improvement instead of in the context of an academic or intellectual community in a particular place. Thanks for commenting.

    I also notice that you have been trying to get your comment on the moral responsibility of the historian to show up in the comments section of the post. I have read it via e-mail (all the comments are sent to me via e-mail) but for whatever reason it is not showing up on the blog. I will look into this because I think your comment advances this conversation.


  3. My father taught at a Christian University and was always very loyal to that institution. He would get fund raising calls from the college he attended and he would always tell them that it would not look very good for him to be giving significant amounts of money to a college other than the one where he taught. His loyalty to the place he taught was greater than his loyalty to the place where he got his education. I have noticed over the years that many of his colleagues did not possess that level of loyalty. The question about the nature of the loyalty of an academic to their place of employment is an interesting one. I am looking forward to reading your talk on the subject.


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