Honor Not So Bright

August 31, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

“Restoring Honor” was the theme of Glenn Beck’s rally. No signs, no politics, no policies, just positive principles.

Honor is one of those values that we’re all supposed to cherish. But in most cases, I find it harder and harder to distinguish honor from narcissism and brittle pride, an overweening concern for what people might be thinking of you.*

When someone feels he has lost honor because of what he himself has done, the result can be a resolve to improve, or it can be depression, even suicide. But when he feels his honor has been lost because of what another has done, things can get nasty. Under those circumstances, people usually go about restoring honor not by doing something for someone else, but by doing something to someone else. Think “honor” killings.

I can’t see where our country has lost any honor since Obama took office. A lot of jobs and many houses, maybe some of our hope, optimism, and confidence. But not honor. Beck and his followers disagree. They feel we’ve lost our honor. I’m also sure that they do not see that loss of honor as stemming from anything that they themselves have done. Little surprise then that most Tea Party rallies seem to run on anger.

Ever since the anti-Obama forces fought so hard against healthcare reform, it seemed to me that what motivated them – more so than policies on healthcare, economics or anything else – was ressentiment. So despite the Beck rally awards for “Faith, Hope, and Charity,” despite their Beck’s claiming to “reclaim the civil rights movement” (yes, that’s what he actually said), the theme of honor, especially coupled with the glorification of the military, suggests that what they want is something much less benign. They want revenge. As Paul Krugman wrote yesterday, “This is going to be very, very ugly.”


* For more skepticism about honor as a virtue, see my post on the Landon school.

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