The state of being faithful to commitments, obligations, causes, and people.

— Loyalty, 21

the state or quality of being loyal; faithfulness to commitments or obligations.
faithful adherence to a sovereign, government, leader, cause, etc.
an example or instance of faithfulness, adherence, or the like: a man with fierce loyalties.

An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. Elbert Green Hubbard

Loyalty is essential to every relationship we have in life that matters – friendship, family, community, country, faith. The loyal person acts for and stays with and remains committed even when loyalty can be personally disadvantageous or costly for the loyal person to do so.

Loyalty means unswerving allegiance in what you do. It is in your mind and heart. Loyalty can be demanding and involve sacrifice. Loyalty is a form of LOVE. It is directed to another person or cause.

Loyalty is faithfulness or a devotion to a person, country, group, or cause. Philosophers disagree as to what things one can be loyal to. Some argue that one can be loyal to a broad range of things, whilst others argue that it is only possible for loyalty to be to another person and that it is strictly interpersonal.

You can buy a person’s time; you can buy their physical presence at a given place; you can even buy a measured number of their skilled muscular motions per hour. But you can not buy enthusiasm… you can not buy loyalty. You can not buy the devotion of hearts, minds, or souls. You must earn these.Clarence Francis

Early concepts of loyalty define loyalty as “allegiance to the sovereign or established government of one’s country” and also “personal devotion and reverence to the sovereign”. It traces the word “loyalty” to the 15th century, noting that then it primarily referred to fidelity in service, in love, or to an oath that one has made.

A Theological view on loyalty

In the Christian Bible, Jesus states “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.” However, it acknowledges a limit to the scope of that authority. There is a sphere beyond the political sphere, in the Christian view, and where loyalty to authority conflicts with loyalty to God, the latter takes precedence. Moreover, Christianity rejects the notion of dual loyalty. In the Gospel of Matthew 6:24, Jesus states “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”. This relates to the authority of a master over his servants who according to Biblical law owe undivided loyalty to their master.

It is the logic of consumerism that undermines the values of loyalty and permanence and promotes a different set of values that is destructive of family life.Christopher Lasch
Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.Morihei Ueshiba

The Philosophy of Loyalty

Josiah Royce in his 1908 book The Philosophy of Loyalty presented a different definition of the concept. According to Royce, loyalty is a virtue, indeed a primary virtue, “the heart of all the virtues, the central duty amongst all the duties”. Royce presents loyalty, which he defines at length, as the basic moral principle from which all other principles can be derived. The short definition that he gives of the idea is that loyalty is “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause”. The cause has to be an objective one. It cannot be one’s personal self. It is something external to oneself that one looks outward to the world to find, and that cannot be found within. It concerns not one’s own person, but other people. The devotion is active, a surrendering of one’s self-will to the cause, that one loves. Moreover, according to Royce, loyalty is social. Loyalty to a cause unites the many fellow-servants of that cause, binding them together in their service. Loyalty is willing in that it is freely given, not coerced. It is chosen after personal consideration, not something that one is born into. Loyalty is practical in that it is practiced. It is actively engaged upon, not passively expressed merely as a strong feeling about something. Loyalty is thoroughgoing in that it is not merely a casual interest but a wholehearted commitment to a cause.

Loyalties differ in basis according to what foundation they are constructed upon. Loyalties may be constructed upon the basis of unalterable facts that constitute a personal connection between the subject and the object of the loyalty, including loyalties based upon biological ties, or upon place of birth (a notion of natural allegiance propounded by Socrates in his political theory). Alternatively, at the opposite end of the spectrum, they may be constructed out of personal choice and evaluation of criteria with a full degree of freedom, unprejudiced by circumstances and facts over which one has no control.

Loyalties differ in strength. They can range from supreme loyalties that override all other considerations, to merely presumptive loyalties, that affect one’s presumptions, providing but one motivation for action that is weighed against other motivations. “Blood is thicker than water.” states an aphorism, explaining that loyalties that have biological ties as their bases are generally stronger than loyalties that do not.

Loyalties differ in scope. They range from loyalties with limited scope, that require few actions of the subject, to loyalties with broad or even unlimited scopes, which require many actions, or indeed to do whatever may be necessary in support of the loyalty. Loyalty to one’s job, for example, may require no more action than simple punctuality and performance of the tasks that the job requires. Loyalty to a family member can, in contrast, have a very broad effect upon one’s actions, requiring considerable personal sacrifice. Extreme patriotic loyalty may impose an unlimited scope of duties.

Loyalties differ in legitimacy. This is of particular relevance to the conflicts between multiple loyalties. People with one loyalty can hold that another conflicting loyalty is either legitimate or illegitimate.

Loyalty and Patriotism

Loyalty is often directly equated to patriotism. Patriotic loyalty however is not always a virtue. A loyal person can, in general be relied upon, and hence people view loyalty as virtuous. Loyalty can, however, be given to persons or causes that are unworthy. Moreover, loyalty can lead patriots to support policies that are immoral and inhumane. Patriotic loyalty can sometimes rather be a vice than a virtue, when its consequences exceed the boundaries of what is otherwise morally desirable. Such loyalties are erroneously unlimited in their scopes, and fail to acknowledge boundaries of morality.

Loyalty and Whistleblowing

In the late 20th century there sprung forth the notion of a bidirectional loyalty between employees and their employer. (Previous thinking had encompassed the idea that employees are loyal to an employer, but not that an employer need be loyal to employees.) The ethics of whistleblowing thus encompass a conflicting multiplicity of loyalties, where the traditional loyalty of the employee to the employer conflicts with the loyalty of the employee to his/her community, which the employer’s business practices may be adversely affecting. Loyalty is only a virtue to the extent that the object of loyalty is good.

The final road is back to the unformed mentality of childhood. Faith and loyalty and duty. Faith cannot move forward to new loyalties and duties.Earthly Powers
We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.G. K. Chesterton
No more duty can be urged upon those who are entering the great theater of life than simple loyalty to their best convictions.Edwin Hubbel Chapin

Eight Steps on How to Be Loyal

We live in a world where selfishness seems to be the rule of the day, and personal gain the objective of most relationships and endeavors. One of the most honorable character traits a person can develop is the ability to be loyal, whether to family, friends, an employer, or clubs and organizations to which we may belong.

  1. Understand what being loyal means. You must be willing to allow your own interests to take second place to be truly loyal to another person or cause. Loyalty is simply the act of putting someone or something else ahead of one’s self.
  1. Be willing to sacrifice. Being loyal in a patriot sense, as in loyal to one’s country, has placed millions in harm’s way in wars throughout history. The people who serve in the modern military are loyal to their nation, its flag, and the purpose they serve for. Being loyal to a friend or your own family can also require sacrifice.
  1. Take time to look at the needs of whom ever will have your loyalty. To take steps of loyalty, you need to recognize that it is a deliberate effort, and to be truly loyal to someone, you have to be willing to invest yourself, your time and energy in them.
  1. Ask yourself if what or who you are offering your loyalty to is worthy of the investment. Is the person or organization who asks for your loyalty worthwhile? Depending on what philosophy or religion you may follow, you might find guidance there. In the Judeo-Christian religion, the order of loyalty may be summed up as “God, Family, and Country”, putting loyalty to God first, then family, and finally, country.
  1. Consider the benefits of loyalty. This may be most obvious in the case of employment. Being a loyal employee often creates its own rewards, with increases in pay, job security, and respect from your employer. Being a loyal employer, who is willing to look after your employees, will give them incentive to be more dedicated and productive for you.
  1. Weigh the costs of being loyal. You should always structure the hierarchy of your loyalties according to your valuation of their importance. If being loyal to a group or club causes you social ostracism or creates negative influence in your family or other social circumstance, it may not be worthwhile to continue that loyalty.
  1. Balance your loyalties with the day-to-day needs of your own life and your family. Being loyal to a volunteer group or social organization at the expense of taking time for your family may result in suffering loss in your personal relationships.
  1. Look for reward and appreciation in your efforts to be loyal. Being loyal to an unappreciative person or group is not very rewarding, and although this implies a selfish motivation for your loyalty, it is a practical thing to expect the person or group to which you give your loyalty to be loyal to you in return.
Loyalty … is a realization that America was born of revolt, flourished in dissent, became great through experimentation.Henry S. Commager
A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.George William Curtis
Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew.Grace Murray Hopper
Money may be the husk of many things but not the kernel. It brings you food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; acquaintance, but not friends; servants, but not loyalty; days of joy, but not peace or happiness.Henrik Ibsen
War is a ritual, a deadly ritual, not the result of aggressive self-assertion, but of self-transcending identification. Without loyalty to tribe, church, flag or ideal, there would be no wars.Arthur Koestler
Yuppies don’t have loyalty. They have useful relationships and meaningful encounters.William Kristol
The greater the loyalty of a group toward the group, the greater is the motivation among the members to achieve the goals of the group, and the greater the probability that the group will achieve its goals.Rensis Likert
Worse than traitors in arms are the men who pretend loyalty to the flag, feast and fatten on the misfortunes of the Nation while patriotic blood is crimsoning the plains of the South and their countrymen moldering the dust.Abraham Lincoln


Loyalty is usually seen as a virtue, albeit a problematic one. It is constituted centrally by perseverance in an association to which a person has become intrinsically committed. Its paradigmatic expression is found in friendship, to which loyalty is integral, but many other relationships and associations seek to encourage it as an aspect of affiliation or membership: families expect it, organizations often demand it, and countries do what they can to foster it. May one also have loyalty to principles or other abstractions? Two key issues in the discussion of loyalty concern its status as a virtue and, if that status is granted, the limits to which loyalty ought to be subject.

Although the term “loyalty” has its immediate philological origins in Old French, its older and mostly abandoned linguistic roots are in the Latin lex. Nevertheless, dimensions of the phenomenon that we now recognize as loyalty are as ancient as human association, albeit often manifested in its breaches. The Old Testament writers were continually occupied with the fickleness of human commitments, whether to God or to each other. To characterize it they tended to use the language of (un)faithfulness, though nowadays we might be inclined to use the more restricted language of (in)fidelity, which has regard to specific commitments. In medieval to early modern uses of the term, loyalty came to be affirmed primarily in the oath or pledge of fealty or allegiance sworn by a vassal to his lord. That had an interesting offshoot as monarchical feudalism lost sway: loyal subjects who were torn by the venality of sitting sovereigns found it necessary — as part of their effort to avoid charges of treason — to distinguish their ongoing loyalty to the institution of kingship from their loyalty to a particular king.

As a working definition, loyalty can be characterized as a practical disposition to persist in an intrinsically valued (though not necessarily valuable) associational attachment, where that involves a potentially costly commitment to secure or at least not to jeopardize the interests or well-being of the object of loyalty.

Although we often speak of loyalty as though it were a relatively free-floating practical disposition — which it can be — it is very common to associate loyalty with certain natural or conventional groupings. Our loyalty tends to be expressed in loyalties. That is, it is not just a general affiliational attachment, but one that tends to be tied to certain kinds of natural or conventional associations, such as friendships, families, organizations, professions, countries, and religions. There is a reason for this. Associations that evoke and exact our loyalty tend to be those with which we have become deeply involved or identified. Our loyalties are not just to any groups that may exist, or even to any group with which we have some association, but only to those to which we are sufficiently closely bound to call ours. My loyalties are to my friends, my family, my profession, or our country, not yours, unless yours are also mine. In such identifications, the fate or well-being of the objects of loyalty become bound up with one’s own. We feel shame or pride in their doings. We will take risks or bear burdens for them.

Although our primary loyalties tend to be associations or groupings that are socially valued, such that loyalty may seem to be an important practical disposition, this need not be the case. For in theory, any association can become intrinsically important to us, whether or not it is generally valued, and it may do so even if it is socially despised. Football teams and coffee chains, gangs and crime families, may become objects of loyalty no less than professional associations and siblings.

There is a great deal of contingency to the development of loyalties. The loyalties we develop to family, tribe, country, and religion often emerge almost naturally out of the process of nurture as we become increasingly aware of the environmental factors that have formed us. There is no more reason not to call our patriotism into question when we see how our country is behaving than there is not to call a friendship into question when we see how our friend is behaving. It may be psychologically a bit harder, but that does not sustain a general judgment about un-chosen loyalties.

The arguments that justify loyalty do not ipso facto justify absolute loyalty, though they do not rule out the possibility that, for example, a person might legitimately, out of loyalty, lay down his life for another. That is often the case in wartime and may also be true of some friendships. The strength of the claims of loyalty will depend on the importance of the association to the person who has the association and, of course, on the legitimacy of the association in question.

It is not part of loyalty to be complaisant or servile, though loyalty may be corrupted into such. In any plausible account of loyalty as a virtue there must be openness to corrective criticism on the part of both the subject and object of loyalty. The “corrective” qualification is important. Not any opposition is permissible. A loyal opponent is not just an opponent, but one who remains loyal. What that entails is that the opposition stays within bounds that are compatible with the well-being or best interests or flourishing of the object of loyalty. Generally speaking a loyal opposition will not advocate (the equivalent of) rebellion or revolution for the latter would endanger the object of loyalty (and perhaps replace it with an alternative object of loyalty).

Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul.Mark Twain
My kind of loyalty was loyalty to one’s country, not to its institutions or its officeholders. The country is the real thing, the substantial thing, the eternal thing; it is the thing to watch over, and care for, and be loyal to institutions are extraneous, they are its mere clothing, and clothing can wear out, become ragged, cease to be comfortable, cease to protect the body from winter, disease, and death.Mark Twain
Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.Woodrow Wilson
A person who deserves my loyalty receives it.Joyce Maynard
All of us should have free choice when it comes to patriotic displays… a government wisely acting within its bounds will earn loyalty and respect from its citizens. A government dare not demand the same.Jesse Ventura

Is Loyalty Extinct?

By Melvin Durai

Several American companies, including a few dot-com giants, have each laid off thousands of people in recent weeks, people who were once aggressively recruited but soon became disposable. Some of these people worked extremely hard for their employer, so hard that they skipped their close friends’ weddings. And now they find themselves asking, “Whatever happened to loyalty?”

Loyalty. It was once something we could count on, like a regular visit from the neighbors. But loyalty has gradually given way to self-interest, just as the neighbors have gradually turned into “that weird family next door.”

If loyalty were an object, you’d soon find it on display at a famous museum, right next to the dodo bird. And people would walk by and say, “It seems so beautiful. Too bad it’s extinct.

Yes, loyalty is indeed an endangered concept. Everywhere you look, it seems to be dying. People aren’t even loyal to their spouses anymore. Remember when the phrase “Till death do us part” meant something? If you do, you’re getting REALLY OLD!

Imagine a modern couple: They love each other so much, they don’t let a single day go by without uttering those three important words: “Where’s the remote?” Even when they’re miles apart, they show their love by forwarding e-mail to each other.

But what if something terrible happens to one spouse, such as a disabling accident? Does the other remain loyal? Only if they’re really special. In many cases, the other spouse dashes off faster than Marion Jones.

Our loyalty to friends is no better. Some friendships do last a lifetime, but most last only until the beer runs out. Many of us are guilty of gossiping about friends. “Did you hear what happened to Jill? She accidentally fed her husband dog food. He was really upset at her and said, ‘How come you don’t cook this good all the time?'”

And what happens when a friend is moving and needs help lifting furniture? Do we volunteer? No way. We wait until the friend asks, then say, “What date are you moving? The 25th? Oh, that’s too bad, I have to wash my underwear that day. It’s been on my calendar for over a year.”

And what about loyalty to employers? Well, they’re not loyal to you, so you’re not loyal to them. Today, you’re the toast of the company, getting promoted to a plush office on the 49th floor and rubbing shoulders with the CEO’s secretary. Tomorrow, you’re just a number, one of 5,000 people being shown the door. “Don’t feel bad,” the human resources director says. “At least you’ve earned a lot of stock in our company. If the stock market bounces back, you can trade it all for a nice, comfortable pair of socks.”

Even product loyalty — perhaps the least admirable but most enduring form of loyalty — has taken a beating. Say you enjoy drinking Sprite. When you go to the store, it’s not on sale, so you buy an imitation brand called Spite. You’re saving lots of money, so you ignore the slogan on the label: “Contains more spite than the average rap album.” After just one drink, you can’t help hating everybody. And pretty soon, you’ve got your own record contract.

Yes, disloyalty does pay off now and then, but in the long run, it won’t taste as sweet as loyalty.

An intelligent and conscientious opposition is a part of loyalty to country.Bainbridge Colby
Confidentiality is a virtue of the loyal, as loyalty is the virtue of faithfulness.Edwin Louis Cole
Every society rests in the last resort on the recognition of common principles and common ideals, and if it makes no moral or spiritual appeal to the loyalty of its members, it must inevitably fall to pieces.Christopher Dawson

The 7 Qualities of a Loyal Friend

What is the key to maintaining quality relationships, especially in today’s hurried world? It goes back to something our grandmothers told us: “If you want to have friends, you must show yourself friendly.”

Here are the top seven relationship ingredients that make a loyal friend. Consider these qualities in light of your current friendships and, if you are married, in light of your relationship with your spouse. (They’re great building blocks for marriage.) These are qualities to internalize in your own life in order to become a better friend. You can also use them as a measure to consider (not judge) potential friendships in the future.

1. Take a genuine interest in others.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” As we listen to others and show an interest in what is important to them, we begin to truly love and understand them. Every person has an invisible sign around his or her neck that reads, “I want to feel important.” Everyone has something to offer this world. We need to search for it, find it, and bring it to the surface.

2. Be a giver, not a taker

Ask not what your friends can give to you but rather what you can give to your friends. (Sound familiar? Sorry, John, for reworking your quote.) What can we give to others? How about a smile, a hug, a kind word, a listening ear, help with an errand, a prayer, an encouraging note, a meal? We can come up with many things to give others if we are willing to be attentive to their needs. (Hint, hint: To know someone’s needs, you must take a genuine interest in the person first.) Giving may take time. It may take us out of our way. But giving and self-sacrifice are part of the definition of love.

3. Be loyal.

Loyalty is a rare commodity in today’s world, but it’s an absolute requirement in true and abiding friendships. When we are loyal to one friend, we prove ourselves worthy of many.

One way we show our loyalty is through our words — or lack thereof. In fact, a key to being loyal is keeping a tight rein on our tongues. If we’re loyal, we won’t tear a friend down behind her back or share her personal story without her permission. It’s easy to gossip or pass judgment; it’s much harder to keep silent. I like what Marsh Sinetar said: “When you find yourself judging someone, silently say to yourself, ‘They are doing the best they can right now.’ Then mentally forgive yourself for judging.” We need to make sure our tongues are used for good and not evil. We should be builders with our words, not demolishers.

4. Be a positive person.

The most consistent comment I hear about what people want in friendships is this: “I want a friend I can laugh with.” We all want friends we can enjoy! People who consistently bring us down with their problems and complaints are generally not the ones we want to pal around with for any length of time. Of course, sometimes a friend will go through a difficult time, and we need to be ready and willing to hold a hand and provide a listening ear. But a friend in need is different than a habitual whiner. We want our friendships to be positive and uplifting — and that means we must be positive, uplifting friends ourselves.

It has been said that there are two kinds of people: those who brighten the room when they enter, and those who brighten the room when they leave. Let’s make sure we’re brightening our friendships with our presence. Remember what Francis Bacon said: “Friendship doubles joys and halves griefs.”

5. Appreciate the differences in others.

Variety is the spice of life. I’m so glad that when I walk into an ice cream store, vanilla isn’t the only option! Each one of us is a unique creation with a variety of personalities, talents, and interests. So why is it that, instead of appreciating our differences, we tend to despise them or become jealous of them?

We often need to overlook our friends’ faults. An old Turkish proverb states, “Whoever seeks a friend without a fault remains without one.” The truth is, we will never find a perfect friend here on this earth. So let’s appreciate our differences, both the good and the bad.

6. Build on common interests.

What is it that brings friends together in the first place? There is usually something that draws us to others — a common hobby, a sport, a volunteer project, a children’s activity.

In our busy society, it can be difficult to create times to get together with people. But if we take advantage of the common activities and interests we have with others, we can fit the time for friendship into our schedules. If you and a friend both like to exercise, work out together. If you both like to read, go to the bookstore together to pick out your next selection, grab some coffee, and talk about the last book you read. If your kids are your common interest, consider getting together on a regular basis to pray for them. The point is to allow your common interests to draw you together.

Married couples need to practice this, too. Many couples tend to get focused on (and frustrated with) their differences while overlooking the common interests that brought them together in the first place. When that happens they need to go back to basics and begin to build again on their common interests, overlooking each other’s faults and appreciating the different qualities they bring into the marriage. Marriages seem to be made in heaven when they start, but they most assuredly need to be maintained and continually tended here on earth. Mignon McLaughlin puts it this way, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

7. Be open, honest, and real.

The word hypocrite originally described actors on a stage who covered their faces with masks to conceal their real identities. Today the word describes people who pretend to be something they’re not. True friendship cannot be built on false images. We must be true to ourselves. We may think we have to present a faultless picture of ourselves to the rest of the world, but why? No one wants to be friends with someone who is perfect! We simply need to be our best selves and allow people to know the real us.

Of course, being open and honest doesn’t mean spilling our guts to everyone. As we already know, loyalty is a rare commodity; when we find it, we know we have a friend we can trust — someone with whom we can share openly about our deepest issues and feelings. George Washington offered some wise words about friendship when he said, “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”

I’ll take fifty percent efficiency to get one hundred percent loyalty.Samuel Goldwyn
Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.Ann Landers
Loyalty is a fine quality, but in excess it fills political graveyards.Neil Kinnock
Loyalty to the country always. Loyalty to the government when it deserves it.Mark Twain
Loyalty to the family must be merged into loyalty to the community, loyalty to the community into loyalty to the nation, and loyalty to the nation into loyalty to mankind. The citizen of the future must be a citizen of the world.Thomas Cochrane

More on Loyalty

Loyalty binds people together. Friendships, marriages, even nations are built on loyalty. Try imagining a person who has no loyalty whatsoever to anything or anyone. Such a person would be friendless, loveless, nation-less. She would feel no devotion to any higher cause or principle – like truth or justice. She would not even be a fan of any sports team. A life like that would be empty, devoid of many of the things that make us fully human.

Of course, loyalties are not all created equal though. Loyalty to a sports team is a shallow form of loyalty. Loyalty to a nation can sometimes demand too much. Or think of the loyalty that some battered wives display to their abusive husbands. There’s a misplaced loyalty if there ever was one.

Loyalty goes hand in hand with trustworthiness. If you can’t trust your spouse not to beat you or cheat on you, then your spouse doesn’t deserve your loyalty. If you can’t trust your government not to send young men off to fight in fruitless, forlorn wars, then your government doesn’t deserve your loyalty.

Loyalty unites and that’s a good thing. But loyalty also divides. And that’s a bad thing. For example, soldiers at war are driven to kill each other by their competing loyalties. Or think of a parent who lavishes more toys on his/her children than they really need, out of a sense of loyalty and devotion, while entirely ignoring the needs of poor, abused, malnourished children around the world. If he would just spend a little bit of his wealth elsewhere, he could do a tremendous amount of good. But his loyalty has blinded him to the needs of others.

Loyalties can also divide a person from herself. Loyalty and devotion to your family, for example, can pull in one direction, while loyalty to an employer can pull you in an entirely different direction. Managing such conflicting loyalties is no easy task.

You could think that you just have to decide. You have to decide where your highest loyalty lies. Do you most want to be a better parent or a better employee or a better friend or a better spouse?

It doesn’t seem quite right that choosing between conflicting loyalties is a brute decision, a matter of simply deciding for yourself to whom or what you owe the higher allegiance. There must be some principles — some moral principles — that tell you who and what you owe loyalty to and to what degree you owe loyalty. Such moral principles should help you resolve such conflicts on an objective moral basis.

Speaking of abstract moral principles, though, depending on your moral outlook, the very idea of loyalty can seem morally problematic. Take utilitarianism, for example. Its highest principle is that you should always act so as to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. But it’s actually pretty hard to make sense of the very idea of loyalty if you are a utilitarian – at least if you are a crude act utilitarian.

To see why, think about two people drowning. You’re in a boat and can save only one of them. One of them happens to be a Nobel Laureate who has discovered a cure for cancer. The other happens to be your spouse. Which one do you save?

The obvious answer to me is that I’d save my wife. But you’d have a hard time justifying that answer on utilitarian grounds. That’s because utilitarian morality has a hard time justifying giving the kind of special weight to one’s wife that loyalty demands. In deciding what to do, her well-being should count, to be sure, but no more, and no less, in your calculations than the well being of any arbitrary person.

That seems wrong to me. But I have to admit that I have hard time putting my finger on just why. My wife means a whole lot more to me than just any arbitrary other person. But does my loyalty and devotion really morally obligate or entitle me to give more weight to her well-being than to the well-being other people?

Consider a further test of just how much added moral weight loyalty endows my wife’s well being with. Suppose it was a matter of saving my wife, while letting two other people or three or four other people drown. Would I still be inclined to save her and let the others drown?

Here I feel something of a quandary – perhaps divided loyalties are tugging at me. On balance loyalty, and the special concern that goes with it, seem to me like very good things. But loyalty can be taken too far and can demand too much. And drawing the line is a tricky matter.

Learning to Be Loyal

Benjamin Franklin believed that virtue was an art, but like most arts, virtue is not instinctive: “[One] must be taught the principles of the art, be shown all the methods of working, and how to acquire the habits of using properly all the instruments; and thus regularly and gradually he arrives, by practice, at some perfection in the art.” The truth is that we all need constant training in the art of loyalty. Loyalty by its very nature demands that we commit ourselves to a person, group, or cause. We suppress our short term self-interests to maintain our bond. In its most noble form, we serve a cause greater than ourselves, designed to unite with another Therefore, in our training to be loyal, we need to learn the real meaning of service to something greater than oneself. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

Teaching Loyalty and Virtue in our Schools

Schools can help develop the art of loyalty in our children by incorporating service to the community into the curriculum— what is referred to as “service learning.” Research on the impact of service learning shows that students who participate in high-quality programs become more civically engaged. But simply including community service in the curriculum is not enough to instill the foundations of loyalty. This is starkly evident by the fact that sentencing someone to community service as punishment for a crime rarely instills greater loyalty to the community. It is not enough simply to do. Instead, our children must come to understand, internalize, and cherish the virtue of doing.

Loyalty demands maturity. While children can and do experience strong emotional ties, loyalty is the result of personal commitment. Therefore, young children cannot be expected to be loyal per se. But young children can learn the preliminaries to loyalty such as responsibility, perseverance, and respect for others. These values are highly interrelated to loyalty and are part of the life lessons that we all expect our children to learn. As such, character education represents a critical responsibility of our schools.

The idea that schools should focus on instilling virtues in our children is not new. In fact, it dates back to the very beginning of education. For Plato, “education in virtue is the only education which deserves the name.”

This belief that education is the conduit for a virtuous society has long been held by some of history’s greatest philosophers. English philosopher John Locke observed, “of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education.” The Founding Fathers of the United States held this same view. In fact, they rightly believed that for democracy to work, citizens must be educated and virtuous. The word and is critical. Education to improve the intellect of all citizens is essential but not enough. For modern democratic societies to succeed, it is essential that all children be educated, and that they be taught to cherish the values that we as a people hold dear. U.S. president and primary author of the U.S. Constitution James Madison warned, “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.” Nonetheless, the idea that schools should seek to instill moral values is not without principled debate. Arguably, parents, not schools, should be the ultimate teachers of values to children. Without question, instilling virtues is first and foremost a parental responsibility. Children are not rugged individualists. They depend on adults they know and on thousands more who make decisions every day that affect their well-being. All of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, are responsible for deciding whether our children are raised in a nation that doesn’t just espouse family values but values families and children.

As conservative radio talk show host, columnist, and author Kerby Anderson acknowledged, “At its face, there is nothing controversial about the idea that it takes more than parents to raise a child. Grandparents, friends, pastors, teachers, boy scout leaders, and many others in the community all have a role in the lives of our children.” The role of the community in raising our children is as old as civilization itself. But the need has likely never been greater. The time pressures of modern society make the challenge facing parents in the teaching of virtue to their children daunting. This is compounded by the overwhelming amount of time that children are bombarded with conflicting, sometimes violent messages. Research indicates that children spend 1,500 hours per year watching television, but less than 40 hours per year in meaningful conversation with their parents. These numbers point to the difficulty that parents face, and the virtual impossibility of their being able to go it alone. By their very nature, schools play a vital role in assisting parents in overseeing children’s development. Children spend approximately 900 hours per year in school. And the reality is that schools cannot function without communicating values to their students. Students must come to value honesty, integrity, cooperation, self-improvement, and learning itself if education is to have any hope of success. As Edward Wynne, professor of education at the University of Illinois, argues, “Schools are and must be concerned about pupils’ morality. Any institution with custody of children or adolescents for long periods of time, such as a school, inevitably affects the character of its charges.” Therefore, it is not a question of teaching morals in school but of deciding which values to instill. Despite much publicized debate, polls consistently show that we are concerned with the values that our children are being taught. And there is actually a strong consensus about the virtues we as a people hold dear. Research finds that greater than 90 percent of us believe that children should be taught honesty, acceptance of different races and ethnicities, love of county, moral courage, and caring for friends and family in the public schools. Similarly, teachers overwhelmingly believe that character education should be an important part of their curriculum.

This is not surprising. Most teachers chose their professions based on lofty ideals. They wanted to make a difference in the lives of children—to help them become better people. Sadly, all too often, teachers receive inadequate instruction in character education. This is a grave oversight. Character education is more complex than the teaching skills that we humorously refer to as the three Rs (i.e., reading, writing, arithmetic). It requires addressing personal growth. Therefore, teachers must also be given the proper training to make character education successful and a priority. The biggest impediment, however, has been legitimizing character education in the curriculum. Beginning in the 1960s, much of the West neglected the importance of character education, instead focusing almost exclusively on the academic basics (e.g., mathematics, reading, etc.). The erosion of our cultural continuity, however, soon became apparent. As a result, there has been an awakened interest in teaching our children core values. Communities, however, cannot simply lay the responsibility of instilling moral character in their children on the schools. It is vital that each community determine the values it wants to be taught in its schools. Schools, parents, and the community as a whole must collaborate on the vision, objectives, and approaches regarding the values they want taught.

There is no escaping our own responsibility in seeing to it that our children are taught the meaning of character, i.e., the ability to know what is good, to want what is good, and to do good. We must support our communities’ schools in this critical role. It is our duty as loyal citizens. The alternative is an unthinkable future. As U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt warned, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One)

Loyalty, be it to a person, group, or cause, most typically occurs when we personally identify ourselves with the object of our loyalty. Therefore, if we wish to live in a loyal society, it is imperative that we as a people share a common identity. Schools play a prominent role in facilitating this shared view. To quote a 1945 Harvard-commissioned study on the objective for education in a free society, “It is impossible to escape the realization that our society, like any society, rests on common beliefs and that a major task of education is to perpetuate them.” This is no less true today. What arguably is different today is the more pronounced challenge of absorbing immigrants with diverse religious and linguistic heritages in virtually every prosperous Western nation. Even in countries like the United States, with a long immigrant tradition, the subject of immigration often results in heated debate.

While diversity clearly enriches humankind—and, in our view, is the strength of the nation—it adds significant challenges to unity. Being part of a larger community demands that we identify ourselves with it. As a result, much of the West finds itself needing to assimilate people of diverse religious and linguistic heritages into cohesive societies. Schools have traditionally been the primary catalyst for creating this unified vision of what it means to belong to a nation—to be American, English, French, etc. In fact, this is something schools should do. One of the main reasons for the creation of public schools in the United States was the need for civic education. As Fletcher notes, “Generating a sense of common ground and shared national identity are as central to the educational mission as teaching the virtues of fair play and disciplined learning.” The purpose, however, should not be to expunge our differences. Different is good! Rather, the goal must be to respect our differences while still seeing ourselves as one people.

The Need for Heroes

The function of the hero in art is to inspire the reader or spectator to continue in the same spirit from where he, the hero, leaves off.John Berger, British author and painter

He was a man without heroes. Few would regard this description as a compliment. None would wish it for an epitaph. It signifies the jaded outlook of a life that has been scarred and lonely. The truth is that we all need heroes—people who inspire us, people who help light the way for us through their own example. And loyal societies also need common heroes.

Our heroes are never as large to us as they are in our childhood. It is at this time we learn to dream of the world that can be, and to see ourselves in that dream. In The Philosophy of Loyalty, Harvard professor Josiah Royce persuasively argues the importance of these childhood idealizations to our development of virtuous loyalty: There is one contribution which childhood . . . makes to a possible future loyalty . . . the well-known disposition to idealize heroes and adventures, to live an imaginary life, to have ideal comrades, and to dream of possible great enterprises. . . . If I had never been fascinated in childhood by my heroes and by the wonders of life, it is harder to fascinate me later with the call of duty. Loyalty . . . is an idealizing of human life, a communion with invisible aspects of our social existence. Too great literalness in the interpretation of human relations is, therefore, a foe to the development of loyalty. It is this view that has caused some to advocate that the teaching of history be designed to promote civic loyalty. Most notably, William Galston, former deputy assistant for domestic policy argues that scientific history should be replaced with a “nobler, moralizing history: a pantheon of heroes who confer legitimacy on central institutions and are worthy of emulation.” As we shall see, this view is not without meaningful debate. But of the need for heroes who fight for noble causes, there can be no doubt. Lonely is the man without heroes. And a community of lonely individuals is no community at all, and certainly not one worthy of loyalty.

The Need for Critical Reflection

Schools have a duty to reflect the values of society. As public institutions, their influence represents the official view of society. A sound education, however, demands that we weigh evidence and accept debate. In fact, building a sustainable, loyal society actually requires that members of the group be able to think critically. This seems to run counter-intuitive to the need to build common identity to create a community. The key is sustainability. Communities, like life itself, must adapt and evolve to survive. There will always be forces at play to break communities apart. We have watched the collapse of entire nations played out before our eyes as these societies ultimately broke down into smaller, more homogenous groups because they could no longer share a common vision of themselves. The forces of disintegration become overpowering when groups in society believe that they are being treated unfairly.

And no matter how homogeneous the society, at some point, there will be members of the group who will feel unfairly treated. It is only through critical reflection that we can adequately address issues of equity and social justice. Without this, the majority will choose either to be blind to injustice or apologists for it. But ignoring or excusing injustice doesn’t make it go away. It only creates a disenfranchised group within society. Without serious attempts to understand and correct inequity, the threat of secession from the group, whether emotionally or physically, is ever present. With both types of succession, the cost to society as a whole is enormous. This is a critical reason it is the truly loyal who attempt to change what economist Albert Hirschman calls an “objectionable state of affairs.” We tend to forget that evils like slavery, racism, and elitism were the norm for society not so long ago. Change occurred not because it was the natural course of things, but because loyal citizens critically considered the issues and challenged conventional wisdom. Therefore, schools must not only provide our children with knowledge; they must teach them the critical thinking skills necessary to handle the complex issues that come with maturity. Only in this way will citizens have the capacity for loyally opposing the status quo when the will of the majority actually threatens the sustainability of the community. And it is only through critical thinking that the majority will see the value in such thinking.

Reconciling the Need for Heroes and Critical Thinking

Florida State University philosophy professor Victoria Costa argues, “educational systems can promote . . . two sorts of goals. One such goal is the production of citizens who are loyal to a particular community. Another . . . is the development of a student’s capabilities for rational inquiry directed at the pursuit of truth . . . there is a clear tension between these two goals.” Without question, Professor Costa is correct. But it is also true that these two goals, loyal citizenship and critical reflection, are not mutually exclusive. As Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently argued: Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals. . . . We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.

The fact is that we need to provide our children with heroes and critical thinking in their education. Unfortunately, the debate seems to be between the extremes on both sides. Free societies are legitimately mindful of their past— visions of “Hitler Youth” indoctrinations cannot, and should not, be forgotten. Similarly, we are wary of the sometimes deadly fanaticism inculcated on impressionable youth in some schools in countries around the world today. On the other hand, educators sometimes overemphasize the negative in our past, to a point that seemingly takes the position that history will teach us nothing except that mankind has suffered over the ages at the hands of various power-hungry despots.

Without question, history is filled with lessons in suffering. And all regimes of any size and longevity have committed acts that violate the rights we now believe inalienable to all of humankind. But the truth is also that life for the human race has never been better than it is at this very moment. And this did not happen by accident. It is the direct result of the sacrifices of many heroes of our past, without whom our ability to pursue happiness would be unimaginable. Those who advocate a completely airbrushed view of our heroes do a tremendous disservice to both our heroes and to the citizens they seek to impress. Infallibility should be left to religious avatars. By removing our heroes from the self-doubts and failings common to all of humanity, their self-sacrifice for the betterment of humankind is reduced to the preordained fate of supermen and superwomen. The message to our youth becomes not simply that these individuals are great, but that they are nothing like us. If they are nothing like us, then the fate of the world is someone else’s problem, or worse still, unfixable by the people of today. Our heroes need to be inspirational and aspirational—otherwise, our best days will always be behind us. Those who advocate an unvarnished view of our heroes do no less a disservice to our heroes and our citizens. All of us, no matter how great our achievements, have significant failings. Were our lives to be the sum of our failings and foibles, all of us would leave legacies of shame. Unfortunately, what is often put forth as critical thinking is in fact cynical thinking—focusing on the failings of the heroes of our past rather than highlighting their accomplishments. For example, George Washington, the leader of the patriot forces in the American Revolutionary War and the first president of the United States, made extraordinary sacrifices in the service of creating the nation. He also owned slaves. Without question, slavery represents a great evil. Of this there can be no debate. Given all that George Washington sacrificed and accomplished to establish the United States, however, was he not a great man—a hero who should be admired by American citizens? Those who would answer that his ownership of slaves disqualifies him from being regarded as a hero stand atop a steep and slippery slope. Just how steep and how slippery will become readily apparent. The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths all share a common patriarch, Abraham. Abraham is believed by the faithful to be the forefather of the Jewish and Arab peoples, and to have had a direct dialogue with God. The sacred texts of these faiths also reveal that Abraham owned slaves. In fact, he had a child with one of these slaves. To those who practice what we have labeled as cynical thinking, are the two billion plus Jews, Christians, and Muslims to repudiate their patriarch and abandon their faith over Abraham’s ownership of slaves? The answer is self-evident. Regardless of our belief or lack thereof in these faiths, the idea that Abraham’s ownership of slaves disqualifies the admiration of Jews, Christians, and Muslims toward him is absurd. The key in resolving the need for heroes and the need for critical thinking is “balanced” education.

It is the same with all great men and women. Like us, they are filled with virtues and failings. Thankfully, most of us will leave this life with our virtues outweighing our failings. Our heroes simply do so in greater magnitude. This is what we must teach to our children, and constantly remind ourselves. It is not simply our heroes’ strength of courage that should give us comfort but their own human frailties. It is their frailties that prove to us all that our weaknesses do not disqualify us from achieving great things. We all can be heroes if we are willing to commit ourselves to noble causes.

This represents the pinnacle of loyalty—the devotion of a person to a cause that unites many as one. This is the underlying quality of our heroes. This is why loyalty ultimately matters. And it is attainable by us all.