THE NATURE OF HONOUR

MARDSEZ

THAT an inquiry into the nature of Honour resolves itself, in the main, into a dissertation on the nature of Morals naturally results from the intimate relation which exists between the two. The question of Honour is involved in the question of Morals, of which it is a special case, Honour being the attempt to incorporate within the sphere of the Moral something of the lure and distinction which belongs to the Immoral. Morals are the modes of conduct common to a community at any given period of its history: they are customs pure and simple, changing as customs will from time to time, but only in obedience to impulses operating through the entire community. Every man falls in with the customs of his age the greater part of his active life.

Even the least conventional is dominated by them: In what we eat, buy, wear, strive after, praise, blame, reject and welcome, members of a community÷distinguished or insignificant÷are alike or tending to make themselves so. Therefore, to set claim to being moral is as if one were to lay claim to being a water-consumer; to being immoral; an anti-water-consumer. One consumes water so often and in so many forms, voluntarily and involuntarily, that it is absurd to set store by any cut-and-dried attitude of mind in regard to its use. It is useful, if not exhilarating, and moral conduct is the same. It means a vast saving in mental energy and makes available without the pains of specific acquirement the consolidated experiences of masses of people throughout long periods of time. No one praises moral conduct greatly: and none but a word-intoxicated simpleton plumes himself on acting immorally. When a man hears himself called moral he knows that he is being accorded that minimum of praise which almost suggests blame. Nor would he feel himself made more comfortable by hearing himself called immoral. Quite the contrary.

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The situation, as presumably it exists, is one which neither moral nor immoral will meet, and it is to answer this subtle requirement that “honour” is born. Honour is a device of the moralists to escape the consequences of morality: from sameness, monotony, mediocrity, being the name given to estimates of actions conducted in the conventional sphere, but conducted with such a degree of intensity as to constitute a distinction which is conferred on the sphere itself. Moral conduct being customary conduct, it is in its very intention destined to be mediocre. It is the “usual thing,” and honour is conferred when the “usual thing” is done with such an intensity of energy as to sublimate its non-distinctiveness into distinction. Such conduct intensifies the degree to such an extent that it appears to create a difference in kind. It embellishes the normal to the height of the exceptional and its reward is “Honour.” One could illustrate by the analogy of fashions in dress. The leader of fashions is one who, by the definition as it were, sets great store by fashion: but in order to be distinguished in the realm of fashion a leader must perforce intensify every fashion before she is accorded distinctive honours in her line. And as a leader of fashion is to the ordinarily fashionable, so is the “man of honour” to the ordinarily moral. In dress it would involve a good deal of thought and no little inconvenience to avoid being fairly in the fashion. Fashionable clothes must be bought because the wares most easy to come by are just those in fashion. One falls an easy and acquiescing victim to the dead weight of environment÷and finds oneself in the fashion. But the superlatively fashionable must do quite differently from that. Much thought, time and comfort must be sacrificed before one can attain the dizzy pinnacle at which one is adjudged a leader and an adornment of fashion. A reputation of fashion is not won without some toil and exercise of pains. Nor is Honour. In both cases the efforts expended by the purchasers are the equivalents they are prepared to offer in exchange for÷public repute and applause.

 

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Why the public is ready to negotiate is clear: not only in exchange for its gracious good opinion, is action taken which assists the public interest, but more than all it secures the embellishment of its most useful traditions. It may even manage to establish a new record upon the best traditional model, within the tradition itself. It is not for nothing that in war, for instance, the best quality of human material÷the freshest, hottest, and ripest are chosen. For these are the likeliest to spend themselves liberally in contributing new decorations to its roll of ”splendid examples,” and so give the old tradition a new lease of life. Tradition renews its youth, if bathed in the fresh blood of the youngest and least restrained. The lives of the honour-intoxicated, is the only food tradition really thrives on: there exists an alternative÷its life or theirs. When tradition has dragged its long-grown trail about for any length of time it would begin to decay were it not for the decorative intensifying examples of young spirit, free to be squandered÷for Honour. Since then for Honour youth is willing to spend itself fully in the upkeep of tradition and since tradition is the people’s choicest spiritual fare, Honour for expenditure is the people’s obviously suitable exchange. So the “Rolls of Honour” swell and national pride expands and national safety appears a more secure thing. When the danger is past, the scrolls fade and grow faint: perhaps they will receive refurbishing now and then “lest we forget “÷when really they have forgotten. So much for the Honour given to patriots: though every other kind of honour which the people put up for sale has a like history behind it: someone has proved he can be useful and is accordingly to be called a “good fellow. “

 

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It is clear honour is wholly concerned with external verdict: an affair compact entirely of “repute”: it is a matter of estimate: its existence is in no definite and permanent way dependent upon the quality of the deed which chances to secure it. The base upon which it rests, and to which all its seeming idiosyncracies must be referred in order to be made plain, is the opinion of the spectators concerning how a deed’s consequences will affect them in their interests. Compare, for instance, the epithet “Cossacks” to-day and “Cossacks” a year ago.

Honour is born of the people, who accord it in return for signal favours rendered, not for power and spirit primarily. One may have put into tasks, courage, daring, effort, accuracy, and all the powers of a strong soul, without creating an honourable reputation, or an honoured work. Quite the contrary, in fact: the work may be dishonoured and despised as the life-history of in-ventors, explorers, discoverers, and overcomers, in every field of activity could prove. The so-called standards of honour; the phrases “sense of honour” and “principles of honour,” are part of the invasion of the language, by a pseudo-scientific slang. What is called a sense of honour is a fine scent for neighbours’ approval and disapproval. The “man of honour” is one who will not allow himself to come short of the maintenance of other peoples’ good opinion for himself. He is the man who accords the opinions of his neighbours the foremost place in his estimation of values: they are his first concern. The “sense of honour” is a sentinel, advising a man of the nature of condition outside: it belongs to the armoury of fear and caution rather than that of adventurous exercise of power. Though it will often urge men to deeds of distinguished valour, it is prompted by fear rather than courage. The advocates of honour endeavour to put emphasis on the fact that a “sense of honour” is held to by preference: as undoubtedly and obviously it is; what they will not care to enlarge upon, are the motives which prompt the preference, or the nature of those things in relation to which the preference is made. A “sense of honour” counsels a preference for “esteem” rather than for the risks of prosecuting an egoistic interest. That is why “honour” and “self-sacrifice” are always sandwiched together. As a matter of fact “honour” and “self-sacrifice” are as self-indulgent as egoistic enterprise, but not so daring; they make evident in contrast to the more obviously egoistic man’s activity, differences as to their estimation regarding the whereabouts of the sources of pleasure. Both sorts are in pursuit of self-satisfaction but the “man of honour” apprehends that such satisfactions as he can be happy with, must all be stamped with the people’s approval. Popular opinion is the sieve without filtering through which no line of activity is open to him. Which of course limits his sphere of activities enormously. Nine-tenths of the suggestible modes of action are forbidden him as dishonourable: sacrilegious. He has become the slave of a highly fickle and forgetful master. That he has become so, gives a gauge of his spiritual weight.
As to the “principles” of honour so-called, ÷these vary as the demands suggested by the varying needs of the people vary. “Principle” of course, is the forgivable bombast of the hard-driven advocates upon whom falls the difficult task of making extremely fickle and unstable requirements appear immutable and sacred.

There are no fixed standards of honour: since honour is esteem, the only stable “principle” upon which honour can be based is this: that the individual shall at all costs make his conduct such that it shall be thought well of at the time, by the majority of those among whom he lives. The one means of arriving at any “standard of honour” is to ask “Does the public approve” ? If it does the act is honourable and honoured. Why does it approve ? Because its turn has been served, either as regards its safety, its pleasure, or its profit.

 

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The transitoriness of honour: its puff-like qualities which allow the patriot whose early path was “roses”, roses all the way” to find himself “going out alone in the rain to die,” or Crimean veterans limping out their last days in the workhouse, furnish the salutary illustration of the truth that a man may not set out to win honour by making himself the servant of the public interest and then expect to find himself in the end, not its servant but its master. Men who desire public honour the public holds at its mercy: and it keeps them in perpetual thrall: a breath can make or unmake that which is their moving impulse: their reputation. Their behaviour is what the public pleases: they can only hope to receive its gracious but intermittent favours by perpetually feeding it: and even then they are not sure of it. To command public favour and make it faithful is not in the role of the man of honour but of those of the napoleonic species÷the only ones who can bring public opinion to heel. These win the power to command public favour because they have first flouted it÷dared its censure÷and proved themselves able to forego it and yet to prosper. Before they “arrive” they have risked what the man of honour never dared to risk÷the public’s blatant censure. Their power over it dates from days when there stood nothing but their own wits and skill to deter the crowd from crushing them. When they have conquered it, honour÷in the humbled garb of respect÷comes licking their hands: it has been brought to heel as it never could be by the “man of honour,” who sets it up as more than master: as a god. It has been made a property÷one’s own÷by virtue of one’s small account of it.

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The character of one’s greatest pleasures is the key to the difference between the two attitudes of mind÷the egoistic and the honourable. An inquiry into the nature of pleasure would reveal much that is at present baffling in the ways and woes of men. For the purposes of this present inquiry, pleasure may be defined as the sensation of expanding power, and gives satisfaction to desire in direct ratio with the amount of expansion it allows. Into the sphere in which men feel their abilities are best able to come by this, they will direct their energies. The extent to which one can pour oneself into a thing: the amount of oneself which a thing will take and the degree in which it will take it: the completeness with which one can wrap oneself about a thing in the fulness of one’s power: these considerations constitute the basis of pleasure. That “pleasures” are in disrepute is merely the judgment of pleasure on “pleasures.” Their disrepute grows out of the fact that the satisfaction they

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give is brief and limited. The more one may become involved, the greater is the pleasure: whether in love or in work it is the same. The disappointment of “realisations” is the outcome of the mistake of looking to the wrong stage of a process for satisfaction, i. e., when it is finished instead of when it is in progress. Satisfaction is a process not a state, evolving during the exercising of the means and not from the “end.” Goethe pointed out the mistake of being so concerned about the end as to forget to rejoice by the way. The man who is dependent on honour is at this disadvantage as compared with him whose interest is in the action and not in the opinions regarding it. Moreover, dissatisfaction in an interest begins to show when it becomes clear that it will throw part of one’s power back÷rejected. Which explains why powerful men create napoleonic interests, i. e., interests in which they are their own masters and prime-movers.

The statement that a man’s honour is in his own keeping is a smooth gloss, it is certainly “up to him” to keep the favour of the crowd if he wants honour, and when he does keep it, it is by giving the crowd to understand that he is attempting that. Hence, for strong people, the honour of the crowd is a thing to be looked at askance, unless one is paying nothing for it. They realise that the crowd is exacting: it loves you because you persuade it that your life’s energy is being devoted to its well-being, and it requires to be kept continually aware of the fact. And the devotion must be in the way it desires and not as you desire. The patriot wishes to “give” himself to his country: of course he does: it is the completest form of pleasure. But then the country is not concerned about this giving of a man’s self: the only activity in relation to which one is able to do that is one over which he exercises exclusive authority. What the country wants of any man is just what it wants and not what the “patriot” would best love to expend: his powers. A country does not conceive itself the receptacle to receive anything which one considers one’s best, but only for what it considers best for it. The sorrows of the disillusioned “patriot” and the “realisations” of the “man of honour” that his honour lies in other’s keeping constitutes what they are pleased to conceive as the tragedy of the “noble,” overtaken by the ingratitude of the “base.” Certainly it represents the differences between fact and the fancies of the honour-ridden mind. It represents its “just” returns, for men try to win good opinion by obviously easy means, and, if successful, are assured of the quickest returns. One does not thereby say that the expenditure of a man’s self÷as much as it will allow him to expend÷in the furtherance of a “cause” (i. e., the kind of interest which every man of honour, at the outset, thinks he holds the reins over, only to find that it has run away with him), is itself devoid of effort: only that it is effort exercised under conditions which ease all the strain of difficulty. It is effort made to the sound of applause: a music involving a difference like that which the strains of a band make to the toilsomeness of a long march: conversely, acting against public opinion is like tramping along solitary, dusty roads in heat and weariness. But in the end the upkeep of the favourable conditions has to be heavily paid for; they demand a constant allegiance and the wealth of “sacrifice” must always be made to appear equal to its equivalent In the long run it makes all the difference between one man’s power and another’s, whether at the outset one dares to chose the harder way. It is not a matter of toil, nor yet of endurance: both kinds must toil and endure. Where they differ is in regard to the weight they place upon the esteem of their fellows: in how long they can wait for it: how they set about minimising the crowd’s powers to do them damage if they ignore it. It really furnishes another instance of the exercise of initiative and responsibility which we saw, created the difference between employers and employed in a lower sphere.

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There has been an attempt in a ramshackle philosophy to identify the Napoleons with the Heroes: successful exploiters of public opinion with public opinion’s un-questioning supporters÷the men of honour. It is a confusion of “Runners of Hobbies” with “Leaders of Causes,” the Masters of the people with Leaders of the People. (The last accurately should have been the “led” of the people, but let that pass.) The confusion makes itself obvious when it seeks an expression in terms of Morals, where the heterogeneous types endeavour to find refuge under the guise of “Master-morality.” Whereas the entire success of delineation of the Napoleons÷the unscrupulous men and of the “man of honour”÷the scrupulous, depends upon the recognition of the clear-cut difference between the attitudes of the two.

It is a mistake to credit the “Great Unscrupulous” with a contemptuous regard for moral conduct. To believe that they despise or knowingly repudiate in their own lives apart from their strongest interest the “slave” morality of their age, credits them with a higher degree of comprehension than they possess. The sinister character of all-knowingness with which they are invested after the event are bogeys created out of animosities aroused before their success has had time to allot them an accredited place in the scheme of things.

In all sincerity the unscrupulous would tell the moral tale as piously as our Cliffords and Meyers. They “believe” in morality and fully recognise its usefulness in every sphere apart from the line of fulfilment of their own premier hobbies. They see the usefulness of moral conduct in others so clearly that if only success could be won that way they would themselves doubtless be quite moral. It is with reluctance that they permit their hearts to harden against the moral scruples which would block their own forth-right course. They do not make the mistake of pleading that their own conduct could be worked into a system and made into a morality ÷”master” or other.

They know their genius consists in their ability to seize on the exceptional: when the exceptional wears down into the usual, to win success they will be driven to abandon it for a new exception. They succeed just because others do the moral, i. e., the usual thing while they do the exceptional.

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Naturally, therefore, the instinct of the Unscrupulous calls out as loudly as any other against the “immoralist,” so-called. The immoralist introduces the element of uncertainty into things and is as trying and difficult to the Great Exploiters as an erratic and incalculable machine: he is a thing to be scotched as a foe to utility: the quality which the Unscrupulous are on the alert for in all their fellows.

So that there arises an intense and sincere body of feeling against the immoralist, in all quarters which generates a common desire to be rid of him. The difficulty of the successfully Unscrupulous in exploiting him added to the fear which he arouses in less powerful persons results in a general consensus of opinion which paves the way for those supernatural agencies which the preachers and teachers and authority in general invoke for his destruction and of which they make such effective and artistic use. The measure of wrath of the ordinary person reinforced by the anathemas of the Great, all directed against immoral conduct gives to each individual such a salutary notion of consequences that ordinarily they are adequate to put the immoral well under the ban.

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Impulses must be strong or intelligence weak before a stepping aside from the accustomed path is tried. These digressions occur mainly at the top and bottom of spiritual competence with the unusually strong and unusually feeble-minded. Contempt for inability reinforced by a sense of outraged convenience mixes the pitch of disrepute reserved for the pettily immoral: whereas fear which execrates all the more loudly because it dare not despise is reserved for the egoistically immoral, while these are still uncrowned by signal success. When their necessary ÷ if reluctant ÷ immorality has exploited the crowd’s morality to the point of being successful it is able to command the respect of those whose honour it never stooped to woo.

 

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They can then set a new fashion if they so desire: the founders of religions and empires. Usually they content themselves with a few snips at the moral cloth, on the whole leaving customs very much what they were.

The attitude of the Unscrupulous becomes clearer by halting to consider the meaning of Scrupulous. To be scrupulous means to be uneasy, doubtful, hesitating: etymologically, a scruple is a sharp jagged stone: a scrupulous person is one who treads gingerly on a path made jagged by considerations innumerable of doubt and fear and concern. The unscrupulous are such as are either so tenuous that their spiritual substance offers no body resistant enough for consideration of consequences to take hold of it, as is the case with the feebleminded: or so tough and robust that it presents a hardness of surface which is more than able to defeat the jaggedness of the path. Now the effect of a strong interest always is so to harden the surface of contact to all considerations alien to itself (compare this war) that one gradually becomes immune to fear as well as to difficulty. Strong interests cancel all considerations and all fears, but they do not on that account belittle the effect of fears and difficulties on other people whose interests are feebler. To do so would be to deny one’s own superiority: accordingly “scruples,” fears, are recognised and loudly applauded since it is through their influence all round that he who is free from them is enabled to make headway by comparison. As a matter of fact, too much knowledge of motives tends away from success in action: or rather it tends to alter the kind of success striven after.

The play of intelligence creates a comedy which sur-passes in interest the more usual game of acquisition; of material. A superlatively great philosopher is provided with fun enough for a master-hobby merely in watching the blind-man’s buff which the spectacle of things makes. In pressing forward to secure further acquisition of knowledge of motives rather than acquisition of goods he will often let the struggle for power through things slide. Moreover, too much knowledge tends to make one talk too much. Hence; the popularity of “modesty” amongst “worldly” people. To talk too much÷to tell too much÷is bad for certain kinds of successful action. It gives too much away. Analysing an opponent’s case, for instance, throwing the tale of his weakness against him, is really fighting his case for him. It is putting one’s intelligence at his service, and of this, in spite of pig-headedness he is likely to profit in some degree. Moreover a man with anything short of unlimited courage is hampered by seeing his own motives spread out too clearly. In short, Napoleons are not created out of their consciously adopted course of immorality: but out of a concentrated strength of interest which enables them to override deep-grained custom in a limited area of activity, while at the same time they are able to rely on a corresponding inability of the majority of their fellows to do aught save tread warily÷scrupulously÷therein.

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The wide difference in the nature of the “success” which attends the two types÷the Honourable and the Napoleonic÷might have been expected to save philosophers from the mistake of confusing the two, and attempting to block out a so-called Master-morality especially applicable to both. Its failure to do so is probably due to a hypnotising shyness which appears to overtake those who philosophise on Morals, and of which the main result is to cause them to slur over and ignore the meaning of morals, i. e., custom. They are, doubtless, the more inclined to do so on account of the fact that the identifying of morals with custom seems to rob their subject of its portentousness: its observance of its virtue, and its violence of its heinousness. But whatever the cause of their obvious malcomprehension of the nature of morals, one of its primary consequences has been to invest the different kinds of success which accrue to the “Honourable” and the “Egoistic” with a bewildering confusion. People are unable to comprehend why the “rewards” apparently all “go wrong,” and they incline to attribute it to some inherent perversity in the scheme of things: the tricks of a devil so to speak. Yet comprehend morals and the relation of the Honourable and the Napoleonic to morals and the whole story will smoothly unravel itself. Morals are the steady calculable base of conduct which the Honourable serve in order to maintain this base in all its stability, but which, on the other hand, the Napoleonic contrive to make serve them. It is the old antithesis of Exploited and Exploiter: the Good (for morals), but dull: the Dangerous (for morals), but intelligent. The former are pleased÷for a consideration÷to constitute the ephemeral pieces in the Spectacle, the devising and engineering of which makes the amusement of the latter. The Honourable are the rockets which fly high÷and flicker out÷to the thrilled admiration of the crowd. (The flickering out is an important part of the Spectacle: only when they are ready to give their lives for the Cause are the would-be Honourable really it). The Napoleonic find their more prolonged thrill in organising the display letting the fireworks off. The aims and capabilities of the trio÷ Napoleonic, Honourable and Crowd÷work in well together: it is even to be noticed that they are usually on very good terms with each other. Sinister? No! Non-self-awareness in the two parts and half-awareness in the third. An inadequacy of intelligence all round, but of which inadequacy the differing degrees make up an impressive light and shade.

 

 

 

 

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