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Honor and social status

The point of honor

Honor and the law

Honor in literature


The notion of honor has several facets. It is a sentiment, a manifestation of this sentiment in conduct, and the evaluation of this conduct by others, that is to say, reputation. It is both internal to the individual and external to him—a matter of his feelings, his behavior, and the treatment that he receives. Many authors have stressed one of these facets at the expense of the others; how ever, from the point of view of the social sciences it is essential to bear in mind that honor is simultaneously all of these, for both its psychological and social functions relate to the fact that it stands as a mediator between individual aspirations and the judgment of society.

Like the other self-regarding sentiments, honor expresses an evaluation of self in the terms which are used to evaluate others—or as others might be imagined to judge one. It can, therefore, be seen to reflect the values of the group with which a person identifies himself. But honor as a fact, rather than as a sentiment, refers not merely to the judgment of others but to their behavior. The facets of honor may be viewed as related in the following way: honor felt becomes honor claimed, and honor claimed becomes honor paid. The payment of honor involves the expression of respect which is due to a person either by virtue of his role on a particular occasion, as when a guest is honored in accordance with the laws of hospitality, or by virtue of his status or rank, which entitles him to a permanent right to precedence marked by honorific insignia, expressed in modes of address and titles and demonstrated in deference. Honor is also exchanged in mutual recognition: in salutations and the return of invitations and favors.

The same principles that govern the transactions of honor are present in those of dishonor, though in reverse: the withdrawal of respect dishonors, since it implies a rejection of the claim to honor and this inspires the sentiment of shame. To be put to shame is to be denied honor, and it follows that this can only be done to those who have some pretension to it. He who makes no such claim has nothing to lose; he cannot be denied precedence if he prefers to go last. Those who aspire to no honor cannot be humiliated. Honor and dishonor, therefore, provide the currency in which people compete for reputation and the means whereby their appraisal of themselves can be validated and integrated into the social system —or rejected, thus obliging them to revise it. Hence, honor is not only the internalization of the values of society in the individual but the externalization of his self-image in the world.

The sentiment of honor seeks validation, but from what quarter? From God or from the conscience of the person himself? From friends or from kinsmen? From persons in authority or from the crowd? Public opinion, allegedly the arbiter of reputations, arbitrates with anything but a firm hand, since it varies according to the activity and the context. Consensus is not easily established in a complex society; individual views differ, and different groups have different standards. The significance of the acts of public honor and the granting of dignities is, therefore, this: they place the seal of public recognition on reputations that would otherwise stand in doubt and endow them with permanence. It is the function of authority to impose consensus, and it does this with regard to the worth of persons: it converts prestige into status.

Theories of honor have varied greatly as to the relative importance which they accord to different qualities, and this is due to the different social contexts and reference groups from which they derive.

Honor as a moral concept. Honor is commonly considered by moral philosophers to be a state of the individual conscience and, as such, equivalent to the absence of self-reproach. It relates to in tentions rather than to the objective consequences of action, and a man is therefore said to be the only judge of his own honor. If he knows his in tentions to be “above reproach,” then he is in different to the comments of others, who cannot evaluate the quality of his motives. He is committed by his honor to the fulfillment of duties that are recognized as attaching to social roles. The casuists recognized honor as a personal responsibility and admitted the defense of honor as a licit form of self-defense which could excuse actions that would otherwise be sinful. Nevertheless, the churches have always considered that, in the evaluation of his own motives, a man is bound to refer to their authority, which claims for itself the right to define honor in terms of religious virtue.

Somewhat different is the view of honor which derives it from civic virtue, for here it is ratified not by religious doctrine but by the market place. Popular acclaim comes in to qualify, if not to guide, the judgments of the individual conscience, and honor becomes the reputation for virtue. (This was Aristotle’s view.) But once the notion of reputation is admitted as a constituent of honor, its value as a purely moral concept faces ambiguities: a potential conflict emerges between the dictates of conscience and the facts of recognition. This is brought to the forefront by those moralists (not by any means confined to churchmen) who have upbraided the code of honor of their day from the standpoint of morality. Public opinion cannot be trusted to confirm even the most modest man’s claim to civic virtues or even to accord reputation on that basis at all. It is apt to give its applause to more spectacular qualities and to pay honor to other sorts of excellence. With regard to dishonor, it is yet more capricious, for here its great weapon is ridicule, which seldom employs a moral criterion at all, but destroys reputations on the grounds of a man’s pretentiousness, foolishness, or misfortune, not his wickedness. As Moliere observed, one would rather be Tartuffe than Orgon. Public opinion, in its sympathy for the successful, betrays the notion of honor as a purely moral concept.

Honor as precedence. In contrast to the moral view of honor, which relates it to merit—whether religious, civic, or professional—other writers have insisted upon its factual aspect. For example, Hobbes (Leviathan, chapter 10) saw no more in honor than the achievement of precedence and the competition for worldly honors. Honor, in his view, is not a matter of sentiment and aspirations (since all men would like to be honored), but one of individual preferment, to the attainment of which virtue is quite irrelevant.

It is, moreover, from this aspect that the word honor derives etymologically: it first applied to grants of land or the privilege of levying taxes ceded by a sovereign to his eminent servants and supporters. Royal favor was, therefore, not only the “fountain of honor,” as in the view of many later political theorists, but literally the origin of the word. As might be expected, honor was particularly to be earned through military prowess, and originally, it should be noted, it conceded not only social dignity but economic advantage as well.

Honor in this sense accorded precedence. This, however, is not only conferred by royal statute but derives from social interaction at every level in a society; the claim to honor depends always, in the last resort, upon the ability of the claimant to impose himself. Might is the basis of right to precedence, which goes to the man who is bold enough to enforce his claim, regardless of what may be thought of his merits.

Worldly honor validates itself by an appeal to the facts, submitting always to the reality of power, whether military, political, social, or economic and whether it rests upon the consensus of a community, the favor of superiors, or the control of sanctions, For this reason courage is the sine qua non of honor, and cowardice is always its converse. This fact is inherent in its nature and not merely the heritage of a class which once earned its status, or so it claimed, through feats of arms. The mottoes of the nobility (which may serve as a gloss upon their conception of honor) commonly emphasize not only the claim to prestige and status but, above all, the moral quality necessary to win and to retain them; when “all is lost save honor,” this at least has been preserved, and while this is so, a return of fortune is always possible. Willingness to stand up to opposition is essential to the acquisition, as to the defense, of honor, regardless of the mode of action that is adopted. No amount of moral justification validates the honor of a coward, even where retaliation to an affront is ruled out on moral grounds; to turn the other cheek is not the same thing as to hide it. Indeed, in terms of the code of honor, turning the other cheek is simply a means of demonstrating contempt. Christian forgiveness cloaks a claim to superiority that cannot but irritate the sensitivities of the forgiven, for it not only implies disdain, it attempts to alter the rules where by honor is achieved or lost.

However well courage may promote the claims of the courageous, the fact of triumph is ultimately what counts. The distribution of the spoils is the privilege of the victor; where claims to precedence conflict, the decision goes to the big battalions. It is the fact of precedence that establishes the right to command and the privilege of speaking first or last. In this sense, therefore, honor and leadership imply one another, for both are subject to the reality of power.

Honor as a personal attribute. Since honor is felt as well as demonstrated, it is allied to the conception of the self in the most intimate ways. It is a state of grace. It is liable to defilement. It is linked to the physical person in terms of the symbolic functions attached to the body: to the blood, the heart, the hand, the head, and the genitalia. Honor is inherited through the “blood,” and the shedding of blood has a specially honorific value in transactions of honor—the stains of honor, it was said, could be cleansed only by blood. The heart is the symbol of sincerity, since it is thought of—in the European tradition at least—as the seat of the intentions and therefore the home of the true self, which lies behind all worldly disguises. The right hand is the purveyor of honor: it touches; it shakes or is shaken; it is kissed or waved; it wins honor, for it wields the sword and pulls the trigger. The head is the representation of the self in social life, that by which a man is recognized, that which is placed in effigy on coins, and that which is touched in salute, crowned, covered or uncovered, bowed, or shorn. The private parts are the seat of shame, vulnerable to the public view and represented symbolically in the gestures and verbal expressions of desecration. In their association with the excretory function they are the source of pollution, yet as the means of procreation they are intimately connected with honor, for they signify the extension of the self in time. Sexual purity is, therefore, often regarded as the essence of honor in women, whose feminine status precludes their striving for it by might. The body as a whole is especially associated with honor, since physical contact implies intimacy and makes explicit the honorific relationship with another, whether to express attachment, obeisance, or contempt.

Because honor centers in the physical being, a person’s presence bears a particular significance, as Simmel observed when he spoke of a sacred aura surrounding each individual. Whatever occurs in a person’s presence obliges him to react in one way or another, positively or negatively, for he cannot hide his cognizance of it: he is inescapably a party to what he witnesses, and his will is thereby committed. This is important because the essence of the social person comprises his will and (as the moralists understood, though in a different context) his intentions. Hence, apologies for an affront normally take the form of denying the intention, thereby making the affront in a sense fortuitous because not willed. The true affront to honor must be intended as such. For the same reason oaths are binding only if freely sworn and, like the rites of the church, are invalid if devoid of good intention. The oath commits the honor of the swearer by guaranteeing his intentions, for it is not dishonoring to deceive another man, only to “break faith”— that is to say, to rescind an established commitment, for this implies cowardice. This is underlined by the mottoes of the aristocracy (so often devoted to the theme of steadfastness), the broken weapons which clutter up their arms, and the defiant invitations to fate to put them to the test.

This emphasis on intention or will marks an essential point: the essence of honor is personal autonomy. All men are bound by certain irrevocable ties, but the man of honor cannot otherwise be committed; he can only commit himself. To be forced by whatever circumstance to revoke his in tentions once they are committed is to abnegate his personal autonomy. Thus, the concept of honor is tied to precedence, for to command over others enhances it, while obedience restricts it.

Collective honor. The group possesses collective honor, in which the individual members par ticipate. It affects their honor and is affected by their behavior. The honor of a collectivity is vested in its head and in symbolic representations; flags, crests, coats of arms, badges, uniforms, and all the insignia whereby members of the group are recognized are the objects of a greater or lesser de gree of reverence and are treated as though they possess honor in themselves. In the anthropological language of an earlier generation, such objects have mana, a concept that also expresses the idea of honor when it is applied to individuals or to parts of their person.

While some types of groups are joined voluntarily and may be left in the same way (or may expel one of their number), membership in other groups is ascribed at birth. In the latter type of group, honor is bound up integrally, for the group defines a person’s essential nature. The family (and in some societies the kin group) and the nation are the most fundamental of these collectivities, and thus traitors to their fathers or their sovereigns are the most execrable of all. (Parricide and regicide are sacrilegious but homicide is not.) The family is the repository of personal honor, for honor is hereditary, not merely in its aspect as social status but also with regard to the moral qualities which attach to it. Therefore, the dishonor cast on one member is felt by all.

Male and female honor are clearly differentiated with regard to conduct. A moral division of labor operates within the family, especially in the Latin countries: the aspect of honor as precedence becomes, according to this system of values, the prerogative of the male, while honor as sexual purity is restricted to the female. Hence, sexual conquest enhances the prestige of men; sexual liberty defiles the honor of women. (Congruently, a high value is attached to virginity in unmarried girls.) The defense of female purity, however, is a male responsibility, and men are therefore vulnerable to dishonor not through their own sexual misconduct but through that of their womenfolk—that is to say, members of the same nuclear family, including mother, wife, unmarried sister, and daughter. Hence, sexual insults that impugn the honor of men refer not to them but to their women.

The aspect of honor that is associated with social status descends preferentially in the male line —as hereditary titles, for example—but in its moral aspect a man’s honor comes to him primarily from his mother, and further, his sister’s honor reflects upon his through their mother. However, if a man inherits his honor in this way, he is, above all, actively responsible for the honor of his wife, and the cuckold (expressed in the Mediterranean by an analogy with the he-goat) is the paragon of dishonor, equal only, if in a different way, to the traitor. It should be noted that the cuckolder is exculpated: though he represents the cuckoo in the analogy on which the word is based, the title is reserved for the man whose marital right is usurped (and the same transposition is performed in the symbolism of the Mediterranean by endowing the wronged husband with the horns). Although the cuckolder may be thought immoral, he bears no stigma of dishonor. Once more dishonor goes to the defeated, and ridicule is visited on the defiled one rather than on the guilty. This code of honor is attenuated to the degree that women are regarded as independent of male authority.

Honor and the sacred. The connection between honor and the sacred does not derive simply from the ambition of the church to stand as the arbiter of honor, a role that it has never entirely succeeded in achieving in the popular view, but rather from the sacred nature of honor itself, which, as the essence of the social personality and the personal destiny of the individual, stands in a preferential relation to the deity; a man’s true self is known only to God, from whom nothing can be hidden and in whose eyes honor is ultimately vindicated. Honor is committed by invoking the sacred, whether in the form of a conditional curse witnessed by the spiritual powers or by implicating any other agency from which honor derives. The appeal to the sacred acts as a guarantee that the swearer will accept his shame under the prescribed circumstances. Hence, even in modern law courts oaths are required. The commitment of honor to the sovereign derives also from the fact that he stands, as divinely authorized ruler, in a preferential relationship to the Deity, a conception that has survived centuries of rebellion and even the passing of the monarchy altogether in many instances. Sacredness attaches to the notion of legitimate rule, regardless of the doctrine in which this is expressed. For this reason republics have tended to conserve the sanctifying rituals of the monarchies they superseded.

Honor and social status

The distribution of honor in communities of equals, whether local groups or specialized institutions, tends to relate to eminence, recognized virtue, and age. However, in a stratified society it accords with social status, and as such, it is more often ascribed by birth than achieved. Thus, medieval society was ranked in terms of honor, from the aristocracy, who had the most—on account of their power, their valor, and their proximity to the king —to those who had none at all, the heretics and the outcasts, those who indulged in infamous occupations or had been convicted of infamy.

Honor is hereditary, as we have seen; the excellence that once brought honor to the forebears is credited to their offspring, even though it may no longer be discernible in their conduct. Titles and property, the honorific and effective forms of hereditary power, endow the social system with continuity in this regard; honor is ascribed. Yet, the supposition of excellence derived from birth is constantly betrayed, and a conflict therefore emerges between the criterion of prestige derived from personal worth and that which looks to social origins. This has provided one of the favorite themes of European literature from the twelfth-century Poem of the Cid onward, a theme which is matched in popularity only by its counterpart: the role of money rather than excellence in the acquisition of honor. The ideal unity of honor is apt to fragment when it strikes the facts, and the different bases for according it become opposed to one another.

Moreover, the criteria by which honor is bestowed have greatly varied in time: occupation and religious orthodoxy were once important, although they are no longer. With the evolution from a system of legal status to a class system, economic privileges ceased to be attached to status, and the contrary came to be true. In the modern world the criteria appear to be changing again: titles can no longer be purchased and wealth gives way to fame as the measure of reputation—a fact not unconnected with the development of the communications industry. The theater, which was once a dishonorable occupation, now presents candidates for the British sovereign’s Honours List, which also finds a place for jockeys and football players.

The struggle for honor is palliated by a provision that saves society from anarchy. Indeed, this struggle is not only the basis upon which individuals compete but also that on which they cooperate. Here the notion of steadfastness is crucial, whether it binds together those who recognize their mutual equality or those whose relationship is one of patron and client. The reciprocal demonstrations of favor, which might be called mutual honoring, establish relationships of solidarity. The notion of a community of honorable men replaces the competition for honor; reputation attaches to honesty, and the steadfastness that honor enjoins is seen in financial reliability and contractual faith—the “honoring” of a check or bond displays this sense. Honor then comes to be the guarantor of the credit system. This notion of honor was, in particular, the ideal of the Puritans, who attempted to suppress all its competitive and flamboyant aspects in favor of equating it to conscience (only to see them reemerge triumphant with the Restoration, whose literature pays more tribute to cuckoldry than that of any other period in the English language). The relation of the puritan ethic to capitalism, first stressed by Max Weber and R. H. Tawney, restricts competition to the field of wealth and, while giving financial probity a prime place in the notion of honor, makes financial success the arbiter of prestige. Under such conditions social status inevi tably becomes increasingly an economic matter, to the exclusion of all other criteria.

Honor is always bound to wealth and posses sions, for they provide an idiom in which to express relationships of relative inequality. Thus, hospitality, charity, and generosity are highly honorific; provided that they derive from free will, they gain honor as expressions of magnanimity. Beneficence transforms economic power into honor. However, honor is thus gained at the potential expense of the recipient. By doing someone a favor you humiliate him unless he may reciprocate. Hence comes the necessity for the return of hospitality and for accepting its return. The Northwest Coast Indians of America carried this principle to its limits in the potlatch, in which the demonstrations of largesse and the destruction of property were performed with the open intention of humiliating a rival. Through the challenge to reciprocate hos pitality, they expressed their hostilities and, as they put it, “fought with property.”

Honor is the backbone of the system of patron age. He who admits his inferiority and accepts patronage is not dishonored by attaching himself to a superior. On the contrary, his honor is enhanced by participating, through this attachment, in his patron’s honor. The honor of a patron is equally enhanced by the possession of clients; he gains prestige in return for the protection that he affords to those who recognize his power. Honor accrues through being paid and is lost through being denied where it is due. By giving it away, you show that you have it; by striving for it, you imply that you need it. This is the meaning of magnanimity.

The struggle for honor takes place, therefore, only where precedence is both of value and in doubt. Competition for it has understandably been more acute in the higher reaches of society, where family pride and also the practical importance of precedence are greatest (this can be clearly seen, for example, in the descriptions of the French aristocracy in the memoirs of the duke of Saint-Simon). It must not, however, be thought that there is no competition for honor in plebeian communities. The agonistic quality of personal and kin-group relations in the villages of the Mediterranean is most striking, especially among pastoralists, whose unstable fortunes urge them to compete. This competition occurs, nonetheless, within a framework of moral values that public opinion upholds. The point of honor, whether among the aristocracies of former times or the modern Greek shepherds or Arab peasants, imposes a code for the distribution of honor that contains conflict within boundaries set by the ethical code of the community.

The point of honor

In the courts of Renaissance Italy there arose a code of behavior which regulated the exchange of honor and the competition for it and whose ultimate sanction was the duel. This code spread, not without changes and adaptations, throughout Europe and America and persisted in many places into the twentieth century. A flow of published works four centuries long defined the modes and pretexts for taking offense, the formalities of challenge and the duel, and the circumstances in which honor could be judged to be lost or redeemed. A veritable jurisprudence of honor was elaborated, which makes explicit certain fundamental characteristics of the concept.

The point of honor, as this code of behavior was called, was confined to the upper class. The honor of a man could not be impugned by someone who was not a social equal—that is, someone with whom he could not compete without loss of dignity. The impudence or the infidelity of an inferior could be punished, but honor was not attained by reacting to the action of an inferior. Thus, honor was impregnable from below. Willingness to enter a duel depended upon the recognition of equality of class (but not of rank).

An affront depends upon being made public, for repute is lost only in the eyes of others. Hence, it was even sometimes maintained that no affront could be given in a purely private conversation. On the other hand, against public ridicule there is no recourse, since an affront must be performed in dividually to be resented by an individual. The act of resentment is always an individual responsibility; whether or not a man wishes to accept humiliation depends upon his own will. According to the code of honor, an insult could only be resented by the recipient himself, unless he were impeded from doing this because of age, sex, infirmity, or clerical status. Even then it could be resented only by a close kinsman—that is, one who participated in his honor. Briefly, the duel decided quarrels between individuals who competed for precedence and repute in the eyes of a public composed of their social equals. It was even at one time suggested that by destroying the honor of another man one might add to one’s own, just as knights once added to their fame by their victories in single combat.

The affront placed honor in jeopardy, a state of threatened desecration from which it could only be saved by the demand for satisfaction. By showing his readiness to fight, a man restored his honor to a state of grace. Honor, however, was indifferent to the result of the duel, which demonstrated only the prowess of the victor and the choice of fate. The form of the act of resentment which constituted a challenge was the mentita, “giving the lie.” Since deception was not in itself considered dishonorable behavior, it seems anomalous that the accusation of lying constituted the paramount in dictment of honor. However, first of all, the accusation constituted a counterinsult and bound the man who delivered the original insult to issue the challenge, thereby permitting his antagonist to gain the choice of weapons. Yet, other than as a tactical device, this form of challenge relates to the obligation to tell the truth: one is under no obligation to tell it to an inferior; one owes it to a superior. (Children are required to tell the truth to adults, who feel no reciprocal duty.) To lie to an equal is an affront, since it represents an attempt to treat him as an inferior. On the other hand, lying could be interpreted as the subterfuge of one who lacked the courage to tell the truth or to act openly. The ?mentita, therefore, committed the response of the accused person, since failure to respond confirmed this implication of cowardice, while honorable response invalidated it at the cost of making manifest the intention to insult.

Failure to react to a slight was open to two conflicting interpretations. Either it implied cowardice and the acceptance of humiliation, which entailed the loss of honor, or it implied contempt, the denial that the author of the slight possessed sufficient honor to affront, that is, a denial of his equality. In the latter case the author, not the victim, of the slight was dishonored. Disregarding a slight could even be treated as magnanimity, on condition that the insulted person possessed the right to forgive or to overlook—that is to say, that he was indeed superior. On the other hand, to pick quarrels over nothing, to exploit the humiliation of others beyond the point that public opinion recognized as legitimate in order to establish precedence, was consid ered dishonorable, for it spelled lack of magnanim ity. It was the court of public opinion that judicated between rival interpretations of the failure to react to a slight; in the last resort, a man was dishonored only at the point where he was forced to realize that he had been, where his shame was brought home to him. Those who possessed impregnable honor could afford not to compete for precedence, but to show those magnanimous qualities which are as sociated with it in the figurative senses of the words that denote high status: nobility, gentlemanliness, etc. Words which denote low status imply the contrary of magnanimity: meanness, villainy.

Although the point of honor was much criticized from the moral viewpoint, it provided a means of settling disputes. It did not permit the unbridled use of violence. Once satisfaction was accorded, the quarrel could not rightfully be taken up again. In this way it can be contrasted with the moral obligation to seek vengeance in order to redeem honor and with the state of feud that this commonly leads to. The point of honor was, therefore, a pseudolegal institution governing the sphere of social etiquette where the law was either not com petent or not welcome.

Honor and the law

The code of honor associated with the duel appeared in history at a time when the state was endeavoring to suppress private violence; dueling was made illegal, as well as condemned by the church, almost from its inception as a formalized mode of settling disputes. Yet, the duel was also, in some ways, a continuation of an earlier tradition. The right of knights to prove their worth in single combat was at one time inherent in the right to bear arms, and jousting provided a festive occasion on which to do so (though it finally developed into a sport). During the Middle Ages the private encounter was also recognized as a form of legal process. The judicial combat allowed for the settlement of disputes by remitting the decision to divine judgment; it was a form of ordeal.

With the development of the legal system and the increased centralization of power, sovereigns aspired to take the settlement of disputes out of the unpredictable hands of the Deity and submit it to the adjudication of courts. The courts, however, are ill-designed to fulfill the requirements of the man of honor, in that, first of all, they oblige him to place his jeopardized honor in the hands of others and thus prevent him from redeeming it for himself—the only way in which this can be done. The legal process involves delay (prejudicial to its state), expense (unwarranted for one who would settle accounts at once and for nothing), and publicity, which aggravates instead of mitigating the affront which is the cause of the dispute. Moreover, honor is not commutable into payment, so the compensation that courts impose offers no valid satisfaction. Finally, the settlement of a dispute in court excludes the possibility of demonstrating personal worth through the display of courage. The law has never, therefore, appealed to adherents to the code of honor, even where it has provided a means of redress against the kind of conduct that constitutes an affront. This it cannot easily do in any case, since it operates according to a different reasoning. Thus, although in all the countries of Europe legislation against dueling was passed repeatedly from the sixteenth century onward, the custom continued, with a large measure of connivance from the judicial authorities, until the twentieth century.

Although all the countries of Europe use the concept of honor in their ceremonial pronouncements, it is explicity recognized only in the laws of the countries of southern Europe, where honor appears not only as a factor in the cultural background of court proceedings but also as a legal concept. In these countries the legal codes define the jural significance of honor. However, honor relates to conduct as a disculpating factor by making otherwise reprehensible behavior justifiable in terms of the legitimate motive which derives from the sense of honor. The right of a man to defend his honor is far more clearly recognized in the judicial proce dures of southern European countries than in Anglo-Saxon law, which generally requires the demonstration of material damage for an affront to be actionable.

The constancy required by honor prefigures the law’s demand for regularity; both establish a commitment upon the future. Nevertheless they differ in the way they commit the future, for honor demands fidelity to individuals, law to abstract principles. Therefore, where they exist together, they are liable to conflict, for one relates to persons and is centered in the will; the other aspires to reduce persons to legal categories, which involves attacking the fundamental principle of personal autonomy. The man of honor is a law, but a law unto himself. Wherever the authority of law is questioned or ignored, the code of honor re-emerges to allocate the right to precedence and dictate the principles of conduct: among aristocracies and criminal underworlds, schoolboy and street-corner societies, open frontiers and those closed communities where reigns “the Honorable Society,” as the Mafia calls itself.

Honor in literature

As we have seen, the different aspects of honor are liable to come into conflict with each other and to present individuals with an unenviable choice. This was the theme of the Spanish theater of the “Golden Century” in which concern for honor had become exacerbated. The dramatists presented this theme in the form of tragedy in an aristocratic setting while the novelists tended to treat it with comic satire in a plebeian context. Hence, the teatro de honor concerns such matters as marital honor, honor as precedence, honor as social status, civic virtue represented by plebeian honor, female purity, fidelity to the king, the duty to redeem honor by vengeance, the difficulty of hiding dishonor, and the power and perfidy of public opinion. The Spanish dramatists were, on the whole, critical of aristocratic honor and sometimes betrayed a reformatory intention, while the satires of the nov elists frequently attacked the very notion of honor itself, contrasting it with the real power of money. The greatest and most savage satire on honor is assuredly the Lazarillo de Tormes, which antedates Falstaff’s famous tirade by nearly half a century.

Every ruling power claims the right to distribute honor; to lay down the principles by which it is to be won is the essence of authority and the process of legitimation. Authority, like honor, is allied both to the sentiments and to the reality of social status and looks both to the possession of force and to popular consent, for authority is, as it were, the judicial aspect of honor, whose transactions and rituals set the seal of legitimacy upon the social order, making its commands appear necessary and right. The king can do no wrong. His word imposes consensus. Yet, if what is done in his name is un popular, it does not escape criticism. His legitimacy is eventually brought into question. The frailty in authority qualifies its sacredness by exposing it to the danger that a counterconsensus will emerge to brand as infamous the fount of honor. The with drawal of consent reveals the Achilles’ heel of authority; the loss of respect foreshadows delegitimation.

Therefore, the polemics with regard to the nature of honor mirror the social conflicts of their age, for they reflect the interests of different groups and classes striving to impose their evaluations of be havior. The polemics both reflect and promote the struggle between these groups. The facts of power decide the moral arguments. Through its social function as a mediator, honor dictates the modes of allegiance that obtain throughout the social structure, and each particular notion of honor favors a certain faction. Hence, the aristocracy and the church adhered to quite different definitions of honor throughout the history of modern Europe. The new middle classes had a different notion of it, again, as Speier (1935) has pointed out. Differ ent classes differ in their concepts of honor, and the concepts of rural communities differ from those of the city, though not always in accordance with that romanticized image of Arcadia which has stirred the literary imagination ever since Horace. A particular code of honor must be seen against its social background in order to be understood.

Modern urban society accords precedence largely on an economic basis. The independence of women has relieved men to some extent of their responsibility for them and, thus, of their vulnerability through them. The power of the law and the range of its competence have greatly increased, thus eliminating the possibility of winning honor through physical courage, save in certain sports and in war. The power of personal patronage has declined in favor of impersonal and institutional allegiances. The vocabulary of honor has acquired archaic over tones in modern English, yet the principles of hon or remain, for they are not, like the particular conceptions in which they are manifested, the product of a given culture at a given time, but universal principles of social action that may be found clothed in the idiom of head-hunting, social refinement, financial acumen, religious purity, or civic merit. Whatever the form the principles of honor may take, they serve to relate the ideal values of a society to its social structure and to reconcile the world as its members would see it with the world as it is.

Julian Pitt-Rivers


Adkins, Arthur W. H. 1960 “Honour” and “Punishment” in the Homeric Poems. London, University of, Institute of Classical Studies, Bulletin 7:23–32.

Ashley, Robert(c. 1600) 1947 Of Honour. Edited by Virgil B. Heltzel. San Marino, Calif.: Huntington Library.

Barber, Charles L. 1957 The Idea of Honour in the English Drama: 1591–1700. Goteborg (Sweden): Elanders.

Bryson, Frederick R. 1935 The Point of Honor in Sixteenth-century Italy: An Aspect of the Life of the Gentleman. New York: Columbia Univ.

Campbell, John K. 1964 Honour, Family and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community. Oxford: Clarendon.

FarÈs, Bishr 1932 L’honneur chez les Arabes avant I’Islam: Ètude de sociologie. Paris: Librairie d’Amé-rique et d’Orient.

Hooker, Timothy 1741 An Essay on Honour: In Several Letters Lately Published in the Miscellany. Lon don: No publisher given.

Jones, G. F. 1959 Honor in German Literature. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

MenÈndez Pidal, RamÓn 1957 Del honor en el teatro español. Volume 2, pages 357-371 in Ramón Menén dez Pidal, España y su historia. Madrid: Ediciones Minotauro.

Montesquieu(1748) 1962 The Spirit of the Laws. 2 vols. New York: Hafner. → First published in French.

Peristiany, J. G. 1966 Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Speier, Hans(1935) 1952 Honor and the Social Structure. Pages 36-52 in Hans Speier, Social Order and the Risks of War: Papers in Political Sociology. New York: Stewart.

Thimm, Carl A. 1896 A Complete Bibliography of Fencing and Duelling, as Practiced by All European Nations From the Middle Ages to the Present Day. London and New York: Lane.

Wilson, John L. (1838) 1858 The Code of Honor: Or Rules for the Government of Principal and Seconds in Duelling. Charleston, S.C.: Phinney.


views updated May 18 2018


The tradition of honor has largely disappeared from modern discourse with the exception of military life. In that world, separated from civilian conventions, this ancient, once practically universal, code of behavior still reigns. No army, past or present, has long survived without a disciplined sense of hierarchy under orders, an ideal of valor under battle stress, and an intense bonding of warriors under arms. For those at war, faith in the ethic helps to reduce a sense of vulnerable isolation and fear of dying alone and unmourned. With all its qualities of discipline and heroic bearing, though, honor's relationship to violence is undeniable. Thanks in part to films including Gone with the Wind, the popularity of Civil War reenactments, and neoconservative Rebel flag waving, nostalgia for the romance of heroism and cavalier manners persists in public memory. Honor also has long had a merciless side, however, that is not always recognized. As the sociologist Orlando Patterson asserts, all slave societies from prehistory to the modern era have required an adherence to that ethic. The slaveholding South was no exception.


From the beginning of regional settlement, traditions of honor served as the basis for conventions in the relative absence of institutional, mediating structures. The ethic embraced the whole spectrum of living, from the famous practice of dueling as an assertion of power to romantic literary representations. Equally important for understanding its scope is honor's centrality to the relationship between men and women and to a reliance upon family and exclusive community. A biological ranking placed male over female, age over youth, rich over poor, strength over frailty, and, above all, white over black. It was a world of stark moral contrast—good vs. evil, honorableness vs. disgrace. For some men, honor was a reward above all others. Richard II in Shakespeare's play of the same name cries out, "Take honor from me, and my life is done." Less eloquently Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina confessed, "Life without honor is the deepest damnation. Not to do your duty is dishonor" (McDonnell, p. 123). Yet, the transatlantic community has always known that traditional honor relies upon public opinion and is a capricious monarch. To borrow again from Shakespeare, this time from Troilus and Cressida, outward shows of honors—"place, riches, and favour, / Prizes of accident"—sometimes weigh more than integrity. For white antebellum Southerners like Hammond, honor embodied the independency of the individual, the white family, and the property holder whose eternal rights included "laisser asservir"—the white man's right to hold human beings as possessions (Fisher, p. 412).

Whereas males might take different roads toward the goal of respect, women were defined by their ineligibility for reaching that prize by similarly aggressive means. The convention for them took on a negative character: modesty, not outspokenness; chastity, not license; submissiveness, not assertiveness; domesticity, not public notice. A woman's obligation was not merely to obey men but also to rear sons valorously dedicated to the protection of dependent family members. The mother of Sam Houston of Tennessee, founder of the Texas Republic, once handed her young son a musket and reminded him that it would be better for her sons to "fill one honorable grave, than one of them should turn his back to save his life" (Wyatt-Brown, p. 51). Although increasing religious conversions and an emerging commercial climate were well underway by the advent of secession and civil war, Southerners learned to combine old ways with the newly adopted. As a result, the venerable code survived the transatlantic changes that set the Northern industrializing states on a different, secular, and progressive path.


Projected aggressively outward, honor permitted its adherents few inner doubts. Its psychology and its opposite, shame, have always differed from the ethic of conscience and guilt. In the latter case, a sense of remorse arises from interior, often religious sources, rather than from threats of public exposure. To illustrate, consider a planter who kept his slave mistress at a distance from his residence. His male friends would know and, as he walked by, slyly joke about his upcoming rendezvous. Affably he would acknowledge their smiles. But if his wife were to find out and be openly pitied, and if both men and women together gossiped about it, the adulterer would only then lose his honorable standing and be disgraced. Appearance of virtue, not the real thing, mattered most.

The major duty of the man of honor was to uphold his own and his family's reputation and to protect the purity of the bloodline. In a chronically distrustful world, he was expected to guard the chastity of female relatives. They, in turn, could seek no autonomy. A case of black amalgamation–black male with white female—was the most horrifying possibility imaginable. In early 1861 John S. Preston, secession commissioner from South Carolina, informed the Virginia convention debating disunion that abolitionists would force white women to cohabit with blacks. "No community of laws, no community of language, of religion, can amalgamate . . . people whose severance is proclaimed by the most rigid requisitions of universal necessity," he warned (Reese 1:90). Such Protestant clergymen as Benjamin Morgan Palmer and John Fletcher asserted that in Genesis 9 God cursed Ham's sexual sin of alleged miscegenation, bringing divine castigation upon the black race. That ancient incident had supposedly undermined the natural order that the Creator had fashioned at the world's beginning.

In addition to protecting families from dishonor, sexual and otherwise, the Southern male was expected to react forcefully to insult or to anticipate humiliation. This was the underlying principle of the duel. Members of a community expected that violent retribution, sometimes by the gentlemen's ritualized encounter on the field of honor, should be the manly vindication of an insulted party. The duel was ordinarily confined to those admitted to a circle of gentlemen. The principals were required to be approximately the same in age, rank, and public standing.


John Lyde Wilson's (1784–1849) dueling manual, published in 1838, was the only such set of instructions published in America. It did, however, resemble "The Irish Code of Honor," a manual that Wilson attached to a later edition of his brief pamphlet. In the preface to his text, Wilson, a lawyer then senator and governor of South Carolina, stoutly defended the practice of dueling against its critics. He asks where could one ever hope to find a "tribunal to do justice to an oppressed and deeply wronged individual?" Gentlemen should not "be subjected to a tame submission to insult and disgrace," he asserted (Williams, p. 88). If nations resorted to arms and bloodletting to protect liberty, happiness, and reputation, it followed that men of honor were justified in doing likewise.


  1. Whenever you believe you are insulted, if the insult be in public, and by words or behavior, never resent it there, if you have self-command enough to avoid noticing it. If resented there, you offer an indignity to the company, which you should not.
  2. If the insult be by blows or any personal indignity, it may be resented at the moment, for the insult to the company did not originate with you. But although resented at the moment, yet you are bound still to have satisfaction, and must therefore make the demand.
  3. When you believe yourself aggrieved, be silent on the subject, speaking to no one about the matter, and see your friend who is to act for you, as soon as possible.
  4. Never send a challenge in the first instance, for that precludes all negotiation. Let your note be in the language of a gentleman, and let the subject matter of complaint be truly and fairly set forth, cautiously avoiding attributing to the adverse party any improper motive.
  5. When your second is in full possession of the facts, leave the whole matter to his judgment, and avoid any consultation with him unless he seeks it. He has the custody of your honor, and by obeying him you cannot be compromised.

John Lyde Wilson, "The Code of Honor; or, Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds on Duelling" (1838), in Williams, Duelling, pp. 88–103.


Contrary to general understanding, the duel was uncommon in America until the French and English officer corps introduced it during the French and Indian War (1756–1763). When national parties developed after the Constitution was ratified, Revolutionary veterans, as militia officers and political leaders, displayed their willingness to die for the honor of their faction by dueling with partisan foes. Thus, they demonstrated a murderous loyalty to their followers and thereby bound them to their leader. Often these supporters, mostly young attorneys, junior militia officers, and editors, would likewise serve their patrons, hoping to advance in power. To solidify their separate and feuding factions' constancy, Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) and Jeffersonian vice president Aaron Burr's (1756–1836) meeting at Weehawken in 1804 followed the patron-client pattern. Northern outrage against the practice erupted, however, when Hamilton fell. Few Yankees thereafter met an opponent on the ground. In the South, however, a connection between the duel and the exhibition of manly leadership continued up to the Civil War.

Southern states did pass weak laws against the practice. Occasionally the clergy criticized it. Yet, confident of public acquiescence, apologists defied the scowls of church and state. Justifying a duel with Thomas L. Clingman of North Carolina, William L. Yancey of Alabama proclaimed that God's order, state laws, and even a father and husband's duty to family "yield, as they have ever done," in the past—and the present—to the imperative of the duel or be humiliated (Wyatt-Brown, p. 51).


In public affairs, the honor code was supposed to guide men toward mutual regard of each other, if reputations so warranted. Honor therefore offered little in the way of personal privacy or deviancy from accepted rules. The presentation of the self as honorable had to be accepted by the local public or else the claimant to regard was disdained or worse. He had to take such a loss of face as part of his own personality. This mode of deciding who belonged and who did not was largely a consequence of the agrarian character of the Old South and the limited number residing in any community, where everyone knew everyone else's business. Indeed, in such face-to-face locales, strangers were unwelcome and suspected of malicious intentions. To win favor, they had quickly to establish some connection to known parties, demonstrate an admired skill, or exhibit an easy manner. Moreover, honor also enlisted violent community means to suppress some alleged outrage. Whippings, the applications of tar and feathers, and possibly lynch law might replace ordinary judicial processes. After the terrifying ritual of shaming or execution, participants congratulated themselves for having purified the moral environment.

Needless to say, however, not all Southerners participated in such celebrations. Instead, in elite circles, the most elevated form of honor often guided manners and appearances. They sought to meet the ideals of noblesse oblige, magnanimity, and gentle manners, an aspect of ancient concepts of Stoic dignity. Steven Shapin comments that in seventeenth-century England "a series of classical and pagan virtues—fortitude, fidelity, valor—were expressed in the notion of a gentleman's word" (p. 68). In his class notes after a lecture by the German American political scientist Francis Lieber, James Henry Hammond at South Carolina College in Columbia, jotted down this sentiment: "Honor is that principle of nature which teaches us to respect ourselves, in order that we may gain the esteem of others" (Wyatt-Brown, p. 103). Like Thomas Jefferson years earlier, Southern gentlemen of an elevated spirit considered the pursuit of honor to be praiseworthy only if the claimant understood that he had to treat others, if deserving, with respect—even slaves. That spirit endured into the late nineteenth century. In 1891 the Confederate general Wade Hampton, a defeated, old-style South Carolina governor, explained that holding elective office "is only honorable as an evidence of the good will, the esteem, the confidence of those who bestow it" (Holden, p. 72). With his gravitas, Christian bearing, and refined sense of honor, Robert E. Lee epitomized that widely praised Southern gentlemanly tradition. Long after the Civil War he served as the South's prime exemplar.


In light of this code—in both its truculently primal and its genteel forms—the South regarded the growing controversy with the free states as a form of dueling. Heated insults rang through the congressional corridors. They appeared in print, pulpit, and public speeches as well. An upsurge of Southern anger was scarcely a wonder. The relentlessness with which Northern politicians, preachers, and reformers had voiced their antislavery sentiments throughout the years before the war was bound to prompt almost hysterical responses, particularly in the lower South. The density of its slave population, rural character, and relative isolation from Northern influences set the region apart, even from the other slave states closer to the Northern juggernaut. Southern whites were so proud of their religious devotion, suppression of deviant ideas, agrarian prosperity, and honorable motives that they considered secession a God-given choice. To many of them, as Susan Keitt of Charleston, wife of a leading Fire-Eater, put the matter, the Northern enemy was just "a motley throng of . . . Infidels and Free Lovers, interspersed by Bloomer women, fugitive slaves and amalgamationists" (Marchant, p. 348). In politics, every Yankee advance seemed to threaten the Southern way of life. Economically and socially dependent upon their slaves, white Southerners could not imagine what other way of life there could be.

As sectional differences became ever more bitter, Southerners proclaimed themselves a culture apart from the rest of the nation. The fast growth and ethnic diversity of the Northern population was eroding the underpopulated South's political strength in the Congress and endangering slaveholding control of the national government. The idea of a social order based upon the "cavalier" followers of the Stuart monarchy appealed to the Southern slaveholding elite. In 1861 Samuel Phillips Day, an English journalist, observed that the struggle harkened to earlier times when "Cavalier and Roundhead" took to warfare. The descendants of "Plymouth Rock" and the Virginia colonists had become no less bloodthirsty than the Puritans and Cromwellians of old.


In the development of a distinctive antebellum Southern literature, the traditions of honor were bound to appear. William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870) of South Carolina, one of the first American authors to make a living from fiction writing, depicted stereotypical heroes, handsome and virile. They were Southern through and through. Novelists like Simms followed such contemporary conventions as depicting cousinly wedding ties that for decades had been a regional means to hold property within family boundaries and find partners compatible in habits and aims. Unlike such contemporary Northern writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864), they did not examine the deepest feelings of their characters. Instead, the artist relied on the given verities—the success or failure of their heroes and heroines to meet lofty standards. A culture steeped in honor sets a wall of reticence around the inner life. Moreover, Simms, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker (1784–1851) of Virginia, and others held that the artist's duty was to offer examples of moral achievement and dishonorable perversity. In the grandiloquent rhetoric that Southern novelists treasured, Tucker, author of The Partisan Leader (1836), has the hero, George Balcombe of Virginia, admonish a friend for belittling good bloodlines. Given all other claims, Balcombe crows, "is it not a higher honour to spring from a race of men without fear and without reproach—the ancient cavaliers of Virginia?" Such gentlemen as he could never tarnish their honor. Rather, Tucker writes, Balcombe and company would spill "their blood like water," and sacrifice "their wealth like chaff" if honor so demanded (Taylor, pp. 320–321). It never occurred to the Southern belletrists to criticize their society for its anti-intellectualism, blind adherence to outworn ideas, racism, and, above all, dedication to slavery. To do so would have violated a sacred social compact, in which the precepts of honor and community loyalty were paramount.

Although Edgar Allan Poe's (1809–1849) poetry and fiction are not generally associated with his native Virginia, he, too, embraced the ideals of Southern honor and even more, a dread of shame. Alcoholic and quite possibly affected by bipolar disorder, he recognized his social and moral inadequacy by the criteria of respectability. He displayed a self-destructiveness in his many quarrels and frequently severed connections with literary colleagues. Poe's gothic stories often involved a sadist, who, after almost senseless acts of rage and malice, recognizes his unworthiness for normal acceptance. In remorse, he confesses his crime to some official or else comes to a self-inflicted death. An orphan reared by an unloving Richmond merchant and his melancholy wife, Poe placed his well-hidden resentments and sense of doom in such tales as "The Cask of Amontillado."


Likewise, Southern poetry was largely steeped in the various aspects of the honor code. An example was the Kentuckian Theodore O'Hara's (1820–1867) poem "The Bivouac of the Dead" (1848). It was composed to memorialize veterans killed in the Mexican-American War and stressed the immortal glory of heroes:

Nor shall your glory be forgot 
While Fame her record keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

(Hughes and Ware, p. 58)

The battles in Mexico were a prelude to bloodier encounters not many years later. The concept of military honor was no less pronounced in the Civil War. In 1861 the Reverend George L. Lee, a Baptist of Alabama, lectured a battalion on the eve of departure from home. "I want you to do noble . . . deeds that will bring glory to God, honor to Christ, happiness to man, confusion to devils, and to all of old Abe's fanatics, and eternal credit and honor to yourselves" (Flynt, p. 114). In the mind of a well-read soldier, war, honor, and literature were easily combined. "I am blessing old Sir Walter Scott daily," wrote a South Carolinian officer early in the fight, "for teaching me, when young, how to rate knightly honour, & our noble ancestry for giving me such a State to fight for" (McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 27). One was unlikely to locate the same Cavalier sensibility among the Northern "Roundheads," the historian James McPherson observes. As the Carolinian implied, adherence to honor plunged its devotees into the ruin of civil war—and defeat.

Indeed, Southerners so venerated Scott that the language of his romances had arisen earlier in political debate. Just before resigning, Congressman Lawrence Keitt of South Carolina put his own hostility toward Northern Unionists into Scott's rhetoric. He was prepared, he thundered, to face the Yankee foe "with helmet on, with visor down, and lance couched" (Walther, p. 186). With the Southern duel in mind, he welcomed a war soon to be fought on "the field" of honor. Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819) and other historical novels appealed to the planter class because in them they found their own basic ideals and values reified. That sense of romance continued well into the war but gradually faded as reality offered a different perspective.


In the war itself, however, the concept of a heroic cavalier spirit for a time helped to disguise the sights and smells of death, injury, and devastation. Unsurprisingly, solders' letters home often spoke of honor. A new enlistee from North Carolina pledged to "give up my life in defence of my Home and Kindred. I had rather be dead than see the Yanks rule this country" (McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 310). He and so many others would meet that very prospect. Intermixed with pledges to honor was a fear of shaming their units by a seizure of panic or an impulse for cowardly flight. Some feigned illness. Others, truly sick, joined their comrades, "determined," an Alabama lieutenant wrote his wife, "to not have it said that our Comp[any] was in a fight and I not with them" (McPherson, For Cause and Comrades, p. 79).

Not all, however, were convinced. Honor seemed an empty vessel as the war lengthened and specters of failure loomed. The poet Henry Timrod (1828–1867) of Charleston had won popularity with his cheerleading verses. Yet, as early as the aftermath of First Manassas, fought on 21 July 1861, Timrod sang mournfully of "meadows beaten into bloody clay," banners "drooping in the rain," and of "whispers round the body of the dead!" (Rubin, p. 205). These lines did not inspire nor were they meant to.

As Timrod and others ultimately recognized, courage and a devotion to the principles of honor could not win a war for the doomed rebel cause. After the destructiveness of Sherman's march, after Lee's surrender, after slavery's fall, Southerners were bound to mourn. They looked upon the carnage and the bravery and whispered soulfully and proudly "We have lost all save honor."


In fact, honor was still restorative enough to inspire the launching of a guerrilla war with vigilante groups and the Ku Klux Klan, whose night riders spread near-anarchy. The paramilitary units and the Democratic "Redeemers" were determined to wrest political control from the Republicans, preserve white dominion, and resist by every means "social equality"—not only the intermingling of races but also all signs of freed people's advancement. From 1865 to the 1870s the hard-pressed Republicans in the South, both white and black, tried to create a new order of biracial, two-party democracy. They failed as Northerners grew weary of trying and Southern resistance mounted. The era of lynch law under Redeemer state governments held the emancipated race in a new grip. It took nearly a century to undo, at least partially, the enormous moral and social damage that a virulent spirit of honor, tragically, had helped to generate.

See alsoCivil War; English Literature; Individualism and Community; Manhood; Proslavery Writing; Slavery


Primary Works

Day, Samuel Phillips. Down South; or, An Englishman'sExperience at the Seat of the American War. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1862.

Reese, George H., ed. Proceedings of the Virginia StateConvention of 1861, February 13–May 1. 4 vols. Richmond: Richmond State Library (Historical Publications Divisions), 1965.

Secondary Works

Brown, William Garrott. The Lower South in AmericanHistory. 1902. New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1968.

Donald, David Herbert. Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War. New York: Knopf, 1960.

Fisher, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Flynt, Wayne. Alabama Baptists: Southern Baptists in the Heart of Dixie. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1998.

Haynes, Stephen R. Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Holden, Charles J. "'Is Our Love for Wade Hampton Foolishness?' South Carolina and the Lost Cause." In The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Hughes, Nathaniel Cheairs, Jr., and Thomas Clayton Ware. Theodore O'Hara: Poet-Soldier of the Old South. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

McDonnell, Lawrence T. "Struggle against Suicide: James Henry Hammond and the Secession of South Carolina." Southern Studies 22 (summer 1983): 109–137.

McPherson, James M. For Cause and Comrades: Why MenFought in the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Marchant, John H. "Lawrence M. Keitt, South Carolina Fire-Eater." Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1976.

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Rubin, Louis D., Jr. The Edge of the Swamp: A Study in theLiterature and Society of the Old South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

Shapin, Steven. A Social History of Truth: Civility andScience in Seventeenth-Century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Taylor, William Robert. Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and American National Character. New York: Braziller, 1961.

Walther, Eric H. The Fire-Eaters. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.

Williams, Jack Kenny. Dueling in the Old South: Vignettes ofSocial History. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1980.

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Bertram Wyatt-Brown


views updated May 29 2018


Codes of honor are all-pervasive in human societies, but the modern study of honor as an academic formulation originated in the Mediterranean region, and especially in the work of anthropologists working in Spain and Greece. Julio Caro Baroja, J. G Peristiany, and Julian Pitt-Rivers wrote some of the seminal and most influential works on the concept of honor. They placed the honor complex in the Mediterranean world and based their work primarily on rural societies. Since those early works, the use of honor as a framework to study different cultures, especially those of Latin America with their Mediterranean roots, has become almost ubiquitous. Furthermore, the initial categories of analysis used in honor studies have been considerably refined and expanded.

The early model of Mediterranean honor as a catchall framework soon became the target of criticism by later scholars dissatisfied by a model based on peasant and rural sources, whose conceptions of honor cannot be transferred and applied willy-nilly to other times and places. Modern honor studies, although retaining these frameworks as a very useful starting point, take into account regional and temporal variations in the notion of honor, especially when applied to extremely diverse societies far distant from the Mediterranean.

Early Conceptualizations of Honor

For these early scholars, honor was a brittle valueone that could not be rescued if harmed. They emphasized honor as a framework for social hierarchy and as an attribute that people were both born with (status) and attained or retained through proper behavior (virtue). More recently Frank Henderson Stewart has criticized this way of formulating honor. In his model, honor retains its dual characteristic of having both inner and outer manifestations, but more emphasis is placed on the interconnection between the two. Key to this argument is the notion that honor must be conceived as a rightthe inherent right to be treated with respect. As such, the bipartite aspect of honoras conceived by most scholarsbecomes linked to inner values and outer respect.

Another way of approaching honor in a somewhat dualistic manner is to emphasize its inverse quality, that of shame. For instance, Ramón Gutiérrez's influential study of gender and sexuality in colonial New Mexico depends heavily on this model. Although honor represents the ability to hold one's head up high in public, there is a strong element of shame that feeds the system. The conduct that must be observed and respected in order to be respectable is reinforced because of sentiments of shame. Women, in particular, were expected to mediate their behavior based on their sense of shame. This could be translated into their body movements and contacts outside of the home and the ways in which they covered their bodies outside the walls of their house.

Much of this notion of honor comes from historical studies of the Mediterranean region but also from literary sources. In particular, plays of Golden Age Spain, as well as other nations, presented honor dramas in which the battle over honor was marked by seductions, betrayals, and many battles over reputation. Some scholars found these representations of honor quite persuasive and made an extrapolation from these literary sources to the societies that they were studying. More recent scholarship has been highly critical of such attitudes, citing the lack of any link between the types of behavior presented on stage and page and that found in the more mundane documents produced by individuals. These authors have pointed out that many of the groups not covered within the literary codes of honor actually viewed themselves as possessors of honor, and that, in contrast to literary representations of honor, there are many historical examples of lost honor being reparable.

Public Expressions of Honor

The literature on honor and shame is closely connected to the study of public and private realms. Honor was a quality that was expressed in public, and contested there: insults and slights enacted in the public sphere could be construed as attacks on the public persona or reputation of a person, and thus on his honor. Thus, societies where honor was perceived as an important value were marked by violent outbursts particularly between men who protected their social reputation with duels for the elite and more informal fightsusually knife fightsfor plebeians. Yet, despite what the early scholars of honor would have one believe, the courts were also a valid venue for the reparation of honor. Members of the elite in particular often used litigation to defend their honor against public insults, as did women, to a surprising degree. Colonial Latin American court records have revealed many cases in which women sought to regain lost honor by having a seducer condemned as a rapist or forced to marry his victimand sometimes both.

Honor was codified in such written forms as genealogies, titles of nobility, or coats of arms. In the Spanish world, public office, admission to universities, and most good marriages could only be obtained with the presentation of a kind of genealogy called a limpieza de sangre (purity of blood lines). Such a family tree certified that the party in question did not have any ancestors who were illegitimate, heretical, non-Catholic or newly converted, convicts, or who had held base employment. Titles of nobility also provided a strong case for the possession of honor as did coats of arms, which were, in a sense, a physical manifestation of one's honor. Other externals included the type of clothes one wore, the entourage, horses and carriages, and the body's bearing. In the Latin American context, pureza de sangre has been much discussed as an antecedent to later racial hierarchies; the combination of lineage and birth with elements of deportment and social reputationand codes of honorin this earlier concept can be seen to have influenced later ideas about race, in which individual behavior and family reputation are similarly emphasized in addition to purely physical attributes.

The public nature of honor was also expressed tangibly, through such bodily attitudes as doffing hats, bowing, curtsying, and lowering the eyes. Conversely, turning one's back or refusing to remove headgear could be construed as an attack on honor. The hierarchies of honor and its distribution were also made material through processions. These often religious, but also political, events placed people in an order that reflected their levels in society and thus represented the rankings of honor both to the general population and also to this smaller group.

Honor and Gender

There were alternate types of morality based on gender. Male morality had little to do with prudent sexuality. In fact, men enhanced their honor at times by seducing women. In seventeenth-century Spain there was even a fashion in the upper circles of trying to seduce nuns. On the other hand, women protected family honor by remaining virginal until marriage or the taking of order and then remaining chaste within the bounds of their status. Straying from this model of sexual purity not only besmirched the honor of the woman in question but also that of any man considered responsible for her conductusually husbands, brothers, or fathers.

To be honorable, a woman had to demonstrate her chastity. Traditional studies of honor systems understood this female imperative as passive, in contrast to the active role of the patriarch as defender of female honor. More recent scholarship has found that women took a more active role, from actual physical violence to hidden pregnancies and "adoptions" of illegitimate children. Ann Twinam has shown that illegitimacy could be overcome in colonial Spanish America through a bureaucratic process, and other scholars have demonstrated how stains on honor were often overlooked particularly for the elite. For plebeian women, such exemptions were not available. The establishment of foundling homes was a response to these women's predicaments, both to protect their reputations and to rescue their babies from infanticide.

Honor and Violence

Historians have been fascinated by the violence associated with the defense of honor, and especially with the duel. The ritualized nature of duels made this violence acceptable in elite male contexts, an acceptance that plebeians and women in general could not reproduce. In a larger sense, dueling has been analyzed as an example of the relationship between forms of social mediation and levels of violence within particular different societies, with some historians looking especially to the theories of civilization of Norbert Elias in order to understand the evolution of duels and social violence as a central part of honor culture.

Much of the scholarship on dueling has focused on the reasons for its gradual abandonment. Historians have found that while governments often tried to legislate dueling out of existence, other factors such as a generalized social disapproval, changing weaponry (from swords to pistols), and new understandings of honor were stronger factors. Even after duels had disappeared, however, the culture surrounding them privileged certain members of society.

Insults have proven a particularly useful source for historians interested in the workings of honor in past societies. Insults are linked to violence as they precede or provoke it, but they also constitute a type of verbal assault in their own right. Most often, these words only came to light when litigation ensued. Legal codes recognized insults as cause for restitution because they harmed the individual, attacking their honor and their ability to function in their own community.

Honor and Space

Systems of honor also affected the way people conceived of spaces. The places in which insults were bandied have been productively analyzed to reveal the spatial framework of honor. Anthropologist Beverly Chiñas's study of Mexican Zapotec women added a gendered dimension: women acted covertly to manipulate men's movements, either preventing men who nursed a sense of insult against one another from meeting in public spacesor putting them on a collision course. More generally, the dichotomy of public and private shaped honor for women, whose presence inside the home was honorable and outside the home was dangerous and dishonorable; codes of conduct and particularly dress were drastically affected by this dichotomy as well. For men, in contrast, absence from the public sphere might be considered questionable.

A more complex analysis of honor and space comes from the historians Elizabeth Cohen and Thomas Cohen, who showed how the house in sixteenth-century Rome became symbolic of the human body. Seating at public events and the relative arrangement in terms of height or distance from the most honorable point in the room became a concrete manifestation of the ideas of honor made concrete in spatial terms.

Non-Elite Honor

Early twenty-first century scholarship has taken issue with the notion that slaves had no claim to honor. An earlier formulation held that the very purpose of the slave in the social scheme was to be "dishonored," and so to provide their owners, and indeed all free people, with enhanced status in contrast to the slave's abasement. In fact, however, studies have shown that the Africans who became part of slave society worked within the honor system and absorbed its values. Thus slaves often made claims on honor, and also used their honorable statusas married persons, for exampleto make claims for justice.

Plebeians, too, once thought to be outside the reach of codes of honor, regularly made claims to honor and defended this status quite vigorously. Although plebeian men and women could not produce illustrious genealogies, they were very much aware of their status as derived from the legitimacy of their relationships. They also derived status from relative affluence within the ranks of plebeians. Finally, the external reputation for honorable conduct was extremely important to plebeians because it was their way of assuring credit. Small loans between market women or artisans were only possible for those whose conduct was unblemished and thus honorable.

Honor and the State

One early-twenty-first-century development in the study of honor has been a changing appreciation for its role in the development of the modern state during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Earlier studies either focused on traditional societies or rural communities portrayed as isolated from modernity, or premodern state societies such as the European ancien régime. More recently, however, historians have used a more dynamic concept of honor to study such nineteenth-century phenomena as the integration of qualities associated with honor into the definition of citizenship. Instead of the family, the state becomes the guardian of honor, and begins to intervene in and exert control over individual struggles regarding honor, as in the attempts to stop the practice of dueling, discussed above. Similarly, the nation-state became much more involved in controlling the individual morality of women, particularly in campaigns about prostitution, but also as an arbiter of virginity and morality more generally. Men too began to feel more pressure to assume the role of income-earning head of household rather than simply inheriting the mantle of patriarchy, and honor began to be more entwined with both military or state service.


Honor seems to be a value or social system that is so basic as to existunder many other namesin most societies. Honor as a framework to understand past social dynamics has been diffused widely, from China to African slave societies to the more traditional Mediterranean cultures. Yet this very diffusion of honor as an analytical framework has attracted some criticism. Because of its seductive appeal, honor has perhaps been used in an ahistorical and sometimes facile manner. Thus it is important to balance the wide-ranging applicability of honor as an analytical framework and its aptness for the study of diverse historical circumstances.

See also Citizenship ; Gender ; Honor, Middle Eastern Notions of ; Identity ; Machismo .


Caro Baroja, Julio. La ciudad y el campo. Madrid: Alfaguara, 1966.

Chiñas, Beverly. The Isthmus Zapotecs: Women's Roles in Cultural Context. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1973.

Cohen, Elizabeth S., and Thomas V. Cohen. "Open and Shut: The Social Meanings of the Cinquecento Roman House." Studies in the Decorative Arts 9, no. 1 (fallwinter 2001): 6184.

Elias, Norbert. Power and Civility. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982.

Gowing, Laura. Domestic Dangers: Women, Words, and Sex in Early Modern London. Oxford and New York: Clarendon, 1996.

Gutiérrez, Ramón A. When Jesus Came, the Corn Mothers Went Away: Marriage, Sexuality, and Power in New Mexico, 15001846. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Johnson, Lyman L., and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, eds. The Faces of Honor: Sex, Shame and Violence in Colonial Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998.

Miller, William Ian. Humiliation and Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993.

Peristiany, J. G., ed. Honour and Shame: The Values of Mediterranean Society. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966.

Peristiany, J. G., and Julian Pitt-Rivers, eds. Honor and Grace in Anthropology. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Pitt-Rivers, Julian. The Fate of Shechem; or, The Politics of Sex. Essays in the Anthropology of the Mediterranean. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Reddy, William M. The Invisible Code: Honor and Sentiment in Postrevolutionary France, 18151848. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Stewart, Frank Henderson. Honor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

Twinam, Ann. Public Lives, Private Secrets: Gender, Honor, Sexuality, and Illegitimacy in Colonial Spanish America. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Sonya Lipsett-Rivera


views updated May 18 2018


HONOR. Honor was an ethical system whose prescriptions varied according to one's place in the social hierarchy. Rank, gender, age, and a host of other personal qualities determined what types of behavior were honorable, and what degree of respect and deference one could expect from others. Tension existed, however, between how honor was defined in the abstract and how people used honor. Jurists and moralists in early modern Europe conceived of honor as part of a rigid structure of values and conduct, an almost tangible possession that one could gain or lose. In practice honor was more fluid and served as a rhetoric flexible enough for individuals to adapt to their own purposes. For example, the laws of the state and the morals of the church labeled prostitutes in sixteenth-century Rome as dishonorable, but court records show that prostitutes used the language of honor to make claims for respect from their clients, patrons, and neighbors.


Despite its equivocal meanings, honor was a crucial aspect of culture and conduct at every level of society. Notions of honor varied by region, gender, status, and time, but these differences were all variations on a theme that maintained remarkable similarity as it stretched across Europe, reached back into the Middle Ages, and persisted in some form into the nineteenth century. Everywhere honor depended on one's reputation for proper behavior, as judged by one's peers and neighbors, so personal honor was always vulnerable to gossip and slander that could redefine one's estimation in the eyes of others. While honor was meant to be a moral code, in reality its concerns had as much to do with preventing, masking, or redressing humiliation than with encouraging virtue.

Individual communities used honor to define membership and to enforce the responsibilities of members. For example, if a young woman defied custom and married an old man, disappointed young men might defend the honor of their village by staging raucous and even violent protests, called charivaris in France and "rough music" in England. Artisan guilds acted against guild members who threatened their corporate honor through dishonest business practices. In Venice, groups of young men engaged in bouts of ritual combat over the city's bridges to assert the honor of one neighborhood against another. Honor also demarcated castes in society, as in Germany where executioners were considered dishonorable and were not allowed to intermarry with other, honorable groups.

One aspect of honor that remained constant throughout early modern Europe was its strong connection to patriarchy, sex, and gender. Honor codes universally prescribed appropriate sexual behavior for both women and men. Women needed to be chaste in order to be honorable, and "whore" was usually the most damning affront one could level against a woman. Men were held responsible for the sexual conduct of women under their protection, including their wives, daughters, and sisters. This left male honor dangerously vulnerable to the actions of women. If a man failed to control "his" women, he invited neighbors to brand him a cuckold. Because male honor and female chastity were so thoroughly intertwined, men might take violent revenge against anyone who threatened, in word or deed, the sexual honor of "their" womenif they did not direct their violence against the women themselves. While honor's sexual component is associated most closely with the underdeveloped Mediterranean basin, historians have found similar patterns in vanguards of modernity like Holland and in regions as far removed from the Mediterranean as Muscovy. Even for women, however, sexuality was never the sole determinant of personal honor. In England, for example, a woman's honor rested partly on her skills as a housewife and mother.

Honor also embraced social hierarchy. Nobles enjoyed a more honorable standing than commoners, and they reinforced their claims to honor through the ceremony of the duel. Dueling arose first in Italy as part of the Renaissance's developments in courtesy and manners, and then spread throughout Europe. Dueling became the accepted means of redressing an affront, thereby distancing noblemen from brawling commoners. Dueling manuals did not recognize the right of plebeian men to duel, but nevertheless popular duels did exist. Sailors in Amsterdam and peasants in Castile invested their knife fights with rituals similar to elite dueling practices, and their contests even arose from similar causes, such as precedence, lying, and women, even if non-nobles sometimes preferred terms like "honesty" and "reputation" instead of "honor" when describing their claims to respect and good treatment. Throughout the early modern period, as elite customs and manners continued to draw away from the behavior of the nonelite, the honor of the nobility became increasingly distant from that of their inferiors. Vendettas, brawls, and charivaris gave way to politeness and civility as components of honor for gentlemen, especially in the eighteenth century. Even aristocratic duels became less violent. As the elite became less tolerant of violence, the duelist's aim became the demonstration of his courage rather than the destruction of his opponent.

Throughout the early modern period, honor had its critics. No matter how courteous the etiquette of dueling became, in the eyes of the civil and religious authorities assault and murder remained crimes and sins. Moralists declared that true honor resided in Christian virtue and in the conscience, not in the estimation of one's peers. Just as often, however, honor fit hand in glove with other values and historical trends. By attacking debauched clerics who preyed on good Christian women, and by expelling prostitutes from Christian communities, Protestant reformers appealed to honor to win popularity in sixteenth-century German cities. Honor helped foster the scientific revolution by allowing gentlemen to trust the word of peers who conducted experiments hundreds of miles away. Honor helped shape diplomacy and warfare, for example preventing seventeenth-century Spanish statesmen from reining in Madrid's imperial overreach because they could not bear to abandon obligations they had made to defend Catholicism and preserve the Habsburg inheritance. Honor even played a role in the revolution that brought the early modern period to a close, as illicit pornographic writings circulated in Old Regime France that undermined respect for Louis XVI, depicting him as an impotent cuckold. Honor did not pass away during the French Revolution, however. Well into the nineteenth century statesmen, capitalists, and journalists adapted honor to suit their new social circumstances.

See also Class, Status, and Order ; Duel ; Gentleman ; Sexuality and Sexual Behavior .


Cohen, Elizabeth S. "Honor and Gender in the Streets of Early Modern Rome." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 22 (1992): 597625.

Farr, James R. Hands of Honor: Artisans and Their World in Dijon, 15501650. Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 1988.

Kollmann, Nancy Shields. By Honor Bound: State and Society in Early Modern Russia. Ithaca, N.Y., and London, 1999.

Muir, Edward. Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta & Factions in Friuli during the Renaissance. Baltimore and London, 1993.

Shoemaker, Robert B. "The Taming of the Duel: Masculinity, Honour and Ritual Violence in London, 16601800." The Historical Journal 45, no. 3 (2002): 525545.

Scott Taylor


views updated May 29 2018

hon·or / ˈänər/ (Brit. hon·our) • n. 1. high respect; esteem: his portrait hangs in the place of honor. ∎  [in sing.] a person or thing that brings credit: you are an honor to our profession. ∎  adherence to what is right or to a conventional standard of conduct: I must as a matter of honor avoid any taint of dishonesty.2. a privilege: the great poet of whom it is my honor to speak tonight. ∎  an exalted position: the honor of being horse of the year. ∎  a thing conferred as a distinction, esp. an official award for bravery or achievement: the highest military honors. ∎  (honors ) a special distinction for proficiency in an examination: she passed with honors. ∎  (honors) a class or course of degree studies more specialized than that of the ordinary level: [as adj.] an honors degree in mathematics. ∎  (His, Your, etc., Honor) a title of respect given to or used in addressing a judge or a mayor. ∎  Golf the right of teeing off first, having won the previous hole.3. dated a woman's chastity or her reputation for this: she died defending her honor.4. Bridge an ace, king, queen, or jack. ∎  (honors) possession in one's hand of at least four of the ace, king, queen, and jack of trumps, or of all four aces in no trumps, for which a bonus is scored. ∎  (in whist) an ace, king, queen, or jack of trumps.• v. [tr.] 1. regard with great respect: Joyce has now learned to honor her father's memory | [as adj.] (honored) an honored guest. ∎  (often be honored) pay public respect to: talented writers were honored at a special ceremony. ∎  grace; privilege: the Princess honored the ball with her presence | [as adj.] (honored) I felt honored to be invited. ∎  (in square dancing) salute (another dancer) with a bow.2. fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement): make sure the franchisees honor the terms of the contract. ∎  accept (a bill) or pay (a check) when due: the bank informed him that the check would not be honored.PHRASES: do the honors inf. perform a social duty or small ceremony for others (often used to describe the serving of food or drink to a guest).honor bright dated "on my honor": I'll never do it again, honor bright, I won't.in honor bound another way of saying on one's honor.in honor of as a celebration of or expression of respect for.on one's honor under a moral obligation: they are on their honor as gentlemen not to cheat.on (or upon) my honor used as an expression of sincerity: I promise on my honor.


views updated May 29 2018


From the Latin honor, cognate to honestas, τ καλόν τιμή, honorabilis and honestus, and by itself, without these fringe senses, a sufficiently ambiguous term. It signifies in an object a quality of being handsome, gracious, beautiful; a kind of embellishment of the good; a worth that is set off and exalted. Thus Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Fathers speak of an end as a bonum honestum, a value for its own sake and not because it is serviceable (bonum utile ) or pleasurable (bonum delectabile ). In the human subject it comes then to mean his response to such a special distinction, which is given glory and fame and held in respect and esteem. Thus one is said to do or pay honor to someone. Later this dignity may be assimilated; a personal sentiment of honor, a fine sense of what is due, may be cultivated and perhaps demand renown or at least some acknowledgement. So one gives his word of honor, and will neither brook offense nor bend to find recognition. It is an aristocratic and indeed, in the West, a soldierly notion, entering into the spirit and institutions of chivalry. It acquired a special Christian quality of gallantry and knightliness, which it still keeps, despite its sharing in the decay of chivalry into punctilio, mannerisms, and courtly sophistication. Since from the beginning honor seemed set on the glory of this world and later protested personal and independent values that were not the plain decencies of the common cardinal virtues or of humility, it is easy to see why Christian moralists have either neglected it for otherworldly categories, or have treated it as bound up with a pride of life that was either vain or at best to be suspected as a doubtful blessing. Nevertheless, it is clearly marked in a classical theology of the 13th century, where eschatological convictions, no less strong than any before or since, went with a welcome for what the Greco-Roman world respected and for the statesmanlike and military values that were forming a new civilization.

Honor enters into the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas at three points where he discusses the giving of honor, the striving for honor, and the feeling of honor.

The giving of honor. This is regarded as a matter of justice and specifically of that potential part of justice called respect (observantia ), a distinctive virtue, which, serving others because of the dignity of their office or character, finds its formal expression in the virtue of obe dience to a superior, extends also to the honoring of excellence, not only in inward appreciation, but also in outward signs. This is due and proper, and when accompanied by feelings of veneration for a person who is leader of a country, race, corps, or family group, is called dulia (δουλεία) or worship, as in England, where this is an honorific title for mayors and magistrates.

The striving for honor. This belongs to the cardinal virtue of fortitude and specifically to that potential part called greatheartedness, or high-mindedness (magna nimity), though another potential part called grandeur (magnificence) may also be engaged. There is bravery in not shirking the renown that is the proper consequence of great deeds and the splendor it is laudable that some works should possess, so long as this is not allowed to become inflated into a display of ostentation and pompousness (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 129135).

Feelings of honor. These are treated as an integral part of temperance. Aristotle and the Latin Stoics noted a certain fastidiousness (verecundia ) in the life of virtue, a sensitiveness to what is shameful and disgraceful, which, though not itself a virtue, is a material condition of virtue. But more positive and to the point is the honorable quality (honestas ) in virtue, in keeping with its dynamism as a disposition of the good to the best, a clean and candid beauty that relates honor to the virtue of temperance in particular and to all virtue in general (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 144145), so much so that a high-mettled and fine-tempered morality will act to others not merely according to the debt of strict justice (debitum legale ), but also from its charge of honor (debitum morale, ex honestate virtutis ). The obligation, though it cannot be enforced by law, is no less grave for the life of virtue.

Bibliography: k. e. logstrup, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3rd ed. Tübingen 195763) 2:339341. h. reiner, Die Ehre (Darnstadt 1956).

[t. gilby]


views updated Jun 11 2018


HONOR , the high respect, esteem, reverence, admiration, or approbation shown, felt toward, or received by a deity or person. Honor is accorded to those in a position of authority (Gen. 45:13) achieved by heroism (Judg. 8:22; i Sam. 18:5), wisdom (Gen. 41:39; Prov. 3:16), or divine favor (i Sam. 24:7, 11). Honor is due to parents (Ex. 20:12; Deut. 5:16; Mal. 1:6) and the aged (Lev. 19:32; Lam. 5:12) since they embody wisdom (Job 32:7, 9). Those who have wealth (Prov. 14:24) and children (i Sam. 2:1) are also subject to honor since these possessions are a sign of God's favor. Associated with stature (i Sam. 9:2) and comeliness (i Sam. 16:18; Ps. 45:3), honor is denoted in the Bible by terms whose primary meanings are "weight" (kavod, yekar (yeqar)), "height" (gedullah, gaʾon), "strength" (hod, ʿoz, ḥayil), "beauty" (hadar, tif'eret), or "praise" (tehillah). Honor may be conceived as a crown or garment (Ps. 8:6; 104:1; Job 19:9). It is conferred by symbolic investment (i Sam. 18:4; Esth. 6:7–8) and rescinded by symbolic stripping (Hos. 2:5). Charity and justice earn honor (Job 29:11ff.) for two reasons. First, ethics is a branch of wisdom (Job 28:28) whose reward is honor (Prov. 4:9). Second, morality honors God (Micah 6:8), who, in turn, honors those who honor Him (i Sam. 2:30). Thus the faithful are honored and the faithless disgraced (Ps. 91:15; Lam. 5:16). Honor is demonstrated by standing (Lev. 19:32; Job 29:8), prostration (Gen. 18:2), silence (Hab. 2:20; Job 29:9–10), shouting (Ps. 98:4; 100:1), and presenting gifts (Gen. 32:14; Ps. 72:10). These forms are employed in divine worship as an extension of their use in displaying honor to temporal authorities.

[Mayer Irwin Gruber]

In the Talmud

The Hebrew word kavod is the most significant word in the Talmud to express the most desirable of relations of mutual respect for the dignity of one's fellow. It is employed in every aspect of that relationship, both for the respect which is due from the inferior to the superior, but also, and more significantly, for the concept of the respect and consideration which one should have for one's equal, for mankind as such. In the former category it is employed to express the respect one should have for parents, which is the subject of the fifth commandment, for one's teacher (Tanḥ. Be-Shallaḥ 26), for a monarch (Ket. 17a), for the nasi (Kid. 32b), and for the scholar. It is enjoined in the general rule to "give honor to one greater than oneself " (Pes. 113b). A rigid order of precedence was established. The last Mishnah of Horayot gives an order of precedence: priest, levite, Israelite, *mamzer, nethin, proselyte, and freed slave. Where the Babylonian Talmud, however, maintains that this precedence refers merely to ransoming from slavery and to providing material needs, the Jerusalem Talmud (Hor. end) maintains that it applies to the precedence of honor (yeshivah) and therefore extends the list to scholar, king, high priest, prophet, "priest anointed for war," the head of the *mishmar, the head of a patriarchal house, the amarkal, and the treasurer. So important was this respect regarded that it was permitted, and even enjoined, to interrupt one's reading of the Shema "to greet out of respect" (Ber. 2:1). Some categories (the king (Ket. 17a) and one's teacher) were not permitted to renounce the dignity which was due to them; about the nasi there are conflicting opinions (cf. Ket. 17a with Kid. 32b). More significant however is the insistence of the honor due to one's equal. R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus enjoined "Let the honor of thy colleague be as dear to thee as thine own honor" (Avot 2:10), while R. Eleazar b. Shammua enjoined that the respect to one's colleague should be "as the reverence for thy teacher" (ibid. 4:12). The daily prayer of Rav included one for "a life of prosperity and honor" (Ber. 16b). So great was "the honor of God's creatures" regarded that "God has regard to the dignity of His creatures" (Sif. Deut. 192) and honor annuls even a negative commandment of the Bible (Ber. 19b), especially the honor of the community (tj, Ber. 3:1, 6a). To such an extent was one's personal dignity regarded that Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai explained the lesser penalty for the theft of a sheep, for which he pays fourfold restitution, compared with an ox, for which he pays five, that he is, so to speak, partially compensated for the lack of personal dignity involved in having to carry the sheep on his shoulders (bk 79b). The maxim of R. Judah ha-Nasi was that man should always choose the way "which is an honor to him and gets him honor from men" (Avot 2:1) while Ben Zoma said "who is honored? He who honors others" (ibid. 4:1). One had to show honor to one's wife (BM 59a) and even to one's divorced wife (tj, Ket. 11:3, 34b). Honor had always to be given, never demanded. The pursuit of personal honor "takes a man out of the world" (Avot 4:21) and one should always shun it (ibid. 6:6). The popular proverb, "He who pursues honor, honor flees from him, while he who flees from honor is overtaken by it" does not occur as such in the Talmud, the relevant passage employing the word gedullah ("greatness") and not kavod, but the implication is the same. The rabbis were especially censorious against the person who "achieved honor at the expense of the shame of his fellow man." He who does so "has no share in the world to come" (tj, Ḥag. 2:1, 77c), and R. Neḥunya b. ha-Kanah attributed his old age to the fact that he had never been guilty of this fault (Meg. 28a). The statement "It is not the place that a man occupies that gives him honor, but the man gives honor to the place he occupies" (Ta'an. 21b) has become a popular proverb.

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]


views updated May 14 2018


The concept of honor played a key role in the societies of southern Europe during the Renaissance. Communities used the idea of honor to regulate behavior, social tensions, and conflict. The concept served to maintain social structures and to join different groups of people into a common culture that encouraged decency and respect.

A person might gain honor by being born into the right family or by achieving wealth, power, or fame. However, those who possessed honor had to behave in certain ways in order to maintain it. Codes of honor varied based on social position, power, and gender. The code of honor for nobles during the Renaissance drew largely on the code of medieval* knighthood, which stressed military ability, courtesy, and Christian virtue. Nobles of the 1400s and 1500s added manners and knowledge of the arts and humanities to this list. While noblemen continued to protect their honor through duels and war, they could also increase their glory through artistic patronage* and higher learning.

The concept of honor applied differently to women and men during the Renaissance. A woman's honor depended mostly on her sexual purity. Honorable women were good Christians, modest, and reserved. Women took care to protect their honor, as losing it could affect their chances for marriage in a society ruled by men.

(See alsoChivalry; Duel; Women. )

* medieval

referring to the Middle Ages, a period that began around a.d. 400 and ended around 1400 in Italy and 1500 in the rest of Europe

* patronage

support or financial sponsorship


views updated May 21 2018

honour the post of honour is the post of danger to be put in a position where one is likely to be assailed is to have one's value recognized; proverbial saying, mid 16th century.
there is honour among thieves proverbial saying, early 19th century, sometimes used ironically; the concept is found in an early 17th-century source, ‘Thieves have between themselves, a truth, and faith, which they keep firm.’

See also debt of honour, honours, peace with honour, a prophet is not without honour save in his own country.


views updated May 23 2018


As a verb, to accept a bill of exchange, or to pay a note, check, or accepted bill, at maturity. To pay or to accept and pay, or, where a credit so engages, to purchase or discount a draft complying with the terms of the draft.

As a noun, in oldenglish law, a seigniory of several manors held under one baron or lord paramount. Also those dignities or privileges, degrees of nobility, knighthood, and other titles that flow from the crown.

In the United States, the customary title of courtesy given to judges, and occasionally to some other officers, as, "his honor," "your honor," "honorable."