Loyalty can be defined as a feeling of attachment to something outside of the self, such as a group, an institution, a cause, or an ideal. The sentiment carries with it a willingness to support and act in behalf of the objects of one’s loyalty and to persist in that support over an extended period of time and under conditions which exact a degree of moral, emotional, or material sacrifice from the individual. Josiah Royce captured most of the connotations of the term when he defined it as “the willing and practical and thorough going devotion of a person to a cause” (1908, pp. 16-17).
As used in political discourse, the concept of loyalty occupies the ground between patriotism and obligation. It is something less than the typically uncritical adulation of one’s own political group, often accompanied by rejective attitudes toward outsiders, which is the heart of patriotism. It is something more than the formal, rationally justified duty to obey law, which is the essence of obligation. Loyalty is cooler in emotional tone, more rational in its bases, and less comprehensive in its object than patriotism; and it is warmer, less rational, and more comprehensive than obligation.
Since loyalty is an attitude, it varies along the same dimensions as any other attitude: intensity, specificity, endurance, direction, content, and so forth. Loyalties emerge out of a social matrix, and the processes of loyalty formation, growth, and change are closely akin to those involved in the process of identification. When one is said to be loyal to a group, for example, it is tantamount to saying that he has identified himself with the group, that his membership in the group forms part of his own self-definition, and that he perceives his own interests and purposes as integrally connected with those of the group. Loyalty thus has both instrumental and affective components.
Political loyalties are those directed toward political objects that are of importance in the life of the political community. These objects include formal institutions, parties, interest groups, political leaders, social and economic classes, military organizations, constitutions, traditions, and symbols and myths which a population perceives as embodying or representing the community, history, and destiny which make them a distinct people. Political loyalties form part of a system’s political culture—that particular constellation of normative, practical, and emotional orientations toward political things shared by the population of a political system (Almond & Verba 1963, chapter 1). Loyalties can be directed toward a variety of objects within the political system, and systems can easily and usefully be classified according to the strength, incidence, objects, and patterns of loyalties among the citizenry.[SeePolitical Culture.]
Patterns of loyalty Since loyalties sustain both the individual and the polity by laying the ground-work necessary for shared effort and unity of purpose, loyalty is a very old subject of political discourse, and virtually “all serious political writing regards the quality of loyalty as a good thing” (H. B. White, quoted in Grodzins 1956, p. 16). Classical Greek and Roman writers regarded loyalty as the supreme political virtue, and while few persons in the ancient states enjoyed the status of citizenship, those who did were taught to regard the role of citizen as the noblest of all roles. Duty to the state was the highest duty, and loyalty was the highest value. This evaluation of political loyalty and citizenship permeates the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, and Plutarch. Early Christian writers, however, placed little value on loyalty to city or state; for them, religious salvation was the supreme goal, and loyalty to the church and creed that held the keys to that kingdom the highest loyalty. Between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the nation-state, political loyalty, except in the form of the local and semi-personal loyalties of feudalism, mattered little to individuals. Machiavelli’s reassertion of the primacy of politicalloyalty—his statement that he preferred his country to the safety of his soul—was considered blasphemous in the opinion of his time. The modern idea of mass political loyalty and the conception of the nation as the capstone and most comprehensive object of loyalty are really no older than the eighteenth century. They appeared with the French Revolution and reached their most passionate expression in Rousseau’s plea for a “civil religion” (Social Contract, especially book 4, chapter 8).
Patterns of thought and behavior involving loyalty have been complex and contradictory since the end of the eighteenth century. On the one hand, a number of liberal internationalist thinkers have attacked loyalty to the nation-state as an outmoded and dangerous conception. They argue that increasing national interdependence requires a shift of loyalty away from the nation-state to the institutions and symbols of the international community. On the other hand, the totalitarian states of the twentieth century have demanded of their subjects a degree of concentrated loyalty toward national political leaders, institutions, and policies which is without precedent. Also, the creation of many new states in the underdeveloped areas of the world has meant a renewed growth of national loyalties at a time when such loyalties may be on the wane in the highly developed states.
It is characteristic of the advanced, complex, highly industrialized states that the loyalties of individuals tend to be numerous, segmental, and increasingly instrumental. The individual yields partial loyalty to many objects instead of giving all his devotion and allegiance to one or a very few objects. Similarly, peer-group loyalties increasingly supplant hierarchical affiliations. This is part of the meaning of the movement from “status to contract” [see the biography ofMaine] or from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft [see the biography ofTönnies]. One strand of modern social criticism laments this transformation in loyalty patterns as the “decline of community,” while another welcomes it as the advent of an era of increased individual liberty.
Over and above these matters stands the dominant fact that no political system can long endure or enjoy much stability unless its citizens, and especially the elites, place a high value on political loyalty. Among the emerging nations, the development of sentiments of national loyalty and identification is a task of the highest priority (Pye 1962). Many of the emerging nations are riddled by tribal, ethnic, linguistic, and regional divisions. The inhabitants must be urged to abandon their parochial loyalties, and they must be imbued with a sense of affiliation with the national community and a willingness to obey the directives of central authority. Links must be forged in the minds of individuals between their personal interests and joys and the policies and institutions of the state. In order to do this, governments employ all the resources of propaganda and communication to reach the masses. Promoting nationalist ideologies, publicizing the activities and words of charismatic leaders, fomenting antagonism toward foreign governments and peoples, and developing programs of mass action and ritual participation are among the standard methods used in these attempts to build national loyalties. [SeeModernization.]
In a political system that has existed longer as an entity and reached a higher stage of political and economic development, the problem is not to create national loyalties but to maintain them. There, loyalty is both a product of the individual’s direct identification with and involvement in the nation’s history, symbols, institutions, and destiny and, indirectly, a product of the individual’s private satisfactions. Rewards and satisfactions gained in the private sphere have a kind of spillover effect, and political objects receive the benefits of the individual’s gratitude for the joys of personal life. In addition, the level of communication and integration is higher in such states, and inhabitants are frequently exposed to political symbols and messages. The public schools carry the message of patriotism and loyalty to millions of children: after an extensive review of European and American experience, Merriam (1931) concluded that the public school had become the dominant agency for transmitting the themes of loyalty and “civil religion,” having largely replaced the army, the church, the family, and patriotic rhetoric in performing this function. In such polities, through the processes of political socialization, attitudes of loyalty toward the nation are widely shared. The national political community forms a common reference point for nearly all citizens. [SeeSocialization, article onPolitical Socialization.]
Thus, loyalty is the ordinary condition. Although political loyalties are not prominent for most people most of the time, they are there in the background and can be evoked by the appropriate stimuli. Since loyalty is the ordinary condition— the atmospheric condition—active disloyalty is very difficult: custom, the climate of opinion, informal and formal sanctions, inertia, fear, the lack of clear alternative objects of loyalty—all these forces work to assure that even those who are not actively and intensely loyal are at least not disloyal. Ordinarily, political authorities do not ask far more than that, for it is enough.
Multiple loyalties Few persons are loyal to just one object. Most men move within a network of loyalties—to primary group, party, occupational group, clubs, and so forth. In the liberal-democratic states, these partial loyalties are not regarded as incompatible with a larger, comprehensive loyalty to the political community. In fact, these circles of particular loyalties are held to be the very foundation for firm loyalty to the nation (Grodzins 1956). This view, which is widely held among modern pluralistic theorists, is really a rediscovery of Burke’s insistence that what holds society together and gives it meaning and richness is the multiplicity of its “little platoons,” its primary associations of individuals. Individuals, then, are tied to the central symbols and agencies of the political system through a series of linkages formed by loyalties to smaller groups [seeIdentification, Political].
In an important study, Shils and Janowitz (1948) found that while goals and policies might be set by central political authorities, individuals acted in accordance with those policies not so much out of direct loyalty to the nation as in response to the smaller, primary groups in which they were involved. This was found to be the case within the German army during the Nazi period. The finding thus runs counter to the whole totalitarian conception of loyalty, which insists that all loyalty must be concentrated directly around one political center. As Mussolini stated the totalitarian conception of loyalty, “Fascism takes a man from his family at six, and gives him back to it at sixty.” Contrary to this conception, it seems clear that lesser loyalties must exist even in totalitarian states and that these lesser loyalties constitute the individual’s primary attachments. It is through them that he is tied to the state, and it is largely in response to them that he loyally accepts and executes his duties to the state.
The existence of multiple loyalties implies the constant possibility of conflicting loyalties. Hence, conflict of loyalties is a theme that entered political writing along with the subject of loyalty itself, and it is already present in the story of Abraham and Isaac and in the tragedy of Antigone. Conflicts of loyalty are especially important during times of rapid social change and when the state feels threatened from within and without. During such times, individuals are uncertain of the intentions and the reliability of others, and the old patterns of belief and affiliation conflict with the new patterns that are emerging. Governments are then likely to require formal professions of loyalty, to undertake investigations of loyalty, and to insist on public adherence to official ideology (see Brown 1958; Schaar 1957). Loyalty is equated with conformity, criticism with disloyalty. The concept of “loyal op-position,” one of the supreme achievements of the liberal-democratic regimes, is placed in jeopardy.
Still, while conflicts of loyalty are dramatic and painful, it must be repeated that loyalty is the normal condition. Individuals, by processes similar to those subsumed under the theory of cognitive dissonance, tend to perceive their loyalties as mutually consistent, even when they might appear inconsistent to an observer. Or they tend to rationalize incompatible loyalty imperatives as not really incompatible after all.
In most political systems there is a measure of ambiguity as to just what one must be loyal to in order to be regarded as loyal. Does one owe loyalty to the nation? The government? Traditions and ideals? A mission? Rulers? Hence, actions which seem to be disloyal by one standard may be justified as entirely loyal by another. In all these ways, individuals are able to “save the appearances,” to regard themselves as loyal and to defend themselves against charges of disloyalty.
Political loyalty is supremely important both for individuals and for political communities, and many psychological mechanisms and social processes work to build and maintain it and to assure that loyalty rather than disloyalty or conflicts of loyalty will be the rule.
John H. Schaar
[See alsoDuty; Identification, Political; Nationalism. Other relevant material may be found inInternment And Custody; Personality, Political; Social Control; and in the guide to the reader and the articles underCommunity.]
Almond, Gabriel A.; and Verba, Sidney 1963 The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton Univ. Press.
Bloch, Herbert A. 1934 The Concept of Our Changing Loyalties: An Introductory Study Into the Nature of the Social Individual New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
Dewey, John (1922) 1950 Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology. New York: Modern Library.
Freud, Sigmund (1921) 1955 Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. Volume 18, pages 67-143 in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan.→ First published in German.
Grodzins, Morton 1956 The Loyal and the Disloyal: Social Boundaries of Patriotism and Treason. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Hoffer, Eric 1951 The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. New York: Harper. → A paperback edition was published in 1958 by New American Library.
Meerloo, Joost A. M. 1954 The Psychology of Treason and Loyalty. American Journal of Psychotherapy 8: 648-666.
Merriam, Charles E. 1931 The Making of Citizens: A Comparative Study of Methods of Civic Training. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Pye, Lucian W. 1962 Politics, Personality, and Nation Building: Burma’s Search for Identity. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Royce, Josiah (1908) 1936 The Philosophy of Loyalty. New York: Macmillan.
Schaar, John H. 1957 Loyalty in America. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.
Schachter, Stanley 1959 The Psychology of Affiliation: Experimental Studies of the Sources of Gregariousness. Stanford Studies in Psychology, No. 1. Stanford Univ. Press.
Sherif, Muzafer; and Cantril, Hadley 1947 The Psychology of Ego-involvements, Social Attitudes and Identifications. New York: Wiley; London: Chapman.
Shils, Edward 1956 The Torment of Secrecy: The Background and Consequences of American Security Policies. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.
Shils, Edward; and Janowitz, Morris 1948 Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II. Public Opinion Quarterly 12:280–315.
West, R. G. Ranyard (1945) 1951 Conscience and Society: A Study of the Psychological Prerequisites of Law and Order. 2d ed. London: Methuen.
West, Rebecca (1947) 1964 The New Meaning of Treason. Rev. & enl. ed. New York: Viking. → First published as The Meaning of Treason.
"Loyalty." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/loyalty
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E-merchants, like merchants in traditional retailing, are interested not only in attracting new customers to their Web sites, but developing a base of loyal old customers who return to a site regularly. Web sites that inspire customer loyalty are said to be "sticky." The stickiest, most successful retail sites, such as Amazon.com, have shown that the characteristics that make a Web site sticky are frequently the same ones that keep customers coming back to bricks-and-mortar establishments: quality merchandise, low prices, and good customer service.
As the age of the World Wide Web was dawning, it was assumed that crucial differences in e-commerce would result in a different yardstick for the loyalty of customers. In fact, customer loyalty was expected to be so completely up for grabs on the Web as to be nonexistent. Unlike traditional shopping, consumers on the Web were always "just a mouse click away" from any merchant and every competitor. Established economic theory suggested that the ease of comparison shopping on the Web would encourage shoppers to seek out the lowest possible price on any purchase. In the end, Web shoppers would be loyal primarily to their own pocketbooks.
By the beginning of the 2000s, however, it seemed that something was seriously awry in these theoretical predictions. A 2001 study by Erik Brynjolfsson and Michael D. Smith found that online shoppers maintained a loyalty to brand names, even when prices were higher. Shoppers who used shopbots—online engines that compare the prices of similar goods at a variety of online sources—also tended to limit their shopping to familiar sites, even when they could plainly see that an item was available at a lower price elsewhere. The same study revealed that brand-name online retailers could charge more than their competition, and that shoppers were willing to pay more at sites they had already visited.
The latter finding was confirmed in a study of online shopping patterns conducted by Professor Eric J. Johnson and others. Johnson discovered that, despite being just a click away, Internet consumers do very little comparison shopping. The average shopper, he found, visits an average of only 1.1 book sites, 1.2 CD sites, and 1.8 travel sites in any month, and furthermore the number of sites visited did not increase as shoppers gained experience using the Web. Although Web shoppers tended to be more affluent and less conscious of price than traditional shoppers, Johnson provided evidence that loyalty to a single site was rooted in a phenomenon called cognitive lock-in. Learning to use a Web site is an investment of time and energy for shoppers. They must learn their way around each new site they visit, much like learning to find groceries in the aisles of a supermarket. Once shoppers are familiar with a particular online site (or supermarket), they are much less likely to switch to a new site whose individual, perhaps idiosyncratic, navigational features they would have to learn from scratch. Cognitive lock-in is so powerful that most Web shoppers are willing to pay more at sites they know rather than switch.
The implications for designers of e-commerce sites are clear. First, a Web site that is easy to use will be stickier—consumers will be likely to keep coming back. Second, when updating a site, Webmasters should revise content but keep navigational features. New pages on a site should use the same familiar navigational features. Finally, new sites benefit by actively copying the navigational features of the most successful e-commerce sites. It is still an open question precisely which features make a Web site easy to use. It is also unclear how many shoppers stick with the first Web site they shop at regardless how easy or difficult it is to use.
Like traditional retailers such as gas stations and supermarkets, e-retailers feature special promotions, so-called "loyalty programs," meant to boost customer loyalty. A variety of programs exist, similar to the old idea of frequent flier miles—surfers who use a Web site are awarded points which are collected and then exchanged for goods or services. Some Web sites, such as Dell Computers and American Airlines, have mounted their own loyalty programs. In contrast, so-called "loyalty vendors" develop programs in which many businesses, online and offline, can participate. In the programs developed by beenz, iPoints, Webrewards, and MyPoints, for example, consumers collect points at participating sites and can swap the points for merchandise at the same site or others—sometimes even at bricks-and-mortar stores. How shoppers qualify for points varies from program to program. Beenz, for example, awards points to surfers who visit or shop at participating sites; MyPoints gives points to surfers who take part in various marketing schemes, such as reading marketing e-mails, filling out surveys, visiting Web sites, making referrals to friends, taking advantage of trial offers, as well as shopping. The impact of these programs in influencing actual customer loyalty is in question. A study by Jupiter Communications, an Internet research firm, found that nearly 70 percent of online shoppers participate in such programs, but only 22 percent felt the programs influence their online shopping habits. The same study found that 72 percent of shoppers ranked the quality of online customer service as the deciding factor.
Another scheme for increasing online stickiness is the use of information about consumers to generate personalized marketing e-mails targeted at individual interests. Amazon.com, for example, tracks its customers' purchases and later notifies them of interesting new books. Some marketers believe that this sort of database mining—collecting as much information on individual consumers interests and pervious purchases—is the key to developing strong online loyalty. However, a survey reported in the Guardian, an English newspaper, found many consumers are suspicious of such "personal relationships" when initiated by e-merchants. Half the respondents believed the point of such a relationship was to earn the e-merchant more money. Less than five percent were interested in a relationship that involved revealing their preferences to online businesses.
Jupiter Communications developed a list of recommendations for Web-based merchants interested in strengthening the loyalty of their customer base, most of which apply equally to non-Web businesses:
- Improve customer service;
- Develop a site that is easy to navigate;
- Provide more product information;
- Improve product selection and availability, provide easy returns, and get the most out of information about users.
Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Michael D. Smith. "The Great Equalizer? Consumer Choice Behavior at Internet Shopbots." May 2000, (Revised: April 13, 2001) Available at ebusiness.mit.edu/papers.
"E-Collaboration Raises Revenues, Lowers Costs." Asia Computer Weekly, November 6, 2000.
Enos, Lori. "E-tailers Itemize Customer Loyalty Needs." E-Commerce Times Online, May 23, 2001. Available at www.ecommercetimes.com.
Fry, Jason. "Why Shoppers' Loyalty To Familiar Web Sites Isn't So Crazy After All." Wall Street Journal, August 13, 2001.
Hilsdon, John. "How to Satisfy the Customer." Guardian (London), October 30, 2000.
Johnson, Eric J., Gerald L. Lohse, and Naomi Mandel. "Designing Marketplaces of the Artificial: Four Approaches to Understanding Consumer Behavior in Electronic Environments." July 27, 1999. Available from hops.wharton.upenn.edu.
——, Steven Bellman, and Gerald L. Lohse. "What Makes a Web Site Sticky?: Cognitive Lock In and the Power Law of Practice." October 4, 2000. Available from ecom.gsb.columbia.edu.
——, Wendy Moe, Peter Fader, Steven Bellman, and Jerry Lohse. "On the Depth and Dynamics of Online Search Behavior." June 26, 2000. Available from www.cebiz.org/Papers.
Macaluso, Nora. "E-Shoppers Not Swayed by Loyalty Programs." E-Commerce Times, May 1, 2000. Available at www.ecommercetimes.com.
Murphy, David. "Developing Rules to Build Online Loyalty." Marketing, June 22, 2000.
Strom, David. "E-commerce is All About E-mail." Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo), December 7, 1999.
Tobin, Mark. "Attractive Sites," New Media Age, April 20, 2000.
SEE ALSO: Churn
"Loyalty." Gale Encyclopedia of E-Commerce. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/economics/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/loyalty
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422. Loyalty (See also Friendship, Patriotism.)
- Achates companion and faithful friend of Aeneas. [Rom. Lit.: Aeneid ]
- Adam family retainer; offers Orlando his savings. [Br. Lit.: As You Like It ]
- Aeneas carried his father Anchises from burning Troy. [Rom. Lit.: Aeneid ]
- alexandrite type of chrysoberyl typifying undying devotion. [Gem Symbolism: Jobes, 67]
- Antony, Mark Caesar’s beloved friend; turns public opinion against Caesar’s assassins. [Br. Lit.: Julius Caesar ]
- Argus Odysseus’ dog; overjoyed at Odysseus’ return, he dies. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ]
- Balderstone, Caleb servant true to Ravenswoods despite poverty. [Br. Lit.: The Bride of Lammermoor ]
- Bevis mastiff who “saved his master by his fidelity.” [Br. Lit.: Woodstock ]
- Blondel loyal troubadour to Richard the Lion-hearted; helps him escape. [Br. Lit.: The Talisman ]
- bluebell symbol of loyalty. [Plant Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 172]
- Byam, Roger remains faithful to Captain Bligh after mutiny. [Am. Lit.: Mutiny on the Bounty ]
- Camillo as counsellor, exemplifies constancy. [Br. Lit.: The Winter’s Tale ]
- Chauvin, Nicolas (fl. early 19th century) he followed Napoleon through everything. [Fr. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 164]
- Chester Matt Dillon’s lame but game sidekick. [TV: “Gun-smoke” in Terrace, I, 331–332]
- Chingachgook ever-devoted to Hawkeye. [Am. Lit.: The Last of the Mohicans ]
- Cordelia faithful daughter of sea god Llyr [Celtic Myth.: Parrinder, 67]; loyal and loving daughter of King Lear. [Br. Lit.: King Lear ]
- dog ever pictured at feet of saints; “man’s best friend.” [Medieval Art: Brewer Dictionary, 332; Western Folklore: Misc.]
- Dolius the loyal retainer of Odysseus and Penelope. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ]
- Eros Antony’s freed slave; kills himself rather than harm Antony. [Br. Lit.: Antony and Cleopatra ]
- Eumaeus loyal swineherd of Odysseus. [Gk. Lit.: Odyssey ]
- Faithful Johannes loyal servant dies for king and is resurrected. [Ger. Fairy Tale: Grimm, 22]
- Flavius loyal and upright steward of Timon. [Br. Lit.: Timon of Athens ]
- Gloucester faithful to Lear, he tries to save the king from his daughters’ cruelty. [Br. Drama: Shakespeare King Lear ]
- Gonzalo Prospero’s “true preserver and a loyal sir.” [Br. Lit.: The Tempest ]
- Good-Deeds only companion who ultimately accompanies Everyman. [Medieval Lit.: Everyman ]
- Horatio true-blue friend of Hamlet. [Br. Lit.: Hamlet ]
- Horton “faithful one hundred percent,” Horton sits on the Mayzie bird’s egg until it is hatched. [Children’s Lit.: Horton Hatches the Egg ]
- Iolaus nephew and trusted companion of Hercules. [Gk. Myth.: Howe, 141]
- Jonathan stalwartly defended David; aided him in escape. [O.T.: I Samuel 20:32–34, 42; 23:16]
- Kato loyal servant of the Green Hornet. [Radio: “The Green Hornet” in Buxton, 102–103]
- Kent a “noble and true-hearted” courtier. [Br. Lit.: King Lear ]
- Merrilies, Meg Henry Bertram’s Gypsy-nurse; thoroughly devoted and protective. [Br. Lit.: Guy Mannering ]
- Moniplies, Richard Nigel’s servant; helps him out of imbroglio. [Br. Lit.: Fortunes of Nigel ]
- Panza, Sancho squire to Don Quixote. [Span. Lit.: Don Quixote ]
- Passepartout faithful valet of Phileas Fogg. [Fr. Lit.: Around the World in Eighty Days ]
- Pilar fiercely devoted leader of a loyalist guerrilla group in the Spanish Civil War. [Am. Lit.: Hemingway For Whom the Bell Tolls ]
- pirates of Penzance surrender only when charged by the police to yield in the name of their beloved Queen Victoria. [Br. Opera: Gilbert and Sullivan The Pirates of Penzance ]
- Ruth devotedly follows mother-in-law to Bethlehem. [O.T.: Ruth 1:15–17]
- Scipio Gil Blas’ secretary; shares his imprisonment. [Fr. Lit.: Gil Blas ]
- speedwell indicates female faithfulness. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 177]
- Suzuki ever faithful to her mistress, especially in sorrow. [Ital. Opera: Puccini, Madama Butterfly, Westerman, 358]
- Titinius Cassius’ loyal follower; follows him to death. [Br. Lit.: Julius Caesar ]
- Tom, Uncle “noble, high-minded, devoutly Christian Negro slave.” [Am. Lit.: Uncle Tom’s Cabin ]
- Tonto the Lone Ranger’s constant companion. [Radio: “The Lone Ranger” in Buxton, 143–144; Comics: Horn, 460; TV: Terrace, II, 34–35]
- Weller, Samuel servant helps imprisoned Mr. Pickwick by getting himself imprisoned with him. [Br. Lit.: Dickens Pick-wick Papers ]
- Wiglaf stood by Beowulf to fight dragon while others fled. [Br. Lit.: Beowulf ]
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loy·al·ty / ˈloiəltē/ • n. (pl. -ties) the quality of being loyal to someone or something: her loyalty to her husband of 34 years. ∎ (often loyalties) a strong feeling of support or allegiance: fights with in-laws are distressing because they cause divided loyalties.
"loyalty." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/loyalty-0
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"Loyalty," as a moral rather than a political concept, has received scant attention in philosophical literature. In fact, at the present time  it seems banished from respectable ethical discussions, owing, no doubt, to its historical association with an obsolete metaphysics (idealism) and with such odious political movements as the extreme nationalism of Nazism. However, the supposed implications suggested by these disreputable associations are ill-founded. On the contrary, loyalty is an essential ingredient in any civilized and humane system of morals.
Philosophical issues regarding loyalty may be separated into the question of the object of loyalty, and the question of the moral value of loyalty.
The Object of Loyalty
Granted that loyalty is the wholehearted devotion to an object of some kind, what kind of thing is this object? Is it an abstract entity, such as an idea or a collective being? Or is it a person or group of persons?
The idealist contends that loyalty is "the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause" (Josiah Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty, p. 17). Its object is "a cause beyond your private self, greater than you are … impersonal and superpersonal" (ibid., pp. 19–20). As a cause it is something that transcends the individual, "an eternal reality." Apart from familiar metaphysical and logical objections to this concept of a superpersonal reality, this view has the ethical defect of postulating duties over and above our duties to individual men and groups of men. The individual is submerged and lost in this superperson not only ontologically but also morally, for it tends to dissolve our specific duties and obligations to others into a "superhuman" good.
Opposing the idealistic position is the view, characteristic of social atomism (empiricism or utilitarianism, for example), that denies any distinctive status to loyalty on the grounds that metaphysically there can be no such superpersonal entity to serve as its object. Insofar as the concept of loyalty has any validity at all, it reduces to other kinds of relations and dispositions, such as obedience or honesty. Most empiricists are inclined to agree with David Hume, however, that loyalty is a virtue that holds "less of reason, than of bigotry and superstition."
Thus, it is generally assumed that we must either accept the notion of a superperson or some other abstract entity as the object of loyalty or reject the notion of loyalty altogether as founded on an illusion. This assumption is open to question.
In answer to the idealists, it should be pointed out that in our common moral language, as well as historically, "loyalty" is taken to refer to a relationship between persons—for instance, between a lord and his vassal, between a parent and his children, or between friends. Thus, the object of loyalty is ordinarily taken to be a person or group of persons.
Loyalty is conceived as interpersonal, and it is also always specific; a man is loyal to his lord, his father, or his comrades. It is conceptually impossible to be loyal to people in general (to humanity) or to a general principle, such as justice or democracy.
The social atomist fails to recognize the special character and significance of the ties that bind individuals together and provide the basis for loyalties. Loyalty is not founded on just any casual relationship between persons, but on a specific kind of relationship or tie. The special ties involved arise from the twofold circumstance that the persons so bound are comembers of a specific group (community) distinguished by a specific common background and sharing specific interests, and are related in terms of some sort of role differentiation within that group. A friendship, a family, or such a highly organized group as a political, priestly, or military community illustrates the presence of these conditions. Special ties of this sort provide both the necessary and the sufficient conditions for a person to be a proper object of loyalty.
The impersonal or objective element mentioned by Royce and other idealists is explained by the fact that it is the ties, the mutually related roles, rather than any particular personal characteristics of the individuals involved that provide the grounds for loyalty. Why should I be loyal to X ? Because he is my R (friend, father, leader, comrade). More purely personal characteristics of X, such as his kindness, courage, amiability, honesty, or spirituality cannot serve as grounds for loyalty. That the conditions of loyalty abstract from the personal characteristics of the individuals concerned does not, of course, entail that loyalty must relate to a superpersonal entity (cause, whole) any more than the fact that an algebraic formula contains a variable within it (such as Fx ) entails that there must be some kind of supernumber to satisfy the function.
The Moral Value of Loyalty
Is loyalty something good in itself? Is it always good? Can there be bad loyalties?
On these questions the idealist takes an extreme position, for he holds that loyalty is the highest moral good. According to Royce, a man's wholehearted devotion to a cause is eo ipso good and becomes evil only when it conflicts with other loyalties. The supreme good is loyalty to loyalty: "so choose and so serve your individual cause as to secure thereby the greatest increase of loyalty amongst men" (ibid., p. 121).
The view that loyalty has an inner value, "whatever be the cause to which this man is loyal," can be used to redeem the most evil acts of men. Such a belief outrages our moral feelings, for we want to say that a cause which demands injustice or cruelty as the price of devotion renders that devotion an evil in itself. It is impossible to separate logically the moral quality of devotion from the moral quality of its object, if that object is a cause. (Incidentally, a distinction must be made between devotion to a thoroughly evil purpose and devotion that is simply misdirected, in the sense that it is well-intentioned but wrong for some other reason.)
Even assuming that the problem of bad loyalties can be resolved by invoking "loyalty to loyalty," the idealist may still be accused of turning morality, which properly concerns man's relations to his fellows, into service of an abstract principle or a cause, thus treating man as a mere means rather than as an end-in-itself.
The social atomist, on the other hand, regards the moral value of loyalty, construed as devotion or obedience to persons or institutions, entirely as a function of its benign or mischievous consequences. This view, however, robs loyalty of any special moral significance. It fails to account, for example, for the admirable side of a mother's loyalty to her son even when, considering the total picture, it is not entirely justified morally.
We must ask what loyalty demands of a person. The etymology of the word loyalty gives a clue, for it comes from the French word loi and thus means something akin to legality. Loyalty, strictly speaking, demands what is morally due the object of loyalty. A loyal subject is one who wholeheartedly devotes himself to his duties to his lord. What is due or owed is defined by the roles of the persons concerned. The fact that loyalty gives what is due also explains why we can demand the loyalty of others.
It follows that mere blind obedience to every wish of the person who is the object of loyalty is not loyalty; it is a perversion of loyalty. There is no moral value to it at all, since it is not something that is morally due. A loyal Nazi is a contradiction in terms, although a loyal German is not.
There are, to be sure, conflicts of loyalties, but this fact does not entail that any of the loyalties involved are improper or invalid. It is simply a logical consequence of the fact that there are conflicts of duties; my duty to my parents may conflict with my duty to my wife or to my fellow countrymen. Sometimes there are clear ways of resolving these conflicts and sometimes there are not, but we cannot eliminate the problem of conflicting loyalties either by a metaphysical trick or by the mechanical application of a value calculus.
One final observation must be made concerning the distinction between loyalty and fidelity. Loyalty includes fidelity in carrying out one's duties to the person or group of persons who are the object of loyalty; but it embraces more than that, for it implies an attitude, perhaps an affection or sentiment, toward such persons. Furthermore, at the very least, loyalty requires the complete subordination of one's own private interest in favor of giving what is due, and perhaps also the exclusion of other legitimate interests. In this sense, loyalty may often be one-sided, although it need not be. If we could not count on the loyalty of others or give them our loyalty, social life would be not only bleak but also impossible.
Aristotle. "On Friendship." In Nicomachean Ethics. Books VIII and IX.
Bryant, Sophie. "Loyalty." In James Hasting's Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics. Vol. VIII, 183–188. New York: Scribners, 1916.
Rashdall, Hastings. Theory of Good and Evil. Vol. 1, 188 and 273. London: Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1924. For the social atomist view of the moral value of loyalty.
Royce, Josiah. The Philosophy of Loyalty. New York, 1924.
Sidgwick, Henry. Methods of Ethics, 254. 7th ed. London, 1922. For the social atomist view of the moral value of loyalty.
John Ladd (1967)
"Loyalty." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 15, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/loyalty
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