Honor. When we hear the word, we hear the noun. An irreplaceable possession of the soul the bedrock of self-respect. A thing that cannot be taken from us. It can only be given away. Once. It cannot be bought. It can only be sold. Once. In the lexicon of American political discourse, it is a word most famously registered as the last word in the American Declaration of Independence, in which the revolutionaries pledged to one another in their cause now our cause "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." Perhaps second to that, as the central word in General Douglas MacArthur's ennobling address to the cadets of the U.S. Military Academy on May 12, 1962: "Duty, Honor, Country." Yet there is no denying that it is a word that sounds to many of us quaint, these days. And is it only the word that has become unfashionable?
In truth, democracy in general, and liberalism in particular, find it hard to speak the language and to live by the code of honor. They seem to find their natural home in the language and the politics of "rights." But as we see from the original charter of American liberty, rights depend ultimately on honor sacred honor and cannot do without it.
Sharon Krause of Harvard University honorably takes up this theme in her book, Liberalism with Honor, reviewed by Adam Wolfson in the Winter 2002 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Do us, and yourselves, the honor of picking up the CRB at your local newsstand or bookstore. Or better yet, subscribe online.