The essence of loyalty is partiality – putting friends, political party, a particular country ahead of its competitors. The ambiguity of this definition lies in question: putting the recipients of loyalty close in what way? In the case of loyalty to a spouse, the loyal lover forswears sex with others. In voting and supporting, say, the Democrats, one does not contribute to the Republicans. By remaining loyal to the United States, one does not offer to join the military or serve in the civil defense force of another country.
As I wrote in 1993 in Loyalty: An Essay on the Morality of Relationships, I regard loyalty as a virtue, as an expression the historical self. By this curious expression, I meant that in coming to understand one's loyalties one clarifies where one stands in history, what the influences on his or her life have been.
We cannot choose our loyalties by rational reflection – nor by aesthetic comparison. The notion of "brand loyalty" provides a test case. What is the purpose of advertising, particularly on television? The purpose, it seems, is to repeat the name of "Crest" toothpaste or "Ford" truck so often that when it comes to buying toothpaste or a truck, the brand comes to mind as the natural choice. The preference is not rational. It is not like seeing a Manet and a Monet painting for the first time and deciding which is more beautiful. It is not like assessing and grading a sporting competition after seeing the competitors for the first time. In loyalties we are not making choice on the basis of a blank slate. In choosing to be loyal to one group rather than another, we express who we are.
George P. Fletcher,
Loyalty without Borders: In Honor of Arthur Jacobson,
Cardozo L. Rev.
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