Sunday, June 14, 2009


I have been thinking for years about loyalty and just what it means.

Loyalty is often defined as devotion to a person or cause, faithfulness to either.

What does that tell us? Well loyalty to a person is mere a characteristic of friendship isn't it? So does "loyalty" in that context tell us anything other than you are a friend to that person? If you are not "loyal" it seems to me that you are not a friend at all, so nothing is added by phrases such as "loyal friend."

In the case of a cause, or perhaps even a bad friend, it seems to be a negative, not hte positive attribute we seem to assume that it is. Consider that if I am loyal to a cause, then I am to support it in the face of all others. On the surface this mindless devotion is what we celebrate in western cultures, but is this really something of value? What if my loyalty for instance is to the inappropriately named "pro-life" cause? To borrow from recent headlines, this would mean that I must call the intentional murder of a sincerely good man who happened to be one of only two doctors left who save the life of women who are pregnant but cannot carry to term safely, this I would have to call a good and noble act.

What does it mean for a claim to be false? It means that the claim fails to match reality. In this case there is nothing good much less noble about this act of murder, nor would any good person hold that there were. So when we see that "loyalty" to the cause means that we must accept a contrary to reality claim as being "true" we know that in fact it is the belief or command which is wrong, not reality.

This is far from the only example, but rather simply an extraordinarily clear one. Wherever "loyalty" puts us at odds with reality, especially as would be the case here, puts us at odds with that which is actually good and commendable, "Loyalty" not only cannot be laudable, rather it must be evil.

I may be "loyal" to a friend who commits an evil act, but in protecting and in practice supporting that evil act, I myself am not being good. So being loyal to a good friend simply means being a good friend, and being loyal to a friend who is acting evilly is to act evilly ourselves.

It appears that loyalty is only "good" where that to which it is already a part is itself something good. Since in those situations "loyalty" adds nothing to the description, I suggest that we simply drop "loyalty" as any sort of positive attribute and instead simply recognize the worthlessness, in fact the misleading nature of the word.


KristiMetz said...

Loyalty could also mean, in terms of a friendship, that you're going to stick with the other person, even if the going gets rough... or that you'll give them an important place in your life.

As for loyalty to a cause... I certainly see your point. And, there are MANY who have not only failed to condemn Tiller's death, but have stopped just barely short of advocating for it.

Storm said...

But isn't that rather stating the kind or degree of friendship, rather than a separate trait?

Would we call someone who failed to help a friend kill an innocent person "disloyal?" Or would we rather just condemn the actions of the friend?

It seems the way we use to word, that it is disjunctive, either you are loyal or you are not, regardless of the action. At the same time we celebrate loyalty, yet when we look at the situations where loyalty would be most expressed, the moral answer is to abandon that friend taking the immoral action. Or put another way, we condemn the friend who is trying to kill the innocent. We should if we believe in loyalty, also condemn the friend who fails to assist in the killing of the innocent, but then we are clearly supporting two opposing positions and ideals.