Wall Street Opinion Journal Josiah Bunting III June 6, 2006
Do Americans still understand the meaning of honor?
In our culture of therapy, self-absorption and celebrity, “honor” has very little cachet. An abuse of honor–say, by perpetrating a public fraud or acting duplicitously in private life–is but the occasion for the administration of comforting words of understanding, the application of medicines to assuage lingering anxieties and the invitation to appear on “Oprah,” the better to explain the forces that, overwhelming meager resources of conscience and character, impelled a dishonorable act. Next may come an invitation to undertake the labor of a book, more fully to explore and expiate the fall from grace. Closure (as it is called) will then, at last, be obtained.
In short, there is no shame in actions once known as dishonorable, and the virtues that supported honor seem moribund. Chastity and modesty–so important to honor in social relations–are treated as relics from Jane Austen and “Little Women.” When a high-school girl defends a sexual encounter on the grounds that an American president said that her particular act was not really sex, both she and her role model are, if not completely forgiven, understood to be, as members of the human family, subject to the same vagaries of uncontrollable temptations as you and I.
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