Honor: A History

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From the earliest records of human civilization until the dawn of the twentieth century, and in widely separated cultures throughout the world, the story of honor was inseparable from the story of mankind. Today, an acquaintance with the concept of honor is indispensable to understanding the culture of the Islamic world and its sense of grievance against the West, where honor has been disregarded or actively despised for three-quarters of a century.

James Bowman draws from an astonishing wealth of sources across many centuries to illuminate honor's curious history in our own culture, and he discovers that Western honor was always different from that found elsewhere. Its idiosyncratic qualities derived partly from the classical tradition but mainly from the Judeo-Christian heritage, whose emphases on individual morality and, more recently, on sincerity and authenticity in private and personal life have acted as continual challenges to the traditional notion of honor as it is still maintained in other parts of the world. These challenges to honor and the accommodations with it that they ultimately produced are a fundamental theme in our own culture's distinctive history; and the eventual collapse of the honor culture in the West is the background against which the War on Terror and the Clash of Civilizations ought to be seen.

About the Author:
James Bowman was the American editor of The Times Literary Supplement of London

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594031427
  • Publisher: Encounter Books
  • Publication date: 5/25/2006
  • Pages: 265
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Two Kinds of Honor     1
Cultural Honor, East and West
"We Are Men": The Islamic Honor Culture and the West     15
Rightly to Be Great: The Origins of the Western Honor Culture     41
Aristocracy and Democracy: Honor Democratized     67
The Decline and Fall of the Western Honor Culture, 1914-1975
What Happened to Honor? Modern Warfare, Therapy and Feminism     95
Honor Between the Wars: The Cult of Youth     121
World War II: Honor and the Progressive Spirit     151
Honor in Postwar America: Korea and the 1950s     179
Vietnam: War As Social Therapy and Psychological Trauma     207
Post-Honor Society
Vietnam and the Loss of Cultural Honor     235
The Aristocracy of Feeling: Honor As Celebrity     263
Honor's Revival: Why Do We Need It? Is It Possible?     293
Acknowledgments     325
Notes     329
Index     361
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2006

    Cultural Honor: Phoenix with the Hues of a Chameleon

    James Bowman narrates with panache the history of honor. Bowman makes a distinction between what he calls the reflexive honor and the cultural honor. The reflexive honor is all about not losing face. Think for instance about a child involved in a snowball fight who will have to hit back to avoid a public humiliation. The reflexive honor prospers around the world to this day because it reflects an enduring trait of the human condition. The cultural honor is made up of the traditions, stories, and habits of thought of a particular society about among other things the proper and improper use of violence. In contrast to the reflexive honor, the cultural honor fell in disrepute in the West after the slaughter of WWI. Pacifism, feminism, and psychotherapy have each played an important role in downgrading the western cultural honor in the last eighty years. Despite this public demotion, cultural honor is still alive in the background. Honor has been built in the DNA of the U.S. armed forces since the birth of the country. Some university campuses still feel very strongly about the enforcement of honor systems and honor codes. Similarly, criminal gangs need honor for their survival and prosperity. The current war on terrorism can be construed as a legitimate reaction to an honor sullied on 9/11. More generally, respect, self-esteem, pride, and credibility, which are cherished concepts in the U.S. society, could be considered the current heirs to the derided honor culture in the West. Bowman draws the attention of his readers to the fact that the honor culture has not yet experienced the same transformation in the Islamic world. As Bowman correctly points out, the honor culture was already in existence before the conversion of these lands to Islam in the seventh century C.E. Unlike the West under the influence of both Judaism and Christianity, the Islamic world generally does not make a clear distinction between the spiritual and temporal realms. Turkey has been a major exception to this rule thanks to the legacy of Mustapha Kemal Atatürk. At the end of his book, Bowman pleads for the rehabilitation of the cultural honor in the West to guarantee the continuity of its values in the aftermath of 9/11. Bowman identifies four major obstacles to that revival: the defeat of the western hatred and fear of war, the social acceptance of inequalities besides pecuniary ones, the rupture with the celebrity-culture death star, and the revitalization of the political, social, and intellectual assumptions about the differences between the sexes in the U.S. Bowman sounds too pessimistic about the future of the honor culture in the West. Cultural honor is like a chameleon that can change its hues to adapt to its environment. Western democracies are inclined to conduct peaceful foreign policies and go to war in self-defense as Michael Mandelbaum reminds his readers in ¿The Ideas that Conquered the World.¿ Recently, Israel went to war with Hezbollah in self-defense and to reestablish its honor and power of deterrence that had been sullied repeatedly before the unprovoked incursion of Hezbollah into Israel in July 2006.

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