Liberalism with Honor

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Why do men and women sometimes risk everything to defend their liberties? What motivates principled opposition to the abuse of power? In Liberalism with Honor, Sharon Krause explores honor as a motive for risky and difficult forms of political action. She shows the sense of honor to be an important source of such action and a spring of individual agency more generally.

Krause traces the genealogy of honor, including its ties to conscientious objection and civil disobedience, beginning in old-regime France and culminating in the American civil rights movement. She examines the dangers intrinsic to honor and the tensions between honor and modern democracy, but demonstrates that the sense of honor has supported political agency in the United States from the founders to democratic reformers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Honor continues to hold interest and importance today because it combines self-concern and personal ambition with principled higher purposes, and so challenges the disabling dichotomy between self-interest and self-sacrifice that currently pervades both political theory and American public life.

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Editorial Reviews

Thomas Pangle
This book makes a highly original and richly constructive contribution to contemporary democratic theory as well as to the interpretation and application of the thought of Montesquieu, Tocqueville, and the American tradition of political thought and culture, rooted in the Founding Fathers. The argument of the book establishes, for perhaps the first time in current literature, how capacious and fertile may be the moral resource for democratic theory that is to be found in a reconsidered and appropriately re-elaborated concept of honor.
Susan Shell
A very welcome reappraisal of the importance of honor to democratic theory and practice. Krause's study mines the wisdom of Montesquieu to carry us beyond contemporary debates between liberalism and communitarianism, public reason and virtue ethics.
Weekly Standard - Steve Lenzer
Sharon Krause has written one of those rare works of academic political theory that demand a wide audience. Raising the question of the status of honor in liberal democratic societies, it treats its subject with intelligence, seriousness, and a graceful style that can only be the envy of her fellow academics.
Publishers Weekly
From where, asks Krause, can a citizen draw the strength to resist trends that seem to fly in the face of the democratic principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence for example, the Jim Crow laws or the more recent referenda targeting gay rights? Krause, an assistant professor of government at Harvard, argues the case for the seemingly outmoded notion of personal honor as a source of such civic renewal. There is irony in this suggestion, of course, given honor's association with an aristocratic, class-based European past. Krause acknowledges this and takes pains to differentiate between the "aristocratic" honor of the old regime and the notion of honor in a liberal democracy. She differs from Tocqueville as well: Tocqueville despaired that Americans' focus on commercial enterprise, coupled with social leveling, would discourage the development of honorable citizens capable of standing up for liberty when necessary. In Krause's view, these fears were largely unfounded. Honorable citizens, she says, make up a "natural aristocracy" of those capable of defending core values despite personal risk. She examines the actions of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate how the impulse toward honor stems from a mix of altruism, a spirit of civic duty and a desire for public recognition. In some sense, therefore, an honorable act serves both society and the self. While Krause concedes that honor is relatively rare, she contends that its limitations "remind us of the irreducible multiplicity of human motivations." As this rather tepid conclusion illustrates, this discussion, despite the importance of its concepts, is directed at an academic audience. (Apr. 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The title of this work is misleading, as it is much more concerned with honor than with liberalism. Krause (government, Harvard Univ.) seeks to learn how and why people passionately defend individual liberties, even at great risk to themselves. Through a close reading of Montesquieu and Tocqueville, she identifies honor as a key source of "individual agency" and tries to reclaim it from a narrow association with elitism, the "old regime," and romanticism. She then examines the impact of honor in American politics, as conveyed through examples of Southern slaveholders as well as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, the women's rights movement, Martin Luther King, and the Civil Rights Movement. Krause addresses the limitations of honor in the modern political system and looks at other contemporary interpretations. While this is a scholarly treatise, it is accessible to a wide range of readers. A solid companion to Joanne B. Freeman's recent Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic; recommended for most academic libraries. Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674007567
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Sharon R. Krause is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Political Science, at Brown University.
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Table of Contents

1 Liberal Inspirations 1
Political Agency and the Need for Inspiration 8
Excavating Honor 21
2 Honor and the Defense of Liberty in the Old Regime 32
The Place of Honor In the Old Regime 34
Honor's High Ambitions 43
Reverence and Reflexivity 47
The Partiality of Honor 57
Recognition and Resistance 61
3 Honor and Democracy in America 67
The Conflict between Honor and Democracy 71
Honor and Self-Interest Well Understood 78
"A Little of Their Greatness" 85
4 The Love of Fame and the Southern Gentleman 97
Honor and the Love of Fame at the Founding 100
Slavery and the Southern Gentleman 120
5 Honor and Democratic Reform 132
Lincoln's Principled Ambition 132
Frederick Douglass: The Soul of Honor 144
Honor and Self-Sovereignty: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony 159
Honor in the Civil Rights Movement 168
6 Conclusion: Pluralism, Agency, and Varieties of Democratic Honor 181
Notes 193
Bibliography 247
Index 265
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