Loyalty : An Essay on the Morality of Relationships

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At a time when age-old political structures are crumbling, civil strife abounds, and economic uncertainty dominates the news, loyalty offers us security in our relationships with associates, friends, and family. Yet loyalty is a suspect virtue. It is not impartial. It is not blind. It violates the principles of morality that have dominated Western thought for the last two hundred years. Loyalties are also thought to be irrational and contrary to the spirit of Capitalism. In a free market society, we are encouraged to move to the competition when we are not happy. This way of thinking has invaded our personal relationships and undermined our capacities for friendship and loyalty to those who do not serve our immediate interests. As George P. Fletcher writes, it is time for loyal bonds, born of history and experience, to prevail both over impartial morality and the self-interested thinking of the market trader. In this extended essay, Fletcher offers an account of loyalty that illuminates its role in our relationships with family and friends, our ties to country, and the commitment of the religious to God and their community. Fletcher opposes the traditional view of the moral self as detached from context and history. He argues instead that loyalty, not impartial detachment, should be the central feature of our moral and political lives. He claims that a commitment to country is necessary to improve the lot of the poor and disadvantaged. This commitment may well require greater reliance on patriotic rituals in education and a reconsideration of the Supreme Court's extending the First Amendment to protect flag burning. Given the worldwide currents of parochialism and politicaldecentralization, the task for us, Fletcher argues, is to renew our commitment to a single nation united in its diversity. Bringing to bear his expertise as a law professor, Fletcher reasons that legal systems should defer to existing relationships of loyalty. Surrogate mothers should not beshow more

Product details

  • Hardback | 223 pages
  • 144.78 x 213.36 x 25.4mm | 90.72g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195070267
  • 9780195070262

Review Text

A long and dense essay that defends the virtue of commitment. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court recently let stand its earlier ruling that burning the American flag was an act of free speech, protected under the First Amendment. Here, liberal-leaning Fletcher (Law/Columbia University; A Crime of Self-Defense, 1988) questions that high-court position. He also questions divorce, job-hopping, and whether a surrogate mother should be forced to give up the baby if she changes her mind. All of Fletcher's arguments arise in defense of reinstating loyalty - to family, to country, to religion - as a primary virtue in our moral lives. Both personal fulfillment and the "greater good," Fletcher says, should make room for the commitments demanded by marriage, patriotism, and a higher power. But Fletcher drags loyalty - and readers - through such a maze of positives and negatives, of on-the-one-hands vs. on-the-other-hands, that it's hard to follow - or to care about - his discussion. But he does offer some interesting insights - e.g., about how the "trade-up" goals of the marketplace mentality have affected personal relationships - plus, not so interesting, an odd fixation on the Pledge of Allegiance. Provocative, but so abstruse as to turn off all but the most persevering readers. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

About George P. Fletcher

About the Author: George P. Fletcher is Beekman Professor of Law at Columbia University. He is the author of A Crime of Self-Defense: Bernard Goetz and the Law on Trial.show more

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6 ratings
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