Honour Among Men and Nations: Transformations of an Idea

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To no group subject to sociological and political analysis has honour seemed to matter more than to the military. Their idea of it has commonly been accepted as the most superior, open to emulation to the limited extent that different circumstances and purposes in non-military life permit.

The degeneration of this concept and of the public realm in which honour's obligations have to be observed is the subject of this book, based on the 1981 Joanne Goodman Lectures at the University of Western Ontario.

Best begins with the discovery, in the age of the American and French revolutions, of the nation as the supreme object of honourable service. He discusses how nationalism and democracy marched together through the nineteenth century to harden this creed and broaden its base, so that what had previously been a code for noblemen became a popular code for patriots.

He finds that, in spite of the historical naturalness, even inevitability, of nationalism, its ensuing and corrective counter-current, internationalism, is a much more appealing principle. In internationalism, a tradition of cosmopolitan, transnational thought and activity, unmoved by the passions of nationalism and critical of them on the grounds of humanity and peace, he perceives a greater field for honourable service--honour's obligation to the service of mankind.

Best casts new light upon some familiar historical episodes and values and suggests fruitful fields for future study.

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University of Toronto Press
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