by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - January 29, 2007) In an age of falsehood, misplaced loyalty binds one to actions he/she might or should otherwise reject. Does loyalty to one's superior demand that the individual act against his/her best interest or the better interest of all? Does loyalty to family demand that one hide the fugitive when he/she has spilt blood? If a leader is incompetent does loyalty demand that we cover up, accept, or ignore that incompetence?
Depending upon one's definition of loyalty, the answers to these questions result in contradictory decisions. Conscientiousness and excellence in action and thought define loyalty on the one hand, while absolute obedience regardless of morality or ethicality has debased the definition of loyalty on the other. Currently, "faithfulness and devotion" to a cause, a brand, a product, or a company dominate the definition. In other words, loyalty has achieved religious connotations far beyond the original meaning of fidelity by the family, clan or tribe for the individual.
Part One: Loyalty to God and Country
In Japan loyalty to the emperor caused the kamikaze pilot, while in the Middle East loyalty to the jihad ayatollahs still causes the suicide bomber and the democratic torturer. Oaths of silence for the Mafia, codes of silence for the police each result from a corrupted definition of loyalty. In contrast, according to Confucianism, "true loyalty might be the willingness to be put to death rather than do what is wrong" (e.g., the martyr's desire to die rather than renounce his/her faith -- see http://www.friesian.com/confuci.htm). Unfortunately, this definition of loyalty has been supplanted by the desire to die, to become a martyr, hero, or patriot by sacrificing one's life in a crusade against an enemy who is equally loyal to his/her own faith or cause. Rather than refuse to do wrong, the loyalist patriot or jihad insurgent will commit heinous crimes if ordered by his/her religious or political leader.
In reversal of the loyalty a clan, tribe, or family showed the individual (primitive socialism), society may now require the individual to be absolutely loyal to its ideology or theology. For example, paranoia and fear of Communism led to the jailing and expulsion of citizens under the Sedition Acts and The Alien Registration Act of 1940. The communist opposition to capitalism became a question of loyalty to democracy in the United States, when in reality democracy was never really threatened. In the fever to root out "unpatriotic Americans," those who feared being branded as disloyal, betrayed friends and colleagues and broke the fraternal bonds of loyalty. During that time social loyalty to the individual broke down under the threat of punishment for disloyalty to the State.
Loyalty to the State, which I consider a fascist concept, has been officially celebrated in the United States since 1958 when Congress enacted Public Law 529. The law, which designates May 1st as Loyalty Day in America, was a direct response to the Communist celebration of the Russian Revolution on the same day. The law bluntly asks all citizens "for [their] reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom." Each year, the President is requested by Congress to make a proclamation announcing Loyalty Day, calling on the populace to reaffirm its commitment.
While the rest of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1st in common cause against capitalistic exploitation of workers, the president delivers his loyalty proclamation. Since his invasion of Iraq, President Bush's Loyalty Day proclamation has included references to military action in the name of spreading liberty abroad. In 2003, Bush defined the cause to which all American should be loyal:
The world has seen again the fine character of our Nation through our military as they fought to protect the innocent and liberate the oppressed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. We are honored by the service of foreign nationals in our Armed Services whose willingness to risk their lives for a country they cannot yet call their own is proof of the loyalty this country inspires.
In 2006, Bush made this remark concerning that sacrifice:
The dedication and selflessness of America's soldiers and their families inspire us all. Some of our Nation's finest men and women have given their lives in freedom's cause. By their sacrifices they have given us a legacy of liberty and brought honor to the uniform, our flag, and our country. [...] Loyalty Day is also a time for us to reflect on our responsibilities to our country as we work to show the world the meaning and promise of liberty.
Responsibilities to the State, according to Bush and previous presidents, include a willingness to kill others as a proof of loyalty, a willingness to forgo one's own liberty in service to the State. Such loyalty may be required if the nation's existence is threatened, but all too often wars of aggression and occupation demand that the loyal citizen kills others or torture others in the name of national security (i.e., securing access to resources). Then liberty and freedom become the lies that bind the nation to the true cause: profit. The suffering caused by such loyalty is staggering; in direct contrast to societal loyalty for the individual that reduces suffering.
Loyalty to the State too often degenerates further into party loyalty, and in a two-party system such loyalty often results in partisanship, a rubber-stamp Congress, and a monarchial president. The current administration during the 2004 election campaign required that citizens who wished to attend speeches by Bush and Cheney sign loyalty oaths: endorsement forms promising the ticket holders were Republicans in good standing. Loyalty to the party may result in electronic vote tampering (e.g., Ohio/Florida vote fraud) and the wire-tapping of political rivals (e.g., Bush's NSA program). The fear of being labeled unpatriotic and therefore disloyal may result in the passage of laws that curtail civil liberties (e.g., The Patriot Act) or cause the support of illegal wars of aggression (e.g., Operation Iraqi Freedom).
Too often, loyalty's handmaiden, fear, helps keep the faithful, faithful. Words like unpatriotic, blasphemous, treasonous, and seditious are used to define the disloyal, those who lack "faithfulness and devotion" to the cause. Loyalty to the State may mean citizens must carry National Identity Cards, must accept conscription, must repeat the party's talking points, or pledge allegiance to a god in whom the citizen does not believe. All these things become possible when loyalty means "faithfulness or devotion" not only to a cause but to the State or religion that propagandizes that cause for its own ideological ends.
Even when the cause seems righteous or just, blind loyalty may turn the reformer into a zealot, may turn the democratically-elected president into a monarch. The Venezuelan National Assembly has granted President Chàvez "rule by degree" for 18 months: authoritarian powers to make laws without congressional oversight or debate, all in the name of Socialism for the 21st Century. Among his many reforms, Chàvez plans to remove presidential term limits. Will absolute loyalty to the Bolivarian Revolution cause this democratically-elected leader to make decisions the National Assembly would otherwise reject? Does the opposition party's boycott of the National Assembly make this question moot? Will he, in the name of socialism, make decisions to ensure he and his policies remain politically unopposed, or will he reach out to the opposition to build democratic consensus?
The definition of loyalty to which Chàvez adheres will determine the answers to these questions.
Read Part Two: Loyalty to Corporations and Consumption
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