Manly Honor VII: How and Why to Revive Manly Honor in the Twenty-First Century

by Brett on December 21, 2012 · 114 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

Over the last few months, we’ve defined traditional honor, and then taken a look at the different ways that definition has been interpreted and lived by men over the centuries.

Traditional honor consists of having a reputation judged worthy of respect and admiration by a group of equal peers who share the same code of standards. In primitive times, these standards were based on strength and courage. In the medieval period, outward integrity and chivalry were added to these primal qualities of manhood. In the 19th century, the Stoic-Christian honor code drew from the philosophy of ancient Greece and the faith which gave the code its name, by seeking to form a new kind of honor – one that wed together ancient bravery with character traits like industry, coolness, sincerity, chastity, self-sufficiency, self-control, orderliness, and dependability. In the 20th century, traditional honor unraveled as urbanization and anonymity dissolved the intimate, face-to-face relationships that honor requires, people grew uncomfortable with violence and shame, individual feelings and desires were elevated above the common good of society at the same time a shared idea of what constituted that common good was lost, and people began to form their own personal honor codes which could not be judged by anyone else but themselves. This completed honor’s transformation from wholly public and external to completely private and internal. Honor became a concept almost entirely synonymous with personal integrity.

The story of the evolution of honor is sweeping in breadth and amazingly complex and we’ve offered an immense amount of detail in order to offer as rich and in-depth an understanding of this incredibly important and historically influential force as possible.

But today in this final post I want to strip away many of those layers and try to get back down to the heart of manly honor – the basics of why it’s worth preserving and how we can, and must, revive elements of it in this anti-honor-honor world.

This is the final and longest article in the series. Think of it as the last chapter in a book, and block off some time to read it. I think it will be worth your while, and I want you to join what will hopefully be a robust discussion of the topic.

Why Honor Should Be Revived

These days honor gets a bad rap for, among many things, inciting violence, being anti-egalitarian, creating intolerance, inducing shame, and motivating hypocrisy.

But honor does have definite upsides:

Honor is the moral imperative of men; obedience is the moral imperative of boys.

At the crux of the argument for the revival of honor is this: honor based on respect is a superior moral imperative to obedience based on rules and laws.

When you’re a child, you do the right thing out of obedience to authority, out of the fear of punishment.

As you mature, you begin to see that the world does not revolve around you, that you belong to groups larger than yourself, and with this discovery comes a new awareness of the needs of that group and how your behavior affects others. This change in perspective (should) shift your motivation in doing the right thing from obedience to authority/fear of punishment, to respect for other people.

For example, as a boy I did chores because I had to, and I didn’t want to get in trouble with my folks. As I grew into a young man, I began to do them because I respected my parents – I came to understand that I was part of a family and had a duty to keep the household running and pull my own weight.

The latter point is the key to the superiority of honor as a moral imperative – operating out of honor rather than obedience means realizing that you have a role to play in helping a group survive and thrive – that your actions directly correlate to the group’s strength or weakness. When men function out of rules and laws, they do the bare minimum they can without being punished. When they function out of honor, they seek to at least pull their own weight, and then add further to the strength of the group to the best of their abilities. This is why, as Jack Donovan argues in The Way of Men:

“Part of the reason that honor is a virtue rather than merely a state of affairs is that showing concern for the respect of your peers is a show of loyalty and indication of belonging…Caring about what the men around you think of you is a show of respect, and conversely, not caring what other men think of you is a sign of disrespect. In a survival band, it is tactically advantageous to maintain a reputation for being strong, courageous and masterful as a group. A man who does not care for his own reputation makes his team look weak by association. Dishonor and disregard for honor are dangerous for a survival band or a fighting team because the appearance of weakness invites attack.”

Honor moves a man’s motivation to act from base, childlike fear of authority to a higher, mature respect, even love – love of family, love of church, love of country, even the love of honor itself. A man will not let those he loves (or himself) down by slacking off.

Honor is more powerful than rules and laws in shaping human behavior.

Not only is honor a more mature moral imperative than obedience, it’s often much more effective too. Studies have shown that social pressure — the very thing that drives honor — is more powerful than rules and laws in getting people to do the right thing. The book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness documents several studies that demonstrate individuals will modify their behavior when they know or simply believe their peers are watching them. Despite the way modern civilization has greatly transformed our lives, we are still social animals at heart – we still fear shame and desertion above all.

Social psychologists are now confirming with experiments what philosophers understood centuries ago. John Locke wryly observed “that he who imagines condemnation and disgrace, not to be strong motives to men … seems little skilled in the nature or history of mankind.” In other words: don’t underestimate the power of shame. Mandville and Montesquieu were equally as adamant as Locke on the power of honor to shape human behavior. According to Mandville, “the Invention of Honour has been far more beneficial to the Civil Society than that of Virtue, because honor demands recognition from your peers.” That addition of the social element is the linchpin that makes honor “a better bet than virtue for constraining and directing social lives.”

Without honor, mediocrity, corruption, and incompetence rule. Honor is based on reputation, and when people stop caring about their reputation, and shame disappears, people devolve into doing the least they can without getting into legal trouble or being fired. This leads to mediocrity, corruption, and incompetence. Navigating any business or customer service network these days, you encounter the most egregious examples of the latter. Because few potential employers check references anymore, and your reputation is unknown when you apply for the job, people have no fear of their history following them from job to job, and thus little incentive to perform their work with excellence, as opposed to mind-blowing ineptitude.

Honor both constrains AND frees.

The paradox of honor, and the constraints of any virtuous life, is that while the commitment to live with certain principles limits you in some ways, it also frees you in others. A man may willingly consent to and even impose on himself certain restrictions that he believes will actually lead to greater freedom and/or more opportunities. For example, a man may choose not to smoke, so that he can be free from addiction, and from that addiction dictating his choices.

Similarly, as a youth, the more you showed your parents and other adults you could be trusted to do the right thing, the more they removed their rules, gave you more freedom, and allowed you to make your own decisions.

As society has become more complex and anonymous, and the bonds of honor have dissolved, we’ve had to rely more and more on obedience – rules and regulations — to govern people’s behavior. Because we no longer trust people to do things because they swore an oath to do so, and because concern for their honorable reputation compels them, we’ve created ever more elaborate rules and regulations to enforce ethics. Instead of feeling safe in the knowledge that a man has internalized an honor code to the extent that he may be trusted to do the right thing, even when no one is watching, now he must be constantly checked up on and videotaped. The reason the minutia of rules at your office feel infantilizing…is because they are. We must be policed by an external authority to check our behavior in the absence of honor.

This web of rules and blanket mandates constrains our choices, prevents us from exercising practical wisdom in taking into consideration the specific circumstances of a specific situation in order to make the best possible decision, and thus curtails our freedom and stunts our moral development.

For example, at Brigham Young University all students sign an honor code which states, among other things, that they agree “to be honest,” and to “avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms, including but not limited to plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating, and other academic misconduct.” In exchange for this oath of honesty, student exams are administered at the “testing center,” a building on campus dedicated to this purpose; at any given time there may be six hundred students there taking six dozen different tests for as many different classes. The way it works is that a professor gives his or her class a several-day period over which they can come to the testing center to take the exam, which the students pick up and return to the front desk. They can come in to take the test anytime during the testing period — morning, afternoon or evening – that best fits their schedule; they can get it done right away or wait for the very last hour. This flexibility and freedom is given students because those who take the test first can be trusted not to share what is on the exam with those who choose to take it later.

Honor acts as a check on narcissism.

Honor begins as an inner-conviction of self-worth, but then you must present this claim to your peers for validation. Other people serve as a mirror of the self and a check to your pride – they are there to call bullocks on an inflated or false self-assessment. Without this important check, people become like Narcissus – staring at only themselves all day and absolutely loving what they see. At the same time, the ability to give and receive feedback openly and honestly creates affability among you and your peers – the bonds of respect.

Too many men today think they are the sh*t, when they’ve never had to prove themselves to anyone else – they’ve never shown their abilities outside their own bedroom. An honor group is crucial in teaching you that not only are you not wearing any clothes, you ain’t the emperor either.

Honor creates community. A shared honor code and the reliance on mutual respect to enforce that code can bind a community together stronger than laws, rules, and regulations. Honor forces us to think about what’s best for the group, and not necessarily what’s best for our individual needs. It also forces us to deal with one another and sort problems out ourselves, instead of relying on some third-party authority to resolve our problems for us. That social friction, while certainly uncomfortable, strengthens social ties because it requires us to engage our neighbors and actually be social with them.

Honor creates meaning. There’s a reason people tend to like old movies and books better than the modern variety. It’s not because of nostalgia. And it’s not because writers aren’t as talented as they once were. It’s that there’s nothing much to write about anymore. The drama of old literature captures our attention because the characters lived and moved in a culture of honor. There was structure to navigate and push against. There were many layers to life, and people tried to move up and avoid shame, and earn honor. These days authors have to invent their own drama in the form of self-created experiments in order to generate some fodder for a book (eg., living all the commandments of the Bible for a year, going a year without throwing anything away, living a year as a woman disguised as a man…). Because the rest of life is flat and bor-ring.

The longer I live, the more I appreciate the benefits of structure, of rules, of friction. Today we are amoebas floating in an Age of Anomie. Life seems empty and insubstantial. Evil goes unpunished. Good goes unrewarded. Merit goes unhonored. There’s no clear way to earn honor or avoid shame. Instead of a few earning the just fruits of their valiant labors, everyone is given a tiny portion of the egalitarian pie of praise, a crumb that offers no nourishment, does nothing to satiate our hunger for glory. Nobody cares what you do. There’s no in or out. We each construct our own realities, but without the comparison with, the competition with, the esteem of others — it all feels sometimes like a great charade where we’ve all convinced ourselves that the world’s never been better, while shoving down the empty pit in our stomachs.

How to Revive Honor

When I started this series all the way back in September, I thought it would be easy to lay out a plan on how to revive traditional honor in the 21st century. But as I delved deeper and deeper into the infuriatingly complex history and philosophy of traditional honor, I realized creating a roadmap for honor in the 21st century would be much, much harder than I initially thought.

As we’ve mentioned many times, for honor to exist there must be an honor group that enjoys intimate, face-to-face relationships (only those who truly know you can judge your reputation for honor), and a shared honor code – one that everyone in the group understands and has agreed to uphold.

These honor prerequisites are pretty hard to find in a globalized world in the age of the Internet. Your country probably has a lot of diversity and very little agreement on what constitutes the common good. And good luck trying to revive honor among Facebook users. In the immortal words of Wayne Campbell, “Shyeah, and monkeys might fly out of my butt!”

Will a society-wide honor culture ever re-emerge? It seems highly doubtful now, but because of my belief in the generational cycle, and the dismal job people always do predicting the future, I wouldn’t rule it with 100% certainty. However, either way, its comeback is not in the hands of individual men; rather, if it has any chance of reemerging, it will do so as a result of a nation-wide or global crisis that would dramatically alter the landscape of life, force people to come together, and greatly shift ideas about things like the common good, gender roles, and so on.

So what’s a man to do…twiddle his thumbs and hope that the Mayan calculations for the apocalypse were a day off?

While we can’t single-handedly revive honor across the country, we can live traditional honor the way it was created to be experienced at its most essential core – among a group of fellow men.

Below, I humbly offer my suggestions for reviving traditional honor in the 21st century. It’s not perfect, but the motto of the Art of Manliness from its inception has been that it’s better to do something, anything, than to sit around waiting for “the real thing” to arrive.

What I outline below is simply a starting point for a conversation that I hope you all will contribute to.

Every Man Needs a Platoon: Creating/Joining an Honor Group

We all belong to large groups that provide us a sense of identity and belonging. A nation, a state, a town, a company, a church, or a political party are just a few examples of the large groups a man might associate with. These groups are often too large and impersonal for honor to exist in – on these levels nobody cares if we’re living with honor or not. If we want to revive honor today, we need to give up on the idea of trying to revive it on the macro-level and focus our attention on resurrecting it on the micro-level.

How do we do that?

Each of us needs to find a platoon of men.

“Dunbar’s number” — 150 — has been getting a lot of play this year. 150 is supposedly, on average, the maximum number of people you can have stable social relationships with at any given time – where you know each person individually and where they fit in the group. In a group this size, honor and shame can govern effectively; beyond this limit things begin to break down and restrictive rules and laws must be introduced to enforce stability and cohesion. For this reason, ancient villages would typically break off once they reached around 150 people in order to form their own settlement.

150 is also the average size of military companies both in ancient Rome and today.

Within each company are 3-5 platoons.

Containing 24-50 men, platoons are the smallest “self-contained” unit in the regular army (each includes a medic, radio operator, headquarters element, and forward observer for calling in airstrikes). A platoon of men sleep together, eat together, fight together, and sometimes die together.

Traditional honor can thrive in a group the size of a company, and because of the level of intimacy present, it manifests itself most acutely within the platoon.

When journalist Sebastian Junger asked soldiers about their allegiance to one another, “they said they would unhesitatingly risk their lives for anyone in the platoon or company, but that the sentiment dropped off pretty quickly after that. By the time you got to brigade level— three or four thousand men—any sense of common goals or identity was pretty much theoretical.”

The apex of traditional honor is experienced by those platoons that engage in combat firsthand. As Junger puts it, “For some reason there is a profound and mysterious gratification to the reciprocal agreement to protect another person with your life, and combat is virtually the only situation in which that happens regularly.”

Only a small percentage of those in the military are directly involved in regular firefights. The rest serve in support roles and experience an honor culture lower than combat soldiers, but higher than civilians, as do police officers and firefighters who may not have their lives directly threatened every day, but constantly work under the risk that they could, and know that their comrades are willing to risk their own lives to protect them.

But in our current society, not every man can be a soldier or a firefighter, even if they wanted to.

Regardless of his individual vocation, every man can, and should, take a lesson from military platoons by joining or forming their own small, tight-knit honor groups.

Your platoon (the word platoon simply comes from the French word peloton, for “little ball,” or  a small group of people) or your “gang of men” as Donovan calls it, is your best bet at experiencing traditional honor in the 21st century and becoming the man you want to be.

One of the reasons traditional, cultural honor dissolved was that it often conflicted with a man’s personal convictions. Joining an honor group of your choosing solves this dilemma; you still agree to subvert your own needs to those of the group, but you do so willingly because you’ve chosen an honor group and code which aligns with your own personal standards. Your group, in turn, can help you think through what to do in situations where your own conscience conflicts with the cultural code of the society around you. For instance, you could discuss the matter of how to behave at work when the coworkers around you are crass and tell derogatory jokes throughout the day. Or what do about the neighbor whose dog barks all night. An honor group can help you sort through such issues, as well as keep you accountable when you decide on a plan of action.

But where can you find your platoon of men?

It could be a sports team, a men’s group at church, a college fraternity, or a professional group (professions often have oaths of ethics that used to be important but are no longer taken seriously).

If you can’t find a group to your liking, take the initiative and start your own. It doesn’t have to be formal and you don’t need a lot of people — where two or more are present, honor will be present as well.

My personal platoon is my Freemason Lodge, Lodge Veritas #556. We’re a group of a little more than 20 men from different backgrounds, but with the common goal of becoming better men and upholding the values and virtues of Freemasonry. I know that when the chips are down, these men will have my back because they’ve sworn a sacred oath that they would. We all strive to comport ourselves so as not to bring shame and dishonor to the Fraternity of Freemasonry as a whole, as well as to our individual Lodge. Being part of a lodge has definitely helped me become a better man, as well as experience traditional honor.

Why You Should Become Part of a Platoon of Men

Joining groups is highly out of favor in our individualistic society.  Men want to be great, but they want to make the journey entirely on their own. A potent symbol of this is the overwhelming popularity of superhero movies these days. Not only are superhero movies more popular than ever, but in contrast to superhero tales of yore, the movies often concentrate on the hero’s backstory – his dark psychological angst, his reluctance to take on the role, his loneliness in being different than others, and his inability to maintain romantic relationships. These are heroes for a time when the light of honor has set: they have their own code, act alone, are isolated, and elevate a man’s psyche and inner reality to great importance.

After the shooting that occurred during the screening of Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, there was an image from a video of people coming out of the movie theater that really struck me deep down — one that I’ve thought about many times since. There was this grown man, head down, walking out in a full-on Batman costume. An image of a childish fantasy utterly deflated. To me this was a searing symbol of the gap between the fantasy of the lone hero and the reality that men need to band together. I’m not saying that one man in the theater couldn’t have taken out the shooter himself, I’m talking bigger picture than that – that what you have now are men completely isolated from each other, with nobody to check up on them, nobody to keep them centered. The shooter should have been stopped long before he ever stepped foot in that theater.

The popular meme of the lone superhero taking on a dozen enemies who have circled him looks awesome, but is nothing more than a boy’s fantasy. Or as Donovan puts it, “Claims of complete independence are generally bulls**t. Few of us have ever survived or would be able to survive on our own for an extended period of time. Few of us would want to.” Rugged frontiersmen weren’t out there all alone. Men formed tribes in mining camps, posses in the Old West. The legend of the lone cowboy…is just that; cattle drovers worked together and formed unions. When people on the frontier were truly isolated from each other, they went nuts – men and women alike. If you don’t believe me, do yourself a favor and check out Wisconsin Death Trip.

For their physical survival and their psychological health, men need to belong to a group. Men want meaning in their lives, meaning that comes from being part of something larger than themselves. But they are often unwilling to trade their unfettered individualism to get it. They want honor, but they don’t want obligation to others, duty to others, responsibilities to anyone other then self that go along with it. They want honor, but they are unwilling to trade their time, and the freedom of gratifying their own desires whenever, and wherever they’d like, in order to sacrifice for the good of the group. In short, they want honor, but are unwilling to embrace the means necessary to attain it.

But brothers, the tradeoff is infinitely worth it.

In joining a group, in return for a promise of loyalty, for a pledge to pull your own weight, to strengthen the group, and to have each of your brothers’ backs, no matter what, you can do more, and become more than you ever could on your own. Studies done decades ago showed that men who belonged to a group that was close-knit showed less fear when jumping from an airplane than groups of men who shared only weak ties. Men could also withstand greater pain from electric shocks when they were part of a highly-bound group, as opposed to one with loose and impersonal associations. The military has found that tightly-knit units suffer less cases of breakdown and PTSD than units where morale and bonding is low. The reason for these findings is that men in a tightly-bonded group both know that the man on the right and left of him have his back, and they also fear letting their fellow men down; the fear of dishonor drives them to overcome their own fears and move forward. As one of the men Junger interviewed said, “As a soldier, the thing you were most scared of was failing your brothers when they needed you, and compared to that, dying was easy. Dying was over with. Cowardice lingered forever.”

As it is in combat, so it is in life. Men around us are breaking down because of the stresses of their own battles. They lack strength to deal with life’s difficulties because they don’t have honor pushing them on, and they don’t have honor because they don’t belong to a platoon of men.

What Should Be the Code of Honor for Your Platoon?

Honor can’t exist without a code – every honor group must have one that is agreed upon by all members and enforced through shame.

While we now equate honor with integrity, honor is essentially amoral. A chivalrous knight and a mafia gangster both live a code of honor. And in any small group of men, if you strip everything else away, the essential core of the honor code comes down to 1) not engaging in behavior that will weaken the group, and 2) having each other’s backs. For example, while patriotism and the desire to protect freedom may be part of a man’s motivation for joining the military, during battle he is not thinking about his love for America, but rather only about protecting his brothers. As Junger puts it, “the moral basis of the war doesn’t seem to interest soldiers much, and its long-term success or failure has a relevance of about zero.”

Nevertheless, a broader, overarching code of honor is what brings the men together in the first place and greatly informs the character of the group. Every honor group needs a framework of honor that explains why the group exists, how it operates, and what is expected of the men who are members. So what should be the honor code of your platoon?

The standards that make up any honor code are based on motivating men to do what’s best for the group. And for this reason the code of your particular platoon will vary based on the needs of your particular gang. An actual military platoon facing combat is going to have a different code than a men’s group at church.

However, I’m not a fan of all-out relativism. Are there principles we can say are universal to the code of men? Principles that may act as a lodestar to each and every platoon?

I think there are.

Perhaps the best definition of “true honor” I have read comes from Bertram Wyatt-Brown:

“The unity of inner virtue with the natural order of reason, the innate desire of man for the good, and the happy congruence of inner virtue with outward, public action.”

What does this mean? In The Code of Man, Waller Newell writes: “The best recipe for happiness, according to the ancient thinkers, is the right balance of contemplative and active virtues gradually achieved over a lifetime of experience in the trials of public and private life. It’s a teaching that weaves a golden thread throughout every period of reflection on the meaning of manliness down to the present.”

In primitive times, strength and courage were all the tribe needed for survival. But ever since the dawn of civilization, the honor of men has demanded what Newell calls the contemplative and active virtues, and what Aristotle called arête: strength coupled with virtue, bravery combined with character. In times of crisis, a man must be able to fight and prevail; in times of peace he must be able to care for his family, cultivate his mind, and serve his community and state civically. At all times he must stand ready to serve in whatever capacity he is needed.

This, to me, is the ideal — circumscribing the hard virtues and soft virtues into one whole. This is the “complete man.” He is a loving husband and father, loyal friend and brother, and yet would also not just be able to survive, but to competently lead in a disaster, and could be called up by the military tomorrow to serve without breaking a sweat in boot camp.

Unfortunately, we have too much division in these camps in our modern world; nerdy types deride the physically fit as meatheads, and think “real” men are enlightened and sensitive, that true manhood can be found exclusively in intellect and virtue. And “bros” think knowledge and morality is for sissies, and that men should be able to do whatever they wish in pursuit of a good time.

Plenty of men have known better, and have sought arête, true excellence in all aspects of life. None embody the ideal better than one Theodore Roosevelt.

TR was a rancher (he owned and worked a cattle ranch in the Dakotas) and statesman (police commissioner, governor, president); he was a soldier (leading the charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War) and writer (he penned over 35 books); he was an explorer (he navigated an uncharted Amazonian river) and voracious reader (he consumed tens of thousands of books over his six decades of life); he loved boxing, hunting, and wrestling, as well as spending time with his kids and his wife. In short, he was both kinds of man – strong and gentle, courageous and moral. In an address to a graduating class of boys, he told them:

“When I speak of the American boy, what I say really applies to the grown-ups nearly as much as to the boys…I want to see you game, boys; I want to see you brave and manly; and I also want to see you gentle and tender. In other words, you should make it your object to be the right kind of boys at home, so that your family will feel a genuine regret, instead of a sense of relief, when you stay away; and at the same time you must be able to hold your own in the outside world. You can not do that if you have not manliness, courage in you. It does no good to have either of those two sets of qualities if you lack the other. I do not care how nice a little boy you are, how pleasant at home, if when you are out you are afraid of other little boys lest they be rude to you; for if so you will not be a very happy boy nor grow up a very useful man. When a boy grows up I want him to be of such a type that when somebody wrongs him he will feel a good, healthy desire to show the wrong-doers that he can not be wronged with impunity. I like to have the man who is a citizen feel, when a wrong is done to the community by any one, when there is an exhibition of corruption or betrayal of trust, or demagogy or violence, or brutality, not that he is shocked and horrified and would like to go home; but I want to have him feel the determination to put the wrong-doer down, to make the man who does wrong aware that the decent man is not only his superior in decency, but his superior in strength.”

This was the same message TR gave to his son Ted, telling him “that he could be just as virtuous as he wished if only he was prepared to fight.” Roosevelt took his father as his example of “an ideal man,” a man who “really did combine the strength and courage and will and energy of the strongest man with the tenderness, cleanness and purity of woman,” and “certainly gave me the feeling that I was always to be both decent and manly, and that if I were manly nobody would long laugh at my being decent.”

In other words, Theodore Roosevelt believed that honor was found not only in living a life of virtue, but being brave and strong enough to defend that virtue if needed. That was the kind of man he respected.

Truth is a fuzzy thing to a lot of people these days, and not everyone will agree with my universal code of manly honor. I believe it because whenever I read things that describe the code, and meet men who embody it, it enlivens my mind, and causes my heart to swell within my chest. It tastes good to me. It feels like truth in both my heart and my mind, and when I find this congruence, I take whatever it is, cherish it, and incorporate it into my life.

General Guidelines for Reviving Honor in Your Platoon

Keep it all-male.

It sure isn’t politically correct to say these days, but there’s a need for all-male groups in this world. Once women join the group, the dynamics change. It loses its potential as a channel of traditional, manly honor. Donovan argues that, “As a general rule, if you introduce women into the mix, men either shift their focus from impressing each other to impressing the women, or they lose interest altogether and do just enough to get by.” Or as Kate likes to say, “Women want to join all-male groups because they’re so cool. But what they don’t realize is that once they join, they ruin the exact thing that made them cool in the first place.”

Swear an oath.

From ancient antiquity to Victorian times, men solidified their fidelity to each other through the giving and taking of oaths. Oaths created a sacred obligation of loyalty to men who were not kin, but wished to purposefully swear allegiance to each other and become brothers.

Oaths are an essential part of forming honor groups. They symbolize the fact that all men know and have agreed to the same code, and are willing to place their most valuable possession – their word, their very reputation, on the line.

I’d like to do an article, or whole series on the history and nature of oaths sometime…

Meet face-to-face.

An online community can never be an honor group. No. No. No. There’s no way to be sure that who you talk to online is really who they say they are. There’s no true accountability.

Embrace healthy shame.

In order for honor to exist, shame must exist. But as we saw in our last post about honor, shame in the 21st century has often been labeled a neurosis that sickened the psyche. We go out of our way to not shame people because we don’t want them to feel bad. But shame is what motivates people to follow the honor code and carry their weight in the group. When people begin to see that there’s little or no risk in failing to live by the honor code, the temptation is to slack off and cut corners.

Shame can be uncomfortable, awkward, and sometimes very painful, but if you want to revive honor, you must accept it. Public shame is crucial to maintaining excellence among those who have agreed to live a certain code. Don’t be afraid to call your brothers out when they fail to uphold the group’s code. The group and each person will be better for it.

At the Virginia Military Institute, the school honor code – “A cadet will neither lie, cheat, steal nor tolerate those who do,” is memorized by each cadet (or “Rat,” as freshmen are called) their very first day at the school and is strictly enforced through a harsh but highly effective ritual of public shame:

“The ‘drumming out’ ceremony — the official discharge of a cadet found guilty of an honor violation by the Honor Court there — is an experience that stays with one forever. That is just the very intent of it at VMI. Witnessing your first one is a very frightening experience. You are pulled from your deep sleep in the middle of the night, say 2 or 3 in the morning. And, after a day you put in at the ‘I’, you are guaranteed to be in a deep sleep by that time of night. An eerie roll of drums awakens you, that gets progressively louder. Then, you have about two minutes to get your butt out of your ‘hay’ and on your stoop outside in front of your room. Everyone in the Cadet Corp must get up and go out on the stoops to witness the drumming out. The drums are played under a covered arch so you can’t see the drummer. But the dull roll of the drums in the pitch blackness of night right out of a deep sleep is the worst thing in the world to experience. There are all 1200 cadets standing outside lining the barracks stoops, in their underwear or robes, in the total darkness.

Once the entire Corps is out on the stoops, then there’s another five to ten minutes of grace drum roll to make the experience as graphic as possible. Then the drum roll stops, and the President of the Honor Court appears in the middle of the courtyard in his formal, parade dress, shako hat, virgin white slacks, and white gloves. He then commences walking in circles within the paved circle in the middle of the courtyard, in the dark. A sole spotlight then appears on the Honor Court President. ‘Cadet… has put personal gain over personal honor.’ ‘He has been found guilty of violating the Honor System.’ He has been dismissed from the Institute and his name will never be mentioned here again.’”–Mike Horan, The National Militia

Horan adds: “The experience in itself surely prevents dozens of future violations.”

I think this tradition is awesome. And there needs to be much more of it. Shame involves doing something we hate to do in a nuanced-to-death, wishy-washy culture – drawing clear lines. Honorable or despicable. Courageous or coward. In or out.

Bringing back shame also means reviving the language of honor. Get rid of therapeutic terms — saying something is “inappropriate,” or that someone “made bad choices.” Wearing a tuxedo t-shirt to a wedding is inappropriate. Cheating is shameful. Killing the innocent is evil. Not keeping your word is wrong. Failing to pull your weight and meet the code of honor is despicable.

When General Petraeus resigned, he said his actions showed “extremely poor judgment” and that his behavior was “unacceptable.” What he should have said was that cheating on his wife and potentially compromising national security was shameful, wrong, and dishonorable.

Put team above self. Chastise, and possibly expel, those who don’t.

If you want to experience traditional honor in your own life, you’ll need to be willing to subjugate your personal wants beneath the needs of your honor group. That’s a hard concept to swallow in our hyper-individualistic society. But in return for your loyalty you get to be part of an excellent group of brothers who have your back no matter what. By helping others survive and/or thrive, you help yourself do likewise. Those who put self first compromise the goals of the rest of the group, and for that reason, are subject to chastisement and shame.

Sebastian Junger’s book War highlights this exchange perceptibly. In 2007 and 2008, Junger was embedded with members of the Army’s Second Platoon (of Battle Company) during their 15-month deployment. Second Platoon was stationed in the rugged mountains in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. Their “base” consisted of cement slabs and some boards they had jerry-rigged together into bunks. The men would go a month without showering, their clothes became so permeated with sweat they’d stand up from the salt, and they wore flea collars around their necks, and yet were still inundated with the pests. To test each other’s loyalty and readiness for battle, the men created a unique ritual: “blood in, blood out,” where every member was given a pretty savage beating whenever they came into, or left the platoon. Officers were not excluded.

The enemy was all around them, and the men could come under fire at any time, and did – bullets would come whizzing in while they slept or ate breakfast. During this time, Battle Company saw nearly a fifth of the combat being experienced by 70,000 NATO troops. A constant worry was an attack that would overrun the base and kill them all.

Isolated and surrounded by the enemy, the men had to count on each other for their lives. In such a situation honor is not optional — it’s required.

For this reason, the men policed each other’s behavior. One man’s laxity or weakness, or desire to put his own feelings and desires above the group, could get his brothers killed. Junger argues that the essence of combat comes down to the fact that “the choreography always requires that each man make decisions based not on what’s best for him, but on what’s best for the group. If everyone does that, most of the group survives. If no one does, most of the group dies.”

Every detail, whether in the midst of a firefight or back at base, mattered, and each member of the platoon was open to scrutiny and judgment about their behavior; “every solider had de facto authority to reprimand others.” If you weren’t drinking enough water, or didn’t tie your shoes, or weren’t taking care of your equipment, you got disciplined by the group. Your personal lack of vigilance could compromise the safety of everyone else; “There was no such thing as personal safety out there; what happened to you happened to everyone.”

Junger tells the story of how once

“they were clawing their way up Table Rock after a twenty-four hour operation and a man in another squad started falling out. ‘He can’t be smoked here,’ I heard O’Bryne seethe to Sergeant Mac in the dark, “he doesn’t have the right to be.’ The idea that you’re not allowed to experience something as human as exhaustion is outrageous anywhere but in combat. Good leaders know that exhaustion is partly state of mind, though, and that the men who succumb to it have on some level decided to put themselves above everyone else. If you’re not prepared to walk for someone you’re certainly not prepared to die for them, and that goes to the heart of whether you should even be in a platoon.”

This is the core of honor – to act in such a way as to not let down the men to your right and left when they need you most.

If an individual in your honor group refuses to pull his weight even when chastised by the others, putting the group’s needs ahead of the individual’s may require that you shame and expel him.

Back when I played football in high school, there was a guy who would do anything he could to avoid practicing. When we were doing drills, he’d sort of hang out in the back, hiding behind everybody else, drinking all the water while everyone else was sweating their butts off in the 100-degree Oklahoma sun. When it was time for wind sprints at the end of practice, he’d have some sort of injury. But he sure loved wearing that jersey to school on Game Day and enjoying the accolades and perks that came with being on the football team.

Us starters let it slide for a bit. We figured he just needed some positive encouragement, which we tried, but didn’t work. Things finally came to a head one hot afternoon. We were in the middle of an intense drill to prepare us for the upcoming game and we needed fresh bodies to rotate in and out on the scout team so we could get the best training possible. While everyone else was taking their turn and going all out, Mr. I’m-Going-To-Sit-This-One-Out was hiding behind the trainers, chilling with a water bottle in his hand.

One of the starters called him out on his loafing, but it didn’t faze this guy. After a few more repetitions, another player called him out. Still nothing. Finally, one guy finally just said, “If you’re not going to practice, just quit. It’s obvious you don’t want to be here and we don’t want you here either.” Other players joined in. “Yeah, dude. Just quit.”

And he did. The guy walked right off the field in the middle of practice, never to return.

I remember feeling sort of bad about it when it happened, but in the long run it was the best thing for the team, and probably for him.

If you want to experience honor, you have to put the group before the individual.


I believe that true manliness means being a man of both conscience and honor – inner conviction and concern for reputation among men should work together. When outside your honor group, and nobody is watching, your conscience keeps you living the standards you believe in; when back with your platoon of men, they strengthen your motivation to live those standards.

That much I know, but to be honest, after four months of studying and writing about traditional honor, I’m left with as many questions as answers. Questions I’d love to hear your insights on, such as:

  • Can any form of honor survive in the absence of the threat of violence? Anciently, honor that was not worth dying for was not considered true honor. But violence of any kind can get you thrown into court these days. Is shame enough to motivate people without the risk of having to defend their behavior and words with a fight? [As a side note, it has been interesting to me to hear several times in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting that it happened because we are a culture “obsessed with violence.” But having read about a culture just a hundred and fifty years ago in which men shot each other on the spot when insulted and would saunter into the home or workplace of someone who had insulted them whom they felt was a social inferior, and start horsewhipping them, and in which brawls were decided by gouging another man’s eye out, the truth is not that we’re more obsessed with violence than before, but that almost all violence has become an abstraction of film and video game. Could it be that mass shootings are huge eruptions of an impulse for violence that is otherwise suppressed and has no real, tangible outlets in society?]
  • Is it more manly to fight when insulted or to be Stoic and above it all and walk away? Men of honor only fought with those whom they considered their social equals. If you’re attacked on the internet, it’s impossible to know if someone is your equal or not, so how do you know if you should respond or ignore them? What constitutes a “social equal” on or offline these days anyway? Are quotes like, “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me,” noble or cop-outs for men who don’t want conflict?
  • Honor groups often used sarcasm and verbal putdowns to jockey for, and enforce status in the group. So is being polite and civil to everyone manly, or should you call ‘em like you see ‘em, and call a spade a spade, and an idiot an idiot?
  • Speaking of conflicts…when is it appropriate to confront someone outside your honor group for what you believe is a violation of the universal code of men?
  • What role do women play in motivating men to keep the code of honor, and what role does the current culture of womanly honor play in the current culture of male honor? Is it really a stalemate where each side blames the other, and say that they would change if only the other changed first?
  • What’s the current state of honor in the military? How has the integration of women into units changed or not changed the culture of honor? Would integration of women into combat units affect these units’ culture of honor?

So yeah, honor…it’s a trip, man. You can think about it non-stop for days, even weeks on end (I would know!). It’s like a slippery fish that just as you think you’ve grabbed it, swims away again.

Don’t let it tie you up in knots though. I don’t. Honor helps inform my worldview and goals, but from day-to-day I just try to be the best man I can be in all areas of my life, and to do my best to strengthen my family, my lodge, my church, and my community however I can.

I want to leave you with a quote that sums up the current state of honor:

“We say we want a renewal of character in our day but we don’t really know what we ask for. To have a renewal of character is to have a renewal of a creedal order that constrains, limits, binds, obligates, and compels. This price is too high for us to pay. We want character but without unyielding conviction; we want strong morality but without the emotional burden of guilt or shame; we want virtue but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to insist upon it; we want moral community without any limitations to personal freedom. In short, we want what we cannot possibly have on the terms that we want it.” –The Death of Character, James Davison Hunter

In short, people talk a lot about honor and they say they want honor, but they only want the ends, not the means. This is why, for now, honor will only live on in small platoons of men who are willing to accept and carry the burden and responsibility that comes with it. Will you be one of those men?

Manly Honor Series: 
Part I: What is Honor?
Part II: The Decline of Traditional Honor in the West, Ancient Greece to the Romantic Period
Part III: The Victorian Era and the Development of the Stoic-Christian Code of Honor
Part IV: The Gentlemen and the Roughs: The Collision of Two Honor Codes in the American North
Part V: Honor in the American South
Part VI: The Decline of Traditional Honor in the West in the 20th Century
Part VII: How and Why to Revive Manly Honor in the Twenty-First Century
Podcast: The Gentlemen and the Roughs with Dr. Lorien Foote



War by Sebastian Junger

The Way of Men by Jack Donovan

Honor: A History by James Bowman

The Code of Man by Waller Newell


{ 114 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jordan December 21, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Fascinating series, Brett.

Interesting that you bring up your Masonic lodge association. Such fraternal societies were relatively common in the US prior to the establishment of government social/welfare programs.

My own opinion is that the general standard should be never to initiate physical violence against another person; violence is only acceptable in defense of yourself, your property, or other people. That people will defend themselves is unsurprising whereas the defense of others is what characterizes that “going above and beyond the call of duty” that makes such action honorable.

However, if other people want to create a club and voluntary agree to rules where if one member feels insulted, then the quarreling parties can opt to resolve things in a violent way, well that’s up to them. They just need to keep that sort of conflict resolution confined to members who agreed to it.

2 Joe Fahnestock December 21, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Beautiful, just beautiful. Brett this series was great. I don’t really have much to add it was just great.

3 Mike December 21, 2012 at 7:10 pm

I have just finished reading six articles on honor, on a website that I enjoy very much, called “The Art of Manliness”. The author laid out the history of honor from thousands of years ago up through modern times. The article illustrates how it has eroded to what we have today. Nowadays it appears there is an “anti-honor honor group that sees historical honor as being; ‘anti-feminist, anti-egalitarian, hypocritical, an incitement to violence, exclusionary, and uncompassionate – thoroughly silly, if not dangerous and wholly outdated.”
I grew up in sixties, a product of a southern mother and a southern father. My father was born in 1915, a veteran of WWII, took part in the Normandy invasion and the liberation of France. When he came home, he started a family, a business and was as successful as he chose to be. I think growing up and witnessing his values and love for family has been deeply ingrained in my character.
The world has changed considerably from “Mayberry” where I grew up to what it is today. I wrestle a lot these days with what I see, trying to understand what my response should be to the crap I am supposed to be tolerant of. Even though, I am tolerant. I don’t care who you are, what you do or how you want to live. The problem arises when; who you are, what you do, or how you want to live invades my space, and even this is not entirely accurate.
I do believe that all people are equal. I do believe that a lady should have equal rights as a man, they deserve it. I don’t believe having my own ideas about morality are wrong just because I am told they are. Is my honor code hypocritical sure it is, hell, I can’t even live up to my own standards. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. About “an incitement to violence” at times, yes. Exclusionary? Only because there are those who don’t measure up to my personal ideal of horizontal honor, this doesn’t change their worth as a human being it just changes the way we will interact. As far as I am concerned compassion is one of the cornerstones of honor, there is no honor without compassion.
I wonder if it is honoring a legal system or rather than fear of litigation is what keeps me in check from exercising the rights I should have by living under an honor code. In the world today there are those people that use the fear of lawsuits in their favor to do or say anything they want. They understand full well that someone such as me will probably not do anything about it with the knowledge of lawyer fees and jail time on the horizon. I could be called a dirty lowdown no good son of a bitch whose father was a whoremongering bastard without any real recourse. When in reality they should be very happy that I have a code of honor that keeps me from choking the last vestige of life out of their miserable existence.
So far I have dealt pretty mercifully with those who might try to defame my character. I wonder what would happen in response to a real threat on my family, a real threat to my country in its own borders, or my faith…….

4 T December 21, 2012 at 7:36 pm

First off, great articles. I really enjoyed reading them. However I would like to disagree with one point:

“I know that when the chips are down, these men will have my back because they’ve sworn a sacred oath that they would.”

I wouldn’t want anyone to have my back because of “a sacred oath.” I want them to have my back because they care, because I am important to them, not because of some shared code of honor.

5 Jim Collins December 21, 2012 at 7:48 pm

Esteemed Brett, Readers, and Kate,

Brett – I think that you are on to something very real and organic when you write of the feeling that the contemplation of honor evokes in you — that you feel it in your chest, that you taste it.

I doubt that there was a primitive time when honor was only based on strength and courage; the reason I doubt it is that something recognizably like it functions in and is indispensable to our closest relatives: chimpanzees and baboons at least. While they can surely have no high sounding words for honor, they are intensely political creatures whose status within their troop (once again that 20-150 individuals range) depends on cleverness, their choice of friends and allies, knowledge and experience, loyalty, dependability in conflict, as well as on the nature of their liaisons with females in their troops. Baboons and chimpanzees wage war against other troops and their human observers readily distinguish who the respected captain is and who the loyal lieutenants are. They remember deceptions and don’t like them. Female primates have their own system of prestige and to be outcast from either pyramid typically amounts to a death sentence.

So, let us embrace these animal feelings AND use all of our intellectual abilities so that we can say as healthy men, “I honor” in the same joyful sense that we can say “I breath.”


Jim Collins

6 Carl December 21, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Very good article.
Actually as a result of Internet and information technology, people are being dispatched from each other and an honor platoon as the auther mentioned is hard to realise especially among youngs. It seems to be more likely that people gathering after some certain benefits than the moral achievements of honor.

7 Pike December 21, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I agree, a great series. I’ve always felt honor should play a larger role in our lives these days, and it’s been great to learn more about it, as well as to be reassured that other people feel that way too.

As to your quote. “A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me,” I do think it is a cop-out. Once people buy into such a group, they need to defend themselves and the honor of the group. Whether by shame or violence, depending on the rules of the group. I can agree much more with the statement “A gentleman SHOULD not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me,” but only under the stipulation that if someone chooses to insult you, or the group, they should be informed that they are not a gentleman.

8 Harry December 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm

I think martial arts or shooting sports training can provide some of the same benefits as the combat situation, though clearly less dangerous and perhaps not quite as strongly effective. I find that both arouse a deep feeling of manly bonding. Sore muscles and the endorphins afterwards can make a man really feel like a man, especially after a round of good sparring or a new personal high score on the trap range. Both let a man do violence in a controlled way without causing lasting harm to other people. They also give a greater sense of confidence that, if push came to shove (literally), you are ready and able to defend your home and family.

I’m a college educated intellectual, raised in the self esteem, everybody’s a winner, fighting is verboten culture, at least according to parents and teachers, but also having been a total social outcast until college. One could say I lost all “school yard honor” by the third grade and was never given a chance to regain it until I finally left those people behind for an engineering school where other people had the same interests as me and understood my intellectual interests – I was the only engineer in my high school graduating class. Starting out with two years of Army ROTC certainly helped. That ended though, with me deciding that I wasn’t confident that I’d be able to live with myself if I shot a man on somebody else’s orders and later found out it was a mistake. Somebody pointing a gun at me or my buddy, different story, guy is going down with no hesitation, but the Army doesn’t give a man a choice, and if they put you in Infantry that’s what you do.

Regarding the “culture of violence,” I agree that there has always been violence and conflict in human history, and a man needs to test himself in conflict. You pointed out with the Patton story that it was mostly The Media that was upset with him and most of the public backed him up. The Media has an interest in making controversy, creating villains, especially out of those who were once heroes. Villains make for good drama and exciting stories that hold people’s attention and boost “ratings.” A hero’s fall is just catnip to them.
Unfortunately, people have stopped thinking for themselves so much and rely on the media to tell them what to think. Schools don’t do a very good job of teaching people to read between the lines, question sources of information and what sorts of bias or vested interests they might have. I can’t remember a lesson in school where we had to read something from a biased, unreliable narrator perspective and tease out what the real truth might be and the questions left unanswered, then getting shown the facts of the situation.

Saying “violence is never the answer” takes away the little violences that release that pent up need in small doses, and drive men to violent media to try to sate that desire, but for some people that’s just not enough. Social pressure puts a tight cap on the kettle, but eventually the cap can burst and give us mass killings. Some may take it too far no matter what, seeking ever greater violence, but if there were more acceptable outlets for it, perhaps people would recognize somebody’s a little too “into it” and may need to get help. “Moderation in all things.”

It might help if we had a socially sanctioned way for men to have a duel in a controlled manner as gentlemen, respectful sparring with officiated rules to make sure nobody is permanently injured.

Politeness and civility is a must in public situations and for dealing with new people, but in the “locker room” when it’s “just us guys” in a small known group, good natured ribbings and what would otherwise be called harassment, both giving it and taking it with grace and “return fire” is still how men test if they are part of the group or not. If it’s “too soon” or “too far,” people react poorly to it and the decent thing is to apologize and resume the formal and respectful tone with them unless and until they open the door to it again, usually with an off color joke like “That’s what SHE said!”

Seriously Brett, you’ve got your next book started here. Perhaps some sort of hybrid of an academic thesis and “self help” and history book, but without the negative baggage of modern “self help” books. It needs a better name.

9 Nate December 21, 2012 at 9:52 pm

My mom raised me in some way that’s made me seek out honorable ways of living, including the belief in and creation of honor groups.

I’ve spent years forming up social groups that I felt had serious loyalty and values. I think I used to get a good rap for talking about and promoting things like this loyalty. I really believed in that stuff. I always thought of those guys as my extended family.

It all falls apart though…

Every time I try to form up elements of an honour group in my life I’m thwarted by people backstabbing each other. Nobody has any sense of pride, loyalty, or serious shame. These honor groups always devolve into social groups only with mere appearances of loyalty. It’s as though they end up amounting to a mutually beneficial circle of entertainment and company/women more than anything.

You wouldn’t believe (well, hopefully) the last 4 years I’ve had that shattered this group-loyalty illusion I’d built for myself. Maybe I just wasn’t really looking before then.

I have a hard time believing that modern honor groups can exist, but I’d love to see a real dependable one in action if I’m wrong. I really would.

10 Jack Donovan December 21, 2012 at 9:53 pm

This is excellent and you obviously really put a lot of work into it. I don’t think there’s anyone (else) out there thinking about this as hard as you are. Great job.

11 Matthew Kauffmann December 21, 2012 at 10:16 pm

VERY well written series, I have enjoyed it greatly. Sitting here thinking now about the perils of growing up at the end of the 20th century…I remember elementary school being taught that we were “good” people no matter what, and now realizing how that line of education has crippled us.
The question rocking my worldview: is it possible to create honor through building up, rather than (the threat of) tearing down? I want my kids to grow up with honor, but I don’t know of a socially acceptable mechanism for shaming them, which you argue is necessary to create honor. Hunter is right: we want the ends, not the means…I guess I’m asking what are socially acceptable means?

12 Spence December 21, 2012 at 10:46 pm

This whole series was fantastic, Brett. I can’t even believe how much work you put into this. It made me realize I knew absolutely zip about what honor really was before. People throw it around, but I don’t think most people understand what it means.

I really don’t have much to add to the discussion, because there’s so much to chew on. But I did think of another question that’s hard to answer. How do you balance caring what other men think about you and being an autonomous man, which I know you’ve also written about before. Like how do you balance caring what people and think but then the ideal of totally not caring what people think? I guess maybe you care what the men in your honor group think because you respect them as equals, but everyone else can got to hell?

13 Oscar December 22, 2012 at 12:42 am

Great article(s). As a martial arts school owner and Instructor, living and acting with honor is something that I stress to all of my students, but especially to all of my young men. One of the saying that I say to my students is “The path we’ve chosen is not the easy path, but it’s the right one”. And so it is with men trying to live with honor. It’s not easy, especially in today’s society, but it’s the right path. And I know, for a fact, that among my male students, because we train together, sweat together and spar together, we’ve form a tight kit bond were we hold each other accountable and try to live by our code of conduct. In closing, keep up the great work. You are a much needed voice in today’s world.

14 Bobby G. December 22, 2012 at 6:22 am

Another great article, Mr. Brett!
Can we, as a society, have honor when we are told (by the “experts”) that we have evloved from animals and are nothing but animals? If this is true, then there is no such thing as honor or right and wrong. These are mere inventions of man that can be followed or not. Do we need to follow them? If I am only an animal, my only need is survival and the only reason I would even tolerate others is their ability and talents help with my survival. If others ostracize me, as an animal, I will not feel the need to better myself in order to try and fit in. No, since we are all only animals, anger and revenge are my only recourse.

Until man is put in his proper place-below the divine/above the animal- all this is an exercise in futility. Since we, as a society, have excepted the notion of being mere animals, there remains no foundation on which to place such lofty notions as honor.

15 Josh December 22, 2012 at 7:48 am

Being an atheist, I find a lot of shunning when I meet people. I would love to join the masons, but you must be a firm believer in a higher power, doesnt matter what religion though. Is it worth it to lie? If they dont sit around and talk about religion, then why require someone to be religious? Are we non-believers automatically dubbed un-trustworthy?

16 Sam Irish December 22, 2012 at 8:03 am

A great conclusion to an excellent series sir. Well done!

17 Patrick December 22, 2012 at 8:16 am

Great, great series — very need and timely. Couldn’t have put your description of “the complete man” better if I had tried. What stood out most, however, was this paragraph:

“As you mature, you begin to see that the world does not revolve around you, that you belong to groups larger than yourself, and with this discovery comes a new awareness of the needs of that group and how your behavior affects others. This change in perspective (should) shift your motivation in doing the right thing from obedience to authority/fear of punishment, to respect for other people.”

The sad state of affairs for my generation (I’m 27) and those that are following us is that a concerted effort — both culturally and personally — is being made to never transition from boyhood to manhood. To me, this seems the biggest obstacle to a revival of honor and honor groups. You have to have men, not just adult males, to form honor groups. We’re far more content to be “guys” than men and until more guys give up childish self-absorption and become responsibility-bearing men, I don’t see how honor and honor groups will be anything other than an anomaly. We’ll just end-up with more Batsuit wearing boys in adult bodies. Speaking to the choir, I’m sure. Have you ever done a post on rites of passage between boyhood and manhood?

I’m with Harry on the martial arts and shooting sports bit. I don’t believe run-of-the-mill team sports can fill this function any more. Thanks to Muhammed Ali and ESPN, most kids are more concerned about their prospects and future prosperity than the prospering of their current team. Hence we have college and professional sports teams full of prima donnas and indolent whiners who jump ship whenever the next best opportunity for self-aggrandizement comes along. Never did any martial arts myself, though I regret not pursuing it when I was a kid. I do like shooting sporting clays and trap and it’s a great forum for building manly bonds — plenty of ribbing, opportunity for proving ones self to the group, and chances to share wisdom (both on shooting and life). Plus, it’s a safe and moderated way of doing violence. Though, I do believe that confrontation and fisticuffs still has a place in a society scared of it’s own shadow. I don’t hold to your “lack of outlet” theory on the Sandy Hook evil, but do think that if every man believed that his errant or evil decisions and actions would be met with physical opposition from every other man, these type of things would be less common and catastrophic. Just because an issue comes to blows doesn’t mean the parties have acted out of intemperance; if something has an absolute value (and absolutes necessarily exist, no matter what any relativist PoMo ninny might say), it should be upheld to the level of it’s value in an absolute way. Violence isn’t the issue so much as is the worldview that does it. Granted, violence is the final and last-ditch response, but it remains a legitimate one if it is commensurate to the value defamed.

Again, great series and could very easily become a great book. I’m glad to know you’re a man with a chest, Brett (Google C.S. Lewis’ “Men without Chests” if you’ve never read it before; it’s good). Thanks for all of the hard work and time you put into it. It has been enriching.

18 Sean December 22, 2012 at 8:47 am

I recently joined my local chapter of the Optimists & it ticks many of these boxes. Many service groups are predominantly male & do excellent work in the community. Time to start giving back gentlemen!

19 James December 22, 2012 at 11:08 am

Probably one of the best examples of traditional honor today is in fraternities and sororities. Ironically, this is the exact reason some people really love them while other people really hate them, although no one mentions honor as the reason. When I joined a fraternity in college, I experienced myself being challenged in a way as I had never felt before. Also, I grew more during those four years then anytime before or since. At the time I did not realize that this was why, but it makes sense now.

20 Peter Hernandez December 22, 2012 at 11:19 am

Been really enjoying this series Brett, I’m gonna make some nice alone time to chew on this one. Great work as always!

21 Chris Zuber December 22, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Brett, I’ve read AoM for quite a while, and I rarely comment, but I have to say this series on honor is the best thing you’ve done on this site, and I’m a better man for having read it. I’m going to take some time to think about the questions you posed, right now I have nothing to add to what is a great series & conclusion!

22 PeeWee December 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm

“the culture of honour” as described by Steven Pinker is responsible for much violence and death. This is while you get killed over a pair of sneakers or for being on the wrong street corner ,protection or building of reputation.

You seem to be advocating increased responsibly for ones actions, which is not the same as honour.

Honour at it’s core is the constrain threat of punishment for break acceptable conduct, the other side of that is a commitment to punish(Usually violently) conduct you find unacceptable.

Cultures of honour will often arise when three conditions[6] exist:
-a lack of resources

-the benefit of theft and crime outweighs the risks

-a lack of sufficient law enforcement (such as in geographically remote regions)

I’ll take personal integrity and free thought over group think.

23 Jim Collins December 22, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Esteemed Readers, Kate, and Brett,

I am thrilled as much by the quality of this series of articles as by the nature of the responses. The subject goes to the core of what I judge AoM’s theme to be: being better men.

First, I would like to address Josh’s question about the possibility of Freemasonry while being an atheist. As I understand it, and I am not a Freemason, the requirement is to profess belief in a Supreme Being. I do not think it duplicitous to note that there is One Everything, and that on a completely tautological basis, it is supreme. It certainly circumscribes me, and even more hopefully, it circumscribes all of us whatever our disagreements might be. I applaud your aversion to being deceitful in order to gain admission to what I suspect could be an edifying group.

Second, I wonder if it might be useful to distinguish two schools of thought: those who hold that Honor is ultimately grounded in a divine authority and those who either do not or who think the question irrelevant. I subscribe to the second school and find it odd that people tell me I have no reason to behave honorably when I spend time thinking about my reasons. I am sure that we can agree on this: that reality will be the arbiter and not the sort of verbosity I’m indulging in at the moment.

Third, I wonder what use might be made of the concept of self-shame. “I’m ashamed of myself” vs. “I’m ashamed to say.” While I agree that the self-esteem movement put the role of self-esteem bass-ackwards, it is also true that valuing my self-esteem lies close to the source of my failings – me. Regardless of whether someone else knows I did wrong, I know I did wrong, and I’m egoistical enough that it hurts.

Fourth, I think that while we are considering the building of honor societies, that it would be good to keep an eye on the risk of building feuding factions.

Fifth, with respect to Matthew Kauffmann’s comment about a constructive approach with your kids, I offer a tale. Working in my first laboratory, I screwed the pooch. It was destructive and thoughtless and my boss told me so. He then immediately gave me a much more challenging responsibility, one that would have been a bigger disaster for the lab had I failed. I busted my brain on that task until I had blood coming out my ears, and succeeded. I honor and love that man.


Jim Collins

24 Gary F. December 22, 2012 at 2:27 pm

An amazingly erudite analysis of what is missing in today’s society. Well done.

25 Bob Patterson December 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm

A great article about a subject which is very close to my heart. I want to digest more before offering a formal response.

I would, however, like to suggest a slight modification. I see that Mr. Horan attended VMI as did I (I graduated in 1971). I represented my Rat Class at an Honor Court trial and I remember it as if it was yesterday. The experience of both participating as a member of the Court and seeing the drumming out from the “ground level” leaves a significant impression. If you ask my son or daughter about the meaning of honor and integrity I can assure you that they both will refer to their Dad’s visceral response in the absence of either one! As Mr. Horan describes, the drums roll in the middle of the night and everyone stands silently at the railings. Its pretty eerie to only hear the sound of the flags amongst 1200 + people standing still! The only similar experience that civilians can have, in my opinion, is when they visit a military cemetery for the interment of a service member. However, my recollection was that the entire Honor Court marched into the courtyard of Old Barracks dressed in Coatees but “without cover” – bare headed. The President of the Honor Court called a “Detail Halt!”, walked around the Sentinel Box while the rest of us stood at attention, and spoke the words that Mr. Horan reported. However, I don’t recall ever seeing a spotlight on the President. I suggest that such notoriety would defeat the purpose of the event being a reflection of the Corp’s core belief in seeing the “Court” as a body of the whole.

Perhaps you would consider an article on the concept of “manliness” being a direct reflection of the strength of the women in their lives? A good starting point might be sharing how Leonidas chose his 300 for the Battle of Thermopylae.

Kind regards

26 Abrecan Talewok December 22, 2012 at 7:47 pm

So, when are you going to reconcile the differences between what you recommend here and what causes Nice Guy Syndrome?

I have been reading No More Mr Nice Guy, and so far it seems to be that actually putting the needs of others before one’s self is what created problems with manliness in the first place.

So if you could go over the material in that book and how your work here won’t lead to Nice Guy Syndrome, I am sure all of the users here would appreciate it.

27 Pike December 22, 2012 at 7:55 pm


I’m not a Mason, but I’ve been thinking of joining. Personally, I’d say lying about the entry requirements would kind of defeat the whole honorable atmosphere you’re trying to cultivate. Personally, I’d recommend looking into secular fraternal/service organizations like rotary, Kiwanis or the optimists. Or, if you’re in a decent sized city you could look into gentleman’s clubs (not strip clubs).

Speaking of the masons though, if any current masons could comment on the number of younger men in a given lodge I’d appreciate it. I’ve been considering joining, but I’m mildly concerned about it being completely people twice my age (I’m only 26)

28 rico567 December 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm

While I maintain that the Internet is generally not suitable for serious discussion, this series has begun to undermine that conviction.

29 Bob December 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm

“Third, I wonder what use might be made of the concept of self-shame. “I’m ashamed of myself” vs. “I’m ashamed to say.” While I agree that the self-esteem movement put the role of self-esteem bass-ackwards, it is also true that valuing my self-esteem lies close to the source of my failings – me. Regardless of whether someone else knows I did wrong, I know I did wrong, and I’m egoistical enough that it hurts.”
Absolutely. A man of honor knows when he has does wrong, he doesn’t need anyone to point it out to him. I really question how much pointing out a wrong behavior to a man who does not have honor–shaming–really accomplishes, other than to make him defensive. Then of course there is the motivation of the person doing the shaming, you can never really be sure how pure it is.
I think that maybe the notion of honor as it has been described here belongs to that idealistic world of the past that never really existed. We look fondly backwards at it, but maybe the fact is that they struggled with the same issues we do today, and came up with a system that worked in the context of those times. I don’t know that it would work in today’s world, so we have to find other ways of accomplishing the same ends..

30 Jules December 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Nice article – good luck reviving it in western society though, if conditions remain as they are -where is the motivation? I think my generation (I turn 40 in the new year) may (in very general terms) be the last to have any idea what the ‘H’ word means -( let alone be able to spell it) or live by notions of it. From what i can see, out here its all about ‘ME”.
Entropy man, everywhere you look.
Happy xmas anyhow.

31 Ross December 23, 2012 at 5:12 am

I am deeply saddened by the message of this article. I understand the idea of ‘honour’ you portray, and indeed the role of shame. But there is nothing of forgiveness, just casting off those who make mistakes. If this is manly honour, then I would not like to be called an honourable man.

32 Mohan December 23, 2012 at 5:36 am

I discovered the Art of Manliness because I was searching for the. reason why I feel so out of place in the company of present-day men. This article “hit the nail on the head” on the fact that the problem was not me, but them.

I spent my formative years like you, contemplating on this code of honor among men, something that helped me to shake the shame of growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive family. So much so, that the values that you speak of are what defines me as a person. It made me whole. I had mistakenly thought that all men would accept and respect this, so I brought them into my company, only to be back stabbed and left to explain myself to the company of truer men. Thanks for pointing out that the Company should always remain a select few.

33 Dave Hearn December 23, 2012 at 8:30 am

Another great series. (And another series that I would love to see compiled into an e-book or even better, print book… *hint hint*)

I am passionate about raising men up to a higher standard and it’s great to see others with the same mission…

Thanks for doing the research on this and writing it out. I’ve bookmarked every installment and it’s really inspired me to put together a group of men committed to each other and committed to a code (but I lean more towards deriving our honor and commitment when each men has a foundation of faith and a higher calling…)

However, I love how you’ve made this accessible to everyone and continue to provide excellent content on this site. Cheers!

34 David Y December 23, 2012 at 8:56 am

Thanks again Brett & Kate. There have been many great articles and series at AoM, but I think this has been the best.

I hope you can put this series into book form. It would be great for us loyal readers of AoM to be able to re-read it in a single go. Also, this type of information needs to reach a larger audience.

35 James Guy December 23, 2012 at 9:03 am

Brett, great article and series, as usual.

What are your thoughts on using multiple individual “accountability partners” for different areas of our lives, all of whom together form our own individual platoon? I have tried to use something similar over the years and it has seemed to give me strength and encouragement in different areas of my life. I also believe part of that strength has been from the potential shame that would come by not fulfilling the expectations that have been set or are understood with each partner.

It’s not exactly the same as the platoon concept, but seems to fulfill some of the same purposes. Thoughts? Brett, and others?

36 Chris Zuber December 23, 2012 at 5:53 pm

@ Abrecan Talewok

I haven’t read No More Mr. Nice Guy, so know that I’m commenting based on the universal notion of a “nice guy”, but I don’t see the correlation that you’re making. Honor, as chronicled in these blog posts, is about sacrificing individuality (are you could say putting others before yourself) for a ‘greater good’. As shown in these articles, the definition of ‘greater good’ varies based on time period and culture. But being a ‘nice guy’ involves putting others before yourself based on some mushy notion of politeness & civility (i.e there’s no greater good involved, just a personal desire not to offend). Does No More Mr. Nice Guy define ‘niceness’ differently? I’m curious, as it’s on my list of books to read.

37 doc December 23, 2012 at 5:58 pm

Concerning the question of whether to physically fight as part of honor: You may want to go to Tim Larkins Target Focus Training website and read what he thinks. This is a man who trains people not to just fight but to physically disable and even kill an aggressor. But this is only done to save your life in the face of true violence. Fisticuffs and barfights he walks away from. His reason is that it isn’t worth it. What if you accidentally maim or kill someone (hits head on something, has a heart condition, etc.) over a disagreement. You will probably be doing jail time. Anyway, he has some interesting reading. I’ve never attended any of his training, just read some of his articles and blogs.

38 Chris Zuber December 23, 2012 at 6:18 pm

@ Brett

Regarding your 1st bullet point, I absolutely think American culture is one obsessed with violence, and movies/shows/games reflect this. The culture you refer to 150 years ago isn’t the same; they don’t appear to have been obsessed, it was just a means to an end. Now it feels like violence IS the end.

Also, an interesting thing about calling a spade a spade; I work at a German company and have been to Germany twice, and hung out both here & there with co-workers around my age. This is probably the starkest difference between our cultures; in general Germans ABSOLUTELY believe in telling it like it is.

39 Nate December 23, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Brett, Kate:

My earlier comment aside, extraordinary series of articles on honour! Thank you for writing them. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

To contribute something constructive:

There’s a growing trend to look at male behavior in an evolutionary-psychology way. The idea, as I gather it, is that most males participate in something called “pinging.”

To make sure that the social consequences for an action won’t result in a rock to the head, males in particular tend to “ping” off each other, sort of like sonar, to figure out what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not. The net result is a sort of “groupthink,” and I imagine that in a serious honor group this groupthink would be stronger than ever.

Additionally, there’s the idea of the “alpha male” character who doesn’t ping off other people- they ping off him. The source of his strength as a social leader is that he’s not bound into this network, he uses it, sort of standing outside of it and on top of it. He’s also expected to not respond emotionally to problems, but yet to not shy away from confrontations, and to be industrious, etc.

I’d say that the emulation of this “alpha male” behavior is part of why, with higher standards of living (ie, less chance that you’ll starve), people and especially americans have striven to all be as independent and unaffected as these leader figures.

In case you allow links in comments, here’s a video of a strong exposition of the idea of groupthink and pinging:

40 Harald December 23, 2012 at 9:11 pm

1970s Sam Peckinpahs -Straw Dogs with Dustin Hoffmann is a good movie about “manly honor” or making things worse by a “modern urbanised” lack of self respect. Oh, its violent btw. ^^

“I absolutely think American culture is one obsessed with violence, and movies/shows/games reflect this.”

Well, they sell good around the world, especially in germany where no real “action cinema” exists unlike France or Japan/Korea.
But in the US Society never was a strong “imperative pacifism” in education unlike the defeated countries of WW2. This over-civilizing is actually so strong that many people wont defend themself even if attacked in a brawl.

“Germans ABSOLUTELY believe in telling it like it is.”

The point is, in german language there are nearly no “empty phrases” of politenes.

If you ask “how do you do” most germans/swiss/austrians etc. will just translate it as a question and tell you actually how they are doing right now.
We dont have a culture of “fake politeness” with metaphors like “you should come and see me at home in England” – we will take it as a real invitation.
In the middle east there are countries hosts give visitors “presents” they wont actually give, the polite visitor has to refuse it. Most Germans and Americans just will give thanks and take the stuff.
In Japan its polite to refuse a meal several times before eating it… if a japanese guy would do that in a french, italian or german household he would starve because we just clear up the table. ^^

41 P. Povero December 23, 2012 at 11:04 pm

Great article. Needed now more than ever!

42 Mike December 24, 2012 at 10:02 am

This whole series of article really resonates with me and my life experiences, esp. the last part of the platoon and the military academy culture. For me the use of “shame” in an honor group is best demonstrated by my experiences in the Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets and my Bonfire building days. In both cases I WANTED to be there and to be subjected to grueling physical and mental challenges because I wanted to be something bigger then myself, to be the most Aggie of Aggies. There were times where people who don’t understand how bond is built in a military academy culture might call it “hazing.” The key is that I WANTED to be there. There were times where I physically could not keep up, when upperclassmen screamed at me and when to an outsider it looks and sounds a lot like “shaming” someone. But the key is, once my upperclassmen realized that I was trying my hardest, that my spirit was willing but my body was weak, they did everything in their power to let me know that they knew I wanted to be there and they did their utmost to encouragement me and help me succeed. So “shame” in that sense wasn’t so much a singling out and ostracizing mechanism as a way to separate those who really wanted to be there and those who didn’t. For me, this is the best definition of the old Aggie saying, “Highway 6 runs both ways.” This is why I rather lose my car then my Aggie Ring or my Corps Brass. Thanks again for these series of articles and for your website in general. For me and for alot of guys, you provide the manly encouragement that we need to keep on being men and to be proud to be men.

43 Matt D December 24, 2012 at 12:29 pm

First, thank you, I loved the series, and the site in general.

Brett asked, “Can any form of honor survive in the absence of the threat of violence?”
I think this is a great question, and I do think the strength of an honor bond has a direct proportion to the threat of violence or death. However, I do not think it is necessary to define the threat as a direct opposition to another man or group. I’d like to widen our chances of achieving honor by pointing out how this ‘threat of violence’ is being achieved in our modern day. It seems natural to question why anybody would want to be under threat of violence, yet you can’t deny that many people put themselves in danger voluntarily every day. Could it be that the reason we are attracted to the risk in extreme sport, firefighting, etc is due to an innate need for honor?

Anybody that’s taken part in an activity where a mistake by the man next to you could kill one or both of you knows quite a bit about traditional honor, whether they’ve thought about it or not. It is one thing to trust another man for social judgment, but it is something much more important when your life is in another man’s hands. The bond formed in these situations is strong, and I can’t think of any other circumstance that results in such a tight bond.

The new questions for me become: Are we putting ourselves in life-threatening situations (sport/occupation/whatever) purposely because of something related to our need for honor bonds? Would conscious recognition of this fact help form and keep those bonds? Is this healthy, or is this tendency to be attracted to danger counterproductive, and something we need to rethink?

It is clear to me that the closest I’ve come to traditional honor is in these voluntary, dangerous environments, and I am unwilling to give it up. I also believe that part of the attraction to violent video games is related to this innate need for the threat of violence. Just like we’re hard wired to crave sugar and fat, could it be that playing games satisfies our hunger for risk as a means to honor?

44 Bob December 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Could it be that mass shootings are huge eruptions of an impulse for violence that is otherwise suppressed and has no real, tangible outlets in society

I think you’re dead on here: Such phenomena are the manifestations of much deeper and pervasive social pathology that makes gun control seem a ludicrous band-aid.

So is being polite and civil to everyone manly, or should you call ‘em like you see ‘em, and call a spade a spade, and an idiot an idiot

This would seem to warrant case-by-case action, judgement as to what good either option will do in varying circumstances.

Can any form of honor survive in the absence of the threat of violence?

Trouble here is that “violence” itself has mutated into a passive form such that, like an piece of fruit, unbruised on the surface so that nobody would claim any “violence” has been done it, yet it’s infested with worms which wreak their violence internally, secretly, undermining it from the inside… That’s what’s actually happened to us socially. That is what needs to be identified and dealt with…

45 Chris Zuber December 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm

@ Harald

Thanks for the responses

“But in the US Society never was a strong “imperative pacifism” in education unlike the defeated countries of WW2.”

That’s actually pretty interesting, never thought about that. On a related note, I’ve thought about the notion (often mentioned by civil rights leaders during the Vietnam war) if the violence of perpetual war (you know, us being the world’s policeman and all) have an effect on making violence “OK” with some people here.

“If you ask “how do you do” most germans/swiss/austrians etc. will just translate it as a question and tell you actually how they are doing right now.”

Ha, yes, I had my German language teacher tell me this, and out of habit I still did it & learned the hard way. But the “fake politeness” thing is what I’m getting at (I wasn’t very clear though). Brett asks the question about directness in his 3rd bullet point. After working in both Japanese & German culture (and obviously being an American so experiencing US culture), I prefer the directness. I’ve had one of my close colleagues (who is even more direct than most) describe why he feels that is the best way; and it rang of being more “honorable” & less “fake”.

46 Randall December 24, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Regarding women and the engenderment of male honor, I recall that as recently as late 19th-century Britain there was the “white feather” tradition whereby a woman would send to her significant man (suitor, fiance, etc.) a white feather should she find his behavior to be dishonorable, especially in cases of cowardice or shirking. Does anyone have more to express on this? I’d like to learn more beyond my little knowledge of it.

47 Andrew December 25, 2012 at 3:50 am

A merry and happy christmas to you and yours, good Sir. I happen to have recently begun a blog that quite similarly follows much of the same agenda. That we must indeed regain our lost virtue. I took my own stab at some of your questions posed on honor and would be overjoyed if you decided to take a look. Consider it a mutual Christmas gift. I offer you my mind and answer and would be delighted and consider it a return gift if you and your staff would take a look.

Until next we converse,
A very merry Christmas and a joyous New Year,
Andrew L.J. Rezendes
~Modern Knighthood~

P.S. A very fine set of articles indeed. You’ve done your own honor well.

48 Ali December 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Bravo! An interesting and very insightful series.

49 Kingcrowofoctober December 25, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Pike #27

I am a F&AM Master Mason. If you are interested in becoming a Mason. I recommend you find out the lodges in your area Stated Communication night. They should be posted on the exterior of the lodge building or on the internet. They will be different nights of the week. With the knowledge they will not eat you but welcome you, show up 30-45 minutes early, dressed in business casual clothes, (they will probably be eating and visiting) and ask to speak with the man with the hat (i.e.-a.k.a the master of the lodge) and ask tell him of your interest and ask about the age range of the active members. Maybe you’ll be invited to get a plate and then you can eat enough to feed the butterflies. If you petition a lodge and are accepted then the journey begins.

50 Joe December 25, 2012 at 5:20 pm

@Abrecan Talewok

My interpretation of the difference between a true, honourable man and a Nice Guy – and I am only a 16-year-old boy, so take it with a pinch of salt – is that the Nice Guy puts others before himself because of a need for approval, because he thinks it will make them like him and he is afraid that there is no other way for him to be accepted (which, paradoxically, becomes true because they lose all respect for him, consciously or subconsciously).

A true man does it because he recognises that it is the right thing to do.

51 Dylan December 25, 2012 at 10:39 pm

This might seem a little off subject, but you mentioned it several times in this article, and I’ve always wondered how does one go about becoming a Freemason?

52 Nick G December 26, 2012 at 8:16 am

Good series; made me think alot about what I’ve done with my life and where I want to be. More importantly, it made me think on how I want to raise my own children to be “honorable” give the state of honor in the US today.

As to your last question on Military Honor, the answer is (of course) “it depends”. While I’m not in combat unit (AF comm) and I can’t speak for the experience of being in one, I have been on multiple outside the wire mission in Afghanistan with both US and Australian infantry platoons. The units I’ve worked with would meet most definitions of honor put forward in this article, and I think in a large part it’s because of what they train for. Neither was perfect and there were a few bad apples, but they were obviously a team and a honor group.

As a comm guy by trade, our sense of honor (as a whole) is much less and very dependent on the NCOs in the unit. When you have a strong core of SNCOs and NCOs, units can have a strong internal sense of honor that actively encourages everyone to do their best. If you don’t have this, good luck. It’s very easy, especially in a customer service oriented unit, to forget about honor and simply take easy street.

The crucible of combat requires honor for survival, for the rest of us it’s a choice that requires hard work and a dedication to excellence in order to succeed.

53 Bruce December 26, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I’ve quite enjoyed this entire series and have brought up many of the points espoused here in conversations with my friends and family, so many thanks for putting this all together. On the drive back from my grandparents’ yesterday my father and I discussed these concepts for several hours. One point my father highlighted especially stuck with me, that to be perfectly honorable one had to see the world in black and white whereas in reality things are always some shade of gray. In his opinion the fundamental flaw of a rigid code of honor is that in this modern age conflicts cannot easily be reconciled when dealing with non-adherents and people outside of the social group or organization, for it is no longer acceptable or feasible to “wall off” the outside world and restrict interactions to ones own group. In the face of this difficulty the natural impulse is to impose ones code as universal, to either force others to recognize and respect the code or to look unfavorably upon non-adherents regardless of their actions. At first I rejected this as basic moral relativism but by the time we hit the Wisconsin state line I’d changed my mind. I now find myself conflicted, for I feel that both in the way I was raised and in the actions I take I am adhering to a code of honor that I do find to be supreme, but I also realize the arrogance of believing my way of living is better than any others. As my father succinctly said, “When you talk to a man about honor he always assumes you’re talking about his definition of honor and vice versa. There’s a lot of room for disagreement between the two.”

54 Nathan December 26, 2012 at 6:29 pm

I really enjoyed this series on Honor. I look to my Knights of Columbus group as an example. It’s really hard today to have honor. We live in a time where men have become emasculated, our identity has been lost. We can see this in ethnic groups. It’s great that America is a melting pot, but especially in the marginalizing of honor and loss of shame, what was the honor code of groups like Irish, and Italians, Poles, and French have been lost in a tide. With that men who grew up in traditional families suffer from lost identity. We forgot how to tell our story.

In my Knights group which is a male Catholic fraternity, there are certain things you are expected to do, and one is to be in step with the Holy See and practice your beliefs, we have four principals Charity, Fraternity, Unity, and Patriotism. We are expected to conduct ourselves in public and private with those principals, violence is not really tolerated, and constructive criticism is used to encourage brothers. I think if we are our brothers keeper we have a duty to not encourage bad behavior by being nice about it.

As far as the role Women play I feel that they could play a major role, but I think both genders have contributed to a decline of honor, and to a decline of standards. We both have to make changing steps, especially when the honor culture of Women is really nonexistent. it’s gone overboard so much that it’s debilitating society. both genders have lost shame. It’s things like sex without love where the bodily urges of men are not kept in check by the men themselves and women grasp at what appears to be “choice” and “liberation” by acquiescing. If men can nail and bail then so can we, so now there is the using of each other for selfish gain. I think beyond violence, beyond name calling, our biggest loss is the loss of heart. You know I know in the Greek tradition, if a woman isn’t a virgin before she gets married she can’t where a white wedding dress. Also the bed sheets are taken and hung out days before the wedding to show if the bride to be lost her virginity beforehand. But I digress, men are shadows of there former selves and the ones who are trying to reach for true manliness are mocked in the public square. Those who stand up for what they believe in are sneered at. I know that where I try and stand up for my Faith, not just because of the credo I say every Sunday, but because Jesus Christ did. Now we are while not literally, but verbally persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

We don’t have to stick to an honor code because none around us care if we have it or not. I know in my Circle I would never be looked down on for standing up for Jesus, or my Faith, and having lost friends, I would be seen as having done something brave and noble, not for my sake but for the sake of others, for the common good, because part of being a Christian, part of being Catholic is wanting people to be the best version of themselves. As God wants us to be because lets face it when it’s up to just us we won’t get very far.

55 Jordan December 26, 2012 at 11:56 pm

dang this one’s a doozy. the series itself even more so. my first knee jerk reaction to this is kudos for saying what needs to be said more: no women in an all man group. I’ll stay out of your all women groups if you stay out of my all man groups!

56 Adam December 27, 2012 at 6:50 pm

I have to agree with Jordan above. This is something that needs to be said. Men need to reclaim their manliness!

57 Alan Dueck December 27, 2012 at 9:03 pm

@ Joe (comment #50) — you nailed it. That’s exactly right. Very wise for 16!

58 NathanL December 28, 2012 at 12:16 am

Very interesting series of articles. To keep things going, I thought I’d take a stab at some of your end questions:
1) Perhaps honor can survive without threat of violence. Having recently entered a professional career, I consider the threat of loss of one’s professional license. Imagine being stuck unable to do what you just went to 5 years of grad school and racked up six figures of debt to do. It’s a kind of death… I am in a helping profession that, in my opinion, often does more harm than good.
2) Maybe I lean toward a more stoic response, but I know that is influenced by culture (mine is not an expressive family). That doesn’t mean “walk away”. Ideally, I think avoiding violence, but addressing the insult is good. Don’t take the issue personally (take yourself out of the equation) but don’t back down. Let the other make a fool of himself, and you keep your cool.
3) I’m not a member of an honor group, but I dislike the idea of putdowns to enforce. You have a code. enforce it sternly but respecfully.
5) yes, skipping 4 and 6. Actually, I don’t really understand the fifth question, maybe I need an example. Still, I think in this day and age, something we can do that is highly honorable is to choose to make yourself vulnerable, take a risk, for the chance for something better. If the other takes advantage of that vulnerability, they have dishonored themselves.

If you get sufficient feedback on your questions, or if other things develop from the comments/discussion, perhaps you can share new thoughts in a brief follow-up down the road, thanks.

59 Esteban December 28, 2012 at 1:15 am

Great! Indeed we need more honor understanding in the XXI century, but
I believe the best way of honor is the one achieved from self-respect and moral philosophy than one pushed by social pressure. When this happens, we will achieve evolution.

60 eponton December 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Good article, but I’d only disagree a little when you discuss obedience. I think obedience is an authentic virtue, a companion to honor, when it is rightly exercised. Honor is greater, but I don’t think one can be honorable without also being obedient. I think the wimpy boyish obedience refers to something else… another name for it.

61 Cards fan December 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Great article, but I suspect many men are like me – left with a feeling that we could not adequately defend ourselves against violence, let alone protect our families and loved ones. I attribute this to an upbringing that discouraged rowdiness and encouraged quiet obedience afancy promise.

So here’s my question: where does a grown man receive training to develop skills for defending himself/ others? Has anybody researched this and found a comprehensive source for hand-to-hand combat, gun training , knife training, etc?

62 Chris December 30, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Can’t get enough of your writing Brett and Kate. Thanks and great read. I’ve been following AoM for a while now and it’s good to see someone from my old homestead of OK doing good work. All to often I’m saddened and ashamed to say I’m from OK. Not so with your work. Truly great read. Keep ‘em coming.

63 John M. Wildenthal December 31, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Great series. Reading this has also helped me to understand a tragic recent news story – the gang rape and death of the Indian student. As a Westerner, I perceived the men’s actions as at least a lack of self control, and outright morally evil. After reading this series, I can see a third alternative – they were shaming her. In their honor culture, they were doing the “right” thing by punishing someone who was choosing not to abide by their code. I think the broader issue of how Western countries should/can work with countries that operate by a traditional honor code – Islam, Africa, etc. – needs to reflect this reality

64 Darren T December 31, 2012 at 8:27 pm

What an utterly inspiring series, this was–probably one of the more significant reads in my life.

65 Tanner Wood December 31, 2012 at 9:03 pm

This really is a great article that has given me a lot to think about and implement into my own life. Thanks much!

66 James January 2, 2013 at 8:20 am

Excellent series; your work is certainly appreciated!

I don’t think the threat of physical violence is necessary for honour to exist; so long as it is possible to loose one’s honour if one should fail to uphold it. Whether shame, violence, or the slow erosion of your integrity (and along with it, the trust and respect of your peers) there must be consequences for acting dishonourably.

Sarcasm and verbal putdowns have their place, and so does more polite conversation. I’d prefer frank honesty from my peers, yet a well-rounded man should be able to filter his speech, particularly with those outside his circle.

As for the role of women; they can either affirm the honourable men around them by recognizing and valuing honour where it can be found, or they can choose not to. Most women I know would prefer to live in a society where men act honourably, and the recognition of the fairer sex is always a strong motivator. However, whether or not we are honourable is entirely our responsibility. By no means should we wait for women to demand honourable behaviour from us before we begin to live with honour.

67 Scott Sideleau January 2, 2013 at 10:29 am

Thanks for the compelling series on Manly Honor. As a computer software and systems engineer, I belong to the IEEE, but I feel that organization suffers from being too large to be “fraternal” (i.e. membership is over 350,000 vice 150). As such, you have prompted me to re-examine the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternity for men.

68 RickShelton January 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Great article, one of the few I’ve read all the way through. I will be going back to read the other articles on Honor.

69 Chester Mealer January 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Can honor survive in the absence of violence…? To this I answer yes but only because the capacity for violence is not universally necessary. It used to be that you had to be willing to die specifically because your skill in mortal combat was a necessary trait. Now days, except among certain groups physically fighting isn’t necessary so violence itself isn’t needed for honor. However, there must still be some form of contest when one’s honor is impugned. Perhaps racing drivers would be a good example, there is contest to decide who is the better, but it is not strictly speaking violence. So it is more that contest is necessary so that qualification can be proven. It still comes down to “put up or shut up”

Is shame enough…? Parents have used shame all the time but I don’t know that we recognize it’s the same mechanism. “Stand over there till you’re ready to behave…” or “When you’re ready to talk like a big person…” Shame in an honor society is the recognition that you’re not qualified to participate. (public shame is the public recognition of that fact) Ignoring those who “are not qualified” to speak in given contexts should soon solve the problem. As an example say there is one who brags sexual activity, act like they’re not talking at all when they begin, to the point of speaking while they speak if appropriate. They will either learn or they will no longer seek your company.

70 Conner January 2, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I think one of the major causes, too, is the rarity of early marriage. This takes away the natural audience for male honor that the responsibilities of marriage necessitate, and as men grow into their 30s without this pressure for honor, they’re less likely to develop it later on.

71 Rick Shelton January 3, 2013 at 10:25 am

I agree with a lot of what you’ve said in this article, which I found to be quite excellent. One thing though. Much of what you’ve described as being requisites for an Honor Group can be found in gangs. These include the behavioral expectations, the punishments for violating expectations, the feeling of inclusion and sublimating the individuals needs or wants to that of the group. A true Honor Group would have all those as well but would include the society’s needs and welfare above that of the group.
You also mentioned, from Mr. Jung’s writing, about the 2nd Platoon’s ritual of “Blood In/Blood Out”. This harkens to a gang’s “Beating In” new members and it bothers me to some extent. While there should be a ritual of inclusion should it be physical torture or a physical test? My inclination is to a physical test similar to that of the knights requirement for a Night Vigil. This culminated his training and took place the night prior to his Dubbing ceremony. Also, there was no ‘Vow’ mentioned in Jung’s article nor is one necessary to enter a gang.

72 Michael January 3, 2013 at 1:51 pm

How does a man regain his honor once he is shamed? Is it possible? What are your thoughts?

73 J.Fowler January 3, 2013 at 3:11 pm

“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Everyday I tell my children. Obey unto the end of honor. Nothing would bless the hearts of your parents more than to not only know what to do, but do it, without being asked. Love what is right and cherish the moments in pleasing the Lord and others more than oneself.

A timely article in a day of boys and cowards. Every pastor, politician and leader of men should read this, but even more do it.

Thank you.

74 Aaron K. January 3, 2013 at 11:34 pm


Fantastic series, thank you for all the hard work you’ve put into it. I’d like to address the last questions you asked: What is the state of honor in the military?

I am a young guy, and for the past five years I’ve been in the (US) Navy. When people ask me about my experience, I often answer them by saying “I’ve met the best people I’ve ever had the privilege to associate with, and the worst people that society has to offer.”

The old honor codes are there, they drive the ideals of honor, courage, and commitment into us form the moment we check in at the recruiting office. But how many of us uphold these ideals? It’s my belief that the military is still a reflection of the society it’s drawn from, even after all of the indoctrination the organization puts its personnel through. It’s important to develop a sense of unity, and espirit de corps, especially on long deployments. I have never been closer with a group of guys than I am with my division on an 8-month-long middle-eastern deployment. At the same time, I have seen people lie, cheat, and steal. But they are shamed for it, and their punishment known to all. This creates a kind of ‘military fear’, but it keeps people responsible. I cannot speak for every ship or even every division, as it varies widely form command to command, but it seems to me that a sense of not wanting to let your brothers down is still very much alive.

How about the implementation of women? Even in our modern military, this is still a hot issue. Only recently were women allowed to serve on submarines, a group arguably far closer than any other in the Navy. I serve onboard an all-male ship, save for a couple female officers, so I have no firsthand knowledge of how it affects cohesion. I can say from speaking to others from other commands that the dynamic onboard a ship changes with women present. Guys will focus on the girls, and some girls will use this to get out of responsibilities. There have even been cases of prostitution onboard larger vessels.

But ultimately, the integrity of a group depends upon the quality of its members. For every girl who tries to get pregnant to get out of deployment, there is a woman out there pulling her weight and then some keeping right along with the guys. We all respect these people regardless of gender.

In my opinion, it depends entirely upon the maturity of those members engaged in the group, be they all male, all female, or a mix of both genders. With the right attitudes we are all capable of cohesion and with that, success.

75 Mercurious January 5, 2013 at 10:26 am

Fascinating series that I’ll recommend to my own constituents. I have an group of longtime friends (we think of ourselves as The Geezers), and while we’ve never formalized things in the ritual ways you describe, we certainly do believe and behave in ways consistent with the code enumerated here. Alas, I don’t see the same kind of bonds created in groups of younger male friends.

Excellent, excellent series.

76 Saxon January 6, 2013 at 5:43 am

Very good and informative series, Brett. For myself, I believe the answer lies in integrity rather than the return to the group check. After all, as you pointed out, even (or especially) the criminals have their platoons, so honor in small groups is really of no help to society as a whole.

The one problem you point out which I too agree is a problem, is what to do with defectors. Having small honor groups does not help society at large, but neither does not having them. The problem, I think, is something you have touched upon: social relativism. The “virtue” of absent standards where the defector gets to decide his own standards, and by and large HAVE THOSE STANDARDS ACCEPTED.

We live in a society of tolerance, and in some areas we should perhaps have even more. But some in some core areas we should have less. We should not accept immigrant wife beating “because that is how they are”, for instance, nor should we stand by and shrug at violence in the street. The US is particularly bad in that respect, where you have moulded your laws to the point where any form of standing up can bring major litigation upon your heads. Or if you are McDonalds and your customers spills your coffee on themselves.

So I will stand for integrity, tolerance where needed, intolerance where needed too, and for true accountability and responsibility rather than over-legislation.

77 Nataraj January 6, 2013 at 11:05 am

“Once women join the group, the dynamics change. It loses its potential as a channel of traditional, manly honor. Donovan argues that, ‘As a general rule, if you introduce women into the mix, men either shift their focus from impressing each other to impressing the women, or they lose interest altogether and do just enough to get by.’”

What a sad commentary on men. Poor men cannot maintain their focus and honor in the presence of a woman? You do understand how completely Taliban that sounds, right? There will always be situations that demand self-restraint, but if the presence of a woman is, de facto, such a situation, then I submit that the behavior in question is already less than honorable. Most of the women with whom I associate could care less if I scratch where it itches (situationally discretely) just like they can rightly assume it won’t perturb me when they adjust a breast in their bra when they need to. What would bother them is if my idea of humor or male bonding is derogatory towards women (or any group deemed ‘other’).

In short I am advocating honor, not male honor. I expect my women friends (several of whom are not ladies), to behave with honor, tell the truth, stand up for what they believe in, call bullshit when needed, and have an active role in defending self and family (each according to his/her measure). Just like I expect from my male friends (several of whom are not gentlemen).

78 J.Wallace January 6, 2013 at 1:15 pm

I would like to be honest enough to say that, i am extremely grateful for this article for being written. The quality is astounding! This will help me a lot, Manliness is my way of life& I understood already Honor was always a big part of manliness. But, this serves me well. So that i may serve others.

For that writer i say Thank you!

79 Aaron K. January 6, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Saxon and Nataraj, both excellent points.

I agree with Nataraj that honor groups can and should exist with mixed genders. Saxon, you provide the one word that really rounds out what makes a good member in any team or group: integrity. If a man or woman possesses integrity, all other traits, honesty, trustworthiness, etc. will follow.

In the Navy, integration between genders is crucial today, with women making up sometime a third of a ship’s crew. Are there situations where people who should be working together act inappropriately? Of course. Are there still women in the navy that I would trust my life with if, God forbid, it ever came to that? Absolutely.

There is nothing wrong with manly honor, but I propose that honor at all is good regardless of the genders. As for Donovan’s statement, ‘if you introduce women into the mix, men either shift their focus from impressing each other to impressing the women, or they lose interest altogether and do just enough to get by…’ Well I suppose that would depend on the INTEGRITY of the group’s members, would it not?

80 stevenshawkins January 6, 2013 at 7:54 pm

Very inspiring. Thank you kind sir. This is an excellent piece of writing.

81 MGM January 7, 2013 at 1:05 pm

First off this is a great article.
Honor is an interesting thing. I frequently have discussions with friends about something we coined “The Great American D**che Bag Syndrome.” This is an overly macho brazen disrespectful behavior. First off here is some background on my group of associates. Religions varying from Mormon to Atheist. Education varying from GED to Master’s Degree. Hobbies ranging from Painting to Jiu-Jitsu/MMA. Professions ranging from school teacher to Army officer. Ethnic backgrounds from German to Puerto Rican. Age range 27 to 38.
OK here is my summary. The Great American D**che Bag Syndrome is something that came into effect when America became a modernized call the cops, I’ll sue you, rude, self-centered no risk society. Here is what I mean. Back in 1804 if you insulted a man he may have pulled out a pistol and took your head off. For reference you can read up on our founding father Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. In short people have become more disrespectful and rude in modern times. They outwardly act brazen because they fear no repercussions. They rely on laws to dictate what’s right and wrong as opposed to morality and honor. Their response to being wronged is I’ll call someone. The problem with this is that other people decide for you what’s right and wrong for you.
Let me give you some real world examples of a person doing something legal but wrong. Meriting responses that are illegal but right. Person A is a 45 year old male who knows the family of one of my associates. He frequently says absurdly disrespectful things to people around him. Like “what’s up bi**hes” or “smells like p**sy.” My associate was in his presence where he proceeded to make one of these comments. We take honor to be a necessary part of our lives in my group. This brazen statement prompted my 32 year old friend to take him down in this person’s dining room and start to dominate and choke him. Granted it may sound brutish to some but to me it sounds reasonable. Person B is a 52 year old male he used to proceed to threated to “slap the piss out of you.” for things like family members not calling him back. He also called younger family members bi**h frequently. Well after a lot of angst about how to handle the situation the associate of mine finally had an outburst. (Because he married in to the family he didn’t want to overstep his boundaries earlier) He reacted to “slap the piss out of you” by closing the distance menacing this individual and stating “if you do I’ll break your f**king jaw.” Person C years earlier when I was in my twenties was hospitalizing because he insulted my wife, then girlfriend. All the characters in these examples now act respectful and proper with the individuals who took action against them. My point in illustrating these examples is this. People will push you to whatever place you allow them to. As it is good for a man to mow his own grass, bake his own bread, make his own wallet and change his own oil it is just as good if not more so for a man to set his own boundaries. Sometimes among men you have to get into a confrontation. You can’t let society set the boundaries for you because they will eventually not be boundaries your happy with. A man has to have power and the power starts with yourself and then manifests itself with your effect on the world. A large part of this being boundaries. The boundaries society sets are, if he puts his hands on you he’s wrong but he can say anything about you, your family or do anything other than touch you that he wants. NO THAT’S WRONG SOMETIMES PEOPLE DESERVE A WHIPING FOR THE ACTIONS THEY TAKE AND THE THINGS THEY SAY. Because the perceptions of comfort and no risk were stripped away from person A, B and C reality fell upon them. The reality is some individuals see honor the way men of the old world did and take action against a person acting rude and disrespectful hiding their weakness behind society’s false walls and securities.
Now all that being said I realize one thing. Unless people are challenged for offending a person’s honor the offenses will continue to occur. This will have a negative impact on society as a whole because these people that should have been challenged were not. Leading them to believe, due to the pleasure pain principle, that what they are doing is OK because they received no pain. If this rude person received a laugh they may consider that pleasurable leading them to believe what they did was a good thing. The challenge can come in a simple “don’t speak to me like that” ranging to a punch in the head. I realize in the modern world honor is not the only thing an intelligent person thinks of. There is risk involved. I am a father and I can’t get arrested because then I will lose my job impacting my family in a negative way. True 100%, physical violence is a last resort for me but standing up for honor is a must. Weather I dissolve a relationship, become verbally combative or turn a peer group against a person all of these things are mental. I am also cognoscente not to merit reward to people who try to damage someone’s honor when its unwarranted around me. The fact is the American personality that we on this website love has been dismantled by many things such as greed, self-centeredness, rudeness, disrespect, ego, incivility, judgmentalism, weakening of manhood and the American D**che Bag Syndrome. Until we realize what a large part of the history we idolize revolved around honor we will never be the people we want to be. By the way this means defending your honor, the honor of others and being respectful of not offending other people’s honor unless conversation has deteriorated to such an in civil point.
I’ll leave you with a saying I grew up hearing;
“If you act like a man I will treat you with the respect befitting. If you act o’ talk like an animal then I’m gunna have to roll up my newspaper and slap you across the face with it. Because I ain’t gunna let you shit in the room I’m sittin.”
Gene Mohring

82 I Paulson January 7, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Great post! Dean Alfange’s “American Creed” comes to mind when I read this.

83 Alexander January 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I’ve had the pleasure to have the necessary diplomatic skills to solve most problems without violence (tho there are always exeptions). But my point is that in certain groups (for ex. special forces, military or domestic), a act of violence or more a test of durance to violence, shows you exactly the character(quits, disobeys, inacceptable behavior etc) and motivation of the man.

84 Trent January 8, 2013 at 3:56 am

Excellent series. Intriguing question at the end, about whether outbreaks of violence of a symptom of a lack in society for more natural and healthy outlets for violence of conflict. I don’t think that Holmoe or Lanza would necessarily have been prevented from committing mass murder if they had the option to challenge those they didn’t like to a formal duel, but I do think that each case would have been prevented if the perpetrator were a member of a strong honor group/fraternity like those described. The has been far too much cultural movement away from, and even toward mocking, fraternal and other traditional organizations that have helped develop strong individuals and societies.

If every American spent 5 minutes reading this site for every hour of watching some artificial hollywood concoction on their television, we would have a much better country; not just more manly, but more human, and certainly more honorable.

85 Billy Cook January 8, 2013 at 7:55 am

I’ve always thought of respect as being a form of currency. “If he respects me, then I’ll respect him.” That is how it is used in today’s society and is often used as justification for bad behavior. Gangbangers often used being “dissed” as their reason for violent dishonorable behavior. Honor comes from inside a person. It is knowing what the proper behavior is in any situation without regard for outward appearances or adulation. Sometimes honor demands disrespecting another individual to remain true. Honor trumps respect.

86 Colin Andrew Lawry January 8, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Thank you, Brett.

I belong to a very small group of men; there are three of us.
We have considered ourselves brothers for about six years already but have only recently started conversing about how to act as men, specifically in light of our generation’s concept of what men, honor, and truth are. This will help us as we start a platoon.

87 Matthew January 8, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Hey Brett, new user to the site and I have just finished reading the series and I found it amazing.
Your research on the subject was top notch as was the presentation.
My beliefs on matter two the ‘Fight or Flight’ response to the impugning of one’s honour is an interesting one especially with the social aspect of the online troll.
For me if it is online, you cannot gauge whether the person is a peer of your’s thus I aim for diplomacy first and if that does not work then to ignore them and consider the matter as moot, sure they may get a kick out of being the ‘victor’ but in situations where someone cannot and will not listen to reason they have lost their reight to be called a victor, or a man as they have no honour.
In the real world, I feel that I take a mix of Victorian Stoicness and Ancient Honour (you used the very good example of Teddy Roosevelt {and in no way am I comparing myself to him}).
If it is a glib remark or small insult then my Stiff upper lip will engage but if it is a remark on my lifestyle choices, my morals or against my family, that is then the time for the ancient honour to come forward

88 Jim Collins January 8, 2013 at 4:54 pm

To Esteemed Michael, Readers, Brett, and Kate,

With regard to Michael’s question: “How does a man regain his honor once he is shamed? Is it possible? What are your thoughts?”

This is a question for which a simple answer would be dismissive. The thing that has most motivated, though not informed, my thinking is Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim,” and for the love of Honor, NOT the movie.

It is not an issue that isolates us. I have done wrong and so has every person reading – because we fail. I am an atheist, but I consider that the genius of Christianity is that of recognizing universal sin and our need to grapple with it.


Jim Collins

89 Thomas January 8, 2013 at 7:17 pm

This is a very outstanding article, I enjoyed reading it to the very end. A question though that might raise some contradicting thoughts. Me and 2 of my closest friends somewhat formed a brotherhood a long time ago when we were kids. We were more brothers than our own siblings. We would do anything for eachother, which has happened before, numerous fights, waking up at 5 a.m. to take one of us to work, sharing smokes with eachother. Even though it may have been our last one we knew that if the tides had changed he would do the same thing for you.

But heres the kicker, one of them has been struggling with addiction for a long time (heroin). We forced him into treatment but it actually made things worse, so we made a garage styled rehab. He’s been almost 2 months since his last treatment at the clinic, but hes been abusing alcohol now, which is worse for him because it’s easily attained. It’s causing him to bring the group down, weve tried and tried to force him to stop but the problem persists. Threats of never talking to him again, banishment, bringing it up in public to embarass him. It hasn’t helped.

So what are your guys thoughts on what to do in this situation? I feel as though if we really disowned him, he will die because he doesnt have us. But its making things hostile between us. And hes been a part of our lives for so long if we do decide on this the 2 of us left I don’t feel like we could ever be the same. It’s either that or a forceful intervention styled rehab.

Open to all suggestions

Thanks to all

90 Esther January 10, 2013 at 12:49 am

Excellent article – so much wisdom! My female perspective on your question about the role women play would be to offer a Biblical answer…a wife is instructed to respect, honor, and (yes, I know it’s not trendy), but to also obey her husband. This assumes the husband is worthy of such, b/c he’s instructed to love her as Christ loved the Church and gave His life for the Church. I think that saying each side waits for the other to defer is what we’re doing today and something that will only lead us deeper & deeper into dishonor.

The answer (IMO) is that the man & woman CAREFULLY choose their life-long spouse, and then together they build a life of mutual honor, respect, and love. When each esteems the other higher than themself (also a Biblical principal) it leads to each one building the other up, not tearing down, and ultimately strengthens the marriage and is a shining example for all to see.

Thanks again for the great write-up…this is def. one to bookmark and go back to re-read often!

91 Tim January 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Good article. About as politically incorrect as you can get for the taste of many. I agree being honorable is an admiral trait to possess. Even the bible says give honor to whom honor is due. A previous post asked if honor can be revived after it’s been compromised. Well the answer is yes, but it’s how it’s restored. If your honor is tarnished by slander; again referring to the good book, it states to live in a manner that makes your accuser shameful before men for questioning your behavior before good men.. If the accusation is true, then taking responsibility and begin to ammend the wrong and those wronged will pay big dividends toward reviving your honor. Honor isn’t held in the eyes of one man. Honor is a lifetime of honorable acts in your life. Honor is what you do. You can’t “look” honorable. You act honorably. So, if those exposed to a less than honorable act on your part refuse to let you get past that in their mind, if you continue to display honor; eventually your antagonist will die out or lose prominence in the eyes of mere men and memories will fade. But those who did not witness your moment of weakness will only bare witness to your honorable traits. And you will catapult your status even more if you don’t forget your former indescretion but use it to keep you humble before those who hold you in honor.

92 M January 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm

I have followed your entire article series over the last months and found all of it both fascinating and enlightening. As you point out, a lot of unresolved issues remain. The primary question seems to be whether or not honor is feasible and perhaps sadder, even realistic in today’s society. I try to live a life based upon an honor code, and as you’ve mentioned, it is not always easy. Basing your life and choices upon an rigid code of conduct, especially in a culture that places premium on what amounts to self serving and ego-centric behavior can often put an honorable man in the place of an outsider. This is one the reasons why a platoon of men is important to an honorable man’s growth and development. Being honorable for oneself alone can help one to walk a path of forthrightness and strength in a world that seems to, at large, forgotten the value of such traits.
Walking the path of honor alone, no matter how strongly you believe in the principals is both selfish, and a disservice. If honor is to have true meaning, it needs to spread, from man, to platoon, to culture.
There is something that a very old friend (and by old I mean he was about 70 while I was still wearing high-tops) once told me, and it has stuck with me my entire life. I would like to share it with all of you.

“What man is a man who does not make the world better? When you stand before god you cannot say: “But I was told by others to do thus” or that “Virtue was not convenient at the time.” This will not suffice”

I know that he didn’t make that up himself, but I never did find out where it came from…

Just because honor is on the fringes of our social radar, that does not mean it isn’t realistic. That is an excuse made by the selfish, the lazy and the ignorant so that they may live a life unaccountable.
I’ve always been of the mind, that no matter how you rationalize your behavior, at the end of the day, there IS a line, and you are either on one side of it, or the other. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in that.

93 Mac January 13, 2013 at 3:45 pm

The problem is, there is no shame anymore. Nothing is wrong, and there are no consequences for on’s actions. Also, in the past, an individual would act like a buffoon and get the just rewards he brought onto himself. Now, you defend yourself or take care of business, the turd sues you or calls the police.

94 Chuck January 15, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Brett reading this article definitely stirred something in me. I wholeheartedly agree that the lack of honor is a serious issue among men today. This paragraph you wrote in particular resonated with me:

“As society has become more complex and anonymous, and the bonds of honor have dissolved, we’ve had to rely more and more on obedience – rules and regulations — to govern people’s behavior. Because we no longer trust people to do things because they swore an oath to do so, and because concern for their honorable reputation compels them, we’ve created ever more elaborate rules and regulations to enforce ethics. Instead of feeling safe in the knowledge that a man has internalized an honor code to the extent that he may be trusted to do the right thing, even when no one is watching, now he must be constantly checked up on and videotaped. The reason the minutia of rules at your office feel infantilizing…is because they are. We must be policed by an external authority to check our behavior in the absence of honor.”

It’s truly interesting that you alluded to the fact that people follow rules and regulations rather than honor when determining how they should act. I think this is a major problem we are having in the military today. I have seen people carry out their duties in a marginal fashion if it doesn’t promote their chance to advance or achieve their next rank, while pushing themselves when it benefits them directly. There is indeed no shame anymore, and now when you try to hold someone’s feet to the fire, you are often instructed to “lighten up”.

For example, the Navy core values of honor, courage and commitment are often recited, but are only truly lived because people are scared of the legal repercussions of getting into trouble, not because of the shame of failing to live up to something greater than themselves.

Thank you for writing this. Reading it truly made my day!

95 Josh January 22, 2013 at 7:17 pm

To Brett,

Your pieces on honor have all been organic, though provoking, and meditative. As a young man growing up in todays day and age I find it reassuring that the actions of myself and my peers so well mimics that of our forefathers. My personal ideas of honor may slightly differ but the concepts seem to relate.

It is my view that one determines what is good and honorable by a simple exercise of the Kant’s universal law. If an action cannot be replicated without causing the destruction of it’s premise or the culture that the premise resides it is wrong. Do not lie because then there is no truth, do not steal because then ownership is nonexistent, etc…. I have found this creates a valid code of conduct to determine when it is appropriate to action or not., for it also addresses the issue of cowardice. If we were to all stand aside while a murder took place then everyone would be murdered. To not support a friend or family member would constitute the destruction of the support networks that we rely on so heavily.

To address some of your questions, I do not think that violence is an honorable reaction in most situations. The only exceptions are when you are given intent, ability, and opportunity by an attacker that wishes you or another harm. What do you solve in that situation? Who is the better shot?Boxer?Fighter?etc… So unless the above criteria are met then I do not believe violent action is warranted. This opinion continues into my idea of shaming your peers into better behavior. My personal opinion is that foul language simply makes you sound less intelligent and that if you cannot sufficiently convey your displeasure silence yourself, grab a dictionary, and educate yourself. As your VMI reference indicates shaming does not need to involve foul language but instead place that person in a state of humiliation.

I believe that the key point in your article is that to have honor one must support ones peer group. I find that this idea keeps pulling me back into politics and the actions of our soldiers and politicians while under oath. I personally can understand why the rest of the world thinks we’re all corrupt, for if all I saw on the news was the actions of our government then I would not hold America in great esteem either.

What are your views on the subject? Do you think that the US as a country conducts themselves in an honorable manner? What are the expectations that we should ask of our governing bodies?

-Joshua Simkins

96 CT January 24, 2013 at 9:43 am

Socialistic claptrap! “Subjugate your own self-interest for the good of the Collective” seems to be the theme here.

Thank you, but no. I’ll stick with Objectivism, which holds that “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”

Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.

97 Jim Thorp February 1, 2013 at 11:12 pm

All in all, excellent. Thank you.

98 Kt February 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm

@ CT

The problem with objectivism is that
it conflicts with reality. Proof, would one have the same passion to display their ideals if they did not think someone else would listen or share those merits? In other words, have another subjugate themselves to share another individual’s values.

Also, there is no logical way to regulate or enforce said morals of self-interest. Who decided that ‘the pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”? Are you not subjugating yourself to that collective belief of other objectivists? What makes one happy or one person’s set of morals differs from person to person thus no justice, rewards, punishments, or standards can exist.

If a mass murderer were to come into someone’s home and kill the family and said it was in their own rational self interest and happiness (rational does not mean ‘true’ or ‘correct’) thus he was trying to complete the highest moral purpose of his life. Someone can sabotage another ones project because it was in conflict with their ‘morals’. There is no objective means for justice to be enforced thus the victims cannot logically have reason or right to be angry or retaliate to the perpetrators.

People are social by nature, Proof, you are communicating and responding to others from a keyboard for social interaction. Do you not rely on others for their services and products of efforts and labor like, groceries, vehicle, livelihood, education, knowledge, entertainment; don’t lie, you’re on the internet. You weren’t satisfied living under a rock, twiddling your thumbs. You obviously wanted/needed something that you couldn’t produce on your own, thus making other men the means to your end, if you are on the internet to begin with.

Thus, no man is an island. Objectivism is, at best, an ivory tower philosophy that cannot exist in a real harmonious world.

99 Michael Ponte February 12, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Past master of Redwood Lodge #35 in RI here. Enjoyed this series, and am happy to see a Mason wrote it. I encourage all men who seek improvement to research masonry and your local lodges. Its become a huge part of my life.

100 Bryan February 23, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Good read. However, the fundamental premise of honor is getting and maintaining the respect of others. The problem is that there are very few who are worthy of my respect, so whether they respect me or not is irrelevant. I do the right thing because it is the right thing, nothing more, nothing less. My own set of morals and principles drive me, not random admiration from others of the cohort.

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