ST. ANSELM

I. The Honor Code and Its Social Frame:

A sketch of the honor code in relation to its original social context will alert us to its presence and function in Anselm's texts. Social anthropologists have found some contemporary small village cultures in Mediterranean society, which make honor and shame the central evaluative categories of their social organization. Field work studies have combined with the examination of historical and literary documents from earlier times, to yield an analysis of the categories of honor and shame and their social function, which I now summarize.

1.1. Honor and Shame: The category of honor centers, not on the evaluation of deeds, but on the sacred quality of persons. Honor is double-sided, including (i) the value of a person in his/her own eyes (his/her own claim to honor), (ii) as corroborated by society (the person's reputation and social right to pride or status). Obviously, (ii) the social component of honor is relative both (a) to social structures and ideals, and (b) to public perception of how well the individual measures up against them. Moreover, (i) the individual's claims to honor are from the beginning shaped (although not completely determined) by (ii) social estimates, for the simple reason that societies educate their members to fill relevant social roles and to evaluate themselves in terms of social norms. Thus,

"The sentiment of honour inspires conduct which is honourable,
the conduct receives recognition and establishes reputation,
reputation is finally sanctified by the bestowal of honours.
Honour felt becomes honour claimed becomes honour paid."

Through demonstrations of respect and the allowance of privilege, honor is paid to a person who claims it.

Two further, related distinctions are in order. (iii) The first, arising from an equivocation on 'value' or 'worth', is between (a) honor as virtue or excellence and (b) honor of precedence, the latter being a function of de facto status and power to enforce compliance with it. These dimensions of honor break apart, most obviously, in the case of the tyrant or bully, or in the arrangements of unjust and oppressive societies generally. (iv) The second divides honor as to its origin, into ascribed honor--a socially recognized claim to worth that comes to a person either (a) through birth in a certain family or class etc., or (b) through delegation by a person who has the power to force acknowledgment of such claims (e.g., when one is knighted by the queen)--and acquired honor--a socially accepted status-claim that is a function of the individual's performance in competitive social interactions.

Sometimes a person's claim to status is so widely and thoroughly recognized that his/her honor is unimpeachable-- whether because s/he has so much virtue (iii.a) or so much power to make people defer (iii.b). In the latter case, might has a tendency to make right; in the former, attacks on the person's honor can only stain the offender, whereas the generous blind eye of the offended party magnifies (if possible) his/her own reputation.

Shame also is bivalent: (i) taken positively, it is sensitivity to communal norms and social reputation, both of which the shameless person ignores; (ii) negatively, it refers to the situation in which a person loses status or has his claim thereto publicly rejected (and so is put to shame, humiliated, or degraded). Where honor moves from the inside out (from a person's claim to worth to public validation), negative shame moves from the outside in (from public rejection to individual recognition thereof).

1.2. Transactions of Honor: In principle, an affront places the honor of a person in jeopardy. In Mediterranean societies, where the values of honor and shame predominate, a code of honor prescribes what a person must do to maintain individual/collective honor in the face of such attacks. Since honor includes a component of social evaluation, publicity partly determines how much face stands to be lost or gained. Since what is at stake is relative personal worth, the honor-maintaining response to an affront is a function of the relative status of the parties involved.

1.2.1. The Game of Challenge and Riposte: Public concessions of honor confer status and thereby privileged access to concrete goods. Because, at the small village level, the latter are in short supply, honor likewise becomes a limited good and so the object of competition. Among equals, an affront attempts to rob the affronted person of his honor; satisfaction is required if honor is to be maintained. Honor is defended or lost according to the contestants' performance in the "game" of challenge and riposte, which has three stages. (i) First comes the challenge, or a claim to enter the social space of another, whether by word or deed. The challenge can be positive (as with a word of praise, a gift, a request for or promise of help) or negative (as with an insult, a physical affront, a threat accompanied or not by an attempt to carry it through). (ii) Next comes the perception, in which the individual (and onlookers) evaluate the action in terms of publicly accepted criteria, as to whether the action merely questions, attacks or denies the individual's self-esteem. (iii) Then comes the response, which takes one of three forms: (a) Positive rejection disdains the challenger and his action, in effect humiliates him by denying him the status of equality prerequisite between players in the challenge-riposte game. If the original challenger is in fact an equal, he must avenge this insult to maintain his honor. On the other hand, if the person originally affronted was his superior, no further response is required. (b) Negative refusal is simply no response, where the honor-code requires one; it symbolizes cowardice or sloth in the person affronted and so dishonors him. (c) Acceptance of the challenge involves a corresponding action that constitutes a counter-challenge and potentially extends the game into a further round. The game of challenge-riposte is properly played only among equals. It is dishonorable to "pick on someone" who is not one's "own size." Honor does not require success, but only the attempt. The code makes each man the guardian of his own honor in contests with his equals, where it would be dishonorable to appeal to the courts, which exist to protect the weak against the strong. Self-sufficiency and independence are virtues in such honor maintenance.

1.2.2. The Role of Intention: A person's honor is "committed" or "engaged" in a social interaction only through his sincere intentions. Failure to keep a promise is not dishonorable if he in effect "had his fingers crossed" when he made it. Not telling the truth to someone counts as lying only if that person is one to whom truth is owed (usually to kin but not to strangers). On the other hand, lack of steadfastness is dishonorable, because it symbolically descrates what is-- according to the honor code--sacred to a person--viz., his own true self. And to lie to someone on purpose is to attempt to humiliate him. Unclarity as to intentions begets ambiguity in the game, and requires a person to judge whether the invasion of turf was, and will be deemed by others to be, "accidentally on purpose" or simply unintentional. Mistaking the latter for the former, exposes the respondent to the charge of "touchiness"; taking the former for the latter risks charges of laziness or cowardice. The purpose of oaths is to remove the ambiguity as to a person's intentions, but oaths, too, are binding only if the oath-taker is sincere.

1.2.3. Collective Honor: In societies organized by the honor code, a person's behavior reflects not only on his/her own honor, but also on that of the groups to which s/he belongs. Where natural groups such as family or nation are concerned (i.e., collectivities of which one is a member willy nilly), the honor of the group is symbolically invested in its head, who is charged with defending it and that of its members from external attack. Just as individual honor symbolizes the sacred worth of the person, so headship is a sacred role; the honor of its occupant, unimpeachable within the group. Accordingly, the members owe the head obedience and respect of a kind that commits their individual honor unequivocally, so that, e.g., disloyalty to and assaults on the king or the father (as in regicide or parricide) become irrevocable stains. Participating as they do in the honor of the head, individual members have a stake in defending it (e.g., to rendering military service in time of war). But equally, the dishonorable behavior of one member (e.g., sexually impurity in women, unwillingness to respond to peer challenge among men) redounds onto the whole group. Likewise, the unavenged humiliation of members by a more powerful outsider, puts the head to shame by symbolizing his lack of power or will to maintain honor.

1.2.4. Patron/Client/Broker: Typically, where social institutions benefit the "haves" and cannot be counted upon to deliver a meaningful, social human existence for the "have nots," institutional and legal arrangements become overlaid with patron- client relationships between social superiors and their inferiors. If the relation between monarch and subject is a patron-client relationship par excellence, other such arrangements are entered into voluntarily. Although extra-legal, they are taken to be mutually binding and advertized as involving life-long solidarity. Patrons control access to first-order goods, such as land, jobs, goods, funds, citizenship, power, information, etc., and show favor to their clients (i.e., "play favorites" with their clients) by making such patronage available to them as needed. Clients return the favor by enhancing the prestige, reputation and honor of the patron in private and public life, offering daily early morning salutations, supporting him in political campaigns, supplying information when needed, refusing to testify against him in court, and constantly bearing public witness to their patron's benefactions. Such arrangements are quasi-familial and have the effect of subsuming institutional connections under an overarching network of kinship. Note: The structure of rights and obligations between patrons and clients laid down by the honor code is different from what contemporary moral philosophy (influenced by Kantian and democratic intuitions) would predict. (a) Initially, the rich and powerful within a society are not obligated to benefit the poor and powerless, and the latter have no rights to the services of the former. The negative evaluation of persons of means who refuse to function as patrons arises from another quarter: it befits their station to do so because it is sign and symbol of their substance; to refuse hints that there is "not as much to them" as others thought, "not enough to them" to fill the social role they occupy. Thus, refusal is shameful, because it damages their reputation, eats into their honor of precedence as well as honor of virtue.

(b) Similarly, the obligation of the clients arises from their dependence, which is an aspect of their social role. Where the patron is ruler, the client's obligation to contribute to group survival symbolically translates into an obligation to obey its head. Again, the patron-ruler, as responsible for social order, has the power to elevate and the power to degrade at will. When a client "loses favor," the appropriate response is to ask how he has offended, to apologize, and hope for restoration. Because the honor of the head is de jure unimpeachable within the group, it is not the client's place to criticize or to blame the patron.

One more role must be noted in this connection: viz., that of the broker, who manipulates his own second order good--a network of strategic contacts with those who control first-order goods--to put clients in touch with significant patrons, in exchange for services, information, good will, advertizing, and honor. Social brokerage is a competitive business. Success requires the energetic broker to take initiatives and risks in attracting customers, and to develop such wide-ranging and reliable links to those who control first-order goods that no other broker will be needed.