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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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Loyalty is the virtue, state, or quality of being faithful
to one's commitments, duties, relations, associations,
or values. It is fidelity to a principle, a cause, an idea,
an ideal, a religion or an ideology, a nation or govern-
ment, a party or leader, one's family or friends, a
region, one's race—anyone or anything to which one's
heart can become attached or devoted. One can be
fiercely and consistently loyal, or have the mild and
opportunistic loyalty that marks the “summer soldier
and the sunshine patriot.” One can have an exclusive
loyalty or multiple loyalties. Loyalty can be evoked
by bad as well as by good causes—the Mafia's code,
for example, inculcates absolute loyalty in its members
through rituals, customs, rewards, and punishments.
One expects loyalty from one's spouse, and also from
one's business partners. Loyalty between a superior and
a subordinate in a hierarchical order—as in feudalism—
may be expected, not as a sentiment but as a matter
of institutional custom. In modern times the term has
been used chiefly in association with patriotism, in the
sense of political allegiance and attachment, involving
the obligations, formal and informal, of a citizen to
his country, its government, and its institutions.

Through governmental investigation into loyalty,
through excessive emphasis on loyalty by patriotic
societies, through loyalty oaths, through identification
of loyalty with conformism and support of the status
quo, and through the demand of one hundred percent
patriotism or nationalism as proof of loyalty, the term
has achieved a pejorative sense which must be taken
into account. A totalitarian regime may demand un-
qualified, total loyalty; but chauvinistic elements in a
free society may make similar demands—“our country,
right or wrong.”

A consideration of loyalty necessarily involves con-
sideration of disloyalty, which must also be viewed in
different and shifting contexts, and in a variety of
forms, including treason, sedition, security risk, and
subversion, each in gross and in subtle meanings. It
also involves the history of political theory and morals,
of religious and political persecution and martyrdom,
the history of ideologies, philosophies of history, in-
deed, involves the whole range of the history of civili-
zation and culture. We can point only selectively to
some of the chief lines of its meaning, use, and abuse.


The roots of the idea of loyalty may be found in
the deep religious consciousness of ancient man, where
it is interwoven with implicit metaphysical, psycho-
logical, moral, and sentimental meanings—a phenom-
enon which is of more than antiquarian interest.

In the Hebrew Scriptures—and in the Hebraic con-
sciousness—the word for truth (emet) often means
faithfulness, honesty, trust, fidelity, firmness, steadfast-
ness—all suggesting loyalty in one or another rela-
tionship. So, too, the word for grace (chesed) often
suggests in context what we call loyalty. Thus, for
example, when David learned that men of a certain
town had given decent burial to Saul, he said: “May
you be blessed by the Lord, because you showed this
loyalty (chesed) to Saul.... May the Lord show...
faithfulness (emet) to you” (II Samuel 2:5-6, R.S.V.).

The biblical word for faith, faithful, trust, sureness
(amunah) often suggests loyalty, for one who has faith
will cling to it; he will be loyal to his faith. His loyalty
is a test of the sincerity of his faith. Thus Ezra said
that the Lord found the heart of Abraham “faithful”
before him (Nehemiah 9:8), and Habakkuk said that
the righteous shall live by his faith—or by his faithful-
ness, loyalty, steadfastness (Habakkuk 2:4).

The classical Hebraic model of loyalty is the story
of the Akedah, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham on
Moriah (Genesis 22). As generally interpreted the inci-
dent was a “testing” of Abraham's loyalty to God. A
widely-read modern commentary states:

There are loyalties which deserve all that a man can give,
and in that giving he is blessed. Not only the story of
Abraham but history in general witnesses to the instinctive
belief that this is true. Consider what men have done and
will do for their clan or their country. They give their sons


to die in battle, to “make the supreme sacrifice.” Though
they themselves are bereaved, they trust that their nation
may be blessed, because through the dedication of young
lives the nation may hear the promise which was spoken
to Abraham, “Thy seed shall possess the gate of thy

(The Interpreter's Bible 646 [1952], Vol. I).

Exhortation to and defense of martyrdom as the
ultimate proof of loyalty to one's religion or God have
been common at least since Rome instituted the
imperial cult, and Jews and Christians refused, in the
face of the threat of death, to perform an act which
to them was an expression of idolatry.

The apocryphal book known as IV Maccabees (A.D.
37-41) became a popular work among Christian ora-
tors and teachers for its treatment of martyrdom, and
inspired resistance to Rome. In the book, the young
men, threatened with torture and death if they fail to
violate the Jewish law, cry out to the tyrant:

Why, tyrant, do you delay? Ready are we to die, rather than
transgress our forefathers' commandments. Our forebears we
should verily shame if we did not show obedience to the
Law.... But if old men of the Hebrews have died for
religion's sake, and persevering through torture have abided
in their religion, it is even more fitting that we who are
young should die.... Proceed, then, with your trial, tyrant;
and if you take our lives and inflict upon us a death for
religion's sake, do not think that you are injuring us by your
torments. We, by our suffering and endurance, shall obtain
the prize of virtue; and we shall be with God, on whose
account we suffer...

(9:1-9, trans. M. Hadas).

This passage shows some of the common themes on
martyrology: loyalty to one's origin and forebears,
loyalty to God, loyalty in the face of indescribable
torment, the identification of such loyalty with virtue,
compensation of such loyalty in the certainty that God
will know and approve.

Idolatry in its essence is rebellion against God, rejec-
tion of God. The Bible speaks often of those who desert
God and play the harlot (Ezekiel 16:41). At times the
Bible speaks of sin as rebellion, as a breach of loyalty
to God. One of the root words for sin (pesh) means
rebel. Another basic biblical word for sin (chet) in some
contexts means going astray, missing the way; it sug-
gests that man or his heart is wayward, inconstant,
unsteady—disloyal (e.g., I Samuel 19:4; 24:12; 26:21).
Often the Bible suggests that the essence of sin is found
in breach of the covenant, the people go awhoring after
strange gods as an adulterer who has violated his
agreement—a supreme act of disloyalty (Hosea 4:12;
9:1; Ezekiel 23:30).

In Job, one of the leading themes is the conviction
that, no matter what, a man must be true to himself,
must not waver in his loyalty to the truth and the
reality as he knows them to be in his innermost heart.
Thus Job holds his ground firmly against the charges
and derogatory intimations of his friends; but even
more, he remains loyal to himself even against the will
of God:

Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope; Yet I will defend
my ways to his face

(Job 13:15. R.S.V.).

Perhaps the root idea out of which flow the many
meanings of loyalty with all their rough and sophis-
ticated shadings can be traced back to the idea of

and you shall love your God with all your heart, and with
all your soul, and with all your might

(Deuteronomy 6:5).

Israel is to have only one loyalty; God is to be loved
with the totality of one's devotion. Israel has cove-
nanted to have only one God, as a man covenants to
have only one wife—only one love. There is also the
law of love which makes oneself and one's fellow men
objects of loyalty: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as
thyself” (Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:37-40, Luke
10:27-28). One must, therefore, be “true” to God, to
one's own soul, and to fellow men. From ancient times
to the present, these basic meanings of loyalty—in
whatever terms expressed—have persisted.


While the ancient Greek philosophers—unlike the
writers of the Hebrew Scriptures and of the Apocry-
pha—consciously sought to achieve intellectual clarity,
their moral conceptualizations are by no means clear-
cut. While a few concepts attain a high degree of
articulation, others, including loyalty, are left largely
to suggestion, implication, or myth.

The drama of the trial and death—martyrdom—of
Socrates, however, clearly spelled out what loyalty
meant to the greatest of Athenian teachers. “The truth
of the matter is this, gentlemen,” Socrates said to the

Where a man has once taken up his stand, either because
it seems best to him or in obedience to his orders, there
I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger, taking
no account of death or anything else before dishonor

(Apology 28D, Loeb trans.).

It would be difficult to find anywhere a clearer instance
of loyalty to a mission. Were the jury to acquit him
on condition that he give up his mission, Socrates said
that he would retort to the jury as follows:

Gentlemen, I am your very grateful and devoted servant,
but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you....
You know that I am not going to alter my conduct, not
even if I have to die a hundred deaths

(ibid., 30B).


In the Crito Socrates makes it clear that he considered
himself the victim of a miscarriage of justice, for which
he blamed not the laws or the state, but his fellow
men (Crito 54C). Accordingly, he said that he must
gladly submit to the legal punishment, and in this way
avoid the great sin against the state: violence against
its laws.

Socrates is thus a classic paradigm of a man who,
even in the face of death, chose to remain loyal to
his country, to God, and, above all, to his mission, to
his soul.

What came to be accepted as the four cardinal
virtues—wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control or
temperance—appear in three of Plato's leading dia-
logues: Phaedo (69C), the Republic (IV. 427E-433B),
and the Laws (631C). Loyalty is not explicitly discussed
as a virtue, but surely it is an ingredient of each of
the cardinal virtues as they are treated by Plato. Cour-
age, the prerogative of the soldiers in the Republic,
would hardly be possible unless they felt loyalty to the
state and its order. Self-control, the dominant virtue
of the governed, would be impossible without loyalty
to one's neighbors, on whose rights one may not tres-
pass. Justice, the principle of a place for everyone and
everyone in his place, assumes loyalty to one's station
and its duties. Wisdom, the virtue that peculiarly char-
acterizes the philosopher-kings, who specialized in
governance according to their knowledge of good and
evil, surely implicates loyalty to Truth, to the Form
of the Good, to the city-state, and to the legitimate
interests of the other social classes. Indeed, the govern-
ing guardians are to have community of wives and
children so that they may not be distracted from the
public work by domestic loyalties.

Both the Republic and the Laws are consistent with
the Hellenic position that the chief outlet for unselfish
loyalty and devotion is the city (polis). In the Laws,
when Plato came to providing for a court for capital
offenses (855C), he took as his model the Areopagus,
which Solon had invested with the power to punish
sedition and treason (856-57). The greatest enemy of
the state is he who stirs up civil strife, and next to
him is one who, aware of an act of sedition, fails to
inform the officials or to prosecute the conspirators
(856B-C). Other serious public crimes include failure
to report for military duty, desertion from the army,
and disloyal conduct by an envoy to a foreign state
(941, 943). There is also the serious crime of traffic
with the enemy (857).

Certainly Plato's proposals for a strict censorship of
the arts is in part motivated by the objective to instill
in the masses of citizens, who will have “opinion” and
not “knowledge” as their motive power for action,
absolute loyalty to a tradition with which they have
been imbued by their “social environment” rather than
“loyalty to the claims of a summum bonum grasped
by personal insight” (A. E. Taylor, Plato, 2nd ed. [1956],
p. 280). Loyalty to tradition is a basic requirement for
the control of the polities projected by the Republic
and the Laws.

It is strange, however, that Plato, and the other
Greek thinkers as well, hardly discussed the problem
of conflicting loyalties—e.g., that the duty to inform
on criminal conspirators may conflict with loyalty to
one's relatives or friends. Perhaps they assumed, as
many do in modern times, that it is sufficient to resolve
all such questions to say that the duty to be loyal to
the state rises above all other duties. Yet there was
always the example of Socrates expressing his loyalty
to Athens by his determination to die rather than obey
what he considered to be an unlawful state order; also,
there was always the theme of Sophocles' Antigone:
the conflict between loyalty to God or Nature or the
Soul and to the state or its historically-conditioned law.
But the successors of Socrates refused to see a sharp
conflict here. They were more impressed by the insist-
ence of Socrates that while the state's laws and customs
are not exempt from critical examination, it is these
very laws and customs that make life and the search
for the good possible; therefore, one must willingly and
unconditionally obey the state. This seems to be the
lesson learned by Plato, as developed in the Republic
and especially in the Laws.

Aristotle even more clearly than his teacher, Plato,
articulated the belief that it is impossible for man
to fulfill his ends—to live as a rational being—outside
of a community, to live the moral life outside of the

For the moral, virtuous life, man needs to exercise
his rational insight to discover the mean between two
extreme lines of conduct—e.g., courage is the mean
between an excess which is foolhardiness, and a defi-
ciency which is cowardice. Aristotle considers other
examples (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, Ch. vii); he
does not, however, treat of loyalty as such; but he
admits that not every action or emotion admits of the
observance of a mean (II, vi, 18); some qualities do
not admit of excess or deficiency; it may be that
Aristotle would say that loyalty is the mean between
fanaticism and perfidy. Nor is the mean—and one
would assume that this would be true of every virtue,
including loyalty—the same for everyone under all
circumstances: “The agents themselves have to con-
sider what is suited to the circumstances on each occa-
sion” (II, ii, 4).

While loyalty is not expressly mentioned in Aris-
totle's discussion of friendship and love of country, it
is clearly implied, as in the following passage:


But it is also true that the virtuous man's conduct is often
guided by the interests of his friends and of his country,
and that he will if necessary lay down his life in their behalf.
For he will surrender wealth and power and all the goods
that men struggle to win, if he can secure nobility for
himself; since he would prefer an hour of rapture to a long
period of mild enjoyment.... And this is doubtless the case
with those who give their lives for others.... Also the
virtuous man is ready to forgo money if by that means his
friends may gain more money; for thus, though his friend
gets money, he himself achieves nobility...

(IX, viii, 9;
Loeb trans.).

Both Plato and Aristotle not only sketched ideal
states but also subjected the Greek states, which they
knew, to judgment according to ideals and principles.
Aristotle's Politics also devotes a long section (Book
V) to causes of revolution, sedition, and constitutional
change. Yet neither of them undertook a philosophic
analysis of loyalty and disloyalty, key conceptions in-
volved in the formation, maintenance, and dissolution
of societies, states, and governments.


As long as the city-state existed and was looked upon
as the model form of political organization, loyalty was
confined within walls from which even Socrates could
not, as we have seen, wholly escape. But after
Alexander's conquest of the so-called barbarians, the
loss of Greek independence, and the rise and spread
of the Stoic philosophy after Zeno (336-264 B.C.), men
spoke of the brotherhood of man, of the family of man,
of the unity of the race and of nations, of all men as
children of one father, of all men as citizens of one
world. At the same time the Stoics emphasized their
belief that it is the rational quality of men that unites
them—it is in sharing rationality and goodness that true
kinship is found. “My father is nothing to me,” said
Epictetus, “but only the good” (Discourses, III, iii). But
loyalty, fidelity, trustworthiness, according to Epicte-
tus, is as essential to human nature as are rationality,
goodness, and justice. In the Discourses (II, iv), the
following characteristic scene is reported:

As Epictetus was remarking that man is born to fidelity,
and that the man who overthrows this is overthrowing the
characteristic quality of man, there entered one who had
the reputation of being a scholar, and who had once been
caught in the city in the act of adultery. But, goes on
Epictetus, if we abandon this fidelity to which we are by
nature born, and make designs against our neighbor's wife,
what are we doing? Why, what but ruining and destroying?
Whom? The man of fidelity, of self-respect, of piety. Is that
all? Are we not overthrowing also neighborly feeling,
friendship, the state? In what position are we placing our-
selves? As what am I to treat you, fellow? As a neighbor;
as a friend? Of what kind? As a citizen? What confidence
am I to place in you?... For, assuming that you cannot
hold the place of a friend, can you hold that of a slave?
And who is going to trust you?

(Loeb trans.).

Marcus Aurelius spoke of “the natural law of
neighborliness” (Meditations, III, 11, Loeb trans.). But
all men are neighbors, and all are citizens of the highest
state, the Universe, “of which all other states are but
as households” (ibid.). There is a law common to all
mankind. This, said Marcus Aurelius, means that the
law is operative in a state; the Universe must be that
state; we are all, therefore, citizens of one state (IV, 4).
All things, he said,

are mutually intertwined, and the tie is sacred, and scarcely
anything is alien the one to the other.... For there is but
one Universe, made up of all things, and one God immanent
in all things, and one Substance, and one Law, one Reason
common to all intelligent creatures, and one Truth...

(VII, 9).

Man is a citizen of the world-city (XII, 36). What is
advantageous to the whole cannot be hurtful to the
part (X, 6).

In Hebraic thought, as we have seen, loyalty to God
transcended all other duties. To Socrates, loyalty to
one's soul, one's true self, transcended all other duties
and was identified with loyalty to God. In the
Hellenistic philosophy of the Stoics, loyalty to Natural
Law, the law of the Universe, to the rational principle,
by which man is defined, become merged with loyalty
to the true self and loyalty to God. In all these instances
parochial loyalties are transcended—and yet, as we
have noted in the incident of Epictetus and the man
caught in the act of adultery, the closer, narrower
loyalties are preserved and validated; for a man will
be faithless to humanity and God if he is not trust-
worthy in his own home and neighborhood. Plato and
Aristotle, however, placed their emphases on loyalty
to the state—in Plato's ideal polities the emphasis on
this loyalty seems over-arching.

At the same time there were philosophers who, by
implication, viewed the whole business of political and
moral loyalty with considerable skepticism. In Plato's
Republic (336A-354C) Thrasymachus understands by
justice the interest of the stronger, the notion that
might is right, or whatever is to the interest of the
ruler. He himself then draws the inference that a man
ought to try to satisfy his own interest, and not that
of another—at least insofar as he can prudently do so.
The result of this view may well be nihilism. In the
same dialogue (357-367E), Glaucon speaks for the view
that justice is purely a matter of convention, grounded
in fear, and is the necessary protector of the weaker.
In the Gorgias, Callicles speaks for the theory of the
natural right of might, and for the idea that all law


is made by the weak to defraud the strong of their
just rights. When justice is to do what one can, and
what one can get away with, or is obedience to author-
ity when one must obey but otherwise is to do what
one wants, then loyalty is no virtue and has no virtue.

But throughout biblical literature and in the Hellenic
and Hellenistic writings, the ideal of loyalty as the soul
of friendship is kept alive in poetry, drama, elegy,
oratory, and philosophic debate and analysis. Plato's
Lysis deals with friendship, and Aristotle is deeply
concerned with the subject and writes movingly on it
in the Ethics (IX, viii). Cicero's De amicitia, influenced
by Aristotle, Xenophon's Memorabilia, and a lost
treatise on friendship in three volumes by Theophras-
tus, deal with the subject elaborately and lovingly. It
has been suggested that friendship is a topic which
plays a much more prominent part in ancient than in
modern ethical literature for the reason that conjugal
affection and romantic love were given small scope
for expression; there were, therefore, two outlets for
unselfish loyalty—the city-state and the lifelong friend
(Taylor, Plato, pp. 64-65).


“Every association,” according to Aristotle, “seems
to involve justice of some kind and friendship as well”
(Nicomachean Ethics VIII, i). Thus, holding the city-
state in the highest esteem, Aristotle saw its roots in
ethical conceptions—justice and loyalty. Indeed, it can
be contended with much reason that during the cen-
turies of feudal history in Europe, when often there
was no tribal or racial solidarity to weld men together,
men were saved from complete political anarchy by
the feeling of loyalty to the person of the Emperor
(C. H. McIlwain, Growth of Political Thought in the
[1932], p. 142). Feudalism with its customs and
practices of homage and fealty, and its theory of the
feudal contract between lord and vassal, established
itself not only on the feelings of personal loyalty, but
also on the Hebraic and Stoic notion that society flows
out of a convenant—and a convenant, even between God
and his people, is worthless if the parties are not com-
mitted loyally to fulfill its terms.

In the Middle Ages, when people at times suffered
oppression from an evil ruler, a distinction was made
between loyalty to his sacred office and loyalty to his
person. God, it was said, commanded only the former
when the ruler violated his part of the bargain. From
this the conclusion was sometimes drawn that loyalty
to the king's sacred office did not stand in the way
of resistance to the tyranny of the evil ruler.

Chapter 61 of the Magna Carta provides a definite
procedure to be followed by the king when barons
charge him with delinquency toward anyone or trans
gression of any article concerning the peace or security.
The conclusion that was drawn from this chapter is
that when the king does not adhere to his part of the
feudal contract, rebellion against him would be legal.

This was a logical consequence of the distinction
between the man and the office: loyalty to the latter
does not necessarily mean loyalty also to the former.
This distinction made it easier for medieval thinkers
to move away from the position of Augustine that the
evil ruler is sent by God as a punishment for sins, and
that it was, therefore, one's duty loyally to submit to
him (De civitate Dei, Book 5, Chs. 19-21). The distinc-
tion between the man and the office naturally led to
the distinction between the true king and the tyrant,
and to the idea, as we see it—e.g., in Magna Carta—of
the right of resistance, and the idea of authority based
on covenant or contract, and the right to withdraw
allegiance or loyalty when there is a serious breach.
In John of Salisbury there is praise of tyrannicide, and
of the assassin as the agent of a just, watchful, and
avenging God (Policraticus, Book VIII). Thomas
Aquinas, while stressing that rulership must be limited
and must move only within lawful confines, disavows
tyrannicide; but he holds that the people as a whole
have a right to resist. While he condemns sedition, he
denies that justifiable resistance to tyranny is sedition
(De reginiore principum, Book I, Ch. 6. Summa Theo-
2 a, 2 ae, q. 42, q. 104).

If there is a single dominant theme that one can
detect running through all the controversies in medie-
val writings, it is that the state must serve moral ends
and help fulfill God's purposes for man—personal sal-
vation; that there is a common good, to which the ruler
must contribute; that the power of the ruler is derived
from God; that the power of the ruler is limited by
law; that transgression of the lawful limits makes a
ruler into a lawless tyrant. Though thinkers may differ
as to what may lawfully or morally be done in the
face of tyranny, the implication was seen by many that
the subject's political loyalty is a conditional one, at
least with respect to the man as distinguished from
the office. In this way medieval thought synthesized
the Hebraic-Hellenic-Hellenistic inheritance: there is
accommodation of loyalty to the human community,
to God, and to the soul. While there was, of course,
substantial disagreement as to the meaning of these
terms, there was, nonetheless, basic agreement on the
need to transcend loyalty to the state in order to be
loyal to God and to the soul accountable to God. The
political government of the world must, therefore, be
seen under the head of the moral and the divine gov-
ernment of the world, and loyalty must be considered
within a philosophy of history which takes into account
politics, morals, and religion.



As the modern period began, the traditional institu-
tions to which Europeans had been loyal for centuries
had decayed and were seen as archaic, and there was
widespread religious, moral, and political corruption.
Loyalty to ideals, and loyalty itself as an ideal, were
scoffed at as childish inventions. Machiavelli's Prince
(1513) can be taken as the new voice of modern politi-
cal absolutism. In this treatise there is no concern with
religious or moral considerations; the author candidly
accepts the view of Thrasymachus that government
rests on force, and the view of Callicles that deception
is inseparable from rulership. Government is an auton-
omous art and is not subject to external ideals or guide-
posts. The only proper loyalty is to the prince, who
may be omnipotent and who is certainly outside the
law and morality. But Machiavelli was not cynical
when it came to national patriotism, for he believed
that duty to one's country wiped out all other duties
or loyalties (Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus
[1513], III, 41). The idea of the omnipotent
prince was accorded fuller philosophical treatment in
Hobbes' Leviathan (1651). This line of thought was
coincidental with the rise of the modern national state,
which has culminated, in the twentieth century, in the
totalitarian states of the fascist, Nazi, and communist
varieties, in the democratic, liberal states, and in the
various experiments that have been tried in order to
transcend and to orchestrate national loyalties and
interests—as in the League of Nations, the United
Nations, the Council of Europe, and the Organization
of American States.

At one extreme is the demand of total, exclusive
loyalty—the fanatical national and ideological devo-
tion demanded by Nazi and communist theory and
practice, whether ostensibly on behalf of the proletar-
iat class and state, or on behalf of the Fatherland, the
Führer, and the Aryan “race.” But the demand of
single-minded loyalty has also been made at times by
leaders of democracies. For example, Theodore
Roosevelt attacked what he viewed to be the divided
loyalties of immigrants to the United States, whom he
labeled “hyphenated-Americans” and “the foe within
the gates”; both Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson in-
sisted that if America was indeed a “melting pot,” the
type into which immigrants were to be melted was
the type of American that had been shaped from 1776
to 1789.

The philosophy of loyalty, however, more intimately
and more often associated with the democratic process
is that of cultural pluralism. As formulated by Horace
M. Kallen in articles published in 1915, and in 1924
in Culture and Democracy in the United States, cultural
pluralism is projected as an ideal multiplicity in union,
the right to be different, the orchestration of differ-
ences, the creative interaction of coexisting loyalties—
“the union of the different,” “a federation of nation-
alities,” a federation “sustained... by their equality
and by the free trade between these different equals.
...” This position calls for the legitimacy of pluralistic
loyalties. It was expressed in 1943 by Justice Jackson
for the United States Supreme Court as follows:

But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not
matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom.
The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things
that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any
fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no
official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox
in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion
or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein

(W. Va. State Bd. of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624).

Multiple loyalties can create personal and national
tensions; e.g., John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential
campaign felt it necessary to say that as President he
would act in accordance with what his conscience
would say is in the national interest and without regard
to “outside [Roman Catholic] religious pressures or
dictates.” On the other hand, black militants in the
United States in the late 1960's took the position that
in a conflict between the demands of the black com-
munity and the larger community, their loyalty would
be with the former. In each instance the tension or
conflict was resolved by raising one loyalty above all
others, but this was seen as an undesirable forced op-
tion and as a process which did not totally annihilate
competing loyalties.


The pluralistic approach to loyalty is, however,
hardly representative in the world of the twentieth
century; and in the United States, it is a fact honored
both in the observance and in the breach.

Allegiance was defined by Blackstone as the tie

which binds every subject to be true and faithful to his
sovereign, in return for that protection which is afforded
him; and truth and faith to bear of life and limb, and earthly
honor; and not to know or hear of any ill intended him,
without defending him therefrom

(Commentaries on the
Laws of England
[1765-69], Book IV, Ch. 1).

Blackstone noted that treason was a general term used
by the law to denote not only offenses against the king
or the government but also an act of disloyalty even
as between private persons, between whom there is
a natural, a civil, or even a spiritual relation. He cited
as examples a wife killing her husband, a servant killing
his master: “these, being breaches of the lower alle-
giance, of private and domestic faith, 'were formerly'


denominated petit treason. But when disloyalty so
rears its crest, as to attack even majesty itself, it is
called by way of eminent distinction, high treason...”
(ibid.). Blackstone found that the common law knew
seven kinds of high treason. One kind was to “compass
or imagine” the death of the king, or of his queen,
or of their heir. Written or printed words could be
compassing the death of the sovereign and constituted
an overt act sufficient to be treason. By statute of
George III, the use of any words to excite people to
hatred and contempt of the king or “government and
constitution” was made a high misdemeanor. Laws and
prosecutions were especially directed at words which
may have a “tendency” to cause disloyalty among men
in the armed forces. The “bad tendency” doctrine as
applied to publications and speech lingered in Great
Britain until 1832.

In the United States the bad tendency doctrine was
supposed to have disappeared with the adoption of the
First Amendment in 1791. Yet in 1798 Congress
enacted the infamous Alien and Sedition Laws, which
punished false, scandalous, and malicious writings
against the government, Congress, or the President, if
published with intent to defame, or to excite hatred
against them, or to stir up sedition. Jefferson attacked
these laws as unconstitutional, and when he took office
as President in 1801, pardoned all who were prisoners
under these laws.

The two world wars revived the spirit, if not the
letter, of these laws and of the common law doctrines
of treason and sedition. The Espionage Act of 1917
made it an offense to attempt to cause “disloyalty”
in the armed forces, and the Sedition Act of 1918 made
it a crime to utter or publish any disloyal language
intended to cause contempt for the American form of
government, or the Constitution, or the flag, or the
uniform of the Army or Navy. The latter act was
officially defended on the ground that without it loyal
people would take matters into their own hands and
punish persons for making disloyal remarks—men had
to be sent to prison for terms of many years in order
to protect them from mob violence! Some school
boards and state legislatures prohibited the teaching
of the German language—in the interests of Ameri-
canism and loyalty; and school textbooks were carefully
screened by censors charged with the duty to expose
disloyal utterances. As Attorney General from 1919 to
1921, Alexander Mitchell Palmer became notorious for
the so-called Palmer Raids, which involved zealous
prosecutions of persons, especially aliens, suspected of
disloyalty. Socialists lost their elected seats in the New
York State Legislature during World War I. There was
also eager prosecution under state laws—it is estimated
that in 1919-20 some three hundred persons were
imprisoned for violation of state sedition and syndical-
ist statutes (R. K. Murray, p. 234).

The record for the period of World War II was not
as grim. Under federal anticommunist laws in effect
since 1940, twenty-nine communists went to prison as
co-conspirators to violate the Smith Act of 1940, and
only one went to prison as a member of the party.
Many laws were used against the party, but an equally
great armory of legal defenses was used to protect
it and its leaders and members.

The most shocking action was taken against 112,000
Japanese-Americans, two-thirds of them American citi-
zens (Nisei), living in the Pacific coast states, who were
taken from their homes under an evacuation order in
1942, though no person of Japanese descent had been
charged with any disloyal act.

The Korean War (1950-53) was, however, largely
coincidental with the so-called McCarthy period
(1950-54), when the search for persons suspected of
disloyal intentions became a witch-hunt, which seemed
to revive the common law idea that it was treasonable
merely to “compass or imagine” an act against Ameri-
can interests or institutions, or what Senator Joseph
R. McCarthy construed as a disloyal subversive,
communist, or un-American act. In addition to con-
ventional criminal law prosecutions, there were federal
and state hearings, employment security checks, loyalty
oaths, blacklistings of members of “front” orga-
nizations, legislative enactments, administrative pro-
ceedings (e.g., by the Subversive Activities Control
Board), grand jury investigations, registration require-
ments, listings of organizations—allegedly subversive—
by the Attorney General and the House Un-American
Activities Committee, restrictions on the right to pass-
ports, and prosecutions for perjury and making false
statements or affidavits. The McCarthy period did not
generate an intensified patriotic fervor; it generated
mutual suspicions which affected obscure men and
persons holding the highest positions and rocked
churches no less than labor unions.

While relaxation of tensions between the United
States and the U.S.S.R. and the introduction of plural-
ism into the communist world—polycentrism—have
greatly reduced pressure for sustaining the spirit of
McCarthyism, support for loyalty tests continues, and
the forces behind them score occasional successes as,
for example, the loyalty requirement in the Medicare
Act (1966). Decisions of the Supreme Court of 1966
to 1971 have made enforcement of loyalty oaths and
affidavits well-nigh impossible. The Court's decisions
in cases involving legislative committee hearings, the
Smith Act and other anticommunist statutes, and the
Subversive Activities Control Board have greatly nar-
rowed the range of constitutionally valid legislation


aimed at exposure or punishment of allegedly disloyal
Americans (for cases see Konvitz, Bill of Rights Reader,
5th ed., 1972, and First Amendment Freedoms, 1963).


It is odd that, despite the important role loyalty has
played in the religious, moral, and political life of men
over the centuries, only one philosopher has given the
concept serious and sustained study; namely, Josiah
Royce, one of America's half-dozen leading philoso-
phers, in The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908). Royce saw
in loyalty “the heart of all the virtues, the central duty
amongst all duties.” He made “loyalty to loyalty” the
categorical imperative, “the central spirit of the moral
and reasonable life of man” (p. 118).

Royce defined loyalty loosely as “the willing and
practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to
a cause.” His description of loyalty to a cause is remi-
niscent of the biblical commandment to love God:
something that “appears to you worthy to be served
with all your might, with all your soul, with all your
strength.” For the loyal man, his cause provides an
answer to the question: “For what do I live?” Loyalty
tends “to unify life, to give it centre, fixity, stability.”
The cause becomes one's conscience, and unifies one's
ideals and plans. Against his cause a man can contrast
his transient and momentary desires.

Royce recognizes the fact that there may be loyalty
to an evil cause, and also that men's loyalties may
conflict. The principle of loyalty to loyalty provides
a solution, according to Royce: in choosing his cause
a man should choose one that will further, rather than
frustrate, the loyalties of other men, as well as his own
multiple loyalties. Accordingly, “Murder, lying, evil
speaking, unkindness, are all... simply forms of dis-
loyalty,” and a cause is predatory when it lives by
overthrowing the loyalties of others; it is an evil cause
when it involves “disloyalty to the very cause of loyalty
itself.” Again reminding us of the biblical view, Royce
notes that “speaking the truth is a special instance of
loyalty,” and that “Justice means, in general, fidelity
to human ties in so far as they are ties” (p. 138).

As leading philosopher in the neo-Hegelian school
of idealistic thought in the United States, Royce natu-
rally developed his ideas with an eye on the role of
loyalty in the spiritual unity or the Absolute in which
all values are preserved; but a discussion of this aspect
of his thought, which involves also his notion of com-
munity as developed in The Problem of Christianity
(1913), would take us beyond the scope of our under-
taking. Let us note, however, that the compulsion of
his system of thought to experience ever higher levels
of meaning, pushing one's life “to get into unity with
the whole universe,” points in the direction of the Stoic
belief that in some way the world is a state with a
common law that binds all men as fellow men in a
common loyalty.


Aristotle, Politics, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1932);
idem, Politics, trans. Ernest Barker (Oxford, 1948); idem,
Nicomachean Ethics, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1939).
Association of Bar of City of New York, Report of Special
Committee on Federal Loyalty-Security Program
(New York,
1956). Alan Barth, Government by Investigation (New York,
1955); idem, The Loyalty of Free Men (New York, 1951).
Edward L. Barrett, The Tenney Committee (Ithaca, 1951).
Eleanor Bontecou, The Federal Loyalty-Security Program
(Ithaca, 1953). Irving Brant, The Bill of Rights (Indianapolis,
1965). Ralph S. Brown, Jr., Loyalty and Security (New
Haven, 1958). William F. Buckley, Jr., The Committee and
Its Critics
(New York, 1962). Robert K. Carr, The House
Committee on Un-American Activities 1945-1950
1952). Zechariah Chafee, Jr., Free Speech in the United
(Cambridge, Mass., 1941). Lawrence H. Chamberlain,
Loyalty and Legislative Action (Ithaca, 1951). Cicero, De
senectute, de amicitia, de divinatione,
Loeb Classical Library
(London and Cambridge, Mass., 1923; 1959). Vern Country-
man, Un-American Activities in the State of Washington...
(Ithaca, 1951). Merle Curti, The Roots of American Loyalty
(New York, 1946). Charles P. Curtis, The Oppenheimer Case
(New York, 1955). Epictetus, Discourses, 2 vols., Loeb Clas-
sical Library (London and Cambridge, Mass., 1925, 1928;
1956). David P. Gardner, The California Oath Controversy
(Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967). Walter Gellhorn, Security,
Loyalty, and Science
(Ithaca, 1950). Milton M. Gordon,
Assimilation in American Life (New York, 1964). Morton
Grodzins, The Loyal and the Disloyal (Chicago, 1956).
Sidney Hook, Heresy, Yes—Conspiracy, No (New York,
1953). Harold M. Hyman, To Try Men's Souls (Berkeley and
Los Angeles, 1959). Oscar Jaszi and John D. Lewis, Against
the Tyrant
(Glencoe, Ill., 1957). The Earl Jowitt, The Strange
Case of Alger Hiss
(London, 1953). Horace M. Kallen, Cul-
ture and Democracy in the United States
(New York, 1924).
Milton R. Konvitz, Bill of Rights Reader, 5th ed. (Ithaca,
1972); idem, First Amendment Freedoms (Ithaca, 1963);
idem, Alien and Asiatic in American Law (Ithaca, 1946);
idem, Fundamental Liberties of a Free People (Ithaca, 1957);
idem, Expanding Liberties (New York, 1966). Niccolò
Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writ-
4 vols., trans. C. E. Detmold (Boston, 1891). David
R. Mayhew, Party Loyalty among Congressmen (Cambridge,
Mass., 1966). Glenn R. Morrow, Plato's Cretan City...
(Princeton, 1960). Robert K. Murray, Red Scare (Min-
neapolis, 1955). Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo,
Loeb Classical Library (London and Cambridge,
Mass., 1914; 1960); idem, Republic, trans. F. M. Cornford
(Oxford, 1945); idem, Laws, trans. A. E. Taylor (London,
1960). H. Mark Roelofs, The Tension of Citizenship (New
York, 1957). Michael P. Rogin, The Intellectuals and
... (Cambridge, Mass., 1967). Josiah Royce, The
Philosophy of Loyalty
(New York, 1908); idem, The Problem


of Christianity, 2 vols. (New York, 1913); reprint in 1 vol.
(Chicago, 1967). Samuel A. Stouffer, Communism, Con-
formity and Civil Liberties
(New York, 1955). Telford Taylor,
Grand Inquest (New York, 1955). Rebecca West, The New
Meaning of Treason
(New York, 1964).


[See also Civil Disobedience; Democracy; Ideology; Justice;
Law, Common; Nationalism; State; Stoicism; Virtù.]