The Monk considers himself an honorable man and plans to teach his children self-respect, integrity, character and honor. The "everyone else does it" notion of acceptable behavior is in itself unacceptable. If The Monk and the Monklings are the only people who act this way in our increasingly debased society, so be it.
Josiah Bunting III, President of the H. F. Guggenheim Foundation, penned an essay on the loss of "honor" as a guiding principle in our affairs in today's Opinion Journal. It is well worth reading in full.
In short, there is no shame in actions once known as dishonorable, and the virtues that supported honor seem moribund. Chastity and modesty--so important to honor in social relations--are treated as relics from Jane Austen and "Little Women." When a high-school girl defends a sexual encounter on the grounds that an American president said that her particular act was not really sex, both she and her role model are, if not completely forgiven, understood to be, as members of the human family, subject to the same vagaries of uncontrollable temptations as you and I.
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Can honor be resuscitated? As [James] Bowman [author of Honor: A History]notes, "honor is stark and unforgiving," and early-21st-century America does not like stark choices . . . "Character," meaning resolution, the persistence in right action whatever its costs, seems a quaint and Victorian crotchet. Citizens feverishly, fitfully, deplore the inadequacies of body armor for their Marines and soldiers; three days later, they have moved on. Did you say 32 Iraqis were blown up this morning, and a soldier killed, north of Baghdad? Shame. Let's see what that does to the president's poll numbers.
How well America understands its enemies' notions of honor--and how prepared the country is, itself, to act honorably--will be tested between now and the fall elections. A failure to understand, though not inevitable, may be writ large in a headline like this one: "Administration Announces Withdrawal of 28,000 American Troops by End of Year." As Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh must have smiled the first time they heard the word "Vietnamize," radical Islamists will rejoice at such a development, irrefutable evidence that America neither understands their own misbegotten notions of honor nor has the will, if it does understand, to act honorably in confronting them.