The Modernization of Honor in Eighteenth-Century Political Theory
In this dissertation, I investigate the efforts in eighteenth-century political theory to modernize the sense of honor. Contrary to the belief that influential thinkers of this century—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Immanuel Kant, in particular—deviate from the tradition of honor and transform honor from a public matter of defending one’s reputation against disrespect and injustice into a private matter of maintaining one’s integrity, I argue that they not only faithfully inherit the medieval legacy of chivalric honor passed down to them via Thomas Hobbes, Bernard Mandeville, and Montesquieu, but also significantly democratize and secularize it and improve its compatibility with the modern state characterized by equal citizenship, centralized government, and the rule of law. Honor is understood as a uniquely structured motivation, which combines an individual’s sensitivity to and independence from social opinion into an integral whole. In modernizing honor, eighteenth-century thinkers attempt to preserve it as a political motivation for modern individuals to balance their spirits of resistance and law-abidingness so as to stand up to injustice without themselves becoming unjust in the process. Thus, honor can help liberal-democratic citizens today to fulfill their civic responsibility.
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