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Honor

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Honor, usually spelt honour outside the United States of America, comprises an indivual's reputation, self-perception or moral identity.

Previously honor figured largely as a guiding principle of society, functioning as part of a code of honor[?] for a gentleman and often coming to expression in the practice of duelling. One's honor, that of one's wife, of one's (blood-)family or of one's beloved formed an all-important issues, but the concept appears to have declined in importance in the modern secular West. Popular stereotypes would have it surviving more definitively in alleged "hot-blooded" Mediterranean cultures (Italian, Arab, Hispanic ...) or in more "gentlemanly" societies (like the "Old South" of Dixie). It lingers in the military (officers may conduct a court of honor[?]) and in organisations with military echoes, such as Scouting.

"Honor" in the case of females historically related frequently to sexuality: preservation of "honor" equated primarily to maintenance of virginity, or at least to preservation of exclusive monogamy. One could speculate that feminism may have changed some linguistic usage in this respect.

Cultures of honor can be contrasted with cultures of law. From the viewpoint of anthropology, cultures of honor are associated with nomadic peoples and herdsmen who carried their most valuable property with them and were likely to have it stolen, without any greater government to have recourse to. In this situation, it is better to be feared than liked; and cultivating a reputation for swift and disproportionate revenge increases the safety of your person and property. The mindset needed for a culture of honor has been remarked upon by thinkers ranging from Montesquieu to Steven Pinker.

Cultures of honor are therefore associated with Bedouins, with Scottish and English herdsmen of the Border country, and many similar peoples, who have little allegiance to a national government; with cowboys, frontiersmen, and ranchers of the American West, where law enforcement was often out of reach, as famously celebrated in Western movies; and with aristocrats, who enjoy hereditary privileges[?] that put them beyond the reach of general laws. Cultures of honor also flourish in criminal underworlds and gangs, whose members carry large amounts of cash and contraband and cannot complain to the law if it is stolen. The encouragement of violent cultures of honor is one of the drawbacks of legislation that creates victimless crimes. Once a culture of honor exists, it is difficult for its members to make the transition to a culture of law; this requires that people become willing to back down and refuse to immediately retaliate, and from the viewpoint of the culture of honor this is a weak and unwise act.

Compare the concepts of integrity, face (social custom) in stereotyped Oriental cultures, or of mana in Polynesian society.

For a similar concept with many connotations opposite to honor, see shame.

See also: code duello


In many countries an honour is an award given by the state. It may refer to a military medal[?], but more typically it means a civilian award, such as a British OBE, a knighthood or membership of the French Légion d'honneur.

See also: British honours system.



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