Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The decline of institutional loyalty

Loyalty - a two-way loyalty - used to be the major organising principle of society and (therefore or because?) pretty-much the strongest of all ethical principles.

Loyalty was the glue of the ancient warrior societies, the churches, and the guilds. Individuals were loyal to their group; the group was what sustained the individual. And this was very strong indeed. Of course it was sometimes broken, on both sides; but it was very strong - as I say, it was perhaps the strongest of all societal glues.

This was an imperfect, and intrinsically alienated, life of the individual; since it entailed a self-subordination to the group. The institution inevitably treated the individual as, more-or-less, a typical and identical group-member.

A priest was first and foremost a priest - so far as the church was concerned; much the same with a doctor or lawyer with respect to his profession; or with a merchant or mercer with respect to his guild. The individual strove to become the group norm; and if he did - then he would be protected and sustained by the group.  

But institutional loyalty has been declining for several decades, is now very weak, and seems to be getting weaker. The process seems inexorable and irreversible - such that no group seems able to hold-out against it - and no lasting new institutions can be built based-on loyalty.

Indeed, experience suggests that it is nowadays foolish to rely on institutional loyalty (foolish for institutions, foolish for members of institutions) and a waste of time to try and rehabilitate it once it has begun to crumble.

Of course loyalty does not disappear all-at-once - but the signs of decline are obvious, and when they appear (which, for most institutions, they did some decades ago) then it seems unstoppable.

Does this lead to individualism in the current context? No It Does Not. It instead leads to greater uniformity.

Instead of being regarded as a partial individual, a group-member in an institution - an archetypal priest, doctor or merchant, among his peers... Instead of this, the modern person is merely a global unit.

He is not even a national unit - an Englishman - but just one interchangeable unit among seven billion others, all equally due to identical treatment by the Single International All-Pervasive Bureaucracy.

The modern citizen-of-the-world is theoretically supposed to be loyal to the global state, and to all other citizens and their interests -indifferently, impartially; and in return the global community is supposed to be loyal to the individual - look after him. But this vast and open-ended loyalty is impossible: it simply Does Not Exist; so loyalty is dead.  

At the visible and material level, the decline in loyalty has been caused by Leftism - which has encouraged disloyalty to all traditional institutions (especially family and church). But the Left is itself equally - or more - prone to the disloyalty it foments; and by itself systematic disloyalty would have destroyed the Left before it could damage everything else...

Unless, that is, the Leftist ethic of disloyalty was pushing at an opening-door; and that was the already-existing inner decline of loyalty as a motivator.

Indeed, I believe this to be the case; albeit not with declining loyalty as the primary driver, but with declining loyalty as a consequence of the rising in strength of a conviction that inner, personal, intuitive conviction ought to be the bottom line ethic.

This is the Romantic impulse - which I regard as a transformation of consciousness, from within - and it became evident from the middle 1700s in Western and Central Europe; spreading-out from there to much (but not all) of the world.

However, and this is vital, Romanticism/ individual intuition can only be an organising principle when within a Christian framework; and it must be the kind of Christian framework that thoroughly understands that we are all divine children: i.e. that God is literally within each person and that each person is a literally a sibling of all others.

Without this kind of Christianity; Romanticism will-be/ has-been taken by Leftism, made materialistic, and become merely a force for social disintegration.

Only in a Christian metaphysical, fundamental, over-arching context can the Romantic impulse (which is there, anyway, whether we like it or loathe it) - even in theory - become a force for Good.

Only when Christianity builds on the Romantic impulse can it be a powerful individual motivator.

But then (if it could happen) we may be able to re-build society on a better basis than by self-subordination to institutions. 


John Fitzgerald said...

This situation leaves us with an interregnum - the gap between the era of institutional loyalty and whatever comes next. It's not an easy place to be. It's hard to sit with the tension. As a Roman Catholic, for instance, I'm often tempted to take refuge from creeping LIberalism (that's my word for what William and yourself call Leftism) in the arms of one of the Traditional orders - SSPX, FSSP, ICKSP, etc. But these are exactly the kind of institutions that will subsume the individual within a group/tribal mentality which will indeed support and nurture the individual but at the price, it sometimes seems to me, of that induvidial's own unique and God-given singularity and potential. So one is left oscillating between Scylla and Charybdis and, as I say and as many of you will know, it's an uneasy place to be. Which is why I for one, without renouncing my Catholicism - far from it - agree with you that Romantic Christianity is the best and only way forward and out. I see it as my vocation, for jnstance, to convey something of Romantic Christianity's essence in my writing in the hope that it will help light the spark of renewal and remaissance which is so badly needed in our time.

Bruce Charlton said...

Great comment John, thanks.

My understanding is that the traditional orders would only work for a short while - indeed I expect that their day is already past. Loyalty must be mutual. The group must have authority, the individual must acknowledge that authority.

William Wildblood said...

This rather supports the idea that humanity has reached a kind of adolescence in terms of its development. It has thrown off parental authority and started to determine its own course based on its own understanding. But unfortunately like a know it all teenager it thinks it knows better than its elders and is currently making all the worst mistakes an adolescent can make. What makes a teenager grow up is the need to earn a living and the responsibility of raising a family. What would the spiritual equivalent be? Perhaps an awakening to the reality of the spiritual self and the need to act responsibly towards that? Perhaps an understanding that the greatest loyalty, the one on which all others are based, is our loyalty to God?

We can't go back to old ways of being but we must build on the law and the prophets not simply reject them

Epimetheus said...

Is there something 'off' about congregations in pews? There they are, all neatly regimented in rows and columns...

Bruce Charlton said...

@E - I'd say that was a symbol of a spiritual reality, which reinforced that reality.

@William - I'm sure you're right. However, we'd probably agree that nowadays no imaginable external stimulus will *make* people take the decision to move-on from spiritual adolescence - Western Man has shown himself capable of absorbing almost anything without being awoken to the deficiencies of his belief system. External stimuli must be met by an inward active spirit: the inner divine acknowledged as well as God.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I quite agree. We've shown ourselves almost absurdly obtuse to common sense let alone intuition. Perhaps because we are too attached to our worldly pleasures or perhaps because we are too wrapped up in our egos.