Friday, September 23, 2011

A History of Honour

I only picked this book up because of the cover. I love Dangerous Liasons and it's actually a good choice for this book because it's a movie very much about honour.
If you had asked me (and not given me time to think about it) I would have said that honour is a slightly outdated concept, at least in Western culture. The more I read, the more I found out just how wrong I would have been.
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The author takes us through the ages and shows how the concept of honour changed and adapted, depending on society and often shaping it. The main focus is on Germany, but not only because it is a German book. Duels were very common in Germany and the tradition lasted much longer than in neighbouring countries, although duelling was (and is) illegal in Germany. Part of what kept it alive was the Mensur - it's still practised today, although not as a method of duelling for honour...at least officially.

The part of the book examining honour during the Third Reich and post war Germany was extremely interesting. The Nazis used honour as a propaganda instrument and connected it with the state, the politicians of the GDR tried the same thing. There was an enormous amount of medals and honour people could earn in the GDR, so many that it was no longer an honour to receive them. West Germany gave state honours much more sparingly, trying to avoid similarities with the Third Reich. But the concept of honouring a person for their achievements as a way of motivating them had been recognised and is still widely in use today - it may motivate better than financial rewards even.

I was a bit amused when I thought about my roleplaying characters and if and how they are motivated by honour. Some of them absolutely are - but the vast majority would gladly bow out of a duel or not even see the point. Loyalty is much more important to all of them...but that's a kind of honour as well, isn't it?

My 37th book for the Library Challenge

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