To Be Freely Loyal

Updated: Sep 18

Pp. 93-95 Royce, Josiah. The Philosophy of Loyalty. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1908.


Now, I, who have defined loyalty as the willing devotion of a self to a cause, am far from demanding from you any unwilling devotion to any cause. You are autonomous, of course. You can even cut loose from all loyalty if you will. I only plead that, if you do so, if you wholly decline to devote yourself to any cause whatever, your assertion of moral independence will remain but an empty proclaiming of a moral sovereignty over your life, without any definite life over which to be sovereign. For the only definite life that you can live will be a social life. This social life may indeed be one of enmity to society. But in that case your social order will crush you, and then your moral independence will die without any of the comfort of the loyal man's last glimpse of the banner for which he sheds his blood. For the loyal man's cause survives him. Your independence will die with you, and while it lives, nobody else will find its life worth insuring. Your last word will then be simply the empty phrase: "Lo, I asserted myself." But in the supposed case of your enmity to society, you will never know what it was that you thus asserted when you asserted yourself. For a man s self has no contents, no plans, no purposes, except those which are, in one way or another, defined for him by his social relations. Or, again, your life may indeed be one of social conformity, of merely conventional morality. But such a life you, as individualist, have learned to despise, I think justly. Your only recourse, then, is to assert your autonomy by choosing a cause, and by loyally living, and, when need be, dying for that cause. Then you will not only assert yourself by your choice of a cause, but express yourself articulately by your service. The only way to be practically autonomous is to be freely loyal.

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