Student Blogger - Fall WIP: Youngjae Lee asks What's Wrong with Disloyalty?
Disloyalty occupies a special place in the law. It gets its very own constitutional clause (Article III, Sec. 3). Over British history, persons convicted of high treason could expect to receive particularly harsh punishment well above that of other felonies (hanged, drawn and quartered for men, burning at the stake for women). Yet missing from this account is a seemingly very simple question: What's Wrong with Disloyalty? And this was the subject of visiting professor Youngjae Lee's fall WIP talk.
Before reaching the meat of his paper, Professor Lee first disaggregates "nonloyalty" from "disloyalty". Loyalty, Lee argues, is a feeling or sentiment towards an institution such as a state. Nonloyalty is the lack of such sentiment. Disloyalty, by contrast, involves some overt act harming the entity. The distinction matters, because it helps diminish one of the intuitive problems many have with policing disloyalty in the first place: that it will punish thoughts (or worse, lack of thoughts). While most of us maintain an intuition that disloyalty is a bad thing and probably worthy of punishment, we simultaneously fear mass arrests because one failed to attend a Veteran's Day event or failed to cheer loudly enough for team USA at the Olympics.
However, even this does not get us all of the way there. If disloyalty to the state involves taking some overt act against it (or in favor of a rival), and even if we expel pure speech -- such as rooting for the Canadians against the Americans at the Olympics (full disclosure: as a kid, I typically rooted against team USA in international competitions, primarily out of an instinctive empathy for the underdog. To borrow from and update Joe E. Lewis, in 1992, rooting for the American Olympic basketball team was like rooting for Microsoft -- it just seemed unsporting) -- we could still imagine something like agreeing to be a waterboy for team Canada. An overt act? Yes. "Disloyalty"? Seems harsh.
Professor Lee says that, when one looks at the sort of criminal actions which typically have seen the label of "betrayal" attached to them, nearly all have involved in some form or another matters of national defense (e.g., espionage, helping POWs escape, sabotaging military institutions). This, then, is the core of "disloyalty". So why is disloyalty wrong?
One immediate candidate is a general cosmopolitan critique -- the assertion that nationality and national borders carry with them no true moral significance. There are some stock responses to cosmopolitan claims -- for example, that they seem to indict equally providing special value to familial relationships (which is of limited use, since this argument doesn't tell us why national relationships in particular are analogous to familial ones) -- but they are less than persuasive. One can make a claim about the general value of nations as an institution, with loyalty being valued as an tool for fostering nationhood, but this would seem to point towards supporting "nations" as a generality, not "my nation" specifically (one might say supporting your nation is the most efficient way to support nations as a whole, but this seems an extremely counterintuitive account of loyalty -- akin to loving your spouse because it is the most convenient mechanism for expressing ones support for spouses as a whole).
What Professor Lee settles on is an associative obligations account -- obligations one has as a result of being a member of a particular group (voluntarily chosen or not). This he freely admits is a very thin account -- grounded only in the notion that disloyalty is something that one is expected to refrain from as a member of a political community. However, it does in fact cohere to how these sort of obligations are normally expressed. When we talk of the rationale behind obligations of parents to children, or friends to each other, we do often settle into simple rhetoric of "that's what parents do" or "that's what friends are for". To go further than that is, in Bernard Williams' words, to think "one thought too many".