In response to my post on the right to honor, Mark introduces a distinction between group honor and individual honor. He identifies the former with clannism, and emphasizes the liberal virtues of the latter. The distinction is a sound one, but let me press the point. The question is how central the right to honor is, even if individualistically formulated, in a given constitutional system. I find it very difficult to believe that any system where honor is a central value shall perform very well in the liberal ranking, since that would imply that when other rights (typically, freedom of speech) are in conflict with honor, it is the latter that will prevail. So if The New York Times affected Sullivan’s honor by conveying an inaccurate picture of how the police dealt with the Civil Rights protesters, an honor-based system will not hesitate to condemn the newspaper. To borrow from my country’s case law, in Argentina a conservative supreme court established in the 90s that to assert on TV that the Virgin Mary was not quite a virgin, as a writer did during a TV show, entailed a violation of constitutional law –inter alia, of the right to honor of the plaintiff, a Christian who cherished the Virgin and felt insulted. These are just anecdotes (and I can think of many others along the same lines), but the point is more general: when the right to honor is central, courts will decide cases favoring it over other rights, and this will entail the restriction of, typically, freedom of speech. I have no doubts that such a system is less committed to liberalism than the alternative one, and this seems irrespective of the collective- individual divide.
Dignity is a related but distinguishable concept. I must say that, honestly, I find this concept difficult to grasp, and I am not sure I follow Stephan’s explanation. A right to have all other rights sounds a bit puzzling to me. It is also an ambiguous concept. When the German Constitutional Court decided that a law allowing the Ministry of Defense to shoot down aircrafts in a 9-11 scenario was against the Constitution, dignity played a central role. Here, dignity is related to the Kantian idea that persons are not means but ends in themselves. I find that decision hard to endorse, but that is beside the point. I just want to note that in such case dignity functions as a general prohibition against a certain type of consequentialist analysis, while in other contexts it is equated to honor, reputation, etc. Thus, for example, when it is claimed that insulting a person affects his or her dignity, which is the case I had in mind.
Honor is related to status, to ranks, to having one’s position in society properly acknowledged. Bergthora tells Hallgerd to move from the table and give her space to someone of higher ranking. Hallgerd feels insulted (The Rule, p. 123). I can imagine similar quarrels taking place in the most liberal of societies. I do not think, however, that it would be such a heightened sensitivity to social status that would make that society liberal.