One time, a few years ago, I was discussing politics with an acquaintance that I had met in an online forum for political discussions. He seemed to be exceedingly patriotic toward the United States of America, but then he said something that seemed really strange: He said that George Washington was a terribly dishonorable man.
What? … How can someone who seems so patriotic then say that George Washington, the “father of our country” was dishonorable?
It may help in putting things into perspective to mention that the guy I was talking with was a Mason. Now, I don’t know much about the inner workings of the Masonic lodges. I have never even met (that I know of) very many Masons. But one thing I do know is that they take oaths and pledges very seriously. Once you pledge yourself to their order, that’s it … they basically own you, from what I’ve heard. To go back on your word is unthinkable.
This person’s argument was that Washington had been an officer for the British, and, therefore, he had taken an oath of loyalty to the British King. (From what I can find in a review of history, this may be false. Washington apparently served as an officer, working for the British, but only in colonial regiments and never received a royal commission. I do not know what pledges he would have made as a colonial officer under the British. But, in order to discuss the principle of the matter, we’ll go along with what my discussion partner was saying.)
My friend claimed that an oath made to the Royal Crown, once taken, cannot be broken without great dishonor. His feelings on the matter may have been influenced by the fact that Washington himself had been a Mason from the time of his youth, and was a member of the order at the time that he worked for the British.
So, regarding this kind of situation (and regardless of whether the case of George Washington’s pledge to the king is true) the question is: To whom or what do we owe our allegiance? … particularly after making a pledge? And are there any circumstances under which such a pledge can be broken while retaining our honor?
The question may sound quaint and archaic to many people these days. After all, aren’t oaths and pledges of fealty to the King or to obscure, esoteric brotherhoods something out of the medieval past? And who cares about the antique notion of honor these days?
Well, we’re discussing matters of principle here in these pages. And principles are important. In addition, there are quite a number of instances in which oaths and pledges are relevant – or should be – in our daily and civic lives. We take oaths in court. We make various oaths and pledges to each other, a principle one being in marriage. Elected officials take oaths of office. And people who are enlisted in or commissioned by the military take oaths that are distinctly subject to enforcement. Honor is important. And it should be recognized as such regardless of how “quaint” it may sound to some people.
And this is how I responded to my new friend:
There are any number of things that people may make a pledge to: They may pledge to a flag, or to a piece of paper, or to an organization or a society. They may pledge their loyalty to another person, or they may pledge allegiance to a country or to its king. And these pledges may be worded in such a way that they are intended to be lifelong, permanent, unconditional, and unbreakable. But all of these things are themselves temporal entities – bodies, creatures, and things of the temporary and ever-changing physical world. And as such, they have a dependent, temporal existence. And pledges to them can only be, by their nature, a relationship that is dependent and conditional.
There is a type of loyalty which must, by its nature, subsume and, if necessary, extinguish any or all of these temporal pledges, and that is the loyalty to an timeless principle. And holding to a timeless principle cannot make a person less honorable. On the contrary, such adherence to a higher loyalty is a matter of sacred honor.
If we pledge our loyalty to a person or to a temporal organization, it is possible to find that person or organization is itself disloyal to a sacred principle, and, as a matter of honor, our loyalty to him or her or it must change. But such a change in loyalty should not be taken lightly. We should not switch our allegiance on a whim. It should be a well considered matter of actual principle.
In the case of George Washington, if he did, in fact, pledge his loyalty to the King, I am certain that he did so under the tacit condition that the Royal House was providing and would continue to provide for the best government of his fellow subjects and his homeland of the American colonies. If he found that, through either a change in circumstances or a change in the whim of the King, this was no longer the case, his loyalty would be required to change as a matter of honor.
So what, in our lives, do we make pledges to?
As a witness in court, we make an oath to tell the truth. This is a pledge directly to a principle, and there should be no reason for it to change.
We may pledge our loyalty to a person or an organization. In this case, if the person or organization or something fundamental about the relationship changes, as it did for George Washington, we should do everything in our power to resolve the newfound difference while remaining loyal. The spirit and souls of the people around us are important and should be treated with respect. Only if differences remain unresolvable after great effort should we abandon our pledged loyalty to partners in our ventures in life. But if loyalty to a higher principle conflicts with our relationships in life, we must, as a matter of honor, remain loyal to the higher principle.
As citizens, we are occasionally called upon to pledge our allegiance to the flag. By the nature of our republic and our rights as free citizens, this is necessarily a voluntary act. And some people claim that it is inappropriate, either claiming that it is superficial or pointing to wrong things that have been done in the name of our country. But here I will argue that it is, in fact appropriate, even in view of such wrongdoings, if we keep in mind what it is that we are actually pledging our allegiance to.
We do not, of course, pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth. The physical form of the flag is merely a symbol. We pledge allegiance to the republic, which means the home of the millions of souls who live here, and the society that we attempt to keep orderly for ourselves and for each other. And we do it subject to the qualification of it as a society “with liberty and justice for all.”
The republic is not those particular people who are in charge in our government at any particular point in time who may or may not have done something beneficial or detrimental to ourselves or to the people of other nations. The republic is the structure and the system whereby the people in our society choose their representatives in that government. And if the people do not govern through representatives, then what is the alternative? The only other options are either a totalitarian dictatorship wherein the people have no voice or the violence of anarchy.
So, people who claim to wish to make reforms in our society and who deny their loyalty to the republic are actively denying the only foundation upon which they can be enabled to make those reforms.
And likewise, the phrase: “under God” does not specify the god of any particular person’s religion. There are potentially as many interpretations of the word “God” as there are people who do the interpreting. It is an acknowledgment and reminder that the authority by which we organize ourselves and from which we derive our rights is that fundamental source of the cosmic order and of our nature as human beings.
Note also that the oath of enlistment into our armed forces is not an unqualified pledge of loyalty to any person or even to the command structure of the government of the United States. It is a pledge to defend the Constitution of the United States – the republic – from all enemies, regardless of whether they are foreign or domestic (even if they are within that command structure itself.) It is specifically qualified with a reference to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which specifically states that, even though orders are to be followed, the concept of “I was just following orders” is not an excuse if those orders happen to be illegal.
And that brings us to one final issue, which happens to have been illustrated by another conversation. In this case it was a conversation that I joined toward its end, so I do not know the entire context or even the points of view that had been expressed. But the issue itself is a serious one to consider.
One of the participants was a retired United States military officer. And a point that was made by him was that, sometimes a “true patriot” is one who does things that are contrary to the system. The conversation had to do with “whistle blowers.” The specific subject may have been Julian Asssange or it may have been someone else. I do not recall, and it is not important for a discussion of the principle.
So: What about “whistle blowers”?
Are they traitors?
Or are they citizens who are loyal to the republic who are doing their duty to society?
The obvious answer is: It depends.
It depends upon what the true and right interests of our society are. It depends upon the situation. It must be so. Because the government at any particular point in time is, in fact, imperfect and does, in fact, do wrong things sometimes. Should those things be exposed to the public in general? Or should the situations be taken care of internally through the existing command structure?
We may occasionally discuss questions pertaining to certain instances on these pages. In general, I personally tend to think that more exposure of problems is better than less. That is what the principle of a republic is all about. But it does depend upon the situation. Our society does have actual enemies, as all societies in the world always have had. And the government does have legitimate reasons for secrecy in some issues. So, as a discussion of the matter of general principle, that is as far as we can take the question here.
Like every action we engage in, our decisions are actually up to our own mind and conscience. And we must always keep in mind that we, ourselves, are fallible creatures.
So some things that we do require careful consideration.
Especially in matters of important principles.
And especially where the souls of others are involved.
Armed Forces oath of enlistment:
I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.