Honour, so says the author, referring to some esteemed theorists, used to be thought to fall somewhere between the law and the moral conscience:
While morality was empowered by the inner voice of the individual’s conscience, the law used external, physical force. The social demands of honour… were secured by internal as well as external means. Violations of honour had subjective, inner consequences and social, externally palpable ones. In this way, correct conduct could be guaranteed in areas which could not be reached by the law and in which conscience-based morality alone was not reliable (A-H Maehle, Doctors, Honour and the Law, 2009).Among doctors, lawyers, academics and the like, on the one hand, and among such nebulous groups as gentlemen or the aristocracy, on the other, a breach of honour damaged the whole group, whose reputation as societal leaders and upstanding citizens was called into question by the misdeeds of an individual. The importance of restoring this jointly held and esteemed sense of honour accounts for duels, specialist courts and panels of arbitration, and private clubs and societies. A man would fight a duel to restore not only his own slighted reputation, but also that of his peers; a court specific to a respected profession could censure and publicly disown dishonourable miscreants; private societies could expel undesirable elements, thereby ensuring their collective honour stayed intact. The thread of civility by which society hangs, to which I referred yesterday, was duly reinforced by an understanding of the social importance of a shared code of honour.
To be sure, this still exists in some spheres today, although it is not called honour, and is not defended by duelling. But by and large we have lost sight of this middle step between the law and the conscience, this honorific superego. In countless ways we see that the morality of individuals is insufficiently developed to prevent them from acting without inhibitions, and that the law remains rightly disinterested, even if it is not uninterested, in moral matters. There is no extra check; no sense of being bound by common interest, or the common good.