[Ongoing Research – The Linking of Loyalty and Perception. ‘Perception’ is defined as the degree to which the individual feels whether the existing political system could possibly be a platform that advances his/her interests.]
When I first started out on my senior-year research, I stumbled upon an array of words that in layman’s context would have been used interchangeably without regard nor repercussion: obligation, loyalty, fidelity, allegiance, commitment etc. However, in the academic context, such distinctions become hot spots for academic analysis and banter. In my opinion, the paper that contributed most towards a comprehensive review of such vast territory is a text by Judith N. Shklar titled: ‘Obligation, Loyalty, Exile.’ She too, started off such journey by trying to tease out the differences between political obligation and political loyalty. She attempted to do so via the analysis of exiles.
This is how she defined obligation:
By obligation I mean ruled-governed conduct, and political obligation specifically refers to laws and law like demands. made by public agencies. We…have a duty to comply with the rules…because it is rational do to so, even though the definition of rationality may be disputed. – pg. 183
And she distinguishes loyalty by saying:
What distinguishes loyalty is that it is deeply affective and not primarily rational. The emotional character of loyalty also sets it apart from obligation. If obligation is rule driven, loyalty is motivated by the entire personality of an agent. When it is a result of choice loyalty is a commitment that is affective in character and generated by a great deal more of our personality than calculation or moral reasoning. – pg. 184
Following this logic, loyalty lacks the legal structural element that spells out the expectation of a given person: what he/she can/cannot do. This deficit makes loyalty much vaguer than political obligation since it relies not on theories of state or philosophy of law but on moral expectations (Baron, 2009).
To be flatly honest, I’m not too comfortable with the way Judith has framed the distinction between these two terms. To posit that obligation could suffer no irrationality and that the allocation of loyalty between competing sources is more about the flashes of personality than shrewd calculation stretches things a tad too far. (Baron, 2009) sums if perfectly by saying:
The basis of any political obligation requires a judgement about whether or not the obligating agent should have obligatory powers and whether or not one wants to abide by obligations demanded. Obligation involves the problem of choice, which involves the problem of agency, which involves more than any rational calculus can provide. – pg 6
To Judith’s credit, she did claim that she had “drawn a shaky intellectual map. It is meant less to be accurate than to throw a lurid light upon the difficulties of my project. (Shklar, 1993, pg.186)” However, let’s for the sake of argument accept them as they are. The most interesting part of her paper [in my opinion], are the illustrations of conflict between obligation and loyalty. She explored this from the multiple examples of exiles drawn from classic texts such as Themistocles and Aristides [both appeared in Plutarch and the former in Thucydides] to modern ones such as the exile of Jews, Captain Dreyfus and the treatment of the Japanese in the USA during World War II.
Her central question was this: How did the agent(s) react when they were betrayed by the state?
Judith claimed that the act of betrayal freed the agent(s) from any forms of political obligation towards the state, but yet in certain cases, “loyalty can and does sustain obligation. (Shklar, 1993, pg. 187)” Some agents chose to overlook the act of betrayal, but some understandably, resorted to abandon the state.
The Malaysian Context
Though ‘exile’ and ‘betrayal’ are rather extreme adjectives to characterize the Malaysian diaspora, but tune it down a few notches and one would arrive at a rather accurate depiction of the Malaysian ‘brain drain’ challenge [at least a huge part of it]. The World Bank Malaysia Economic Monitor Report (2011) stated that the Malaysian diaspora is heavily skewered towards one particular ethnic race: the Chinese. And this is partly driven by concerns pertaining ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘social justice.’ To put it bluntly: the New Economic Policy. It is a classic example of a divergence between the expectations of the state and the reality that those migrants have to internalize.
@Source: World Bank Malaysia Economic Monitor Report 2011 on Brain Drain [pg. 15 of 150]
One can look at their condition in Lockean terms, Both contracts have been broken, the fist between the members of the society as well as the second between citizens and the state…And for many of them that is what exile came down to. What am I trying to show is that the extent of the rejection determines whether there is, even after the elimination of any obligation, any possibility of retaining some loyalty to the native land. – (Shklar, 1993, pg. 193)
However, The World Bank Malaysia Economic Monitor Report (2011) also claimed that almost half of those who took the survey feel a strong sense of attachment to their country. This raises a very interesting question:
On hypothetical terms, why would a person who has been let down by his/her state [didn’t obtain a scholarship when expected to etc.] still maintain a sense of attachment to his/her country?
@Source: World Bank Malaysia Economic Monitor Report 2011 on Brain Drain [pg. 133 of 150]
Judith nailed it when she wrote:
They have to ask themselves whether the government that betrayed is a tyranny or whether just some of its policies are manifestly unjust, but capable of being altered. Clearly, Dreyfus and the Japanese Americans unlike Willy Brandt and the German Jews had to deal with a reasonably just state, not Hitler. – (Shklar, 1993, pg. 193)
This brings up an interesting point. Loyalty need not necessarily be a question of reciprocity. Instead, it’s a matter of whether remedies could be administered via the political system and whether the agent feels that he/she could play apart in bringing those changes. This means that in the event of an adverse shock, the agents who feel that they could alter the system in their favor would most likely still maintain their loyalty for the nation, as opposed to those who feel that their nation is ‘beyond hope.’
I would suggest that injustice not only cancels obligation and undermines loyalties, however resilient the latter may seem; it also engenders the conflicts between obligation and the affective ties that binds us. – Shklar, 1993, pg. 197
This blog post references:
- ‘Obligation, Loyalty, Exile’ by Judith N. Shklar. Political Theory, Vol 21, No 2 (May, 1993), pg. 181-97. Link here. Judith N. Shklar was, at her death, Cowles Professor of Government at Harvard University.
- ‘The Problem of Dual Loyalty‘ by Dr. Ilan Zvi Baron. The Canadian Journal of Political Science, 2009, 42 (4), pg. 1025-1044.
- The World Bank Malaysia Economic Monitor Report (2011) on Brain Drain