Saturday, August 28, 2010
When to his hurt he swears, naught changes he?
Crispin Blunt is the most recent in a line of Cabinet ministers to leave his wife (src). Chris Huhne left for his secretary; Blunt has left because he is homosexual and 'wishes to come to terms' with this. I don't particularly want to comment on the sexuality aspect directly, but I do note that our culture is rather Janus-like on at least one aspect of this kind of story: fidelity to promise.When someone leaves their wife for their secretary, or on the grounds of their sexual orientation, it is increasingly difficult to find anyone who will express any sort of concern at the breaking of the promises which were made. This may be born of an honourable desire not to intrude on private grief. Given the absence of these sentiments apart from the immediate circumstances as well, however, I fear that more often it stems from a widespread view that breaking such an intensely personal, intimate promise is not all that serious.Contrast that with the disapprobation heaped on the politician who makes a political promise and then breaks it. Although cynics observe that every politician's 'tell' is moving lips, the public does generally express at least a degree of anger at this broken promise. What this communicates is that while we care little about the breaking of promises to other people, we care deeply about breaking promises made to us.This matters because promises are the basis of human relationships. Without promises, there really would be no such thing as society: no economic relations could withstand the erosion of the contract; no political relations could withstand the destruction of social contract; no personal relations can withstand the erosion of trust between people.Perhaps if all our human relationships were regulated by law then no such faith in promises would be needed. Perhaps. But you would be hard pressed to describe such a society as, in any sense, 'liberal'. The liberal vision of society, as arising organically from the interactions of free individuals associating as they see fit, depends intrinsically on people basically sticking to their word, and on disapproval (social or legal, as fits) of those who break their promises.I cannot see how personal promises escape that vision, even if we take the view that they are better left beyond the law's ambit. It is not unfair or unreasonable for us to place expectations on people who make solemn vows together, that they should stick to them even when it hurts. After all, why do they make the promises in front of all of us, if not to ask for us to hold them to those promises?For that reason — and I only assume, on the balance of probabilities, that this individual exists — I think more praiseworthy and newsworthy to be the MP who has stuck by his wife in spite of his sexual orientation or the attentions of a younger, more attractive woman. For it is more important to be true to your wife than true to yourself, and more important to be true to your word than true to your desires.