The Unfathomable Complexities of Our Most Basic Instinct: 'Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue'

In Loyalty: The Vexing Virture, Eric Felten suggests that loyalty isn't a thing of the past; rather it's an amorphous creature in constant motion.

Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Length: 320 pages
Author: Eric Felten
Price: $25.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-04

If you think loyalty is a thing of the past, you’re not alone. Apparently, for hundreds, even thousands of years, the greatest minds of every generation have felt that loyalty is on the decline. Much like the tale of the twenty miles uphill in the snow your grandfather walked to get to school each day, loyalty has long been a subject for glorification and reminiscence.

Of course this time we’re really in trouble, because we’ve got Facebook, and a whole other host of tools making it easy to betray your friends, or worse, pretend to be friends with people we don’t care about at all. If we’ve thought about loyalty, it’s likely we’ve deemed it old-fashioned, or irrelevant. To that end, in , Eric Felten describes and reflects upon the history of this elusive and complex topic, beginning with the origin of society and moving to present day.

Felten offers perspectives on loyalty that make it palatable for us today, despite our many, varied, and often conflicting commitments. He tackles some of history’s greatest traitors with refreshing, nuanced analysis. For example, he suggests that Brutus’ greatest mistake was not Ceasar’s assassination, but rather dismissing it so easily in his speech to the crowd. Life often forces us to choose between two loyalties. In the case of Brutus, he had to choose between his friend and his city. If he had seemed repentant, or given indication that he’d given the decision a great deal of thought (which of course, he did) he might have won the favor of the crowd.

Although at a glace, the book seems ardently esoteric, Felten manages to weave a great deal of relevance into his primarily philosophic text. He tackles marital and infidelity, loyalty to employers, and betrayal of friends and family. He elucidates the many complications of these relationships that we experience every day, but perhaps don’t often contemplate.

For example, in a chapter on the nuances of marriage and infidelity, Felten uniquely investigates the paradox that is our insistence upon the institution of marriage despite copious transgressions of faith. Drawing on anecdotes from modern day political scandals, ancient fairy tales, and everything in between, Felten helps us to understand why we are the way we are and suggests normative guidelines for how we ought to be.

He also tackles the aspects of loyalty that are not so cut and dry. In Nazi Germany and in China's Cultural Revolution, young children were indoctrinated in schools to turn in their parents for betraying the State, with terrible psychological ramifications. Loyalty is a paradox, highly valued but unsustainable. Drawing on plenty of real life examples, Felten digs deep and spares us no discomfort. We’re reminded of David Kaczynski, who recognized his brother Ted’s handwriting and turned him into the authorities. Felten adds that at first, David sent in an anonymous tip. As it turns out, even if your brother is the unabomber, betraying a family member feels very wrong.

It’s no wonder. After all, during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus noted that when the world was getting ready to end, we’d know because “brother shall betray brother to death”. Our perceptions of right and wrong are pitted against each other, and regardless of the apparent winner, every player leaves the game a bit wounded.

Despite these rather startling and extreme examples of loyalty gone awry, one of Felten’s strongest undercurrents is that loyalty is necessary, especially these days when it’s not just neglected, but practically condemned. The subtext of Felten’s book may be that this particular generation isn’t just disloyal; it’s apathetic.

Despite the historical complexity of loyalty, in every example he gives, Felten seems to argue that loyalty ought to be a factor in behavioral choices, even if it’s not the deciding factor. Furthermore, it’s a nuanced concept, and never beneficial when offered blindly. Although much of the book feels conversational and loosely strung together, he does have strong feelings about how we should apply our loyalty, and one way he’s set on is patriotism.

He argues that loyalty to one’s country doesn’t mean unmitigated approval and support. In fact, loyalty might mean criticizing, protesting, and even revolting. The one thing it doesn’t mean is bowing out of the conversation. We’ve convinced ourselves that we can’t change anything, but according to Felten, complacency is the greatest act of betrayal. By offering this review of loyalty’s many applications, Felten assures us that as long as we’re creative, there will also be a value to our faith.


From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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