Magazine June 20, 2011, Issue

When Virtues Attack

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Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue, by Eric Felten (Simon & Schuster, 309 pp., $25)

Eric Felten calls loyalty “the vexing virtue” because so much of the way we feel about it depends on what it’s being used for. While other virtues, such as honesty and generosity, can also be carried to excess, the people who do carry them to excess are generally thought of as too good or innocent for a wicked world; their virtues are appreciated on an abstract level, regardless of the harm they cause. But who can admire the loyalty exhibited by street gangs or terrorists?

On the other hand, nobody likes a traitor. Even dogs are renowned for their loyalty, so

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