Kwame Antony Appiah is a professor at Princeton University and the author of the book The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions happen. Appiah explains that changes in negative practices are brought to an end when they come into conflict with honor. He explains that the most powerful force in the world of politics is this sense of collective honor, which is tied up in modern nationalism. Therefore countries can essentially be shamed into realizing that their practices are wrong and in an attempt to protect their honor they will eradicate these practices. If individuals love their country then they care whether it is respected in the world. He goes on to explain that the height of honor is thinking of yourself as entitled of respect and worried about earning disrespect by failing to do whats right. Appiah specifically cites the eradication of foot binding in China as an example of successfully appealing to people’s honor as a way of ending an unjust practice.
As Appiah explains, shaming countries into ending human rights abuses in a regular practice in politics, it has proven to work in the past. At the same time in order to institute sustainable change the desire for change must come from the people themselves. It is not enough for a government to create laws that bring an end to certain practices if the people themselves are unwilling to end long held cultural practices. How do people become empowered to reflect on their own cultural values and determine what changes should be made? Also how can we seek to create change in a way that recognizes people’s true identity as a noble being with inherent capacities?
You can hear Appiah talk about The Honor Code on NPR here.