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Loyalty may hurt sometimes, but not as much as betrayal

By Mirko Bagaric - posted Friday, 15 December 2006

If you have a choice between a fiercely loyal colleague and one that is brimming with integrity you should always choose the former. Moral rules can be rote learned, but commitment is ingrained.

That’s why Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer nailed it earlier this week when in reaffirming our commitment to the US occupation of Iraq he said, “We stick by our mates through thick and thin and I think when times are difficult, you look to your friends to see if they are really friends”.

I have been a fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq. It was an egregious breach of international law and the US led “Coalition of the Willing” seriously underestimated the disdain that exists in most of the Middle East towards the West.


More than three years down the track, Iraq is devastated. Its infrastructure and essential services have been blown to the stone-age and conservatively more than 50,000 civilians have been killed directly as a result of the invasion.

Saddam, like most tyrants, had his flaws but life under him for most Iraqis (Kurds aside) was a delight compared to what they are enduring now.

But as with most things in life there is no point in looking back. Law and order needs to be restored in Iraq. Some commentators say that the US should cut and run and let Iraq have the full blown civil war it must have. Others suggest bringing Syria and Iran into the fold. The US wants to further increase troop numbers.

The reality is that these are all high risk strategies, none of which is likely to be more successful than any of the others. Given that all the proposed solutions are highly contestable and that the US is the country that has the most at stake in Iraq (of course apart from Iraq itself), the Australian Government is right to unremittingly back the US.

The reason for this is simple: it is called loyalty.

Loyalty is the bond that takes friends, sporting clubs, businesses political parties and even bikie gangs from the pedestrian to the inspirational. Over a century ago philosopher Josiah Royce declared that “loyalty gives life meaning and direction”. While this might be over-cooking it slightly, there’s no doubt that loyalty gives us a sense of connectedness, belonging and purpose.


Loyalty is the reason for the success behind familial relationships. It is the main thing that Labradors have going for them, yet they convince most of us to give them pampered lives. To forge a better world, we need more of this commitment and the unconditional acceptance that stems from loyalty.

This applies not only at the personal level, but just as deeply when it comes to international relations.

Loyalty is often over-looked, but it is time to bring it to the front and centre of moral discourse. Hopefully, Downer’s comments will assist in this process.

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About the Author

Mirko Bagaric, BA LLB(Hons) LLM PhD (Monash), is a Croatian born Australian based author and lawyer who writes on law and moral and political philosophy. He is dean of law at Swinburne University and author of Australian Human Rights Law.

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