Noblesse oblige

concept that nobility confers social responsibilities

Noblesse oblige (/noʊˌblɛs əˈbliːʒ/; French: [nɔblɛs ɔbliʒ]; literally “nobility obliges”) is a French expression used in English meaning that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person who holds such a status to fulfill social responsibilities. For example, a primary obligation of a nobleman could include generosity towards those around him. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term suggests "noble ancestry constrains to honourable behaviour; privilege entails responsibility."

...I request you hold on to the phrase noblesse oblige in your heart. Noblesse oblige... implies that privilege entails responsibility... I entreat you to discharge your duty to society as a member of it, keeping in mind the concept noblesse oblige... ~ Hirano Toshio


  • Noblesse oblige. There are obligations to nobility. Variant translation: Nobility brings obligations.
    • Comte de Laborde, in a notice to the French Historical Society in 1865, attributes the phrase to Duc de Levis, who used it in 1808, apropos of the establishment of the nobility.
  • Nothing truly valuable arises from ambition or from a mere sense of duty; it stems rather from love and devotion towards men and towards objective things.
  • What unique, important, and responsible position the State or Provincial University occupies among civic institutions! What splendid opportunities for usefulness are his who is the executive head of such an institution! Aye, and what weighty responsibilities rest upon him! Fellow teachers, what manifold opportunities for usefulness are yours, and what weighty responsibilities rest upon you by virtue of the fact that you are teachers in such an institution! And my message to you is the same as to the student body—Noblesse Oblige! Freely have you received, freely must you give. Tho the state does not, nor ever can, adequately pay you for your best services, still you must not falter. You must continue to live up to your own high ideals of your noble profession. The very acceptance of such positions in such an institution carries with it the obligation of performance—Noblesse Oblige!
    • A. J. Ladd, On the Firing Line in Education (1919), p. 170
  • How shall you respond to the call of duty? Your State, by virtue of what she has done and is now doing for you, has a right to expect unselfishness and unstinted service in her own interests and in those of mankind. Shall she get it? Will you rise to the occasion and, even at a sacrifice of personal comfort, ease, esthetic enjoyment, money, give to her what is her due? Will you remember Noblesse Oblige? Of course you will. For there is a well-established principle, clearly stated in Holy Writ and sanctioned by the ages, that of those to whom much hath been given, much will also be required. Noblesse Oblige—your privileges compel you.
    • A. J. Ladd, On the Firing Line in Education (1919), p. 176-177
  • And so I might go on, did time permit, and point out attractive and responsible openings in many different activities—the fields of engineering and journalism, the professions of medicine and law, the great world of business, even politics (should I not say, rather, and especially politics?). It is not necessary to go farther into detail. You catch my thought. In one and all of these, positions of leader[Pg 181]ship are calling loudly for men and women of large knowledge, of trained minds, of broad outlook, and of splendid visions; and these characteristics are the fruitage of nothing less than the broad and comprehensive foundations laid in the college and the university. And you who have them are, by the very fact of possession, under obligation to use them for the public weal. How is it, young man, young woman? Are you going to measure up to the twentieth century standard? Will you carry with you from this hall when you leave to-day, and from this institution when she honors you with her diploma, and out into the great activities of life,—will you carry with you, I ask, and make the basis of your actions in life, the thought of these two little words that have been engaging our attention this morning—Noblesse Oblige?
    • A. J. Ladd, On the Firing Line in Education (1919)
  • To some degree the rich have always secluded themselves from the gaze of the common herd; for example, their habit for centuries has been to send their offspring to private schools... A century ago, at least we got some attractive public libraries out of Andrew Carnegie. Noblesse oblige like Carnegie’s is presently lacking among our seceding plutocracy... In both world wars, even a Harvard man or a New York socialite might know the weight of an army pack. Now the military is for suckers from the laboring classes... Courtesy of Matt Taibbi
  • The gilded age tradition of wealthy benefactors is clearly over. The very wealthy—now often nouveau riche and unbound to the trappings of aristocratic noblesse oblige — no longer consider themselves stewards of the sublime. As classical music scholar John Halle opined in “The Last Symphony” in Jacobin magazine, the upper and ascending classes no longer subject their children to the rigorous training necessary for classical musical scholarship. As Halle says, “today’s elite lacks the patience and culture for classical music.” Consequently, the patronage system has become rather passe, and even the odd anachronistic billionaire-funded ballet company might find itself dismissed on a whim. Put bluntly, the upper class just aren’t as classy as they used to be.
    • The Declining Taste of the Global Super-Rich, Current Affairs/Alternet, (2 May 2016)
  • In French, "noblesse oblige" means literally "nobility obligates." French speakers transformed the phrase into a noun, which English speakers picked up in the 19th century. Then, as now, "noblesse oblige" referred to the unwritten obligation of people from a noble ancestry to act honorably and generously to others. Later, by extension, it also came to refer to the obligation of anyone who is in a better position than others - due, for example, to high office or celebrity - to act respectably and responsibly.
    • Miriam-Webster Dictionary (2020)
  • Nobility is defined by the demands it makes on us — by obligations, not by rights. Noblesse oblige. … It is annoying to see the degeneration suffered in ordinary speech by a word so inspiring as "nobility." For, by coming to mean for many people hereditary "noble blood," it is changed into something similar to common rights, into a static, passive quality which is received and transmitted like something inert. But the strict sense, the etymon of the word nobility is essentially dynamic. Noble means the "well known," that is, known by everyone, famous, he who has made himself known by excelling the anonymous mass.
  • 'Tis ours, the dignity they give to grace
    The first in valour, as the first in place;
    That when with wondering eyes our confidential bands
    Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
    Such, they may cry, deserve the sovereign state,
    Whom those that envy dare not imitate!
  • The education of the Nazi elite, it turns out, is the education of super-racketeers and gangsters from among the biologically superior. The concept of ‘noblesse oblige’ is transformed into its polar opposite
    • Dorothy Thompson, "Let the Record Speak", Boston: MA, Houghton Mifflin Company (1939), p. 359
  • At this time, may I request you hold on to the phrase noblesse oblige in your heart. Noblesse oblige, the essence of British aristocracy, implies that privilege entails responsibility... I entreat you to discharge your duty to society as a member of it, keeping in mind the concept noblesse oblige (privilege entails responsibility)... I hope you keep noblesse oblige in mind and overcome obstacles, one by one, in order to achieve your dreams.
    • Hirano Toshio, Noblesse Oblige Commencement address- Osaka University (25 September 2013)

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