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Gentlemen and Chivalry in the Age of Steel
The Bronze Age Mindset enables a manliness of crass decadence, irreverence, and hedonism, while true manliness involves the chivalrous notions of duty, reverence, and self-sacrifice.
Note from the Editor in Chief, Justin Stapley: “This piece inspired me despite not fitting overly well into any of our previously established sections, and it spoke to such an important need given the rise of such things as BAP and the kind of activism and behavior we see from TPUSA that I decided to create Steel Age Gentleman as the newest section of the Freemen News-Letter.”
Of all the great works of the Western literary canon, one that too often goes unknown or undiscussed is the Enseignements of Louis IX, a letter to his son. The letter modeled for his son what it meant to be a good Christian king in his time. The letter speaks of virtue and sacrifice. It implores the next king to be just to all his subjects and to remember that they are all brothers of his in the eyes of Christ. In short, the letter preaches the virtues of a good Christian statesman.
Though we live in an era where Christian monarchs are few and far between, the lessons of Saint Louis’ letter remain relevant. It is not merely a portrait of a good statesman. The letter describes, in part at least, what it means to be a good gentleman in the Western tradition. The virtues of the gentleman—to be just and kind to those around you and to strive to be a good man in the face of all challenges—are principles present throughout the Western canon. All of the virtues of the written page, however, mean little if they are not present in the material world. At present, those virtues are far too sparse among real people.
This is not a unique observation, or a new one. Last month, I wrote something about the decline of Christianity in the United States. In it, I discussed a particularly grotesque movement in the world today: the Bronze Age Mindset, or vitalism.
Led by the self-named Bronze Age Pervert, whose real name is Costin Vlad Alamariu, the vitalists believe in the primacy of power. As I wrote last month, “They reject the Christian worldview of human dignity and objective moral truth in favor of a relativistic world, one in which what is right is determined by who is the strongest. Like their postmodern counterparts on the left, the vitalists are an outgrowth of Western decay. As Christianity fades, so too do its cultural tenets.”
The problems I discussed in that piece were framed as problems of the West writ large, but they are especially noticeable in the demise of the gentleman. “Chivalry is dead” is not a common saying for nothing. The great literary characters that we associate with being a gentleman—Don Quixote or D’Artagnan being two I am particularly fond of—seem more and more fictional by the day.
The great conservative writers of the 20th century wrote at length on this problem, too. It is cliche to refer to C.S. Lewis’ observation that “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.” But his observation is true. Lesser known to most readers, however, is Russell Kirk’s views on the subject. In his essay, “Virtue: Can it Be Taught?” Kirk wonders if the virtues so well understood by our forefathers can be resurrected through education. He begins by laying out the seven virtues he considers most important:
“Plato declared that there are four chief virtues of the soul: justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude….To these classical virtues, Saint Paul added the theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.”
-Russell Kirk, Modern Age, 1982
Of course, it is easy to discuss what the virtues of the gentleman are. It is much harder to devise how those virtues are inculcated. Can a gentleman be raised through education alone? Is it enough to bathe young men (and women, but that is a topic for another piece) in the Western canon and hope they learn its lesson? Kirk’s answer is not encouraging:
“Rather, the sprig of virtue is nurtured in the soil of sound prejudice; healthful and valorous habits are formed; and, in the phrase of Burke, ‘a man’s habit becomes his virtue.’ A resolute and daring character, dutiful and just, may be formed accordingly….Intellectual virtue divorced from moral virtue may wither into a loathsome thing.”
-Russell Kirk, Modern Age, 1982
Habit, not education, is the marker of a virtuous man, according to Kirk. I am inclined to agree. Once again, I turn to C.S. Lewis (from whom Kirk draws for his essay) to adequately interpret Kirk’s point:
“I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite skeptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat,’ than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Justly so. The farmer who was reared in the ways of the honest man is superior to the college graduate who is schooled in moral philosophy but applies it nowhere in life. (As an aside, the current campus environment across the United States should serve as proof of this)
Though Kirk offers us some answers to his question—namely, the resurrection of the family unit and placing a renewed emphasis on church teachings—it would not be a shock to anyone if I said his warnings have been ignored. We are still left asking the question: how do we inculcate virtue today? In a world where the Bronze Age Pervert exists, how do we form steel age gentlemen? The crucible of modern life is not enough to forge virtuous souls as-is. Something new (or, rather, something old) is needed to remold men with chests.
Unfortunately, I do not have the answers here. But I will leave off with another quote to ponder, this time from James Russell Lowell, related to the crisis of modern man:
“It is man who is sacred: it is his duties and opportunities, not his rights, that nowadays need reinforcing. It is honor, justice, culture that make liberty invaluable, else worse worthless if it means freedom to be base and brutal.”
-James Russell Lowell, Letter to Joel Benton, 1876
Reminding men of their duties and opportunities—reminding them that their liberty requires tempering—is the first step towards resurrecting the gentleman. One hopes this is a task we are up to.
Scott Howard is an undergraduate student at the University of Florida. An alumnus intern of National Review, he is currently an Editor at Lone Conservative and volunteers as an Associate Editor for the Freemen News-Letter. @ConservaMuse
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