The Warrior, the Lover and the Monk
Brad Miner on "The Compleat Gentleman"
NEW YORK, FEB. 4, 2005 (Zenit) - The notion of the gentleman has been out of fashion for some time, especially because of its connection to boorish, Victorian-era stoicism.
However, Brad Miner believes that the example of the gentleman is ripe for recovery, and far from being a stick-in-the-mud, the "complete" gentleman is a passionate warrior, lover and monk.
Miner shared with us, some key themes from his book, "The Compleat Gentleman" (Spence).
Q: What is a "complete gentleman"?
Miner: He is, of course, many things.
First, he is an inheritor of the medieval tradition of knightly prowess, and the Victorian ideal of gentlemanly decorum. As a means for recovering a sense of the complete gentleman, I propose three archetypes: the warrior, the lover and the monk.
I say that he is a warrior, because he knows there are things worth fighting for and is willing and able to fight; that he's a lover, because he treasures the woman in his life, gives her what she wants and allows her to free him from the tyranny of his own ego; and that he is a monk in that he values learning and silence.
I think the great, lost virtue in our time is restraint: the recognition that there is a difference between the public and the private. The complete gentleman practices what I call the art of "sprezzatura," which means that he is who he is and does what he does without drawing too much attention to himself in the process.
Q: Is your book descriptive or prescriptive? In other words, do you see a lack of gentlemen among the male population and seek to remedy the problem in your book?
Miner: The book is boldly descriptive and only mutedly prescriptive. I'm not an evangelist for chivalry, and in any case my view is that the descriptive part -- the detailing of the history, the telling of stories, the listing of virtues -- amounts to a kind of prescription, at least for the few willing to swallow the medicine.
Q: One commentator has described today's adolescent boys and young men as "wimps and barbarians." What has given rise to this phenomenon?
Miner: I suppose the "barbarians" are the boys animated by the macho violence of hip-hop culture and the "wimps" are the kids politicized by the various "isms" of the New Age.
There are many causes of this degradation, but it all comes down to a simple fact: Young people tend to lack a sense of calling or mission. This is partly what Michael Barone is getting at in his recent book "Hard America, Soft America." We have teen-agers who seem unable to cope with the rigors of competition and then 30-year-olds who are capable of running the world.
We live in a nation that has achieved an unprecedented level of luxury and in an age in which technology encourages passivity. Young people ought to be physically fit, if possible, morally responsible and intellectually active. If education does nothing but raise doubts, and culture mostly encourages predation, then the "smart" kids will be weak and "tough" kids will be cruel.
The antidote to this is balance and restraint. We need scholarship, devotion and self-control.
Q: Cardinal Newman wrote a very famous passage describing the Victorian-era gentleman. He seemed to conclude that being only a gentleman was largely inadequate for the Christian male, and that we are really called to sainthood. Is there a tension between being a gentleman and pursuing the universal call to holiness?
Miner: I devote some considerable space in my book to Newman's observations, and I argue that you have to put them in the context of his time and, to an extent, to read between the lines.
Without question, he considered saintliness preferable to gentlemanliness, but his point of reference was an ideal of the gentleman that had long ago lost its connection to chivalry. I believe the complete gentleman recovers that connection, especially chivalry's martial quality.
Newman was reacting to the portraits of the gentleman as drawn by writers such as Lord Chesterfield, Samuel Smiles and Charles Kingsley. Having summarized their views, Newman says they are fine -- as far as they go. Trouble is, they don't go far enough. It's as though the man they describe is what he is by virtue of his clothes; that gentlemanliness is merely something you wear. The biblical phrase "whited sepulchers" comes to mind.
A real man, we might say, was in Newman's view someone who "discerns the end in every beginning," which means he lives more fundamentally, less superficially.
He is patient and forbearing on philosophical principles -- not on the basis of social expediency; he "submits to pain, because it is inevitable, to bereavement, because it is irreparable, and to death, because it ...
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