As of late I’ve been musing on why the concept of a ‘well-behaved, cultured man’ is starting to be, at best, deemed naively idealistic and, at its worst, cynically ridiculed on accounts of many a weak-spined man-boy unable to engender any kind of proper respect. Unfortunately, that notion is more venomous than it seems to be, for it also implicitly attacks any kind of idealism, as if saying: “The world’s tough sh*t kid. Your idea of a perfect man won’t save you now.” Soon a thought quickly flashed through: Is this the sad state to which the modern world has become?
A pitiful, textbook lamentation if there was one. And a useless one at that.
I have since sought answers to that question. Out of necessity, I must admit, but that is another story for another time. As luck would have it, I managed to stumble on some well crafted prose, and I have yet to find a better-written argument than this essay1, snippets of which I want to share below. All emphasises are my own.
Gentlemanliness presupposes manliness. It’s a softening, a harnessing of the core characteristics of masculinity: strength, courage, mastery, and honor. A gentleman, as scholar Harvey Mansfield put it, is a manly man with polish.
The respect given a gentleman is thus premised on constraint.
A gentleman has the ability — the power, cleverness, confidence, and even the desire — to ride roughshod over your interests, muscle you aside, and manipulate you…but, he has instead voluntarily chosen to restrain himself to follow a more moral course. He’s a coiled spring, and his self-control showcases one of the timeless markers of manhood: will.
As anthropologist Paul Friedrich puts it: “The highest praise that one can give a man is that he is capable of doing harm but chooses not to.”
To me this explains the current situation: a gentleman is the natural progression of a man. As we have it now, though, there are not many males who are men, let alone gentlemen; at least not to my knowledge. Then there are boys who aimed straight to gentlemanliness, without first taking the time to nurture the man in them, only to fail short because of the lack of strength, mastery, courage, and honor.2
It is somewhat discouraging that the notion of a perfect gentleman is dying, though, viewed in a more positive light, this does help one to strengthen their own principle and resolve.
2The four amoral virtues from The Way of Men by Jack Donovan.