The word gentleman has fallen into disrepute, along with the word man.
There is a connection. Gentlemen have become ungentlemanly in direct correlation with men becoming unmanly. It started, however, with gentlemen not doing their bit.
It is a paradox that the word gentleman was traditionally applied to a man not immediately associated with gentleness, as it were. It was a word given to a knight. Knights were dubbed "Sir" when they had achieved a certain valor, proving themselves brave and worthy in every respect, and often that involved bravery in battle and actions that were anything but gentle. Along with his title, a knight was given property. He was the defender not only of a fortress but also of a field. And a family.
The knight knew how to plant and build as well as how to fight. He also knew how to entertain, to put on a feast, to sing, and to recite poetry. And he knew how to pray. He always set an example — when he stood, when he walked, when he sat, when he talked, and when he knelt, before his lady, and before his God.
Putting on armor was a rare event but a necessary one. The knight's greatest strength was in his restraint. He won love and respect without having to brandish his power. He followed an established set of rules. He knew that freedom existed within those rules — freedom for himself and for everyone who depended on him. He was civilized; he was not a barbarian. He was gentle because he was polite. G.K. Chesterton points out the forgotten connection between the words polite and police. Both refer to self-restraint, to keeping order, to following rules. Politeness watches over the polis, the city.
Along with politeness, which is about keeping order, the other characteristic of a gentleman is courtesy, which, as Chesterton says, means courtly behavior, the way a person acts in the presence of royalty. To show courtesy, as a gentleman would do, means to treat every man as if he were a king and every woman as if she were a queen. Courtesy is sublime humility and charity. As Chesterton notes, Saint Francis of Assisi treated even animals with courtesy.
Politeness and courtesy both rely on self-restraint. But, as Chesterton also points out, men have that ''strength in reserve'' that is sometimes called laziness. Yes, the virtue of self-restraint, like every good thing, can be put to the wrong use, as other virtues can be corrupted into vices; and a common male weakness, laziness, is the tendency to let other people do things. But the gentleman does things for himself. It is why he is a leader and an example. And it is why, when gentlemen started taking advantage of their position, it sparked a bad reaction from women. The male privilege to lead (which is to serve) became the opportunity to take and to abuse, to indulge and simply to have one's way. Gentlemen lost their sense of responsibility, their sense of honor, and their sense of reality.
When men stopped behaving like gentlemen, women stopped behaving like ladies. Women started asserting their rights because men had stopped recognizing them. Women started doing manly chores because men had stopped doing them. Women became detached from the home because men had become detached from the home.
The corruption of knighthood led to the rise of feminism. When gentlemen started caring only about the power and prestige that came with their position, they stopped being gentlemen. And the men who followed their example stopped being men, stopped acting responsibly and started acting selfishly, stopped leading with politeness and started leading with power. They cast aside their self-restraint and started strutting their mere strength. They became warlike, not in noble acts of defense, but in dastardly acts of aggression. Feminists merely followed the same bad example. With no gentlemen around to treat them like ladies, they stopped acting like ladies and instead started imitating all the worst unrestrained male behaviors. Ladies quit being queens when gentlemen quit showing courtesy.
Men have stopped showing courtesy. One of the most obvious places we see a lack of courtesy is on the Internet, in the unrestrained manner in which people address each other. The virtual world is not a virtuous world, as people type things to their onscreen adversaries that they would never say to a person sitting across the table. At least, not yet: There is nothing to stop this behavior from carrying over into the real world.
Not only are men not behaving like gentlemen on the Internet; they are not treating women like ladies. A man who regards a woman as no more than a soulless erotic image existing only for his gratification has become a barbarian, the very thing the good and gentle knight had to fight against. We need to bring back these knights. We need to bring back true gentlemen.
Sam Guzman has given us something we desperately need: a valuable, readable book to help make young men into gentlemen.
Sam Guzman. "The Catholic Gentleman: Living authentic manhood today". - (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2019).
Dale Ahlquist wrote the Foreward to this book.
Reprinted with permission of Ignatius Press.
Sam Guzman is a writer and blogger and the founder and editor of The Catholic Gentleman. He lives in Milwaukee with his wife and their three children. He is the author of The Catholic Gentleman: Living Authentic Manhood Today.Copyright © 2019 Ignatius Press
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