FLORIDA, December 17, 2012 — The art of sprezzatura is not among the most commonly discussed subjects here in the United States. How does practicing it relate to being a gentleman?
For many people, chivalry just doesn’t seem to be a contemporary concept. Some might even perceive it as snobbish. What can be said about this popular perception?
The Information Age has brought us technological advances on a scale that, in all likelihood, would have been unimaginable to our forefathers. Despite this, has it allowed our society to neglect the values of chivalry?
In this second part of our discussion, Brad Miner, author of “The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry,” answers these questions and more. (See Part One of this interview at: Is there a place for chivalry and the gentleman in American society?)
Is there a case for chivalry in the 21st Century?
Joseph F. Cotto:
How does practicing sprezzatura relate to being a gentleman?
Brad Miner: As I just mentioned, it is the internalization of manly virtues – whether clear thinking or effective fighting — to a point at which a man possesses these virtues organically. In a way they become hidden, like the interplay of thoughts or heartbeats. I illustrate this in “The Compleat Gentleman” with stories about Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, two classic examples, albeit fictional, of men whom others underestimate at their peril.
Cotto: Many Americans shun chivalry as being outdated, or perhaps even snobbish. What is your view on this popular perception?
Miner: You may be interested to learn that this shunning has gone on for a thousand years. To be a true chivalrous man (or a true lady), is to be among an elite. Most people despise elites.
The subtitle of my book is “The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry,” but I’d originally had it as “Chivalry in a Democratic Age,” which suggests an essential incompatibility.
But this brotherhood of virtue is not, as it was sometimes assumed to be in the past, tied to wealth or class. Many people find boorishness and sloppiness quite satisfactory. Gentlemen don’t. Few chivalrous men are ever perfectly so, but they always aspire to high standards.
Cotto: Do you believe that the Information Age has allowed many to neglect the values of chivalry?
Miner: No “Age” ever allows or disallows anything to any man who has the courage of his convictions and the strength and commitment to back them up.
Perhaps we face more behavioral choices today than ever before; much that was once considered immoral is now deemed normal. But though more varied, our moral choices are no starker today than at any point in human history. Villains have always considered themselves virtuous, and chivalrous men have always known better.
Cotto: During the years ahead, do you expect chivalry to find mass appeal once again? Or, have the times changed too much for this to happen?
Miner: Again, the premise if wrong. To be sure, chivalry may once have been an ideal pursued by (or at least admired by) more men than do today, but there was never a golden age when most men were chivalrous. We need chivalrous men, but I don’t know how many we need. In any case, the changing times – a constant in history for those living through it – has nothing to do with it. There will always be a few good men, probably too few.
Cotto: Now that our discussion is at its end, many readers are probably wondering how it was that you came to be an authority on chivalry. What inspired you to write about this subject?
Miner: I’m not so much an authority on chivalry as I am just a guy who wrote a book about the subject. Like many boys, I loved stories of chivalrous men – knights and soldiers – and admired the well-spoken, well-dressed men in the movies: men such as Clark Gable, Robert Taylor, and Cary Grant.
I begin the book with the story of watching “Titanic,” James Cameron’s attack on the gentlemanly ideal. I was with my older son, then a teenager, who is now a captain in the U.S. Army. A character appears in Titanic’s flooding first-class bar area in dinner clothes. “We’re dressed in our best,” he says, “and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” People in the theater snickered.
And that got me thinking: What has happened to the gentlemanly ideal? Why do some find it laughable? So I went to the library. I read lots of books. I talked to the best men I know – and women too. It’s a big subject, and I’ve barely scratched the surface in two editions of the book.
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