It is a self-evident but largely forgotten truth that the good of America depends upon the moral strength of its men.  We use the term deliberately rather than the androgynous “people” and “persons.”  The current crises this nation faces are in large part the result of a crisis in manhood and caused by the failure of too many men too much of the time to do the right thing.  Books and articles with titles such as The Decline of Males, “The End of Men,” Men to Boys, The War Against Boys, and Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys—written by cultural critics on both the political Right and the Left—signal what every employer, every voter, every young woman in college today knows all too well: It is increasingly hard to find good men.  That alarming fact should not surprise us since the entire culture seeks to undermine traditional manhood.  We only have to compare the males of this generation in their late teens and early twenties to their grandfathers’ generation to realize how far and how fast we have fallen.

The larger undertaking of national renewal—so desperately needed in this country right now—depends upon the restoration of traditional manhood.  That restoration must not be content with trying to teach a few lessons in manners or manliness to the twenty-year-old wimp or barbarian as we find him.  Instead we must return the entire regime of making men to the principles of old.  These first principles lead us to a deliberate course of action, including the following:

  • Returning to time-tested methods of bringing up boys;
  • Restoring schools to the teaching of traditional subjects by traditional methods;
  • Revivifying true liberal education in the nation’s high schools and colleges, liberal education being understood as the making of free, self-reliant, and principled men (and women, too);
  • Reestablishing a culture of gentlemanly competition among boys in sports and in school and among men in business;
  • Reversing the course of and eventually ending the welfare state, which has enervated the will and sense of responsibility in men to provide for themselves and their families—not just in the “inner cities,” but also in the suburbs and small towns throughout the nation;
  • Revamping our commitment to live according to the cardinal and American virtues: courage, temperance, justice, prudence, perseverance, self-reliance, industry, frankness, and fidelity—all directed by a sense of honor;
  • Reclaiming men’s sense of chivalry and gentlemanliness in relation to women;
  • Renewing a generous and informed love of family, of country, and of God—with the aim of serving and protecting these higher ends.

The purpose of the thoughts put forth on this site is to arrive at both the grand strategy and the discrete tactics by which victory in Remanning America might be achieved.

Adult Swim: A Republic is for Grown-Ups

“The middle class is still treading water, while those aspiring to reach the middle class are doing everything they can to keep from drowning.”

—President Barack Obama, 8 September 2010

Bad metaphors bring bad policies. During the Great Depression Americans were told that “the pump” had to be “primed.” Despite twelve years of pump-priming, F. D. R. did not bring America out of the Depression. Bipartisan tax cuts targeted against Truman’s “Fair Deal” did.

Roosevelt had also used the metaphor of “war,” but that analogy was brought to perfection in L. B. J.’s “war on poverty.” The image is problematic. Marines going into a battle, for example, want to know, as they are locking and loading, who the “bad guys” are, that is, whom to shoot. Who were the bad guys in the “war on poverty”? The impoverished? The rich? When President Obama took office a year and a half ago, the universal call from the Democrats was to pass a stimulus package in order to “jump start” economy. Is the American economy really an old jalopy whose owner would not dare go out for a drive without taking his jumper cables? Yet that image was invoked countless times without a trace of irony as the government was moving in to take over parts of the auto industry.

If bad political metaphors are not exposed, bad policies invariably follow. That is why one of the most important moments in the debate over independence was when Thomas Paine required the American colonists to rethink the idea of Britain as the “mother country.” Does a mother send an army to attack her young? Do not children eventually grow up? In deciding to become a republic, Americans chose not to have a permanent parent overseeing their every move and aspiration.

Having failed to “jump start” the economy, President Obama and the Democrats are moving onto a new metaphor. The people are “drowning.” Now this is an indisputably powerful image. Who would not throw a “life line” to a person who is drowning? Only the most unfeeling capitalist on his mega yacht (about the size of John Kerry’s) would let someone go down in the treacherous waters of the present economy. When examined closely, though, the analogy reveals more than the president knows.


First, the president speaks of “classes”: the middle class, those who want to be in the middle class, and so on. Though we use this terminology all the time, there is nothing in the U. S. Constitution about classes being singled out or owed anything. “Welfare” is connected to the modifier “general,” which means everyone. The Bill of Rights likewise protects the rights of either “the people” or “persons,” not classes. But in Obama’s swimming pool, people are permanently tethered together. Single persons do not move through the water according to individual ability or effort and are not encouraged to do so.

Second, these classes are never characterized as being swimmers, but rather drowners. When, according to Obama, have the American people ever been able to swim? That is a question some astute reporter should ask him during a rare press conference. During the Great Depression under F. D. R.? During Johnson’s war on poverty that was never won? Democrats never mention Carter’s abysmal one term, which is too like the present. Even the Clinton era is problematic since a Republican Congress forced the Empathizer-in-Chief to do things he was not naturally inclined to do. And certainly not during the horrible Bush years when unemployment was significantly lower than it is now. The fact is, to President Obama, America is and will always be a nation of drowners.

Finally, in Pool Obama the good swimmers are made to feel guilty about their talents and forced to stop swimming and help out all the drowners, whether that help is wanted or not. Michael Phelps must give up his Olympic career in order to become an instructor at the local Y for tots and for adults who never learned to swim because they were never required to. It is not enough for a good swimmer to inspire others to be good swimmers. Nor can the folks in the pool be counted on to teach each other out of love or profit. The officious lifeguard-in-chief must direct everything.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric of drowning does not hold water. Thirty years ago this November the nation elected a man who had actually been a lifeguard in his youth. He spent his summers watching over and saving lives. Yet this lifeguard in his political career looked upon people as individuals, not as belonging to restrictive classes, and upon the nation as a place of swimmers, in fact good swimmers. All they needed to be given was minimal instruction—by parents and parts of civil society, not the government—and a chance. Compare the Reagan economy to the Obama economy to decide whom you would prefer as the lifeguard—not the parent—of the republic.

Originally published at BigGovernment.com on September 16, 2010

A Return to Chivalry?

“Is chivalry dead?” I ask my Western Civilization students. The responses are invariably electric. As attenuated its forms, as rare its observance may be, chivalry still retains a significant place in the modern memory. It might surprise us that a generation reared with a bare minimum of discipline should care about a rigorous system of morals and manners. In particular, we may wonder that young men and women would think much of an ethic that encouraged both sexual restraint and the service of men on behalf of women. Yet we must realize that today’s youth are hardly enamored with either the sexual revolution or the feminists’ struggles to create an androgynous world. Their deeper longings are for a world in which virtuous men both respect and protect modest women. Here is a typical response by today’s college woman to the exam question, “The system of manners known as chivalry was necessary in the Middle Ages but is irrelevant today.”

Chivalry has indeed seemed to become irrelevant today and that is a tragic loss for both men and women. Women refuse to hold men to the standards necessary to achieve the genteel honor that we have lost. Women are disrespected in today’s society, because we ask for nothing more. There is probably not a woman alive who, in some part of her heart, would not want to be carried off on horseback by a knight in shining armor, but we are not allowed to admit that anymore. We are taught to declare ourselves equal to men in all respects and in no need of superior treatment. If only women would realize that chivalry was a way of showing respect and devotion, not condescension, do we have any hope of ever regaining this lost system of virtue.

The question is how moral educators can bring young men and women to this conclusion and give them the courage to act upon it. For our deliverance from a vulgarized sexuality on the one hand and a forced androgyny on the other will begin only when young men and women begin to contemplate the creation of a new chivalry. In other words, men must begin again to act like men, women like women, and some standards of decency must govern their relations.

Students’ initial responses to the question of whether chivalry is dead will mostly concern whether men still open doors for women and whether they should. The teacher might suggest other courtesies that men used to perform which today’s adolescents have never seen or heard of, such as standing up for a lady when she walks into the room. This discussion can be of enormous value in teaching young men that the majority of women actually appreciate these vestiges of chivalry. The women, with one or two exceptions in every group, long for the days when men “acted like gentlemen.” Many young men, on the other hand, are under the impression that women resent having doors opened for them. “There are feminists out there who will tell you off,” they say. The testimony of their female peers to the contrary leaves them without excuse.

Once the discussion of whether chivalry still exists and in what forms it has been exhausted, the teacher should address the other side of the question particularly to the ladies. To what extent has positively unchivalrous behavior become the norm for young men? Personal anecdotes will abound. This might be the one chance women have to register their dissatisfaction with inveterate cursing, for example. They will never do so in company. When women are told that they could create a chivalrous environment by insisting that men stop cursing, if necessary by leaving their company, they show reluctance. Naturally pleasing, they do not want to spoil the conversation by correcting someone nor to be called a bad name on their leaving. The more restrained setting of the classroom, where comments are not directed at anyone personally, is the ideal forum for just complaints. Hopefully the young men will respond to this discussion by cleaning up their language. The young women should nevertheless be encouraged to make their objection to cursing more generally known. I use the example of my grandfather who deplored the modern man’s practice of wearing a hat at the table but held women responsible: “In my day a lady would not sit with a man who wore his hat.” Previous ages realized that women are the natural arbiters of manners, and our age must profit from their insights.

More than just cursing, women will have experienced more threatening forms of indecency. They do not like being whistled at, yelled at, or being made the subject of sexual innuendo. One thing every female runner will complain of is being yelled at by a carload of young men. Some of the young men in the classroom might have done some of the yelling. “So what’s the big deal?” they might ask. “It’s just a way of telling a girl that she’s hot.” “That’s why she’s running in the first place, isn’t it, to be noticed?” “Sometimes girls yell at guys, too.” Here the young women should be asked why being yelled at bothers them. What they will say is that a woman never knows when yelling might turn into something else, especially when running in a big city, or at night, or even on rural roads. Some of them might even remember an infamous rape case. Young men never have to worry about a group of girls surrounding them. The point needs to be made that from the perspective of a woman, a verbal assault, besides being very often degrading in itself (“show us your X”!) is always potentially translated into a physical assault. A woman knows that a carload of sixteen year-olds, whatever their intentions, could stop and overpower her without anyone coming to her rescue. A young man has no equivalent worry. Thus, there is a difference between the sexes, and that difference requires a gender-specific rather than a gender-neutral code of manners.

Once students become aware that the vulgarization of the relations between the sexes is taking place before their very eyes, they are ready to discuss the importance of chivalry in the history of Western civilization. Before exploring how chivalry worked in its heyday, students should know why this code of manners was developed in the first place. Chivalry took root, slowly, as the response to one of the gravest crises in the history of the West: the total collapse of civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century A. D. and again after the collapse of the more precarious Carolingian Empire in the Ninth Century. True Hobbesians should spend some time with the early Middle Ages, for truly there has never been a period when life was as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” There was no government. There was no police force. Property and persons were utterly at the mercy of very bad men. These men might be called “young,” partly because of their age and partly because of their youthful energy and disrespect for any older, established order. Young men on horseback roamed the countryside in huge packs and pillaged whatever semblance of civilization they found: families, churches, farms, markets. Like all young men, they came around to the idea of finding young women. Having no respect for decency, their method was simple. They just took any women they might come across. They took widows, wives, daughters, and nuns, from any place they might find them. Young men had no notion of courtship. Their desire for the opposite sex expressed itself in venereal hooliganism. In short, the behavior of young men during the Dark Ages did not differ considerably from that found in the inner-city gangs of today.

The solution to this crisis came through a gradual change in the motives and manners of the armed horsemen. Established men, the Church, and young ladies themselves combined forces to tame the unruly passions of these violent predators. They did so by effecting a direct exchange of male freedom for duty. To become true knights, young men had to submit themselves to an elaborate set of regulations known as chivalry that brought them into the social order and established them in marriage to young, beautiful heiresses. To enter the ranks of knighthood, young men had to submit themselves to a thorough regime of ethical training that prepared them for a life of service. The element of danger and enterprise remained in their lives since they had to protect their land and their ladies. The idea of male honor came into being. It became dishonorable for a strong man to intimidate or injure someone physically weaker than himself. The ritual par excellence for the display of chivalry became the tournament. No other event allowed the young knight to shine in combat before the eyes of anxious maidens and discerning parents so much as this great pageant of courage and courtesy. The tournament was not simply a game or a sport. The virtues and martial skills developed in the lists prepared young men for encounters against enemies at home and abroad in these lawless times. The deference paid to ladies guaranteed that manly strength would never be employed against the fair sex but rather in its defense.

At this point in the discussion, the teacher should drive home his point. The women are still silently sympathetic to the plight of women in the Middle Ages and perhaps realize that modern manners are reverting to early medieval conditions. The men are wishing they could become knights. The teacher should ask the men, “In the course of your education have you ever been taught what it means to be a man?” The question will floor them. Immediately they sense the need for such an ethical education and its total absence in the schools, the culture, and too often in the home. The fact of the matter is that young males today do not have the slightest idea of what it means to be men. And yet the desire of young men to be something more than irresponsible boys or even “nice persons” remains as strong as ever, despite the efforts of radical feminists, androgynists, and hyper-egalitarians. The evidence comes from a most unlikely source. Christina Hoff Sommers in The War Against Boys aptly draws our attention to a wonderful collection of essays called Between Mothers and Sons. The authors are left-leaning, pacifistic, feminist, and very much children of the sixties. Yet these mothers discover in their sons something they did not inculcate: the male nature. One such mother, Janet Burroway, describes how she nervously came to terms with her son’s adventures in the military, conservative political ideas, and fascination with weaponry. She saw the sewing lessons she gave to her son in hopes of turning out a little feminist “put to use on cartridge belts and camouflage.” In short, even many of the feminist mothers of today are finding themselves in the position of Perceval’s mother who had never let her son see a knight since “if the knights told him of their way of life he would wish to be one also.” Yet on first seeing knights pass through the forest, Perceval knew he must become one. When his mother realized “her caresses availed no longer to keep him” she supported Perceval in his decision:

Fair son, I wish to teach you a lesson which you will do well to hear, and if it pleases you to remember it, great profit can come to you. You will soon become a knight, my son, if it please God, and I approve it. If, near or far, you find a lady who needs help, or a maiden in distress, do not withhold your aid if they ask for it; for in this all honor lies. He who does not yield honor to ladies, loses his own honor. Serve ladies and maidens, and you will receive honor everywhere. If you ask a favor of any, avoid offending her and do nothing to displease her. He who wins a kiss from a maiden receives much; if she permits you to kiss her, I forbid you to take more if, for my sake, you are willing to forego it. . . . Fair son, speak with noble men and go with them; a noble man never gives bad counsel to those who frequent his company. Above everything I beseech you to enter church and minster and pray Our Lord to give you honor in this world and grant you so to act that you may come to a good end.

Perceval’s mother learned that she could not deny her son’s nature. The attempts to deny the male nature today have proven harmful both to men and women. For the history of chivalry has taught us that the young male can become gentle, provided that he is allowed to do so on his own terms, provided that gentleness does not reflect pusillanimity but allies itself with strength and honor.

Once the male students realize that what is at stake in this discussion is nothing less than their own manhood, and once the females begin to see what men could become, this distant epoch from the past will become a source of living instruction. The moral teacher must throw down the gauntlet. Currently, there is a great cultural battle being waged on every street corner, and in every school, and in every family in this country. It is the battle for common decency. On many fronts, the battle is being lost, but the tide has perhaps turned. The fact that the children of the sixties generation could even be interested in a theme like chivalry is a great sign of hope. But more than being interested, they must act upon the moral principles of their nature. Just as Churchill said that World War II would be won by the unknown soldier, so the battle for common decency will not be won by one great thinker or statesman or teacher. It will be won by millions of ordinary men and women doing their duties as ordinary men and women. The return to chivalry requires that every young man exercise his courage in becoming a gentleman and that every young woman exercise her modesty in becoming a lady.

On Principle, v9n4,August 2001

The Laws of Nature Apply to Tigers, Too

There has been an eerie silence — even amidst all the lurid details making their way through the Blogosphere — on the moral significance of Tiger Woods​’s “transgressions.”  It has proven easier for those who want to discuss the issue instead to wonder how this event might affect his career, to track his approval ratings, and to speculate on whether he will lose untold millions in endorsement revenue, as sponsors are already pulling ads.  The Scarlet A, it appears, sits uncomfortably atop the Nike Swoosh.

Even among conservatives there seems to be a prevailing mum.  Quite likely pundits find it unnecessary to state the obvious: that the discipline Tiger Woods displays on the golf course has not transferred to his own personal life, that such a pattern of behavior in one of the most known figures in the world suggests a massive amount of hubris (or just arrogance), and that there are people — one being an epically lovely woman, the other two being children — whose lives have been wrecked far beyond any damage done to a black SUV.

We must realize, however, that “the obvious” is not always entirely obvious to the least wise and most impressionable members of our society: particularly teenagers whose own passions partake of the Tigeresque unruliness, who are capable of exercising the sexual freedom we have given them, and who can hardly keep from following this event as it unfolds in all its unseemliness.

By now most teenage males in America have seen the images of Mrs. Woods juxtaposed with the mistresses and weighed the case in their own minds.  We can surmise their responses.  More than half have determined, “Dude, they’re hot!  A man just can’t resist that.”  Most of the rest, more in touch with their moral and aesthetic senses, have, in looking at Mrs. Woods, marveled, “Dude, how can you cheat on that!”  The overwhelming minority have asked the question that would have been the norm in days gone by: “How can a man of honor do that to the mother of his children, and to his children?”  Young people, especially young men, do not pull ideas of the good and the beautiful out of thin air, nor off the Internet.  The vital question is how we adults direct young, unruly, and passionate people to the good, even at this moment and in this age.

The age of our nation’s founding had answers for young people.  The men who ran schools and colleges and churches, the women who reared up children at home, did not allow wayward youth to stew in their own juices.  When the young James Madison​ went to college in Princeton, he encountered a lecture like this:

In marriage we ought to observe … there is something peculiarly distinguished, dignified, and solemn in marriage among men.  This distinction is necessary and founded in reason and nature…
…[M]an is manifestly superior in dignity to the other animals, and it was intended that all his enjoyments, and even his indulgence of instinctive propensities [sex] should be of a more exalted and rational kind than theirs.  Therefore the propensity of the sexes to one another, is not only reined in by modesty, but is so ordered as to require that reason and friendship, and some of the noblest affections, should have place.
The particulars which reason and nature point out relating to the marriage contract are …
1.    That it be between one man and one woman…
2.    The fundamental and essential part of the contract is fidelity and chastity…
3.    The contract should be for life …
4.    If superiority and authority be given to the man, it should be used with so much gentleness and love as to make it a state of as great equality as possible…

There is infinitely more sense in this brief excerpt of a lecture given over two centuries ago than in all the claptrap that has been said in all the public schools and both public and private colleges about sex over the last fifty years.  What the lecturer (John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration), is trying to impart to young men in their late teens is the idea that human beings are not animals, that they must live by a higher law of thought and action, that they have both reason and noble affections that enable them to flourish in the world beyond their mere appetites, that they are capable of love.

The lesson that we must draw from the Tiger affair is that just as kings (or presidents) cannot live above the laws of the land and the laws of nature, so neither can the richest and most gifted among us live above the moral laws of nature with impunity.  Further, an entire culture cannot afford to shrug off the moral restraints and rule of reason that constitute the only path to lasting happiness.  The Tiger affair has not taken place in a cultural vacuum.  While Woods authored his own acts, these acts have been written according to a prepared script of moral relativism and sex-as-the-highest pursuit.

To the assault on the political constitution that began in the nineteen-thirties in this nation was added an assault in the nineteen-sixties on our  moral constitution.  Both constitutions are still under attack.  Both must be defended — with equal vigor.  We could begin reconstituting ourselves morally by giving our teenage boys — and girls — a proper lecture in sexual ethics.

Posted on HumanEvents.com on 12/10/2009.

Chivalry Now

A review of The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry, by Brad Miner

Edmund Burke’s famous pronouncement that “the age of chivalry is gone” was perhaps premature. Sure, ten thousand swords did not leap from the scabbards of the French nobility to defend Marie Antoinette, but such a betrayal did not mean that “the unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise” was forgotten in Britain, or America. More than two centuries later, the spirit of chivalry has not been entirely eradicated from the human heart, even in our pacifist, feminist, postmodern age.

While teaching both college and high school students, I have found nothing to electrify a classroom as much as the topic of chivalry, which I always introduce with the simple question, “Is chivalry dead?” The reasons for student interest are straightforward: young women are curious to see how men used to treat women in a more mannered and moral age, and young men, for their part, are painfully aware that in many respects they are less manly than their forefathers. These students have usually been given little instruction by their parents and teachers on what it means to be a man or a woman. Perhaps no other image, then, can appeal to them as much as the knight on horseback who will, for the sake of honor, fight any man, and still bow in deference to every lady.

And yet, the story of chivalry has not gotten out. Maurice Keen, Richard Barber, and Georges Duby have written excellent academic histories of chivalry, but these works are aimed at a scholarly audience and make no attempt to explore the relevance of chivalry for our own time. Medieval narratives, especially Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, are often tough reading and Hollywood blockbusters like last summer’s King Arthur or A Knight’s Tale from a few years ago are utter disappointments. But now Brad Miner, an executive editor at Bookspan and former literary editor for National Review, has given us The Compleat Gentleman, an attempt to trace the chivalric tradition from medieval times to our own and to return contemporary manhood to its moorings in this gentlemanly tradition.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, lawless young men on horseback roamed the countryside in search of a fight. They threatened any semblance of order, and especially threatened women. Gradually, these young men became less dangerous by accepting the code of knighthood. They promised to display certain virtues: loyauté, prouesse, largesse, courtoisie, and franchise. In return, they might gain property by marrying the daughter of a lord. Or they might make a considerable fortune and win glory by testing their mettle in frequent tournaments. Miner offers interesting snapshots of the knight’s training, the knighting ceremony, and tournaments. These last, in particular, were crucial to the development of chivalry, having “the dual virtues of providing both a means of testing a knight’s prowess and of expiating his violent energies.” And Miner reminds us that tournaments in the heyday of chivalry were not celebrated in the fashion of the confined jousts of either Scott’s Ivanhoe or cinematic lore, but rather in the form of a mêlée, a massive battle lasting all day and often engaging hundreds or even thousands of knights. Injuries were frequent, and death was not uncommon.

While Miner offers the basic outlines of medieval chivalry, he fails to recount certain facts and anecdotes that might do more to win our hearts. For example, as courtly philosophy began increasingly to shape the ideal of knighthood, a knight could be barred from tournaments for any unchivalrous behavior, including deserting his lord in battle, destroying vineyards and cornfields, or repeating gossip about a lady. Can we imagine a sporting event today in which players who had “talked trash” about a girl would not be allowed on the field? Who would be left to play? Miner makes excellent observations on William Marshal, “the flower of chivalry,” but most of his other character sketches amuse more than they impress. Other knights should have appeared in this book. Consider Maréchal Boucicaut who while in Genoa running the government of Charles VI, once bowed to two prostitutes, whom he did not know. His page said, “My lord, they are whores.” Boucicaut responded, “I would rather have saluted ten whores than to have omitted saluting one respectable woman.” Another good lesson for a culture that too often treats respectable women as “ho’s.”

* * *
Miner classifies the chivalrous man as part warrior, part lover, and part monk, and addresses each aspect of this ideal in separate chapters. A reformed pacifist who prefers his sons to be Galahads rather than Gandhis, Miner clearly sees that a post-September 11 America is no place for milquetoasts. We are living in a fallen world and bad men want to do bad things to us. We must be ready to respond in kind: “a gentleman really must face the reality of violence and not reject it, but like any warrior he will turn to violence only as a last resort.”

The chapter on the lover is not nearly as inspiring. Miner does a good job of explaining how troubadours and assertive ladies with questionable sexual histories, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, could establish the quasi-religion of courtly love. He is also forthright about the difficulty such love poses to all contemporary moralists who want to adopt chivalry as a model: knights and ladies were often adulterers, most famously Guinevere and Lancelot. But Miner never mentions Wolfram von Eschenbach, the 13th-century Bavarian knight who tried in his Parzival to reconcile courtly love with marriage. Nor does he say anything about the reforms of the 14th and 15th centuries, that sought to turn weak-willed knights into true gentlemen. And most curious of all, he ends a chapter about love with a discussion of women in combat. According to his rather strained logic, the true gentleman respects women and gives them what they want. If she is strong enough and willing, then today’s “woman warrior” should be allowed to fight alongside today’s chivalrous man.

Miner’s treatment of the gentleman is likewise far from “compleat.” He does relate the history of the gentleman, the successor to the knight, from the Renaissance onward, but unfortunately he sandwiches this chapter between his first chapter on the knight and his three chapters on the warrior, the lover, and the monk, which all return to medieval themes. As a result, he never shows any of the improvements or adjustments that the culture of the gentleman made on the original model, especially with regard to sexual mores. And too often he considers gentlemanly advice books as a true reflection of how actual men thought and acted. Such a selective use of sources is understandable for the Middle Ages, but the historical record is far richer in modern times. His handling of the 18th century is particularly lacking: he focuses on Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his illegitimate son, a work which Miner himself tells us was considered by Samuel Johnson to “teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.” Only by confusing the century of Washington and Hamilton and Burke with the letters of Chesterfield could one conclude that the “heroic aspect of the gentlemanly character would begin to be lost in the mystification of manners.” Miner actually gives no more than a passing mention to America’s greatest gentlemen, the Founding Fathers. And he seems to think little of manners generally. The muddled section on politesse hardly recommends good manners at all but instead insists, “nobody has better manners or finer suits or more skill in debate than the devil himself.”

Finally, Miner overlooks one vital aspect of modern manliness altogether. His tripartite knight roughly corresponds to the medieval conception of the three orders in society: oratores (those who pray), bellatores (those who fight), and laborares (those who work). Yet he substitutes lovers for workers, leaving no place in his scheme for what most gentlemen do in modern times: work hard to provide for their families. Calling for a return to the warrior ethic in these times is certainly warranted. But in practical terms, not all of us can serve in the military. And as Adam Smith knew and American history has shown, an industrialized power firm in its will and purpose will always prevail over a less developed enemy.

Despite its flaws, Brad Miner’s book is a good introduction to chivalry and one hopes it will inaugurate a rich discussion over the qualities of true manliness. For that, we owe him our courteous thanks.

Posted March 10, 2005. This article appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of the Claremont Review of Books

The Age of Chivalry Gives Way to the Age of the Pat-Down

Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers.  I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

But the age of chivalry is gone. . .

—Edmund Burke

The growing resistance to the choice facing all airline passengers in America between a highly revealing body scan and an aggressive pat-down is another sign that Americans are rediscovering their natural, inalienable rights, for whose protection governments were instituted among men in the first place.  But there may be another issue at stake that is as essential to our humanity and our civilization.  Will today’s men allow women to be either photographed in the form of a nude negative (for now, until the technology adds color to the negative) or touched indecently by strangers?  More simply, will men allow women to be violated?

Let us consider the various scenarios.  A man takes his wife and three daughters ages ten, fourteen, and eighteen on vacation.  To get on their plane—any plane—he must allow them all to be scanned or fondled.  In either case, the TSA employees get to see or feel the stages of emerging and full womanhood.  The father’s only choice is not to go on vacation or to throw away his manhood, his role as protector, in the security line along with the bottle of water he could not finish.

Another man is going with his lovely bride on their honeymoon. Before the wedding night a bevy of TSA security personnel (who would never take an unchaste glance at the outline of a shapely twenty-something) have become far more intimate with her figure than her husband.  He has a choice: not go anywhere exotic for their honeymoon or get in a fight and be thrown in jail for creating a disturbance at an airport.  A third man, a little younger than the first and a little older than the second, is traveling with his wife the last time they can before the baby comes.  She has just begun her second trimester and is definitely starting to show.  This couple’s choice is between another ultrasound on the one hand or a probing of her lower abdomen on the other.  We will all feel safer knowing that the “bump” is not a weapons stash.

Finally, a fourth man, a veteran of World War II who landed at Iwo Jima, must watch his wife of sixty years be prodded by people who were not alive during that war, who have no idea how many men have fought and died to preserve freedom in this country, and who handle this old couple almost as roughly as slave traders used to grope their cargo when coming off those foul ships.  But this couple does have a choice!  They’re retired.  They could take a train if they wanted to get some place quickly.

There used to be a much simpler answer to questions of this sort.  Men did not allow women to be treated in a way that compromised their modesty.  Men used to fight duels over a woman’s honor.  Before the world was safe for inalienable rights, way back when people were emerging from the Dark Ages, the world had to be made safe for women to live, to be protected from rough handling, to have a safe place to bring up their children.  There is a very good reason to think (historians and anthropologists confirm this) that men’s protecting the women they love—the generous impulse known as chivalry—is the beginning of civilization, the beginning of some modicum of decency, the beginning of any chance at security in the world.

There is also good reason to believe that nations begin to fall when their men no longer think it worth the effort to protect the women they supposedly love and “would die for.”  Do men still live in America?

What am I suggesting?  Should husbands and fathers start dueling with TSA agents?  There is actually a much easier solution, other than requiring the new Congress to act on the principles for which they were elected.  When I first went through the indignity of a body scan, I resolved that my wife, as retrograde as it may sound, would never get on a plane until the scanners came down.  I wonder whether the airlines could last very long if a full half of their passengers stopped flying.  What pressure might those airlines exert on Washington to restore some decency, perhaps even some chivalry, to our all too public transportation?

Whither Goeth Chivalry?

Chivalry is dead, Edmund Burke famously declared. Perhaps the news of chivalry’s death was premature — in 1790, Burke was denouncing the arrest of Marie Antoinette in the French Revolution.

But gentlemanly courtesy and honor have become increasingly rare, says Brad Miner, and today the chivalrous man is “ex mille electus,” one in a thousand.

There “have never been many chivalrous men, but they are essential in the life of a society,” says Mr. Miner, author of “The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry.”

The archaic spelling of “compleat” suggests that traditional ideals are long gone. Mr. Miner contends that Americans now live “in a time in which the idea of a gentleman and of chivalry are in retreat.”

Mr. Miner says fathers are partly to blame for the decline of chivalry. Fathers “make clear what the virtues of a gentleman are by example,” he says.

“If you yourself don’t aspire to be a gentleman, you certainly won’t instill that aspiration in your sons,” Mr. Miner says. “It is always easier to take the easy way. That is why, both past and present, you don’t have many men aspiring to be chivalrous.”

Terrence O. Moore, principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colo., shares this concern over the loss of gentlemanly ideals. Young men today — the “sons of Murphy Brown,” he called them in a recent essay — tend to be either “wimps or barbarians,” rather than seeking a “golden mean” of manliness.

Many boys are “disappointed in the culture and sometimes in their parents, for not having taught them the basic ideas of courtesy, gentlemanliness and authentic manliness,” Mr. Moore says.

Mr. Miner says his book was inspired by a scene in the 1997 movie, “Titanic,” As the ship is sinking, philanthropist Benjamin Guggenheim and other male passengers go to the bar dressed in white tie and tails. When one of the ship’s crew urges him to don a life jacket, Guggenheim responds, “No, we are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down as gentlemen.”

That chivalrous gesture, Mr. Miner says, inspired only laughter in a group of young teenage boys sitting behind him in the theater where he saw “Titanic.” Baffled by their response, he says, he began to explore why gentlemanly ideals were no longer respected.

The “compleat gentleman,” Mr. Miner says, exhibits qualities of a lover, a monk and a warrior:

  • As a lover, a gentleman “gives his wife her own way. He respects her as a person, and respects therefore, her decisions as a woman.”
  • As a warrior, a gentleman fights for what is right and stands up for what he believes in. In the Middle Ages, the “warrior code that was emerging, was also the practice of courtly love,” Mr. Miner says.
  • As a monk, a gentleman must embrace learning and have a stoic attitude toward death. Monks live “in the presence of death all the time,” he says, “and so should a compleat gentleman, because it focuses his mind on why things are worth fighting for.”

At the heart of chivalry, Mr. Moore says, is the idea of noblesse oblige — an ethic of service: By placing others first, men learn how to be courteous and respectful.

This is more than a problem for boys, the Colorado educator says: Young women are looking for virtuous, chivalrous men and are discouraged by not finding them.

Feminists have “undermined the idea of traditional manhood” and it is for this reason women must “appeal to the heroic in men,” Mr. Moore says.

Charlotte Hays, senior editor at the Independent Women’s Forum, blames “this haglike feminism that has developed” for destroying chivalry by denying differences between men and women.

In order to recover gentlemanly ideals, she says, society must “reject what is generally called feminism — the kind that wants to send women into combat … and recognize that men and women are basically different, and that it is historically the role of the male species to put the lady first.”

Feminists disagree.

The decline in manners is not just about men, says feminist author Naomi Wolf, co-founder of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership.

“Young men and young women are not taught to be kind to elderly people, to give up their seat to a pregnant woman, to be as good as their word,” she said. “I don’t see this as feminism causing this decline. I see it as a set of social factors which are degrading the values of young men and young women.”

Ms. Wolf cites such influences as pornography, MTV, reality-TV shows and the fact that “the left insists that education be secular.”

Patricia Williams, feminist and columnist at the left-wing Nation magazine, says society is facing “a decline of manners among both men and women and has nothing to do with gender.”

She says a “kind of nostalgia for the man who believed in civic virtue and the woman who embodied … true womanhood disguises the extent of the many deplorable social problems we have now.”

However, Mr. Miner says, many men use feminist arguments as an excuse for behaving like cads.

“Some men take the claims of feminism in order to reject the idea that men ought to show deference to women. But to a compleat gentleman, none of that matters,” he says.

Chivalry and courtly love were really “a kind of proto-feminist idea that was a force for civilizing men,” says Mr. Miner, saying that medieval women taught men the virtues of civility. “Just as it was in the Middle Ages, so it is now, that men must learn the most important things of all from women.”

Mr. Moore agrees: “If men know they have to prove themselves and that they have to marry the women they have sex with, men will have to become marriageable and manly, rather than just cool and funny,” he says.

The Washington Times, Monday, April 19, 2004.

Were the Men of SEAL Team 6 Taught Not to ‘Bully Back’?


The Left’s Attack on Manhood

Barack Obama is a president at odds with himself.  On the one hand, he and his aides are carefully cultivating his new image as the gritty and decisive Commander-in-Chief, making the call to take out Osama bin Laden for the safety of untold Americans.  On the other hand, his health care, stimulus, and other social spending sprees have made him the most intrusive Nanny-in-Chief since LBJ, though he is giving the author of the Great Society a run for his money.  The incongruity is all the more telling when we cut through the rhetoric and bogus philosophy of the progressive state and actually figure out what the Left’s agenda is.  It is quite simply a campaign to eliminate manhood.

Although I have taught and written on the subject of manhood for years, this truth did not become obvious to me until I read the autobiography of a one-time angry black youth. Filled with the leftist dogma he had been saturated with at a leading college, he asked his grandfather why—even in the middle of the Depression—the older man had not gone on public assistance.  The grandfather, who could barely read and who would have been typecast by a sociologist as an upper-lower-class African American (and therefore the prime target of the Democrat party), offered one of the most profound comments ever made on the evils of the welfare state, deserving to be ranked among those of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.  “Because it takes away your manhood.”  That is, the man who gives up on himself—on his own industry, determination, intelligence, courage, and will—and lets the government take care of him in those matters government has no place, has simply lost the right to call himself a man.  A man is by definition the being who takes care of himself and his family: who is independent and free and therefore has honor.  The man who made that statement, by the way, was the grandfather of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

It is no accident that as we read statistics about the percentage of Americans on food stamps and accepting other transfer payments to be at an all-time high that mothers taking their children to the park on a weekday afternoon will find men in their twenties and thirties hanging around—sometimes with children, sometimes without—with no purpose or place to go.  It is no accident that the economic slump we are in has accurately been called a he-cession owing to the dramatic increase in government jobs such as teachers and various levels of “health-care workers” and “social services” employees, contrasting with the dearth of work in manufacturing and other traditionally male occupations.  To have a successful progressive state, you have to put men out of work and put them on the dole—or make them dependent on their wives and consorts.  To this end, Lionel Tiger in his book with the chilling title The Decline of Males coined the phrase “bureaugamy,” referring to the marriage between the welfare state and single women, with men loitering on the outskirts, either in jail, engaged in crime, or hoping to receive some scraps off the government table.

That the Left is deliberately attempting to undermine the self-reliant spirit of manhood may seem like a crazy conspiracy theory to the uninitiated.  But one need only consider the right arm of the progressive movement—public education—to realize the extent to which the least vestige of independent masculinity has been painstakingly eradicated from the lives of boys.  As Christina Hoff Sommers and others have shown, boys are constantly put on Ritalin at the behest of teachers and “health-care professionals” in an effort to drug them into not just obedience but lifelessness; any books in the curriculum that contain accounts of action and war are replaced with tame tales of “ordinary” (i.e. boring) boys and girls or, more often, P. C. stories about living with two mommies or boys playing with dolls; and playgrounds are aggressively policed and even games such as dodge-ball are eliminated with the sole motive of keeping boys from being themselves.

Just recall what President Obama was doing a few weeks ago—before he transformed himself into the war leader.  He was holding at the White House an anti-bullying summit.  Bullying, in case you didn’t know, has become the public schools’ principal target (as opposed to, say, illiteracy).  For some time schools have been conducting campaigns on bullying “awareness.”  School counselors, those meddlesome sub-ministers of the Nanny State, are trained to counsel both the “victims of bullying” and bullies themselves, who are not so much villains as victims of what progressive experts on boys such as William Pollack dismiss as the obsolete “Boy Code.”  The bad old “Boy Code pushes boys to feel they need to be tough, act strong, and lash out at another to defend their male honor.”  To eliminate the Boy Code, several public schools have adopted a one-word solution to how to respond when confronted by a bully with no teachers in sight: surrender.  That’s right, surrender, the mantra of emasculation.  To this end, the federal government has set up an absurd anti-bullying website: www.stopbullying.gov.  That such a site exists at all raises any number of questions.  Does anyone actually believe that the Web is the place to go to figure out how to deal with bullying?  How much money was taken out of the taxpayers’ pockets to put this together?  How many executive departments were involved in its construction? (Answer: Three.  The Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice.)  And what in the world do these bureaucrats think fathers are for?

But the theme of the entire anti-bullying project and the progressive state itself can be found in the careful manipulation of a single word.  Under the “advice for kids” section, to the question of what to do when confronted by a bully, the authoritative answer is given: “Don’t bully back.”  Now, if you are being bullied by a bully, your taking a swing at him is not bullying.  It is self-defense.  The word that fell out of the equation, you see, is simply “fight.”  The Boy Code taught boys who were being bullied to fight back.  I clearly remember my father’s advice about bullies.  First rule: When you see him coming, take the first swing (it may be the only one you get).  Second rule: Don’t ever let him get you on the ground.  Now this was practical advice!  But progressive school counselors do not want boys to fight back.  If boys did, the school counselors would be out of their job of counseling wimpy boys who feel bad about being bullied.  So counselors belittle the Boy Code.  Just so, the progressive bureaucrats belittle the Man Code, the code that tells men that going on the dole takes away their manhood.  Because if that spirit were alive and well, progressive bureaucrats would have to leave off administering the transfer of wealth that is the Nanny State and get real jobs; that is, they would have to become men.

Which brings us to the men of Seal Team 6.  Does any sensible person really imagine that these men when growing up as boys lived by the mealy-mouthed psycho-babble of the school counselor rather than by the honorable and clear dictates of the Boy Code?  Does anyone think that the men of Seal Team 6—or any sailor, soldier, or Marine, for that matter—would fail to see through the nonsense (if their input was sought) of “Don’t bully back”?  A page out of Twain will remind us what real boys are like and of the fight in men that made this country great.

Tom struck them [pennies] to the ground.  In an instant both boys were rolling and tumbling in the dirt, gripped together like cats; and for the space of a minute they tugged and tore at each other’s hair and clothes, punched and scratched each other’s noses, and covered themselves with dust and glory.

Originally posted on bigpeace.com May 18, 2011

Wanted In America: A Man Who Is What He Seems

One of the touchstone traits of manliness is that the true man is what he seems.  There is no deceit about him: no hidden agendas, no artificial props, no “image” or “cover” designed to suit the public’s imagined wants and hide the actual man’s real character.  It is undeniable that such an uncalculated manliness often offends: in its lack of political correctness and its plainspoken confidence.  “Why does he always think he is so right?  Hasn’t he read the latest opinion poll?”  We used to call this manly virtue integrity: literally, of being whole and undivided, of being the same throughout.  What you see is what you get.  Integrity enables another virtue: frankness or candor, that is, saying what you believe and is on your mind without dissimulation or contrivance.  For this reason one of the Founding Fathers’ most lauded virtues was candor.  After all, these great men proclaimed their Independence by submitting facts to a “candid world.”  This virtue of integrity, which now goes by the opaque moniker “transparency,” was better understood in the age of the Western hero.  The characters played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and, for that matter, Ronald Reagan, did not say much.  But what they said they meant, and they would back up what they said with their very lives.

But we do not live in the age of the Western.  Those of us in our thirties and forties grew up in the age of the action hero.  The action hero is the figure who does not do the merely human things well but performs superhuman deeds that defy the imagination.  He does not simply draw a gun faster than another man.  Instead, he races through explosions on a motorcycle and dives out of planes without a parachute and yet invariably emerges from the ruins unscathed.  Of course, the action hero has half a dozen stunt doubles and computer graphics and millions invested in the movie to pull it all off.  But it’s all worth it: for the illusion, for the moment of suspended disbelief.  When you meet the actual man who plays the part, though, you find him pretty underwhelming.

If Ronald Reagan is the political figure who stands for the age of the Western, of simple integrity, Arnold Schwarzenegger is most assuredly the political figure who reveals the lie behind the action hero: that he is not what he seems.  Arnold’s whole career has been built around lies.  The first lie is his body.  Yes, he lifted weights.  But what really gave him the absurd title of Mr. Universe were the steroids that changed him from a muscular man into a comic strip.  The second lie is the part he played—for there was really only one part, that of impossibly muscular kick-ass guy.  It was never human.  In his most famous film, Terminator, he did not even pretend to play a human.  Only in the later comedies did Arnold join the ranks of the human.  The problem with the action hero is that he is not really a hero.  A true hero must face death and failure.  He must fight for the good and be capable of losing it.  He must risk being hated for doing the right thing.  John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart played heroes.  The first Rocky movie was about a hero.  Conan and Terminator are essentially video games on screen.  The adolescent audiences do not think for a moment that Arnold will die; they just want to see the cool action scenes.  The third lie was Arnold’s political career.  He came into office as not just a conservative but with the rhetoric of a fiscal libertarian.  Yet when the very first unions stood up to him, he failed to use his fame and considerable political capital.  He caved.  Ronald Reagan, you will remember, stood up to the airline traffic controllers when they threatened a strike.  On the way out of office, Arnold gave silly exit interviews about how everyone expected him to be the “Governator” rather than just an ordinary governor.  The expectations were just too high, he complained.  But our memories aren’t that bad.  We know that the promise of a “Governator” was what got him into office in the first place.

And finally we come to the lie of his marriage.  For years we have had Arnold and Maria, with the help of the press, flaunt this impossible marriage before us: the staunch conservative who marries into the Kennedy clan and maintains his political views, but who just can’t do without the love of this woman.  There were rumors during the first campaign: about inappropriate comments and groping directed at almost any attractive woman he was around.  But he was an actor, after all, a sex symbol.  We should excuse him.  And now the truth be told: a love child with an employee of the house.

The just complaint of Maria Shriver is, interestingly enough, the complaint that countless women in this nation also have right now.  It is the complaint that the Tea Party is fueled by.  “Give us a man who is what he seems,” they say, whether referring to a husband or a political candidate.  “Give us a fellow who is in good shape but not hopped up on steroids.  Give us a political candidate who is not the creature of a slick campaign manager.  Give us a man we can trust.  Give us a man who won’t say one thing to get us to marry him (or to get into office) and do just the opposite when he has gotten what he wants.”  In short, give us a man.

Published on bighollywood.breitbart.com May 21, 2011

Duty, Devotion, and Love

June 2008

The following is the graduation address for the 2008 class of the Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado

Today we gather together as a body of parents and other family members, friends and fellow students, staff and teachers, to celebrate and commemorate the graduation of these wonderful students and, more than that, to wish them well in all their future endeavors. It is not easy to find words that do justice to the magnitude of this occasion nor to the emotions and rightful pride these young men and women must feel at this moment. Perhaps just as hard is to decide what this occasion exactly is. Should we mark this passage in our students’ lives as an end or a beginning, as a release from the peculiar form of Ridgeview responsibility or as the first step—hence the term graduation—in a life that will be full of rigor and work and turmoil and even grief, though we hope full of charm and levity and a good deal of joy as well? What words, what short address, could sum up the rich and varied lives these young men and women have lived up to this point and the even richer and more varied lives they will live in the years to come?

You will not, I hope, be surprised that I shall draw on a passage of ancient literature, one familiar to these students, one that seems in a way analogous to our situation today, in order to illuminate the moment in which we find ourselves. In the sixth book of the Aeneid, the hero Aeneas travels to the Underworld where he will encounter his dead father’s ghost. Aeneas, as you may know, was a Trojan hero who managed to lead a hapless band of refugee warriors out of Troy as it was being sacked by the Greeks, among them his father, Anchises, whom he carried on his shoulders to safety yet who later died on the journey. For seven years Aeneas sailed around the Mediterranean trying to find a home for this remnant of the Trojan people. That home would later become the city of Rome. It is the shade of Aeneas’s father in the Underworld who reveals to the future founder of Rome his great destiny. As his son approaches him, Anchises exclaims,

You have come at last! I knew your pietas bq. Would see you through the long, hard road.And so we can say today to these graduates, though thankfully we do not find ourselves in the Underworld, “You have come at last! I knew your pietas would see you through the long, hard road.” Since these graduates know precisely what that means, I may have already said enough on this occasion. So it is for the rest of us I offer an explanation.

I have purposefully not translated the Latin word pietas and will claim in fine Ridgeview fashion that it cannot accurately be translated, at least not into a single English word. From pietas we derive the English word piety, which means essentially reverence for God. We also derive the seemingly unrelated word pity, that is, the sympathy for those who are less fortunate than we are, who suffer, or who need our help. Thus pietas is the virtue that directs man to look beyond himself, to the heavens for guidance, and to his fellow man, who is so often in need. The most straightforward translation of pietas would be simply duty. Yet our expression duty does not convey the affection and loyalty that the hero, pius Aeneas, has for his gods, his father, and his countrymen, all subjects of his pietas, unless we begin to express duty in terms of “love of country and love of kin.” A simple Latin dictionary tells us that pietas has a wide range of meanings, to include dutifulness, piety, filial love, patriotism, justice, and kindness. I have consulted three different translations of the Aeneid and found pietas rendered three different ways, as duty, as devotion, and as love. In saying, then, that these graduates have come at last, that their pietas has seen them through the long, hard road, we have said a great deal.

After the conversation with his father’s shade, Aeneas sees his mission clearly. That he descended into and emerged from the Underworld suggests that he experiences a rebirth, and he does gain almost a new life, moving from a life of escape and wandering to one of purpose and promise. What links the two parts of his life, however, is his character, particularly his virtue of pietas. In fact, his virtue is what makes his job—if we can call it that—as founder of Rome even possible. He knows what he must do, and therefore he knows in a very real sense who he is. Had he distinguished himself by no such virtue, however, he could have had no special mission and no such identity. And so our students, in this first and important stage of life have distinguished themselves by their intelligence, to be sure, by their judgment from time to time, but mostly by their pietas, their duty, their devotion, and their love.

It is somewhat unfortunate, I guess, that we can only identify our students’ singular virtue and cannot also predict the future, as did Anchises, to see each of these student’s personal Rome, and thereby assign them their individual missions in life. You see, every year about this time I find that in some of our students, having come to the end of a long, hard road, yet one that was clearly set out for them, a kind of existential crisis sets in. They have for years derived their duties from their parents and from the assignments of their teachers at school without a lot of choice involved. Yet as they go off to college, they begin to realize that they must make decisions that could have significant impact on what kinds of lives they live. They must begin by picking a college from among the 3500 or so that exist in this nation and soon after that a major. After all, the question “what’s your major?” is the precursor to most all campus conversation. That they will be paying for their classes, classes that must amount to some major, a major that presumably leads to a career, all means that the stakes are very high in the choices our students will be making. I do not want to suggest that the careful selection of a college and a major are not part of an important undertaking in deciding what one wants to become, but I should like to put such choices into perspective. What classes might Aeneas have had to take to prepare himself to become the founder of Rome? Rome Building 101? Indeed, what classes did the American Aeneas, George Washington, take to become founder of our great country? My excursion into the historical record tells me that he took none at all. He had no degree and no major, though he had pietas to spare.

Having observed this phenomenon for a number of years I have begun to wonder whether in sending our students off into the world with little more than the pressure to choose a major and to choose it wisely we get the cart before the horse. Perhaps we should follow instead the example set in the Aeneid and concentrate a little more on their virtue— their pietas—that has brought these young men and women impressively to this point, indeed on the very virtue that makes human happiness and flourishing possible in the first place. A short history of their education and cultivation will reveal my meaning.

These students began their lives, as do all children, in the family home, learning the rudiments of the language but the essential rudiments of morality and behavior as well. “Sit up straight.” “Mind your manners.” “Chew with your mouth closed.” “Stop hitting your brother.” “Stop pretending like your brother was hitting you when he did nothing of the sort.” “This is right, and that is wrong.” They also began to appreciate the arts through music and other forms of beauty brought into the home, principally by mothers is my guess, but by fathers as well, I am sure. Even as little children they became students of human nature by observing how their parents and their siblings interacted. They became students of the physical universe whenever they became too bothersome indoors and were told to “go outside and play.” These many, varied interactions steadily communicated to these children that they could think, that they could discern, that they could understand things for themselves, as long as they had parents around to answer their recurrent question, “What is that?” They found that they had many pleasures: playing with toys, playing in sandboxes and on swing-sets, looking at books or having books read to them. They no doubt also found that they had tasks in the world given to them by people whom they loved and who loved them, tasks that they did not always agree with or see the immediate utility of, but tasks essential to their well-being all the same.

And then, just as things were getting interesting and everything made sense, it was time for these students to go to school. At first, school was pretty much like the home. They continued to learn lots of words that built their vocabulary. There were clear rules they had to follow in order to get along with their classmates and gain the approval of their teachers. Most of all, they were given answers to all their questions, and they had many questions, some of them on topic. They had endless details to concern themselves with: poems to memorize, names and dates and places to get right, problems to work out in math and science. Some of this work was tedious; much of it was rote; but they needed to get the basic facts down. They had to play the chords before they could perform in the symphony. All their rote work served to strengthen and to prepare them for what was to come.

Gradually they learned that all the stories and facts and problems they had been collecting constituted a tradition, a tradition of thinking and of living. They learned further that they were the heirs of this tradition and that the various voices in this tradition constituted a conversation, more often a heated argument, over the question of the best life man can live. The voices in this conversation were those of the fathers, and mothers, too. Our students, like Aeneas, carried these fathers on their backs: in having to read them, in having to write about them, and literally in having to bear heavy backpacks laden with books most teenagers in this country have not read and, sadly, may never read. These great and heavy books were not confined to the humanities. They had to study math and the sciences as well to understand the many ways the world may be explained and how the mind may be disciplined. They had to study the arts and languages to know how the world may be adorned and embellished and how people make themselves understood. So the students sat down, every day, in order to read and wrestle with the great books, the great voices of their tradition. The students did not agree with every one of these authors; they did not like some of them at all at first. But they had to take them seriously; they had to learn what each unique voice in this conversation over the nature of the good life had to offer lest they judge too quickly, with pride or with prejudice. In all this wrestling with the fathers careful disagreement was allowed, but impertinence was not: forbidden was the flat-souled complaints of the typical teenager, “This is boring,” and “This is stupid.” And our students had no inclination to say those things anyway because they were engaged and dutiful sons and daughters. They descended to the Underworld with Aeneas; they climbed to the tops of mountains with Petrarch and with Zarathustra; they experienced the bliss of Paradise and hoed through the thorns and thistles of our own world with Adam and Eve.

Over the many years of fact-gathering and conversations with the fathers the walls of Troy were built. The walls of Troy had to be built so that our students would always carry with them, in whatever waters they sailed, some semblance of safety, some memory of home.

Because at some point Troy would be besieged by a very difficult question, a question their teachers would no longer answer for them—“What does it all mean?” And then Troy would be sacked by an earth-shattering question, the question that lies before them now: “And what are you going to do about it?” These are not questions made for children. They are questions too often avoided by adults. Yet they are the questions your children chose to address and to answer by coming to this school. They are questions that involve the human mind, to be sure, but more directly aim straight for the human heart. And that is where their wandering began, their sailing from shore to shore in search of answers, in search of sure ground: to figure out what counts for right and what leads to wrong, to see what is beautiful and what is unseemly, tasteless, and overdone. They have studied not only human excellence and right thinking but human error as well, which at first often appears the more enticing choice. They have learned that the world has not always been as it should be—that it never has been—but that things only get better when men and women exert their own stubborn virtue, their own pietas. And so these students have learned to ask themselves in the midst of their necessary wandering: what is my duty, what is my devotion, what is my love? And in so doing, each student has found—or at least has begun to find—his own voice, has begun to offer her own testament to the world.

If you have not heard this voice, then you have not been listening or paying much attention these last several years and particularly this year that has passed. This voice, these voices, certainly came through in the chorus of thoughtfulness and character that was the senior thesis. In the rite of passage that constitutes Ridgeview’s senior thesis, these students must confront the modern problem, the inability of modern man to say who he is or what he stands for that has resulted from the supposed death of God, death of tradition, death of reason, death of truth, and death of beauty. While each of our students offered a distinct and nuanced response to the crisis of modernity, a common theme ran throughout the presentations, which I shall take great liberty in summarizing.

There is an order in the world. There is truth. There is beauty. Otherwise, how could we believe in anything; how could we be loyal to anything; how could we do anything that would not be senseless or ironic, to include our education? Pius Aeneas would be foolish Aeneas to fight for a fiction. Our pietas—our duty, our devotion, our love—is to find out what place in that order, whether big or small, we are to occupy and to cultivate that place in an effort to make the world a little more beautiful, a little saner, a little more just. The students found that the unanswerable question that so confounds and troubles modern man—“who am I?“—is so framed by the subjective I that it altogether misses the predicate of meaning: what must I do to be a good man or woman; to what fundamental principles am I devoted; whom do I love? By answering these fuller, more active, more self-transcending questions I discover who the I really is, or ought to be: the being I want others to see me as, the being whom both my ancestors and descendants would be proud of, the being about whom it can be said at the end of life: “I have lived well.” Our students found that the human being who engages the modern problem in light of the best his tradition or her tradition has to offer, and who has done so with pietas—with duty, with devotion, and with love—cannot fail to realize that being a servant of tradition and of goodness does not make one servile; that being a jaded, ironic, and all-too-predictable nihilist does not make one free. So have our students learned, at the ripe age of eighteen.

Of course, our graduates have hardly reached the end of the road. They have a great deal more work to do in hammering out the principles by which to live, and they have a whole lifetime ahead of them in putting those principles into action. Yet much ground had been gained. For at the very least, it seems to me, they have learned how to frame life’s essential questions in the right way, to turn life’s troubling questions into life-ennobling ones. Having begun to ask themselves “what kind of men and women do we want to be?”; having resolved to determine their duty, their devotion, and their love; the matters of what careers they should choose or where they should live or which colleges they should send their own children to may come a little easier. Once Aeneas knows he will become a founder of a great nation, that such is his pietas and his destiny, the rest is a matter of logistics. He only needs to figure out where Rome ought to be. Of course, I should point out that he must do a bit of fighting along the way, a lot of fighting in fact. Pietas is nothing without another essential Roman virtue: virtus, that is courage, strength, or, as the Romans would say, manliness. But that is another story.

Parents, when the teachers of Ridgeview and I think of your students today, we of course have in mind their many admirable qualities and impressive accomplishments:

Their astonishing mastery of detail in mind-straining subjects; Their delicious and elegant styles of writing; Their gift for unexpected metaphor; Their stellar, often tear-inducing, performances in concert and on the stage; Their sense of humor, sometimes on the money, sometimes overdone; Their graceful dancing and beautiful compositions in art; The glimmer that appeared in their eyes when an answer came to them; Their pleasing manners and gentle demeanor, so rare and precious these days; Their thought-provoking and idiosyncratic questions in class discussion; Their behind-the-scenes talent for organizing and directing; Their impressive logic and auditorium-filling oratory; Their crowd-rousing feats on the athletic field, as recent as yesterday; Their hard work and heart-warming smiles.Indeed, parents, we have seen in your children, as you have seen, their moments of genius, and their occasional moments of doubt. Yet in the future we shall remember them more, far more, for what will lead them all through many a long, hard road ahead, for what will distinguish these men and women as they found their own, individual Romes. We shall remember them for their essential goodness of soul, their pietas, the nurturing of which has allowed us, their teachers, to find our own voices and to make our own lives worthwhile.

I might try your patience just a moment longer to say something on a personal note. For the past seven years I have had the pleasure of having your children, these great graduates of today, as my duty, my devotion, and my love. The parents of Ridgeview, the teachers of Ridgeview, and many, many of the students have been quite effusive over the course of this past year, and particularly in these last few days, in telling me how much I have influenced the lives of our young people. I am thankful for these heartfelt sentiments. But I assure you that my gratitude runs just as deep as yours. I could never have been the man I fancied I could be—a man that a father might be proud of and that sons may one day speak of with praise—had you not taken me into your lives, had you not allowed me to teach your children, had you, students, not allowed me to coax you into learning with my lame jokes and drawings when such coaxing was never necessary, and had you teachers, and parents, and students not taught me so very, very much. I am forever grateful. I am forever yours. Thank you.