|Brad Miner on "The Compleat Gentleman"
NEW YORK, 3 FEB. 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 ZENIT, some key themes from his book, "The Compleat
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
the detailing of the history, the telling of stories, the listing of
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
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
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 is his destiny." This is a flesh-and-blood man with, perhaps,
emphasis on the blood.
Q: How can men exhibit the manly virtues, but at the same time exhibit
the appropriate sensitivities? In other words, what is authentic
Miner: At the risk of seeming to duck the question, I have to say that
each man must answer in his own way. Authenticity is inseparable from
individuality. I have no "Seven Steps to Manliness."
But I will say this: We do well to reconsider the ancient qualities of
the knight, which are loyalty, generosity, courtesy, honor, courage and
restraint. It's fair to say that men in the Middle Ages mostly fell
short of the ideal, as probably we will today. But for heaven's sake,
let's at least aspire to a higher standard.
If I could give one rather reckless bit of advice to American men, it's
this: Learn restraint, learn to fight, remember that you will die, and
meditate devoutly on the fact that death is preferable to dishonor.
Q: Do we live in an overly feminized culture?
Miner: There are aspects of feminism that are nasty, but any man who
throws up his hands in despair because he's confused about what women
want, is a loser.
Again, we must live with a distinction between public and private, and
what ought to matter most in a man's life is the love he shares with the
particular women his life, not attitudes about "women in general."
Women are manifestly more powerful today than in the past, and this is
positively good and absolutely not going to change. Palaver about male
oppression is as ludicrous as claims about female superiority.
Loving and respecting women does not require diminishing masculinity.
Q: Has the crisis of manhood had a significant impact on the priesthood
and the number of vocations in general?
Miner: This question is outside the realm of my knowledge. But I suppose
a culture that produces weak and vacillating men will produce weak and
Q: What can parents, schools and churches do to reverse this crisis of
Miner: Chivalry has a long association with the Church, yet from its
beginnings it was mostly about the transmission of knowledge from older
men to younger men, especially from fathers to sons.
Parochial schools may be able to help both boys and girls to appreciate
restraint as a virtue, but in the end chivalry and gentlemanliness need
to be imparted by fathers to their sons. Boys especially learn by
or by lack thereof. I'm neither a psychologist nor a sociologist, but I
suspect that the violent tendencies of fatherless boys are a direct, and
maybe ironic, compensation for the lack of masculine strength in their
Both the Church and the schools tend to formalize teaching, but
masculinity is learned spontaneously. Fathers may give "lessons" in
manliness to their sons, but the real substance comes from the boy's
daily observations of the man.
Until they are teen-agers and young men, sons are only progressively
responsible for who they are. But a father bears a tremendous
responsibility to present an example of high moral standards, and to
accept that this responsibility is paramount.
I know fathers who do and fathers who don't, and I'm pretty sure the
sons of the fathers who lovingly embrace the challenge of raising their
sons to be strong, loving and faithful are much better off than the boys
whose fathers are missing or are present but desultory.