Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Compleat Gentleman

Brad Miner, author of The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man's Guide to Chivalry, writes today at The Catholic Thing:
... I’m in favor of politeness, because manners are minor morals. “Manners are to morals.” Henry Hazlitt wrote, “as the final sand papering, rubbing, and polishing on a fine piece of furniture are to the selection of the wood, the sawing, chiseling, and fitting. They are the finishing touch.” Manners are good.

On the other hand, I believe in tit-for-tat, in what Robert Axlerod (in his 1984 book, The Evolution of Cooperation) has called the “robustness of reciprocity.” A gentleman is a warrior, not a doormat, and he will cooperate with others only insofar as they cooperate with him. Cooperation begets cooperation, kindness begets kindness, but neither cooperation nor kindness is quite the appropriate response to aggression or rudeness. Lots of well-intentioned Christians have misunderstood this to their sorrow and to the detriment of the Church.

Axlerod’s book details the reasons why the tit-for-tat strategy outperforms all others in a computer game called Prisoner’s Dilemma. The scheme’s success, he writes, is “due to being nice, provocable, forgiving, and clear.” A further amplification provides a good description of the compleat gentleman: “Its niceness means that it is never the first to defect [to fail to cooperate], and this property prevents it from getting into unnecessary trouble. Its retaliation discourages the other side from persisting whenever defection is tried. Its forgiveness helps to restore mutual cooperation. And its clarity makes its behavioral pattern easy to recognize, it is easy to perceive that the best way of dealing with tit for tat is to cooperate with it.”

Many a modern gent has had the sword taken from his hand. Exceptions include West Point’s Catholic cadets. At the Academy’s Most Holy Trinity Chapel, stained glass windows portray soldier-saints: St. Barbara, patroness of artillery; St. George, patron of armor; Knights of Malta and of the Holy Sepulcher — among many reminders that faith and the sword are compatible.

A short digression into politics: the best constitutional structure in the macrocosm is simply an extension of the well-ordered microcosm, which is to say the compleat gentleman. This gentleman is sweetness and light to his friends, acid and fire to his enemies. He may be slow to anger, but he will be awesome in action when he strikes. Having purged his righteous anger, he will then be quick to forgive. It is a miracle that among America’s closest allies today are those countries that were once our greatest enemies: Germany, Italy, and Japan, the earlier Axis of evil. Their friendship is directly proportional to Allied generosity...

(emphasis added)



At 5/06/2009 9:03 AM, Blogger DP said...

In war: Resolution.

In defeat: Defiance.

In victory: Magnanimity.

In peace: Goodwill.

--Winston Churchill.

Great post--I'm very curious about the book.

At 5/06/2009 12:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I wrote about my son & chivalry..

At 5/06/2009 3:30 PM, Blogger Tito Edwards said...

Excellent post Jay. Thanks for sharing.

The same to DP, great quotes.


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