A Return to Chivalry? – Part 1

Scott Farrell Comments:

Although I’ve often pointed out that the Code of Chivalry goes far beyond simple manners, it’s equally true that manners and social courtesy are the outward expressions of respect and self-restraint — and those concepts are at the heart of the Code of Chivalry. I first read Dr. Moore’s column about returning a sense of chivalry to today’s world on his website several years ago and enjoyed it very much. Now, I am pleased and honored to be able to share this article with Chivalry Today readers as a means of reminding everyone that there is more to “chivalry” than mere manners — and that there is more to “manners” than simplistic courtesy. Dr. Moore’s perception of chivalry addresses some very powerful and complex social issues.

Chivalry for a New Generation

“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.

© 2004 Dr. Terrence Moore

About the author: Terrence Moore is an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center and Principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado. “A Return to Chivalry?” originally appeared on The Ashbrook Center website, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

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Also in A Return to Chivalry?

  1. A Return to Chivalry – Part 3
  2. A Return to Chivalry – Part 2
  3. A Return to Chivalry? – Part 1

View the entire series

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