The decline of the gentleman in late modernity
Current-day, hypermodern societies, such as the U.S., Canada, Britain, and western Europe – countries which were formerly among the world’s bastions of gentility – now have a hostile outlook and inherent bias against the traditional gentleman, or the man of manners and genuine cultivation. As a result, the general moral tenor, as well as the stability of family life in those societies, has been further undermined. There are a number of different factors that have led to the decline and devalourizing of the gentleman in late modernity.
It could be argued that the traditional gentleman, who not so long ago stood at the pinnacle of the planet, has now been sent into internal exile. The true gentleman could be seen as being like the Phantom of the Opera – as recently interpreted in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatrical musical – savagely scarred and effectively repressed into the underground (unconscious) of society. The Beauty and the Beast television series, which unfortunately ended in such a pessimistic way, is also an example of this repression into the unconscious of the true gentleman, who could be seen as seeking expression today as a Romantic hero-figure.
Tim Burton’s art deco/gothic re-interpretation of Batman, Ridley Scott’s dark-future movie Blade Runner (based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), as well as the movie Ladyhawke – which showed a solitary knight dressed in black fighting on behalf of the Church of Rome against an evil, heretical bishop and sorcerer of seemingly unlimited powers – may also be seen as invocations of this theme of “the lonely, wounded hero.”
Such music as 1980s’ retro-alternative (shading into the techno-pop and love-ballads of that period) sometimes feels to be participating in seriously Romantic themes. In the current-day, hyper-modern context, the Romantic impulse can have a neo-traditionalist, as well as more common, antinomian, interpretations. One interesting synthesis of Romantic imaginativeness and religious thought were the Inklings of Oxford (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, among others). Indeed, C.S. Lewis spoke of the need for spiritually and culturally robust “men with chests.”
Late modern society may be seen as disassociated in a huge number of ways, and as fundamentally lacking in strong yet sensitive, integrated personalities such as that of the true gentleman. With the disassociation of the masculine image, we on the one hand have brutish “studs,” and on the other, varieties of gelded “geeks.” Can one ever hope again for some kind of synthesis in masculine identity, combining manfully physical and truly reflective traits?
It can be suggested that NO society calling itself civilized can function long without the now-threadbare cloak of pieties and decencies the true gentleman represents. Yet, will the spirit of the gentleman ever substantively return?
Today, it seems unlikely.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher.