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The decline of the gentleman in late modernity (Mark Wegierski)

The decline of the gentleman in late modernity

Mark Wegierski

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.

  • Hyper-egalitarianism in late modern societies makes the gentleman seem like an archaic figure of aristocratic privilege.
  • The overthrow of traditional morality in late modern societies appears to make the gentleman and his ideals a suffocating standard which no one should be forced into.
  • The spread of mass-media pop-culture makes the gentleman’s ideal of manners and self-cultivation appear irrelevant and ludicrous. Usually, vulgar sport stars, rock stars, and movie stars are today’s primary heroes.
  • As the current-day oligarchic and bureaucratic power-elites have radically moved away from the traditional identifications of aristocratic national elites with history, patriotism, religion, and the countryside, the locus of the gentlemanly ethic (and often the source of his personal sustenance) has been undermined. The triumph of commercialism, and the exaltation of the merely rich, has undermined the traditional outlook of the more responsible and self-restrained use of one’s wealth. There is usually a radical disjunction today between the man of means, and the man of manners.
  • The increasing emphasis on technology and the necessity for technical specialization for advancement in “the real world” of business, reductively defined law, and technology, result in the marginalizing of generalist and humane, liberal arts approaches, which are the traditional focuses of the gentleman.
  • The growing power of radical feminism has had baneful effects on the more traditional context of manners and morals in which the gentleman has previously thrived.
  • The ideal of the gentleman, which is often seen as bound up with European civilization, holds little appeal for multiethnic populations, or for theorists of minority empowerment. Although (as can be seen, for example, in the writings of Confucius) the ideal of the gentleman has certainly existed outside European civilization, the decline of the gentleman, and of European civilization today, may indeed be related.

 

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.

 

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