Saturday, August 29, 2015

G.K. Chesterton: Men and the Gentleman.

In my last post I left a remark to commentator Mark Citadel with regard to what I think is one of the problems of modern Christian masculinity.

I think among the "cultivated Right" Trumps crassness and boorishness is a huge turn off and they would rather a polite but politically correct candidate than a boorish man. It's an interesting reflection on the hierarchy of their values. It's just occurred to me that Chersterton has an interesting essay on the subject I'll try and hunt it up for my next post.

Well, its not exactly an essay but an extract from G.K. Chesterton's Autobiography (1936), recanting an unexpected meeting between Henry James and Hilaire Belloc.; we are halted at the moment when Mr. Henry James heard of our arrival in Rye and proceeded (after exactly the correct interval) to pay his call in state.

Needless to say, it was a very stately call of state; and James seemed to fill worthily the formal frock-coat of those far-off days...He brought his brother William with him, the famous American philosopher; and though William James was breezier than his brother when you knew him, there was something finally ceremonial about this idea of the whole family on the march. We talked about the best literature of the day; James a little tactfully, myself a little nervously. I found he was more strict than I had imagined about the rules of artistic arrangement; he deplored rather than depreciated Bernard Shaw, because plays like Getting Married were practically formless. He said something complimentary about something of mine; but represented himself as respectfully wondering how I wrote all I did. I suspected him of meaning why rather than how. We then proceeded to consider gravely the work of Hugh Walpole, with many delicate degrees of appreciation and doubt; when I heard from the front-garden a loud bellowing noise resembling that of an impatient foghorn. I knew, however, that it was not a fog-horn; because it was roaring out, "Gilbert! Gilbert!" and was like only one voice in the world...

I knew it was Belloc, probably shouting for bacon and beer; but even I had no notion of the form or guise under which he would present himself.

I had every reason to believe that he was a hundred miles away in France. And so, apparently, he had been; walking with a friend of his in the Foreign Office, a co-religionist of one of the old Catholic families; and by some miscalculation they had found themselves in the middle of their travels entirely without money. Belloc is legitimately proud of having on occasion lived, and being able to live, the life of the poor. One of the Ballades of the Eye-Witness, which was never published, described tramping abroad in this fashion:

To sleep and smell the incense of the tar,
To wake and watch Italian dawns aglow
And underneath the branch a single star,
Good Lord, how little wealthy people know.

In this spirit they started to get home practically without money. Their clothes collapsed and they managed to get into some workmen's slops. They had no razors and could not afford a shave. They must have saved their last penny to recross the sea; and then they started walking from Dover to Rye; where they knew their nearest friend for the moment resided. They arrived, roaring for food and drink and derisively accusing each other of having secretly washed, in violation of an implied contract between tramps. In this fashion they burst in upon the balanced tea-cup and tentative sentence of Mr. Henry James.

Henry James had a name for being subtle; but I think that situation was too subtle for him. I doubt to this day whether he, of all men, did not miss the irony of the best comedy in which he ever played a part. He had left America because he loved Europe, and all that was meant by England or France; the gentry, the gallantry, the traditions of lineage and locality, the life that had been lived beneath old portraits in oak-panelled rooms. And there, on the other side of the tea-table, was Europe, was the old thing that made France and England, the posterity of the English squires and the French soldiers; ragged, unshaven, shouting for beer, shameless above all shades of poverty and wealth; sprawling, indifferent, secure. And what looked across at it was still the Puritan refinement of Boston; and the space it looked across was wider than the Atlantic.[ED]
The operative term here is "the Puritan refinement of Boston". I think the reader should not mistake that Chesterton was critiquing Jame's Americanism, rather his aesthetic puritanism which which led him to prefer the "the oak paneled rooms" of England to the relatively uncouth life of the U.S.

In Chesterton's eyes James was a type of Aesthete, Belloc was a man, and I think it is important to remember the point. 

Belloc was famously belligerent in debate, praised the crusades and preached a from of Christianity that was muscular and unapologetic. He was also a bit of a poet;

The world is full of double beds
And most delightful maidenheads,
Which being so, there’s no excuse
For sodomy of self-abuse.
Henry James remained celibate all his life.


Anonymous said...

For a man to be a gentleman. He must be a man 1st of all having a solid basis of masculinity a rough nobility that is often shaped by the hardships of the frontier of contact with the raw elements untamed by man. Having a virile beauty that is quite unlike the delicate feminine beauty like a siberian wolf.

Jason said...

Doctor, I've enjoyed reading your last few essays on Christianity and manliness. Just two comments:

1. Trump is an umprincipled megalomaniac, and God help us if he were to ever come close to political power. His fans (like many in the Alt-Right such as John Derbyshire, who really should know better) miss the obvious about him, which is that statesmen (and heaven knows, the leader of the free world) must be remarkably careful with their words, because even seemingly innocous statements can be - easily - misinterepreted. Trump, needless to say, is not prudent in watching what he says, not at all. Combine Trump's bluster about China with the intense nationalism that exists in that nation, for instance, and a disagreement over some issue in the Asian region could easily spark into war (really, I am not being hyperbolic about this; World War I started partly because of the kaiser's belligerent rhetoric).

However, to give the devil his due ... Trump certainly does have what the other candidates lack, a sense of thymos - of spiritedness and force (perhaps a better description of his appeal than simple masculinity, at least in my mind). At Steve Sailer's site there are two videos, of Trump and of the Socialist Bernie Sanders being confronted with hecklers (See here: Watching the way the two deal with the situation tells you all you need to know concerning why one figure is rising and why the other is seen as a curiosity, at best. People will always, in a very visceral fashion, respond to an individual who cooly and decisively exercises his will against others. It's just natural. (The trick, of course, is combining such thymos with wisdom and restraint, something that greats like FDR, JFK, Reagan, and so on were able to do so well.)

Jason said...

2. I agree with much of your analysis of the lack of manliness within Christian circles, although at the end I don't think it is true enough. Certainly too many Christians (not to mention secularists, those honest conservatives and liberals of good will versus authoritarian progressives) are afraid to stand up for themselves and to be assertive, especially when confronted with bullying (although allow me to say this doctor; this criticism, in my humble opinion, should really be directed less at guys like Dreher - who while a bit of a "beta" is actually out there, after all, speaking-up publicly about what he believes about the Benedict Option and taking his lumps - and more at your Christian manosphere friends, who spend all day long writing on blogs about how wimpy and weak clergy are, yet who obviously lack the kidney themselves to actually say a word about it or do anything even in their own churches). Yet I can't help thinking at the end that your hope for some Charles Martel or Joan of Arc to turn the tide is quixotic. It would help a little, sure, but we're in a post-Christian world now, not a medieval one or even the post- but still Christian-influenced Britain that Chesterton lived in, and that's not going to change I think for a long, long, time. Martel had all of Christendom to fight along with him against the infidel - nothing like that exists now. I think Dreher rightly recognizes this, and is just trying to find the best way of dealing with it. Indeed, I believe he recognizes something important in the Christian resistannce to secularism, Moralistic Thereaupetic Deism, or whatever you want to call it, which is that Christians should fear being seduced by the new environment they're in far more than being persecuted by it (although, to be sure, the latter is all too depressingly real). In countries like Slovakia and Poland for instance, which are arguably the most Catholic nations in the world, secularization is occuring rather rapidly, and not so much because of the pettiness of the EU "Cathedral" or unmany priests (although probably these are secondary factors) but simply because Poles and Slovaks prefer pagan modernity. Anyway, as I've said before doctor I'm an agnostic, so caveat lector - I may very well be missing things or even be off-base.

Anonymous said...


The fact that Joan of arc even rose to prominence shows that france at the time is already in grave trouble having been already divested of worthy men who leads in battle.

A nation ruled by women is already under the judgment of God

Isaiah 3:12

Robert What? said...


I don't know how this article became about Trump, but I think an experienced negotiator, businessman, entrepreneur, etc, who speaks his mind rather than lies to your face would make a fine President. Certainly light years better than what we have now. Personally, I don't think he'll be President. I think the fix is in for Hillary.

The Social Pathologist said...


Thanks for the considered comments.

Trump certainly does have what the other candidates lack, a sense of thymos

It's this sense which is notably lacking in all of the other Republican candidates. What interests me is why isn't there another conservative candidate with this characteristic. Why are they all so brown-paper-bag? Particularly the Christian ones?
Is there something in Christianity which is anti-thymos?

I agree that Trump is not an ideal candidate and I'm aware of the dangers of bellicosity but it appears amongst the conservatives, there seems to be almost the flip side to this danger, a desire not to want to confront anything at all. Sometimes you've just got to stand your ground and ward off the attack. Not simply hope for "reasonableness" from your opponent.

As I see it, Trump's success is based on him being the only one with the gumption to grab the low hanging fruit of politics. It was there for everyone to take but no one wanted to.

Dreher - who while a bit of a "beta" is actually out there

He's only "out there" in the space permitted by him with the Culture. Academic and reclusive Christianity is perfectly permitted by the Cathedral, but taking pot shots at it isn't. Someone like Roosh V on the other hand, was being hunted down in Canada by SJW's simply for pushing a vision for Neomasculinity. I don't know enough about his vision of it, but he certainly was getting the heat in a way Dreher wasn't.

Yet I can't help thinking at the end that your hope for some Charles Martel or Joan of Arc to turn the tide is quixotic

The more I reflect on this the more I recognise each one of us must be a Charles Martel in their own sort of way. I'm being serious here. I fully agree with Burkes notion that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. The rise of evil in the West has come about because good men have done nothing when given the chance. Hence, the disgust directed toward the Republican party by the rank and file. They get voted in an never repeal what's been done by the left hence the contempt for the "usual Republicans." Trump's success is as much a protest vote as it is an endorsement.

@Robert What?

but I think an experienced negotiator, businessman, entrepreneur, etc, who speaks his mind rather than lies to your face would make a fine President

It reminds me a bit about Lincoln's response to the Grant's detractors, "I need this man because he fights." Grant's personal failings were irrelevant to Lincoln's need for a general who would take the battle to the South.

A lot of Christian types conflate moral goodness with the skill of governance, which are two separate things. A good pilot does not need a moral theology qualification in order to be a good pilot, likewise Nixon was better administrator than Carter despite the differences in moral stature of the two.

Trump's weakness I think lays in the fact that he is business man, and running a country is not the same as running a business. As I've said before, Trump is capitalising on the discontent of the conservative base and the lack of a viable alternative.

The fact that Joan of arc even rose to prominence shows that france at the time is already in grave trouble having been already divested of worthy men who leads in battle.

The fact that Trump is so triumphant is due to the fact that there are no worthy alternatives.

Anonymous said...


Churchanity is inherently emasculating to men and anti-thymos in men while apparently doing the opposite to women.

Jason said...

Thanks for your responses doctor. Concerning Dreher, I simply think that there is an honest disagreement between those like him who hold a Benedict Option-like view and those like yourself who feel Christians (and I would add, any individual of religious or moral integrity) should more actively resist evil. I certainly don’t think that Dreher is afraid of stepping outside the boundary line of what the Cathedral finds permissible, but rather that he believes such a resistance would simply be pointless. Also, to put the matter too provocatively, I don’t believe that he’s just been a good Christian slave who knows his place and doesn’t get too uppity with his SJW-betters: he’s very consistency and vehemently criticized the totalitarianism of SJWs on his blog, although I suppose one could argue that he hasn’t really pulled the trigger by calling for some real Christian resistance to intimidation (e.g. calling on Christians not to attend or give money to universities that refuse to respect religious rights).

Anyway, I’m very with you about your call to be a Martel in one’s own life, that one should act rather than allow evil to prevail and all that. That’s not hokey idealism, but simply a call to be an actual Christian (or in my case, a man).

Jason said...

Anonymous, I don’t think business acumen necessarily translates well into political statesmanship, and more particular foreign diplomacy. Suppose Candidate Trump endlessly stumps on the Chinese ending their currency and trade manipulations so that the U.S. can more easily compete. Then suppose President Trump lays down the gauntlet in a summit with the Chinese, and the latter respond to the former’s bluster by more or less telling him to go jump in a lake?

The Social Pathologist said...


Last night, I was reading up on the some the German Christian victims of Nazism. Most of the survivors were nearly all of the opinion that active action earlier on would have prevented a lot of the hurt that happened later.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the thoroughly delightful read. Though, as a celibate myself, I have to say that not all celibates share the delicacy of Mr. James.

That said, Trump is no Belloc.

And that said, a man who is recognizably a man is still preferable to all the other well-behaved and delicate sirs, who marry Mexicans and shill for Israel, and who for some reason want to be elected president of this country, rather than of the countries they so obviously prefer.

Unknown said...

There is a fine Calvinist tradition of disdaining such things as enjoyment, especially the sorts of enjoyment that dispels the notion that the World is Bad. Earthiness is an affront the Protestants of that flavor.
And such an outlook has grown in many circles as Religion was abandoned but the Calvinism remained.
There was a disconnect sometime around the 1930's. Largely the fault of Communism, low culture, and the media (but I repeat myself) that rough-and-tumble was "over here" with the Proletariat while educated and polite was "over there" with the upper class. While the *actual* upper class knew better and ignored such nonsense the working class and the bourgeoisie embraced it. The WASPs, beset on the one hand by theology and the other by culture, grabbed this bloodless formality with both of their own hands and seem eager to hang on.

James Parliament said...

Another fine writer (Lewis) said something to the effect that things always work according to their nature. The tide will not so much turn as it will awaken the men who are already here.

New reader, enjoy it so far. Great passage from Chesterton which I had never read.