Because it’s St. Valentine’s day, I am re-blogging a piece on that subject from the old blog. I think it’s still relevant today, even though I’m aware that in the years since I wrote this, chivalry has become more denigrated for various reasons. I hope readers will keep that in mind and bear with me in this post, mindful that things have changed even in the short span of time since I wrote it.
“As another Valentine’s Day is here, some news articles on the subject give us pause to consider the gulf between us in the West and those in the non-Western, non-Christian world.
In a society which insistently tells us that we are really all the same, and that our respective cultures can easily be thrown into the blender and retain their flavors, let’s think about the differences in worldview displayed in these stories:
‘In India, hardline Hindu nationalists have been burning Valentine’s Day cards in protest against what they consider a corrupt and commercial Western celebration.
As South Asia Correspondent Peter Lloyd reports from New Delhi, every year in the capital and other northern cities the radical fringe of Hindu politics gather for noisy protests against Valentine’s Day.
This year was no exception.
They denounced it as a corrupting influence on Indian culture. ‘
This article from India, while more pro-Western, shows again the gulf that exists between Western ideals and customs, and those of non-Western cultures.
‘ …, it is evident that such days, and the general ethos of romance and love conveyed through advertisements, serials and books, is raising aspirations in the young. They dream of a chance to “fall in love” and live “happily ever after”. Sadly, that is where the dream ends. For Cupid’s arrow, in this country, must land in a preordained space — it must strike a person of the right caste and creed. Otherwise, the love match is rejected. Increasingly, that is the hard reality that thousands of young people, who delude themselves into believing that things are changing and that they will be able to make a choice on the basis of the dictates of their hearts, are being forced to face. They are firmly brought down to earth by families who refuse to accept their right to make a choice. If a couple refuses to fall in line, they must face rejection, ex-communication, and even violence. The happy endings are few and far in-between.’
It’s a commonplace among those who are wary of Islam to label it misogynistic, oppressive of women. And it is. But to a great extent, most non-Western cultures place a lower value on women than our culture. It’s ironic that Western feminists are the loudest complainers about the supposed oppression of women in our countries, seemingly oblivious to the fact that generally speaking, women have enjoyed the highest status in Western countries, in Christendom. than in any other culture. I invite anyone to show me an example of a culture outside the West in which women had higher status and more respect.
Around the 14th century, the feast day of St. Valentine became associated with romantic love, which in turn, developed as an ideal along with the Code of Chivalry. But that’s not the sum total of chivalry, though many think it is.
I’ve long been fascinated with the Code of Chivalry, which is a legacy of our Norman ancestors. Now these days, for some reason, our Norman ancestors are not well spoken of; it’s more fashionable for those of British ancestry to claim kinship to Anglo-Saxons and Celts, while the poor Normans are disavowed. Why? They were too strong, and too capable. In our modern world, the strong are devalued, and the weak, the underdog, and the victim reign supreme. Ironically, that grotesque exalting of the weak is something of a perversion of the chivalric tradition. Under the chivalric code, men were to treat the weak generously and kindly, but they were not to relinquish their power, and strength was honored, not disparaged as it often is now.
Here is one writer’s modern take on the meaning of chivalry
‘Chivalry spells out certain ethical standards that foster the development of manhood. Men are called to be: truthful, loyal, courteous to others, helpmates to women, supporters of justice, and defenders of the weak. They are also expected to avoid scandal.
Beautiful ideals! They attract us with a sense of nostalgia that is almost religious. That’s because they are part of us already. Unfortunately, they must contend with powerful, often destructive influences, like commercial television, that bombard us with outrageously bullish images of men that are, at best, inappropriate.
The virtues of chivalry offer more than pleasantries and politeness. They give purpose and meaning to male strength, and therefore support the overall workings of society. They remind us that Camelot is an ideal worth striving for, the reflection of who we are when we are at our best. Here is a short summary:
Truth provides the foundation of chivalry. A man who lies cannot be trusted. His strength and ambitions cannot be counted on. Truth should always remain our greatest concern.
Loyalty denotes a relationship that is based on truth and commitment. If we are fortunate, we have companions who are loyal to us—but we must be loyal to others as well. Remember, loyalty is a virtue to cultivate, even when it is not reciprocated.
Courtesy provides the means for cordial and meaningful relationships. A society cannot be healthy without courteous interaction. We sometimes admire people who trample on courtesy to get what they want—but keep in mind, the contentious world they create is very disappointing, and we all have to live in it.
[…] Justice involves little more than treating people fairly. It also calls for mercy. We all make mistakes.
We admire men who are strong, but if their strength is not directed to uphold what is good, what value does it have? We are therefore called to use our strength to defend those who cannot defend themselves, and commit ourselves to just causes. “
And here is an excerpt from a 19th century work on Chivalry.
From G.P.R. James, The History of Chivalry, 1830
‘The first point required of the aspirants to Chivalry in its earliest state, was certainly a solemn vow, “To speak the truth, to succour the helpless and oppressed, and never to turn back from an enemy.”
[…]the knights for long after the first institution of Chivalry, were “simple in their clothing, austere in their morals, humble after victory, firm under misfortune.”
In France, I believe, the order first took its rise; and, probably, the disgust felt by some pure minds at the gross and barbarous licentiousness of the times, infused that virtuous severity into the institutions of Chivalry which was in itself a glory.
[…] [N]o words will be found sufficient to express our admiration for the men who first undertook to combat, not only the tyranny but the vices of their age; who singly went forth to war against crime, injustice, and cruelty; who defied the whole world in defence of innocence, virtue, and truth; who stemmed the torrent of barbarity and evil, and who, from the wrecks of ages, and the ruins of empires, drew out a thousand 14 jewels to glitter in the star that shone upon the breast of knighthood.”
[…]There cannot be a doubt that Chivalry, more than any other institution (except religion) aided to work out the civilization of Europe. It first taught devotion and reverence to those weak, fair beings, who but in their beauty and their gentleness have no defence. It first railed love above the passions of the brute, and by dignifying woman, made woman worthy of love. It gave purity to enthusiasm, crushed barbarous selfishness, taught the heart to expand like a flower to the sunshine, beautified glory with generosity, and smoothed even the rugged brow of war.
For the mind, as far as knowledge went, Chivalry itself did little; but by its influence it did much. For the heart it did every thing; and there is scarcely a noble feeling or a bright aspiration that we find amongst ourselves, or trace in the history of modern Europe, that is not in some degree referrible to that great and noble principle, which has no name but the Spirit of Chivalry.”
Our age has forgotten the roots of our civilization, going back to European Christendom, but some of the remnants of the Code of Chivalry still survive, and those traditions are what divide us from the Moslems and the Hindus and the rest of the non-Western, non-Christian world. And to those agnostics and atheists who are indignant at any mention of Christianity and Christendom, I can only say that history cannot be denied; even if you dislike Christianity, it is part of our European heritage. All of us of European ancestry had Christian ancestors going back many generations, and Christianity largely shaped European culture.
The high ideals of Chivalry are all but forgotten today, and the word is rather an archaic word . But it encompassed both love and war, and it encompassed faith as well. The knight was strong yet compassionate toward the weaker: children, women, the old. A knight fought fairly, and did not attack the unarmed. Please notice how those basic rules of civilized warfare are not observed by Moslems or most non-Western people. Perhaps the Japanese code of bushido was akin to the Western chivalric tradition, but in general, chivalry, as known in Christendom, was unique in the world.
Our more humane standards in warfare, as compared to the Moslems, make a striking contrast. Unfortunately, they put us at a disadvantage in our war with Moslems. If we are fighting by the old chivalric traditions, as we have been, trying to avoid harming civilians and noncombatants (and how can we tell, when our opponents are not regular, uniformed soldiers) and they are fighting with no holds barred, we are at a disadvantage. Our chivalric traditions leave us vulnerable, when facing an opponent who is not principled. How can we deal with an enemy who is not above using women, children, and the old, as human shields? An enemy who sends children out in harm’s way, purposely? Our chivalric codes took the barbaric edge off warfare, as long as our enemies were others who observed the same rules. Now, this is not the case.
And notice how in every Western country where there are Moslem colonies, there seems to be a pattern of rape against the indigenous Western women, often gang rape.
Our prolonged contact with Moslems can only result in conflict, unless one of us is conquered and dominated culturally, To survive among Moslems would require that we become more like them; we can no longer cling to our age-old traditions of measured, civilized rules of warfare. We would have to match them in ruthlessness if we are to continue to try to coexist in the same space with them. And in fighting to survive, we would lose something of ourselves, of who we are and who we have been for thousands of years. This would be as tragic as the mere physical or political conquest by Moslems: the surrender of our standards, ideals, and civilization.
St. Valentine’s Day may be thought of as just a sentimental, but ultimately silly, holiday by many people, but it is symbolic of what makes us in the West what we are, with our idealism and sentimentality. The celebration is emblematic of the stark contrast between us and the non-Western world. To them, our idealized romantic love is corrupt, decadent, and intolerable. I think they see it as weak and feeble. And, isolated from the rest of the chivalric code, maybe it is. Christendom, the West, must rediscover the strength and justice aspect of chivalry, and not only the softer, tenderer side which, alone, makes us vulnerable to the predators abroad in a dangerous world.