The Gentleman Defined

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An Exploratory Series

The subtitle for my last post was: a gentleman complains.

So what is a gentleman?

Well traditionally a gentleman is someone whose family had money and thus could afford to fop about and look posh.

That is not my definition of gentleman but that is where we will start.

Gentlemen represent the leisure class.

I am not sure but I think that the term aristocracy may have something to do with Aristotle. Ah, I’ve looked it up and no. Aristos simply means excellent so Aristotle is connected only loosely through prefix and the fact that he is a philosopher.

While it isn’t entirely accurate I think that to some extent one can say that philosophers became aristocrats. The life of the mind requires energy and time. Things which can only exist in adequate amounts if you belong to the leisure class. Especially historically when food, shelter, and health were far more scarce.

There was to the best of my foggy memory the notion in ancient Greece that manual and commercial labor was lowly. That the life of the mind was the purest thing. So through this ideation the leisure of the philosopher to do philosophy perhaps became the leisure of the gentleman to be a gentleman.

What need is there of these leisurely ponces called philosophers and gentlemen?

You see philosophy, science, and the pursuit of refinement through art, literature, etc. all require copious time. There are of course exceptions among the folk who would pen folksy epics and compose folksy songs. Compositions on par with the works of the most ‘well-bred’ and pampered of noble-men. But the fact remained that these were exceptions, that the strains of duty drained the common man of creative energies. Just as laziness drained the common aristocrat of creative energies.

Really the whole notion of a leisure class arose in the hopes that this class would maintain culture, do philosophy and science, be patrons of the arts, and promote peace thereby. That is the classic ideal of the aristocracy to which few actual aristocrats seem to have lived up.

It is where we get our notions of gentlemanly actions, interests, and decorum. These ideals are I think still very much useful today and are the reason why I’m typing up this little number.

I am very fond of some of the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I am fond of such works because they present a very good model for the Gentleman Laborer.

I have no interest in being an aristocrat or returning to any form of aristocracy. Which is why this notion of the craftsman, yeoman, etc. who retains a sense of culture, takes himself seriously, and assumes responsibility for the course of his life and the life of his nation is an indispensable one.

The aim of college has been to bring about more of such people. It is readily apparent that they’ve failed miserably at so doing. Instead these institutions are merely vocational schools that make yokels believe that they know more than they do without even beginning to remove yokelism. In short the university system today is a counterfeiting scheme pumping out cheap facsimiles of lettered men.

For this I blame the fact that education is today seen as a business for producing businessmen. I will here take the Greek view that the businessman is inferior to the philosopher. But there is hope. Because it is not my aim to disparage but to improve. You see when the businessman takes philosophy seriously then he becomes a Gentleman.

So it is that I suggest everyone read as much as possible, write as much as possible, be as courageous and polite as possible, all while embracing labor if it comes, and testing limits in the wild.

These virtues and pursuits are the only soil in which that rare orchid called a Gentleman can flourish.

This is a very difficult notion to pin down and will likely be a series to which I’ll add periodically.

Here is a blurb from Wikipedia on ‘Roman Virtues’ which in my opinion are good foundations for sussing out how to be a gentleman.

Roman virtues

The term “virtue” itself is derived from the Latin “virtus” (the personification of which was the deity Virtus), and had connotations of “manliness”, “honour”, worthiness of deferential respect, and civic duty as both citizen and soldier. This virtue was but one of many virtues which Romans of good character were expected to exemplify and pass on through the generations, as part of the Mos Maiorum; ancestral traditions which defined “Roman-ness”. Romans distinguished between the spheres of private and public life, and thus, virtues were also divided between those considered to be in the realm of private family life (as lived and taught by the paterfamilias), and those expected of an upstanding Roman citizen.

Most Roman concepts of virtue were also personified as a numinous deity. The primary Roman virtues, both public and private, were:

  • Auctoritas – “spiritual authority” – the sense of one’s social standing, built up through experience, Pietas, and Industria. This was considered to be essential for a magistrate’s ability to enforce law and order.
  • Comitas – “humour” – ease of manner, courtesy, openness, and friendliness.
  • Constantia – “perseverance” – military stamina, as well as general mental and physical endurance in the face of hardship.
  • Clementia – “mercy” – mildness and gentleness, and the ability to set aside previous transgressions.
  • Dignitas – “dignity” – a sense of self-worth, personal self-respect and self-esteem.
  • Disciplina – “discipline” – considered essential to military excellence; also connotes adherence to the legal system, and upholding the duties of citizenship.
  • Firmitas – “tenacity” – strength of mind, and the ability to stick to one’s purpose at hand without wavering.
  • Frugalitas – “frugality” – economy and simplicity in lifestyle, without being miserly.
  • Gravitas – “gravity” – a sense of the importance of the matter at hand; responsibility, and being earnest.
  • Honestas – “respectability” – the image that one presents as a respectable member of society.
  • Humanitas – “humanity” – refinement, civilization, learning, and generally being cultured.
  • Industria – “industriousness” – hard work.
  • Iustitia – “justice” – sense of moral worth to an action; personified by the goddess Iustitia, the Roman counterpart to the Greek Themis.
  • Pietas – “dutifulness” – more than religious piety; a respect for the natural order: socially, politically, and religiously. Includes ideas of patriotism, fulfillment of pious obligation to the gods, and honoring other human beings, especially in terms of the patron and client relationship, considered essential to an orderly society.
  • Prudentia – “prudence” – foresight, wisdom, and personal discretion.
  • Salubritas – “wholesomeness” – general health and cleanliness, personified in the deity Salus.
  • Severitas – “sternness” – self-control, considered to be tied directly to the virtue of gravitas.
  • Veritas – “truthfulness” – honesty in dealing with others, personified by the goddess Veritas. Veritas, being the mother of Virtus, was considered the root of all virtue; a person living an honest life was bound to be virtuous.
  • Virtus – “manliness” – valor, excellence, courage, character, and worth. ‘Vir’ is Latin for “man”.

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