21 January 2014


In all of the Analects, the one group of people Confucius singled out for particular critique are those who appear to be gentlemen, who keep all of the fine points of etiquette, but who do not follow the Way in their conduct and in the proper spirit of the rites. At times, the tone of biting sarcasm comes even through the Legge translation (not used here). ‘Fine words and an insinuating appearance,’ the Master said, ‘rarely accompany kindness [1].’ Also: ‘The Yi and the Di [barbarian tribes of the east and north] have their worthy men, whereas the states of our Xia [China] are without them [2].’ Also: ‘The men of former times, in matters of rites and music, were rubes; the men of these latter times, in matters of rites and music, are gentlemen. If I had to use them, I’d follow those of former times [3].’

Confucius had a high respect for poor and low-born and seemingly-foolish men who knew the virtues and who knew the Way, but he decried and excoriated the obsequious and the presumptuous both, who were also often cruel. Confucius in this way prefigured the approach, as the other virtuous pagans and as John the Baptist did, of Our Lord, who dined with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, and reserved his condemnation for the legalists and false gentlemen of his day who kept the laws and even the unwritten customs exactly (but who looked down on and refused to help those who didn’t). The greatest enemies of the traditionalist are not the radicals; they are the hypocrite and the fop. The radicals always come afterwards, and they are almost always right about the hypocrites and the fops, which is how they tend to gain their sympathy when they attack traditionalists.

I have written on this blog already about the dangers of white émigrés. I now wish to address the dangers of false gentlemen, hypocrites and fops originating closer to home – the people who tend to bemoan the fall of the Confederate States as the fall of a gentlemanly culture in the United States. The most recent example I had the misfortune of stumbling upon was an article by one Stephen Klugewicz arguing that the surrender of General Lee to General Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse was a ‘watershed moment in history’ in which the Old World with its manners and nobility surrendered to the New (without either). Firstly, the entire article reeks of the sort of Stalinistic cult of personality which the Lost Causers tend to indulge in regarding their generals (and project onto the North’s attitudes toward Lincoln), with no word too fine and no appearance too insinuating to be wasted upon the god-king Lee.

Secondly, I am led to wonder in precisely which ‘company’ Lee felt it necessary to appear the gentleman. Klugewicz states that manners in their highest form – chivalry, in other words – entails the defence of the weak, to the protection of women and children, to the clothing of the poor. I agree with this in full. But Lee displayed none of the above manners to those weaker than him. As his own correspondence and newspapers of the time indicate, his slaves detested him and tried on many occasions to escape from him. He separated children from their parents – made orphans, that is, rather than ministered to them. Indeed, on one occasion he instructed his men to beat at least one of his slaves cruelly and to flay the skin from his back, and then to pour brine into his wounds. His own overseer refused to whip Mary Norris, a fifteen-year-old girl, but Lee paid the county constable to do the filthy deed, as he heaped abuse upon Mary all the while. I would very dearly hope that this is not precisely what Klugewicz has in mind when he quotes Burke about ‘[making] power gentle’ and ‘beautify[ing] and soften[ing] private society’. But – and I say this as one sympathetic in the deepest degree to both the true ideals of Christian humility and chivalry as lived out in both public and private life – if Klugewicz is holding up Lee as an example of either, can it be any wonder that radicals are so numerous who are led to mock both as rank hypocrisy?

Given the evidence of his comportment to those weaker than him, Lee was a much better example of ‘brute force’ and ‘cold reason’ at work, than any man living in the North at that time. Yes, indeed, we can carefully examine Lee’s public façade, the one which he showed to Grant – but it was ill-done to present Grant as a boor or a calculating man of no manners, when the supreme gallantry he and his government displayed to the defeated Confederates is a matter of public record. To be sure, it is character, which is what we truly ought to be concerned about when we speak of ‘manners’, is determined by how he treats those nearest to him. ‘See what a man does,’ says Confucius. ‘Look at his motives. Examine the things he finds peace in. How can a man hide his character? How can a man hide his character [4]?’

Our Lord put it more pithily: ‘By their fruits you shall know them.’

‘Perhaps in America the precipitous decline of manners began somewhat later, in a humble home in south-central Virginia, when the Last Cavalier of the Old World laid down his sword in defeat, giving way to the New World Order of centralized government, crony capitalism, and the narcissistic New Man,’ Klugewicz fawns – a man who waxes lyrical over the fine-tuned rites and music of the latter-day ‘gentleman’, and ignores the fact that men of true substance and loyalty had been driven out in a former age, to Canada and to less hospitable shores, or stayed and lost everything they had to the fervour of revolution. A revolution which the even modern-day defenders of the Lost Cause lay claim to. The fact of the matter is simply that the South up until the end of the Civil War was already a crony-capitalist entity. It was a colony made up of industrialised factory-farms, engaging in monocultures of cotton and sugar, and it was cotton which made it an integral part of the globalist capitalist empire which Britain had become in the meanwhile.

I am not someone who has any relish in what the United States became in the aftermath of the Civil War. I am no apologist for the Gilded Age or the robber barons or the railway magnates. But nor am I one who will bow before graven images or be made to flatter false gentlemen like Lee, for want of anyone better.

[1] 子曰:「巧言令色,鮮矣仁!」 (Analects 1:3)
[2] 子曰:「夷狄之有君,不如諸夏之亡也。」 (Analects 3:5)
[3] 子曰:「先進於禮樂,野人也;後進於禮樂,君子也。如用之,則吾從先進。」 (Analects 11:1)
[4] 子曰:「視其所以,觀其所由,察其所安。人焉廋哉?人焉廋哉?」 (Analects 2:10)

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