Bring back chivalrous gentlemen – the world needs them more than ever

I think the world desperately needs to return to the concept of a gentleman.

Being a gentlemen was not just about being wealthy, or successful, or of the right social class. It was not just about dressing or speaking in a certain way. It did not solely mean that you had been privately educated, attended the right exclusive schools, or were related to ancient or powerful families. All of those things could give you the appearance of being a gentleman, but not the reality.

If your actions and conduct fell below a moral standard, your social class did not save you from disapproval. It just changed the negative terms applied to you. You might not be considered a thug, or a churl, an upstart or a peasant, but you would be considered a cad, a bounder, a blaggard or a wastrel. You would receive justified criticism, and no amount of money or connections would really change that.

Because being a gentleman was a moral standard, not a purely social one. It meant to possess dignity at all times, to take blows lightly or without complaint, to strive to excel but not to be seen to strive, to be modest but confident, smart but not smarmy, cool but not cold, charming but not shallow, brave but not foolhardy.

It meant being stoic regarding your own losses, but considerate regarding those of others. It meant having a sense of deep and abiding responsibility, towards your wife, your children, your parents and your country. It meant being a loyal friend, a stalwart companion, and when occasion demanded, a selfless leader.

It meant assuming that the masculine role was to protect others and to do so without the slightest regard for personal vanity or practical reward. The English perfected this idea and embodied it as nearly as any fallible human being could, because it is of course an impossible ideal. But it’s interesting that we so scorn that past, when we have no such ideal ourselves, let alone the social phenomenon of multitudes of men trying to make it real every day of their lives.

Only early Roman virtue and the Confucian vision of a junzi can be said to be equivalent in their moral rigour. The fact that we look down on that ideal now is only evidence of our contemporary squalor, and not of the falseness of the old idea itself.