January 11, 2018 by John Bruce Leonard
Mores and the Battle for Tomorrow, Part VI
IT IS COMMON when thinking of manners to consider their most external aspect alone—the visible mask they put to the world. It is supposed indeed that manners are only “skin deep,” precisely as beauty is said to be. And just as the latter is nothing but the judgement of the superficial, so the former fails to see through the shell of things to pierce their beating heart. Manners indeed strike to the very core of a human being—which is demonstrated most immediately by the fact that those same critics who believe they find in manners but the thinnest veneer of human action are quick to accuse mannered men of “putting on airs,” of “pretension,” of “pomposity”—all of which reveals their awareness that such human beings are but faking their manners, or are not adopting manners adequate to their station, their spirit, or their soul. The which implies of necessity that other manners would befit them, or that the real trouble is not in their adopting manners, but in their adopting the wrong manners.
Consider an exemplary case of this problem. The most external aspect of manners is in dress and adornment—in what clothes a man or woman chooses to wear, and, in the case of women, what jewelry or makeup, and in what quantity. Being the most external aspect of manners, this is also the easiest to counterfeit, to adopt unjustly and without right requisites. A vulgar scoundrel can easily don the garb of an aristocrat, considering only he has physical access to it (which in our day has been made universally easier than it ever was in the past), just as an aristocrat might come in exceptional circumstances to wear rags. Yet the inward quality shines ever forth, and a man well attuned to such matters can easily see through merest cloth; vulgarians and aristocrats alike wear their souls on their sleeves, no matter what fabric these last may be cut of. Keen eyes will perceive the fair in the foul and vice-versa. A man of true spiritual superiority—by which we mean to say, in a word which is somewhat abused nowadays, self-possession—will be recognizable even if he is nude—fact which has been duly commented on throughout the ages.
Our task then is twofold. On the one hand, as has already been discussed and indicated, we must fit our manners to our worldview, eliminating all traces of hypocrisy from our spirits and integrating thought with deed; and in the second place we must improve our ability to sense these same facets in those surrounding us. This is not easily done in our day of equality, as the traits have been smothered and the senses dulled. This means—we must gain tolerably clear awareness of those qualities, actions, comportment and deportment, which align most naturally with our worldview—as, to name but a few, fearlessness in converse and in dialogue; refusal to apologize when we have not erred; constant politesse which however dispossesses us neither of our tongues nor our courage; readiness nonetheless to exchange insult for insult, but ever with wit and keen mind rather than with blunt and vulgar word; etiquette as the establishment of boundaries and distance from those who do not belong to our kind; dress which is meet to honorable and self-respecting men, rather than this slothful and falsely egalitarian frumpery common to our day; poise and possession in bearing; use of language befitting neither dry technicians nor humble fools; distinct differences in our treatment of friend and foe; gallantry toward women; and in general an attitude more similar to the chivalric code of old than the democratic code of present—let all of these stand as merest indications of the mannerisms, the qualities of sociality, which might grow naturally from our worldview. We could do worse than to take for our motto in this the Roman insignia writ by Virgil: Parcere subiectis et debellare superbos.
Our goal should be this: to comport ourselves in such a fashion, to stand so firm upon our own vision, that we can recognize one another almost at once, can as it were smell each other out in a crowd, though we be yet strangers to one another. That is a hard business, but not impossible; there are groups of people amongst us today who ally by choice and not by birth, and who display such features and attributes that they can be commonly identified almost at a glance, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons, for instance. We, too, must forge such clarity of being. Ours cannot be merely a political movement—the which is, as all things democratic, mercurial and ephemeral and destined soon or late to disaggregate and fail. Ours must be rather a class, a society of our own, and above all—a people.
This end will never be attained through the manners and the mores of our present rabbled and disoriented society. We, dwelling by those standards, are as living beings constrained to wear dead skin. We should rather be as founts and fathers, to fill emptied vessels with renewed life of our own making.
Return to Part V