Catholic Encyclopedia warns against being a “chivalrous” beta orbiter

February 19, 2013 § 14 Comments

Chivalry is primarily a warrior concept, a way of reconciling religion and the profession of warrior, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia published in 1917:

In chivalry, religion and the profession of arms were reconciled. This change in attitude on the part of the Church dates, according to some, from the Crusades, when Christian armies were for the first time devoted to a sacred purpose. Even prior to the Crusades, however, an anticipation of this attitude is found in the custom called the “Truce of God”. It was then that the clergy seized upon the opportunity offered by these truces to exact from the rough warriors of feudal times a religious vow to use their weapons chiefly for the protection of the weak and defenseless, especially women and orphans, and of churches. Chivalry, in the new sense, rested on a vow; it was this vow which dignified the soldier, elevated him in his own esteem, and raised him almost to the level of the monk in medieval society. As if in return for this vow, the Church ordained a special blessing for the knight in the ceremony called in the Pontificale Romanum, “Benedictio novi militis.”

Chivalry began to lose its religious relevance not long after the end of the Crusades, in what the Catholic Encyclopedia calls the Third Period or Secular Chivalry.  It speaks rather critically of the kind of chivalry in which a particular woman (not women in general) became the focus of a vowed knight’s (not Everyman’s) personal protection:

But with all the brilliance and glamour of their achievements, the main result was a useless shedding of blood, waste of money, and misery for the lower classes. The amorous character of the new literature had contributed not a little to deflect chivalry from its original ideal.  Under the influence of the romances love now became the mainspring of chivalry. As a consequence there arose a new type of chevalier, vowed to the service of some noble lady, who could even be another man’s wife. This idol of his heart was to be worshipped at a distance. Unfortunately, notwithstanding the obligations imposed upon the knightly lover, these extravagant fancies often led to lamentable results.

(Emphasis mine).

One thing I haven’t been able to find in any legitimate historically based – that is, traditional – conception of chivalry as a part of Western Christendom is deference to and opening doors for “Girls Gone Wild”.   I expect we need to apply the appropriate “Princess Bride” disclaimer to the use of the term “traditional”.

Chivalry is a universal duty of the man towards all women indiscriminately; it is a principle of ethical conduct rather than it being in response to any particular behaviors or characteristics of the woman.

This seems to be a false dichotomy, since principles of ethical conduct do not in general require us to ignore the facts about a particular person’s behavior.  If by “chivalry” people simply mean that we should approach each stranger as a gentleman or a lady until demonstrated otherwise, that seems perfectly reasonable to me (though it isn’t particularly chivalry).   Since men and women are different that means different things in one’s default approach to male and female strangers.  But how we approach strangers is just a matter of civility, of acting civilized among civilized people; and it does not admit of universality in all circumstances nor does it maintain priority as more information comes in.  As with stereotypes more generally, in individual interactions the more we get to know the particulars the less pertinent the stereotypes become.

And certainly there are many things we ought never do, period: intrinsically immoral acts.  But chivalry cannot mean simply “don’t do something intrinsically immoral to a woman.”

So the notion that “chivalry” requires us to ignore certain facts about a particular person’s behavior because she happens to be a woman doesn’t strike me as chivalry, even in a modern colloquial sense.  It strikes me as a repackaging of liberalism‘s insistence that reality must be reconstructed in the face of inconvenient facts.

§ 14 Responses to Catholic Encyclopedia warns against being a “chivalrous” beta orbiter

  • Morticia says:

    But what do we call this “different” way that men and women should treat each other?

    The reason I keep using the word chivalry (and I admit the word seems to mean different things to different people) is because I can’t think of a word where “courteous” but “different” is expressed in the same word.

    Here is an example from my real life. Husbands friend offers help take my baggage out of the car. Husbands friend has a heart condition, so I say ‘Oh no..please don’t…I’ll do it.” Husbands friend looks forlorn, he was trying to be ..ahem (that C word) and I emasculated him by rejecting his offer. I wasn’t trying to be rude..but I was treating him like anyone who has a heart condition and is therefore more frail than I. So I was being courteous, but yet I was not being courteous in the way one should be towards a man who offers to help you.

  • Mike T says:

    Chivalry from a weak man is much like seeing a flabby “beta herb” ” with a barbed wire tattoo in the office. Sadly, this fact seems to escape most men of Jesse Powell’s ideological persuasion.

  • Vanessa says:

    Obviously, if a woman is grossly misbehaving then she should be reprimanded for it, rather than indulged.

    But I do truly appreciate it when men are protective of me, even if it’s merely common courtesy on their part, or their habit of enforcing rules of decency upon those around them in general. I don’t know if this is chivalry or simply good manners, but it’s certainly a relief.

  • Vanessa says:

    It’s very hard to be a lady, you know, when you’re not surrounded by gentlemen, but men aren’t inspired to be gentlemen when they’re not surrounded by ladies. This is the main chicken/egg problem.

    I’m trying hard to be a lady now, even though I wasn’t raised to be one (both of my parents being ardent feminists), but that mostly just exposes me to abuse from the uncouth or the perverted. And now I’m done making this thread All About Me and my hopeless travails with scoundrels, crazies, and the merely rude.

  • Zippy says:

    This is the main chicken/egg problem.

    Aye, it is. I’m all in favor of the default approach to a total stranger who projects no contrary evidence to be the gentleman/lady assumption.

    That’s just how civilized people behave.

    But the contrary evidence in particular cases frequently comes fast and furious.

  • Vanessa says:

    Yes, but well, women have the same problem. How do you act toward all of the scoundrels without forfeiting your title of “lady”?

    The best advice I get is “run and hide”, “bitch shield”, or “hope someone comes to your rescue”. I’ve been picking “run and hide”, but that’s not really a long-term solution, unless you want to be a complete hermit. I’ve switched to “bitch shield” and “cool courtesy”, but now I’m getting a reputation for being a bitch because they refuse to take a hint.

    Men prefer women who act vulnerable, but… well… how in the world are we supposed to do that without being mistreated? How are men supposed to be gentlemen toward women who carry “Slut for Jesus” signs and would probably spit on him if he behaved in any sort of normal manner?

    It’s a harsh world out there, I’m afraid.

  • Morticia says:

    I guess I’ll answer my own question since nobody else will do it. heh.

    I suppose we could refer to courteous male behavior as gentlemanly,and courteous female behavior as lady-like.

    So is that why everyone ignored me, because the answer was so obvious you were expecting I’d figure out myself?


  • Morticia says:

    Vanessa asks “What is the lady-like way of rejecting un-gentlemanly behavior.

    The book Fascinating Womanhood suggests “child-like anger”. In other words…. act huffy rather than ferocious.

    Or there is this method:

  • Vanessa says:

    Actually, I have the same question. What is the quid-pro-quo system of ladylike/gentlemanly behavior called, if not “chivalry”. Simply “good manners”? Doesn’t it go beyond that, as isn’t there a code of honor attached to it?

  • Vanessa says:

    ROFL! Jenna is brilliant.

  • Zippy says:

    Doesn’t it go beyond that, as isn’t there a code of honor attached to it?

    I don’t see anything wrong with “honor”. Or “dignity”, for that matter.

    The labels aren’t the most important thing. There is an element of this which is independent of other people’s behavior which I would probably call honor. A man’s honor is generally untouchable by the behavior of those around him: it depends only upon his own actions.

    Then there is the manner in which men should treat ladies, where lady is very much a behavior-dependent status. This latter is what I think could be meant by “chivalry” in a colloquial sense; but a problem arises when the two become conflated.

    In traditional chivalry, protection was afforded by warriors to women and orphans because they were weak and vulnerable. But the key categories are “the weak and vulnerable” and “warriors”.

  • Mike T says:

    It’s very hard to be a lady, you know, when you’re not surrounded by gentlemen, but men aren’t inspired to be gentlemen when they’re not surrounded by ladies. This is the main chicken/egg problem.

    A large minority of young women (< 35; I’m 29 for some perspective) are not just unladylike, but actually manish in terms of aggressiveness. Simply being unladylike is less of an issue than being “anti-ladylike.”

    Men tend to instinctively hate such women, and I mean literally hate them. They are like having a wild, violent, uncontrollable dog in your neighborhood that you cannot legally do anything about and that you just know will cause serious grief for someone.

    In fact a good friend of mine got prosecuted because such a woman attacked him in his own home and all he did was push her back hard when she ran at him with both fists swinging. Pushing her was “assault and battery” to the ADA. Fortunately, the judge was not a chivalrist and found that a woman who comes at a man both fists swinging over a simple disagreement is a violent criminal under Virginia law and dismissed the charges with a distinct “WTF were you thinking” directed at the prosecution. My friend was fortunate because in a lot of Virginia, liberal and conservative alike, the judge may have only seen a tall lanky athlete “hitting” a small woman.

    (And Lydia wonders why I have become so jaded toward gender relations, American women, etc. over the last few years).

  • […] my previous post on Chivalry we learned that there are two quite distinct traditional concepts of chivalry[1].   The Catholic […]

  • Vanessa says:

    Oh, we know all about feral females. *shudder*

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