Manners are the give-away. Chewing with your mouth open is comparable to having no idea who Churchill was. And while radical scholars are responsible for the murder of Western values, their odious influence on politeness is a comparable capital crime. The activist Left views proper manners as code for elitism by WASPS, or obsequious ignorance by white hayseeds– like grown men saying “yes m ‘am” to 18-year-old waitresses. Either way, good manners were assigned to the dustbin of history, right along with traditional Western values.
The harm to young people was made manifest when I joined a table of three attractive and smart female undergraduates for a supper soiree to discuss the importance of Western values to living a useful and fulfilling life. When food arrived, I stopped my peroration mid-sentence. All three co-eds attacked their meal like drunken Vikings, with knife and fork held in each hand poised for a homicide. I said, “ladies, stop, you do not want table manners like yours to be seen in public or polite company – especially in front of your future employers and work mates.”
The reaction to my comments was surprising. “Please show us what to do,” they chimed in unison. While each one appeared well-reared, well-groomed and competent, they knew they had been deprived of essential information in school and at home before arriving at university. Table manners served as the conduit to that reality, a visible manifestation of a large lacuna in the education and socialization of America’s young. Like the millions of other victims of radical manifestos in education and society, they wander through the moonscape of modern cultural life cut off from previous generations and deprived of the glittering prizes of self-fulfillment.
But knowing you have been screwed is a start on the path to recovery. Out of the blue, a report showed up on National Public Radio, unintentionally making the case for traditional liberal arts education by airing a segment instigated by a new interest in proper manners by Gen Xers and Millennials. To prove the connection between manners and proper education, the interview with the creator of the Art of Manliness web site let slip the following pertinent comment: “For the ancients – from the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans – being a man meant being physically strong, having martial courage, taking risk, being daring. But you tempered that with some of the softer, contemplated virtues, like compassion, temperance, empathy for those who are weaker than you.” In other words, civility and good manners.
The problem is the Ancients to younger generations could refer to aliens from outer space or bearded Biblical prophets. The continuous and venerable lineage of knowledge and morals, from the early Greeks through the glory that was Rome, the rise of Christianity, the flourishing of culture in Renaissance Europe to the practical evolution of individual rights, the common law and parliamentary government in England, is a terra incognito to modern college students. Yet, there it was on NPR: the Ancients evolved values pertinent today, and the abandonment of those values is a cause of intense concern today.
The ideal, developed over the centuries of Western civilization, is combining knowledge and bravery with fine manners and informed conversation. These qualities define a gentleman, not the propensity to cry at chick flicks. But even so, that the need for good manners is being expressed from the heart of radical darkness, at least exposes the façade created by the fake intellectuals who spurn good manners and western values in the name of utopian fabrications on the true nature of society. They have claimed the high ground on campus, the public schools and modern civilization for too long. Good manners could start the revolution that brings them down.