This is quite likely one of the 10 best books I’ve ever read in my lifetime. In fact, it’s likely 2nd only to Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men that I praised highly in the previous entry.
Why? Because Miner gives some really great advice that every man nowadays could stand to read; ESPECIALLY those who are entering adulthood as well as those with an interest in increasing their gentlemanliness.
Firstly, he echoes the thought “that what counts as “gentlemanly” is not a man’s birth. Rather it is his virtues (character) and “the grit of his heart.” He establishes that a big part of those virtues is a focus as much as humanly possible is a dedication to goodness, in that gentlemen always try and do the right thing.
Being a Catholic by faith, Miner recognizes that man is a fallen creature. As such, he knows – as did many pre-20th century authors about “gentlemanliness” – that being a gentleman is not to be absolutely perfect and sinless. That would be impossible for any man (save one and they crucified him) to ever obtain. But, it is to asymptotically strive to evermore get closer to that focus by virtuous, chivalrous behavior always aiming to do the right or just thing. And he purports that the awareness of perfection – of the highest possible standard in every aspect of life – IS possible to attain.
Mind you, Miner is quite clear that being gentlemanly is not the same as being wimpy or a pushover. Rather, he states quite clearly that it is up to the true – or the compleat gentleman must always be willing to offer his protection to what is right and just or may otherwise be needing protection. He points out that what he calls the “robustness of reciprocity” requires the gentleman to be “a warrior and not a doormat, and he will cooperate with others insofar as they cooperate with him. Cooperation begets cooperation, kindness begets kindness, but neither cooperation nor kindness is quite the appropriate response to aggression or rudeness.”*
Additionally, he points out that the gentleman should additionally be dedicated to helping to establish and preserve justice, even if that means having to fight for it. And, he knows it is better – as both the ancient Greco-Roman scholar Epticticus and the 20th-century American philosopher Sidney Hook believed – that it’s far better to die courageously than to live spinelessly.
But lest we draw the conclusion that Miner has too much the Spartan emphasis, he is quick to point out that while the chivalrous gentleman “works hard for peace,” he should always “be ready for war and be prepared to vigorously oppose the enemies of liberty and justice.” And he quotes from the likes of George Washington, Cardinal Newman, Aristotle and even Emily Post, who gave us the guidance that “far more than any mere dictum of etiquette is the fundamental code of honor, without the strict observance of which no man, no matter how ‘polished,’ can be considered a ‘gentleman.’ [His honor] demands the inviolability of his word and the incorruptibility of his principles; he is the descendant of the Knight…[as such he is compelled to be the] and the defender of the defenseless and the champion of justice – or he is no gentleman.”**
And the 19th-century insult of “You, sir, are no gentleman” was one of the most horrible insults a man with any character could have lodged against him.
Miner notes that in 2004 (when he wrote this fine work) that to attempt to be a compleat gentleman was to be a remnant. Though a passionate history buff, I’m not one for living in the past, but given how messed up our current world and western culture has become, perhaps we’re seeing a resurgence of these emphasis in male conduct and a revitalization of such codes of honor and morality.
If so, it’s far overdue and will be a welcome return. Even if it doesn’t, I would highly recommend this book as well for any male of any age above 18.