Manly Virtues

Autumn Fundraiser 2013, Day 4

Our quarterly bleg is moving into its fourth day, and the readers of Gates of Vienna are proving to be an uncommonly open-handed bunch. If the current trend continues, we should be able to make it all the way through Christmas Winter Festival to Shrove Tuesday Carnival of Drunken Debauchery without having to worry about the wolf at the door.

You’ve heard of living from paycheck to paycheck? Well, this is living from fundraiser to fundraiser. And it’s not anxiety-inducing, for some reason. My motto: “Sufficient unto the quarter is the evil thereof.”

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This week’s theme is “culture and traditions”. Today I’d like to focus on a particular tradition that used to be very common, but seems to be rapidly disappearing: the instilling of manly virtues by a father in his son.

Tip jarBy “manly virtues” I don’t mean physical strength, fighting prowess, and skill with firearms, although these are very important. Rather than behaviors, I’m thinking of a set of character traits, habits of mind that are drilled into a boy early and often so that they become part of the young man’s being, and define who he is.

For these virtues to be passed down from father to son, generation after generation, each son must have a father. A grandfather, uncle, or stepfather may be able to do the job when required, provided that bonding is strong enough, and occurs early in the boy’s life. But nothing beats the blood tie between a father and son as the most effective source of cultural transmission.

The postmodern age has cast away the role of the father in many instances. Boys who grow up without fathers, or with fathers largely absent, often lack those vital manly virtues as a result. Inadequately socialized boys constitute a culture-wide epidemic. It’s a sort of mass vitamin deficiency of the soul.

Below is a partial list of crucial manly traits, compiled from a very personal perspective. I think it’s important to chronicle these virtues before they disappear entirely, as the culture jettisons the time-hallowed traditions of masculinity.

1. Keeping your word

In wasn’t all that long ago that a failure to keep his word was a source of the greatest possible shame for a man, at least in European cultures. A man’s word was his bond, and an oath-breaker was considered the lowest of the low, worse than an animal. This was one of the fundamental components of honor, European-style.

When we had an addition built onto our house twenty years ago, the contractor and I drew up the plans together, and then shook hands on the deal. For one reason or another we neglected to actually sign the contract until the job was almost done. But he kept his word, and I kept mine: he built the addition exactly according to the plans, and I wrote the checks exactly on schedule.

The handshake was enough.

This was once a common practice in the United States. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoirs of life on the American frontier preserve a vivid account of the days when such contracts were the norm — they had to be, because in those sparsely-populated territories on the edge of Indian country, a handshake and a rifle were the only things holding civilization together.

But that was then, and this is now. Keeping one’s word is rapidly becoming passé, a quaint atavism, a relic of times gone by. Mendacity and treachery are celebrated. The clever liar is often a hero in pop culture. Whether in marriage, friendship, employment, or personal debt, the keeping of a promise is becoming more and more optional.

Since patterns of personal behavior are passed on to the political sphere, it’s no wonder that our politics have become so degraded.

2. Self-restraint

This, once again, is a trait that is not universal to all peoples. Some cultures consider a man free to do whatever he likes — rob, rape murder — as long as there is no agent of despotic authority on hand to stop him.

In contrast, Western men have traditionally internalized the imperative for self-restraint, which is an essential component of common civility. A man who failed to rein in his impulses experienced the intense disapproval of his peers, even if the law never got involved. A proper forbearance was expected of him.

I read a news story recently about an old man in Italy who found a billfold containing €80,000. He turned it over to the police, who eventually located the owner. When interviewed by the media about why he didn’t keep the money, he said, “It wasn’t worth it — I wouldn’t have been able to sleep at night.”

Not everyone manages to act with such integrity, of course. But the expectation of such behavior used to be a normative force, and it no longer is. The new ethic? “Do whatever you can get away with.”

3. Taking your medicine

This trait requires a combination of courage and fortitude. When misfortune strikes, a man is taught to grin and bear it. When it’s his turn to suffer pain or privation, he does so without making a big fuss. He simply does what needs to be done.

If he has made a mistake or done something wrong, he acknowledges his responsibility and accepts the consequences of his actions, making amends as best he can.

A boy who internalizes these imperatives learns not to cry when distressed or whine about his circumstances. This trait is now deprecated by the culture at large, but at one time it was the norm among men, and widely considered a necessity. Without it a man could not engage in the self-sacrifice required to reach long-term goals.

4. Open-handedness

A man is expected to share what he has with those closest to him, beginning with his immediate family and moving outwards through his extended family to his friends and neighbors.

To strangers he offers hospitality. When they are in distress, he aids them to the best of his ability, within the constraints imposed by prudence. The Good Samaritan is his model.

Which brings us full circle to what began this post: the uncommonly open-handed actions of our donors. The manly virtues are well-represented among the readers of this blog.

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I realize that I left out fifty percent of the human race in the above discussion. But I can’t speak for the womanly virtues; I’m not qualified.

You girls are just going to have to weigh in and provide a list of the equivalent feminine virtues. I look forward to seeing them in the comments.

Yesterday’s virtuous donors, men and women alike, checked in from the following locales:

Stateside: California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas

Near Abroad: Canada

Far Abroad: Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovenia, and the UK

Dymphna and I appreciate this exemplary open-handedness.

The tip jar in the text above is just for decoration. To donate, click the tin cup on our sidebar, or the donate button, on the main page. If you prefer a monthly subscription, click the “subscribe” button.

12 thoughts on “Manly Virtues

  1. In the UK most of the word as bond virtues were cast aside in the nineteen-eighties, destroyed by the ultra-individualism of hedonistic master of the universe neoliberal capitalism.

    Anything that was a burden to the pursuit and of hedonistic profit such as the virtuous honouring of contract or oath were disparaged. That disparaging of the virtue of oath was in fact the seizure of profit and a stripping away of the power of the individual – power ceded to the corporate culture.

    • No expects anything of them anymore, not even propriety. Which is one reason this society has so many issues. Since they put up such a bitter tantrum against anyone trying to fix that, the only way it’s going to be fixed is if someone hits the reset button.

    • Women have always(or as much of always as I remember)been expected to ferociously protect their minor children, even to the point of death.
      They have always been expected to bear the pain of childbirth.(I’d rather endure a multiple root-canal job without painkillers)
      And they have always been expected to defend their Honor.(whatever that is. I remember reading about it in 19th-Century novels.)

  2. I’d like to add a fifth: I recall a conversation with my brother, after our parents died in 1999, when we agreed that the most important lesson we learned from our Dad was that even if not all our principles were the same as his, you had to have them.

  3. Did my Father teach me anything? I know as a young boy I looked up to him, and tried to keep up when we walked together. He would be strict at times, but I generally deserved the odd harsh word, or slap across the back of my legs for cheek or rudeness. When I sought to leave home and begin work he was supportive and told me that if I had chosen a certain path then that was fine with him. He was always there to welcome me when I visited, and always with a smile. He never said ‘I love you’, or kiss me, or hug me. But I knew what he felt inside. So what did he teach me? Something unspoken – many things in fact: pride in a job well done, honesty to fellow men, avoid fights and brawls, respect for elders the infirm and the weak, to behave honorably and truthfully, never buy what you cannot pay cash for, keep something aside for a ‘rainy day’, and possibly due to him and Mum never having a cross word between them – ever – love and understanding.

    I wasn’t there when he passed away, but I wear his rings, and I know he’s always with me, as is Nan and Mum.

  4. What a manly theme have you chosen. Unfortunately the mindset of today is not able to even understand not to mention fathom what a man’s word meant. Today those virtues are considered weaknesses of the worst kind that we have to get rid of as soon as possible if they rear their head in an honest individual.
    Those virtues which which budded from the New Testament revolved around one thing : love. Love for God and love for humanity. Love your neighbors as yourself. So if you love somebody you can’t lie. So you keep your word even if you lost money or property. It was considered that losing honour by lying was a scandal worse than death.
    Today Christianity is a dirty word. Because its tenets remind us of our ugly thoughts and atrocious behaviour: Thou shalt not lie, commit fraud, steal, get drunk or use drugs because your body is the host for Holy Ghost.
    When society becomes that loose, depraved, anything goes, no restraints, partying until dawn, entertain oneself literally to death, then no surprise that no-go zones for native people, and sharia-controlled areas, pop up everywhere, in every so-called “democracies” and it is dreadful to contemplate about the consequences our clever politicians have stupidly planned for in 10 years.

      • oh dear.Did anyone suggest they do not? Obviously not the case.

        If a man professed religious beliefs that he failed to abide by, then he’s not manly. It is the principle of honoring one’s promises, whatever form they take, that is the point.

  5. Those are virtues to be sought in women, too. (I am a woman.)

    The best summary of manliness I have read is Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If”:

    If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with triumph and disaster
    And treat those two imposters just the same;
    If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
    Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

    If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
    And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breath a word about your loss;
    If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
    And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

    If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
    If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
    If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!


    I reckon that, if you can do all that and also cook delicious nutritious food from basic cheap ingredients, and do that most days of your life, you’d make a fine woman.

  6. Candour and virtue, statutory obligation of candour on NHS healthcare providers. How far has the UK fallen when the quality of being open and honest has to be instructed by the civil or criminal liability of doctors and nurses?

    Could be said that Western civilization was built on trust, not much of that around nowadays.

    • Some years ago, doing some background reading on English economics, I ran across some anecdotal material about the ways in which Puritan businessmen with their rigorous integrity in their transactions with everyone, not just other Puritans, who changed (for a while) the level of trust in the merchant class. Later, of course, they were given the boot for reasons of religious dissent.

      As the Industrial Revolution wore on and interactions became more complex that residual trust remained as a foundation of capitalist enterprise. People acted with integrity in the business world because “business” wasn’t possible any longer without it.

      That remains true today: millions of transactions online are based on an implicit trust that is sometimes betrayed but for the most part is still honored and that is the baseline experience for most people. When that begins to go, anarchy and distrust and isolation will return.

      Now I have to go change my vitamin subscription at Amazon.

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