141 CHRONICLESntion possible, profitable and, on occasion, pleasant. It meansnpaying attention to other people, which is surely a moralngood but also the essence of good manners. We have atnpresent a president of the United States who shows manynsigns of being good-natured; but he is also inattentive. Henmay be the best-dressed president of the United States ever,nbut his manners do not compare with those of the sometimesnindifferently clad and ungainly Lincoln. We havenreached a stage in our imperial development where thenstaffs, the cooks, the decorators, the planners, the socialndirectors of the White House incorporate a ceremonialnorganization that surpasses that of Versailles at the time ofnLouis XIV; yet I read that at a state dinner in the WhitenHouse Madame Chirac, the wife of the prime minister ofnFrance, was placed next to Joe Paterno, the football coach ofnPenn State. (We may be permitted to speculate about thenease of their conversation.) In December 1987, before thenstate dinner held for the Gorbachevs, they advised thenReagans that they did not wish to wear black tie and longndress. Yet the president prescribed a black-tie dinner, thenexplanation of a White House spokesman being that fornsuch an occasion people “like to be dressed up.” One wouldnthink that elementary good manners (as well as protocol)nwould put the wishes of the principal guest first; evidentlynthis is not the case.nAre we witnesses not only of a decline but of andegeneration of manners, at the mercy of a rising tide ofnbarbarism, marking the beginning of a new Dark Age? Yes:nand no. Again we may face one of the great Americannparadoxes. While the political and social ideologies of then1960’s have largely disappeared, many of the fashions andnmanners have not. For at least a century after 1776nAmericans represented the most radical democracy in thenworld—at a time when their manners were often conservativenand rigid. In our times more Americans identifynthemselves as conservatives than as liberals — while theirnmanners are often loose and even radical. It certainlynsuggests that they are not as conservative as they think theynare.nBut in one important sense Americans have becomenmore conservative, and therein lies a symptom of promise.nThis symptom is the increasing respect they have for thenpast. However deficient their present knowledge of history,nhowever sorry the degeneration of history-teaching in ournschools and colleges and, yes, universities, there has risennamong the American people an appetite for the past that hasnno precedent in the nation’s 200 years.n”The favorite, the constant, the universal sneer that metnme everywhere, was on our old-fashioned attachment tonthings obsolete,” wrote Mrs. TroUope. Exactly 100 yearsnlater the fine Philadelphian essayist Cornelius Weygandt,nwriting about American manners, said, among other things:n”We, as a people, postulate change as always desirable. If anthing is not ‘modern’ or ‘up-to-date,’ we cry ‘out with it.'”nAmericans are still “under the influence of that shibboleth,n’It isn’t good if it isn’t modern.'” In the 1920’s, when thenword “modern” in England still had a double edge,nsuggesting something fast and faintly amoral, in America an”modern” girl was an all-American giri, and it was the wordn”old-fashioned” which on occasion carried a pejorativentinge: an “old-fashioned” young man was something of annnsissy. How this has changed! By the superficially radical andn”revolutionary” 1960’s, “modern” had begun to sink on thenstock exchange of words, while “old-fashioned” rose—-untilnnow, in the United States even more than in Europe, annold-fashioned house may be worth twice as much as anmodern house, most Americans favor an old-fashionednplace to a modern one and, I believe, would prefer that theirnchildren or their siblings marry someone from an oldfashionednfamily, rather than a “modern” one.nIt is, of course, possible that this national interest andnaffection for the past is mostly sentimental. But I think thatnthere is more to it. It is certainly true that, unlike in Mrs.nTrollope’s times, Americans prefer old-fashioned mannersnto “modern” or even “up-to-date” ones. A correspondingndevelopment may be garnered from the slangy use of thenword “class” in our times, when so many of the older classndistinctions have otherwise disappeared. Again it wasnTocqueville who saw that there were subtle differences innthis seemingly classless democracy: “At first sight one mightnbe inclined to say that the manners of all Americans arenexactly alike, and it is only on close inspection that one seesnall the variations among them.” But as late as the 1930’s thennow current phrase, “he has class,” did not figure in H.L.nMencken’s encyclopedic The American Language. Indeed,nto such men as Mencken or Frank Crowninshield (anthen-arbiter of New York society and its manners) there wasnsomething ridiculous and unmannerly in employing thenword “class” in America. Yet 50 years later the phrase, “hen[or she] has class,” has come to suggest manners even morenthan fashions: it does not refer merely to style, but tongenerosity and perhaps even to magnanimity. It includes atnleast a sense, if not a recognition, that good manners mayndiffer from the customary behavior of the majority. What isnbadly needed in this country is a moral minority (rather thannthe self-satisfied assertion of a Moral Majority).nIt was an Englishman who said that a gentleman isnsomeone who does not offend others unintentionally; yetnthe rudeness of Englishmen (which, true, is often the resultnof a deep-seated shyness) has never been typical of Americans,nnot even when most of them were descendants ofnpeople from the British Isles. Americans, Tocqueville wrote,nare “always cold in manner” — this is no longer true — “andnsometimes coarse; but they are hardly ever insensitive.” Thencombination of social cruelty with exquisite manners, practicednon occasion by many of the European aristocracies andnhere and there prevalent even now in France and England,nhas never taken root in America. That democraticngenerosity — what F. Scott Fitzgerald once called “thenwillingness of the heart” — was, and remains, the essentialningredient of the goodness of American manners. Thisnhappens when these manners are the fruits of a truenconsideration for others. In spite of the greatly changedncomposition of the American people, this has not changednthrough the centuries. It does not happen often in this massndemocratic age, but when American manners are good, theynare among the best in the world. When that “willingness ofnthe heart” has grown into something that is not merelynenthusiastic and instinctive, when it is manifest in thenattention paid to others, the willingness of the Americannheart becomes inseparable from the willingness of thenAmerican mind.n