SurroundingrnDisorderrnby Alan CoinettrnGentility Recalled: “Mere” Mannersrnand the Making of Social OrderrnEdited by Digby AndersonrnLondon and Grand Rapids:rnThe Social Affairs Unit andrnThe Acton Institute;rn206 pp., $19.95rnNo one can deny the decline of civilityrnand manners, both a cause andrneffect of our decadent society. DigbyrnAnderson and the British-based SocialrnAffairs Unit have explored this trend,rnand the quickening downward spiral towardrnbarbarism so evident in the Westernrnworld. Gentility Recalled is a defensernof the old-fashioned concept of “manners”rnas a civilizing force—in fact, therncement that binds our culture. The essaysrnin this book address various aspectsrnof “manners,” and all of them emphasizernwhat Anderson calls “trivia”: the littlernthings that are the foundation of orderrnand that make life and society bearable.rnAs Brvan Wilson points out, emphasisrnon technological expertise is one of thernmany modern contrivances that serve tornlessen the importance of manners, andrnindeed of social interaction itself. “Reliancernon technical competence,” hernwrites, “reduces dependence on personalrngoodwill, inherent grace, gestures of respect,rnand hence the self-esteem thatrnlooks for confirmation in the esteem ofrnothers.” One thinks of the recent advertisingrncampaign by one of the majorrntelecommunications companies thatrnpraises a worid where identity, and thusrncharacter and behavior, are irrelevant; wernall communicate through a computerrn”mind to mind.”rnRecognizing the need for a code ofrnconduct, the left has sought to developrnits own system to govern human interrnaction. Typically, however, it ignoresrncustom and even human nature itself, asrnpolitical correctness advances throughrnacademia, politics, and now the armedrnforces: “a transparently artificial, alien,rnrigid, and mechanical code that lacks thernessential mainsprings of common sense,rncommon consent, and common conscience.”rnIn an atomized and anonymousrnworld, manners cannot have thernweight of cultural authority because ofrnour remove from a rootedness in placernthat necessarily dictates a comirron codernof manners. Manners schools, “sensitivityrntraining,” and political correctnessrnsimply add to the problem, since “mannerlyrnbehaviour cannot be enforced byrnconscious and deliberate planning: mannersrnmust grow spontaneously in propitiousrnsocial locales, and then be cultivated.”rnII. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., argues inrnhis essay “Why Do It? Because That’srnWhat We Do” that cosmopolitanism isrnultimately at the root of our unmannedyrnsociety. “Substantive understandings ofrnmanners can only bind those with whomrnone shares traditions, customs, and, ideally,rncontent-full moral principles.” Forrnexample, it is impossible—or ought tornbe—for me to comprehend what passesrnfor good manners in such exotic places asrnAustria, Saudi Arabia, or Vermont. I amrnnot tied to those places or those people,rnand any effort of mine to standardizernwhat is acceptable there will end in failure.rnThis is why John Shelton Reed’srn”Flirting and Deferring: Southern Manners,”rnan essay composed of two columnsrnthat originally appeared in Ghronicles, isrna necessary inclusion in the book. Traditionally,rnthe South represents one of thernmost mannerly societies in the world, inrnlarge part owing to Southerners’ passionaternlove for place. Southerners have acceptedrnas axiomatic, by and large, whatrnT.S. Eliot stated in Notes Towards thernDefinition of Culture: “On the whole, itrnwould appear to be for the best that therngreat majority of human beings shouldrngo on living in the place where they werernborn.” Southern love of place, exhibitedrnby Southerners from Thomas Jeffersonrn(who called Virginia his “country”) tornthe Nashville Agrarians and now WendellrnBerry, has allowed them to take arnfirm grasp on the traditions that dictaterntheir strong code of manners, and holdrnit. As Reed mentions, some find Southernrnnranners false and artificial. But tornsay this is to miss the entire point ofrnmanners. Manners induce us to be nicernto a person (if niceness is called for in therncircumstance) even when we wouldrnrather punch him in the nose. 1 hev arernsociety’s mediating influence. In part,rnthe South’s mannerliness is a reactionrnagainst the greatest show of poor mannersrnin the history of the Old Republic:rnthe War of Northern Aggression, inrnwhich the Federal Union acted as anrnagent of atomistic modernity, pushing itsrnabstractions with a bayonet on a regionrnwithout regard to that region’s longestablishedrntraditions or manners.rnRecalling Andrew Lytle’s argumentrnthat the South was a last stronghold ofrnChristendom, we should also considerrnthe tic between religion, in particularrnChristianity, and what we consider goodrnmanners in the West. As CarolinernMoore points out in “Being a Gentleman,”rnit was the knights of old who embracedrnHis example of charity and scrvanthood:rnthey were the forerunners ofrnthe modern gentleman, embodied nornmore perfectly than in the person of thernvery religious Robert E. Lee. Moorernpoints out that the Victorians saw howrn”the final source of all good manners isrninward charity . . . an explicitly Christianrnethos.”rnThus Robert Grant, in “Respectingrnthe Truth: Manners in the Academy,”rnstrangely blames Christianity for poorrnmanners, since “to take religion at all seriously”rnis necessarily to eschew civilizedrnbehavior toward those who are viewed asrnhellbent: thus the Inquisition, and burningrnheretics at the stake. Grant, wantingrneveryone to maintain a religious shellrnwithout actually believing in religion, isrnguilty of setting “civilized discourse”rnabove all else, a valuation he claims asrnnecessary to the pursuit of truth. But,rnwhat is Truth? Grant views political ideologuesrnand Christians equally as dangerousrnfanatics, which only demonstratesrnhis fundamental misunderstanding ofrnChristianity, whose moral principlesrnprohibit the very actions of which hernaccuses it. Ideology, by contrast, is arnsecularized religion without these moralrnconstraints.rnStriking the right balance on the subjectrnof manners, T.S. Eliot wrote thatrn”good manners, without education, intellectrnor sensibility to the arts, tend towardsrnmere automatism . . . [but] learningrnwithout good manners or sensibilityrnis pedantry.” In exploring topics such asrn”Speaking Properly,” “Knowing YourrnPlace,” and “Running a RespectablernHousehold,” the authors of Gentility Recalledrnusually are able to capture the balancernto which Eliot referred. Their prescriptionsrnare a needed antidote to therndisorder that surrounds us.rnAlan Cornett lives in Versailles, Kentucky,rnand is finishing a bibliography ofrnM.iv Bradford’s writings.rnJULY 1997/39rnrnrn