II like it when people explain big concepts to me with fun little drawings. I like it better when those explanations are narrated by deep British voices. Make it an explanation by an author like C.S. Lewis, and I’m sold.
I came across this newer C.S. Lewis Doodles video recently while scrolling through my YouTube subscriptions. It opened up a question I thought I had settled for myself: my opinion of chivalry. Hear Lewis make his case for the return of the code of knighthood:
Chivalry, n. the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms.
Chivalry is a union of paradoxical elements. A kind warrior? A generous leader? These are unusual characters in the grand scheme of history. Lewis sees the unusual union of these opposites in the chivalric knight as vital. The chivalrous person must possess kindness and courtesy (or as Lewis puts it, meekness) as well as courage and aggression:
“The important thing about this ideal is, of course, the double demand it makes on human nature. The knight is a man of blood and iron, a man familiar with the sight of smashed faces and the ragged stumps of lopped-off limbs; he is also a demure, almost a maidenlike, guest in hall, a gentle, modest, unobtrusive man. He is not a compromise or happy mean between ferocity and meekness; he is fierce to the nth and meek to the nth.”
Call this “chivalry” and couch it in terms of the chivalric tradition or not, the idea has serious grounding. Chivalry here is not about men and their relation to women or about political ideas, wars, or religion. It’s about integrated personality. Chivalry unifies what you might call “masculine” aggression and creativity and what you might call “feminine” creativity and nurturing. That in turn makes it possible to create a society, grow and nurture it, and then defend it against people who would harm its members.
“The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two [genders] live in harmony together, spiritually co-operating. If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her….the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”
In knighthood as well as in creativity, chivalry overthrows false dichotomies. This kind of chivalry even undermines the master/slave dichotomy which has shaped societies, morals, and politics for most of human history. The chivalric person lacks neither the strength to get what they want nor the empathy to accommodate the strength and freedom of others. For the person with this union of supposed opposites, the prospect of being either a slave or a master is laughable.
The alternatives to chivalry are visible everywhere. We have men and women who possess goodness and culture but lack courage. We also have men and women who have aggression and courage but no goodness or culture. As Lewis points out, the decay and destruction of human lives throughout history is in large part due to peoples’ refusal to integrate these two key important parts of their personalities:
“[Chivalry] offers the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable.”
“Don’t be a major jerk, but don’t be a wuss either.”