Monday, January 17, 2011

Defending Christendom With Good Manners

Good good social manners play an important role
in protecting Christian civilization from paganism
The year was 1789 and the date the 5th of October. Crowds of discontented women assembled in the market places of Paris, France. Fuelled by food shortages, harsh economic conditions and a growing sense that their King and Queen cared nothing about their plight, the women marched to the Hôtel de Ville, where they hoped city officials would listen to their grievances.

Unsatisfied by the responses, the congregation of women became even more agitated. More women left their work in the Parisian fish stalls to join the growing crowd. Pretty soon the group numbered around 7,000. Eventually, without apparent foresight, the women began slowly marching to Versailles, the King and Queen’s country residence twelve miles West of Paris.
 
Reduced to the status of animals, the women were singing songs about raping the queen, while others demanded to have her entrails.
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No one could have prepared King Louis XVI or Queen Marie Antoinette for what they would encounter the next morning when the crowd reached the gates of their peaceful grounds. The king’s royal bodyguards were overpowered by the women, who killed two of them before displaying their severed heads on a couple of pikes.
 
Pressing their way into the grounds, the women soon broke into the palace itself. Once inside, they ran straight for the queen’s bedchamber, demanding her body parts.  When a group arrived in the queen’s bedchamber, they found it empty. Marie Antoinette, having heard the commotion, had fled to her husband’s room only minutes earlier. Angry to discover that their victim had fled, the women plunged their knives deep into her bed, leaving her mattress in a thousand pieces.
 
By what seemed like a miracle of diplomacy, the King and Queen managed to negotiate for their very lives.  They agreed to march back to Paris, effectively prisoners of the revolution.  Paraded behind the severed heads of their former guards, the King and Queen were jeered at, humiliated and mocked for the entire twelve mile journey back to Paris.
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Three years later, on January 21, 1793, King Louis XVI was executed on the guillotine. Later in the same year, Queen Marie Antoinette was forced to follow her husband to the national razor, but not before being subjected to the most discourteous treatment.
 
The King and Queen were not the only ones to suffer at the hands of the revolutionaries.  By summer of 1793, power over all of France had become concentrated in a 12-man war dictatorship known, ironically, as the “Committee of Public Safety.”  Led by Maximilien de Robespierre, the committee sentenced over 40,000 French citizens to have their heads chopped off.  More than 350,000 Parisians spent time in jail for being suspected enemies of the revolution.
 
The French revolution left a legacy of civil war and international conflict in its wake that would last for the next twenty-five years.
  
Looking back at this spectacle over two hundred years later, the question that naturally occurs to us is, ‘What could have caused so many people to turn into virtual animals?  How could 7,000 Parisian women, and later the entire nation of France, become so inhuman towards their own queen?’
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Lots of answers present themselves, and certainly many factors coalesced to incite such barbarism.  From food shortages, anti-royalist propaganda, mismanagement of the country’s financial resources, nonsensical Enlightenment philosophy, a monarch who was disconnected with his people’s needs – these were just some of the many factors that influenced the grotesque behavior described above.  However, one key aspect that is often overlooked is that the revolution was made possible by a titanic loss of good manners.
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At least, that is what the Anglo-Irish statesmen, Edmund Burke (1729 –1797) argued when he took up his pen to lambaste the French revolution in his famous book Reflections on the Revolution in France.
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While Burke was sensitive to the array of historical and social factors that were antecedent to the uprisings, he argued that fundamentally the revolution in France arose out of a deficit of good manners. As he put it, “But among the revolutions in France must be reckoned a considerable revolution in their ideas of politeness.”  “Humanity and compassion are ridiculed as the fruits of superstition and ignorance.”
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Burke went on to observe that “There ought to be a system of manners in every nation, which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”
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By good manners Burke had in mind more than merely lifting your hat to ladies or observing proper etiquette at table, although it certainly included that.  Rather, he meant the entire network of social graces and ethical obligations which, as he put it, “beautify and soften private society.”
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Burke argued that such manners had their origin in ancient chivalry and were absolutely necessary for the preservation of Christian Europe. Not only did such manners beautify and soften private society, but Burke argued that they had the potential to invest the pedestrian activities of life with a sense of unspoken grace, obligation and dignity.  Such manners dictated norms of behavior, interaction and expectation to a degree that mere law never could.
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But was Burke right? Are good manners really central to preserving Christian civilization? In my article “Defending Christendom with Good Manners” I argue that Burke was indeed correct: good social manners play an important role in protecting Christian civilization from paganism. Moreover, I have argued that manners are in jeopardy from Richard Dawkins and other evolutionary biologists who have posited a worldview in which good manners can have no ultimate primacy. I'd like to get some feedback on my argument. Click here to read more and click here to discuss this issue on my facebook page.

Further Reading

Defending Christendom With Good Manners
 
Some Modest Advice

The Magi, the Massacre and Herod the Horrible

Eight Gnostic Myths You May Have Imbibed

The Aliveness of All Things: Dorothy Sayers and the Passionate Intellect

Contending For the Faith: The Witness of Perpetua and Irenaeus

The Objectivity of Beauty


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