Full Title: The Necessity of Chivalry
Author: C. S. Lewis
Publication Date: 1940
Links: The Necessity of Chivalry : C. S. Lewis : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive
In his essay "The Necessity of Chivalry," C.S. Lewis argues that chivalry is not only a historical curiosity, but a timeless necessity. Written fairly early during World War II, he feels that this tradition is a valuable one to cultivate, especially in the face of evil and tyrrany.
Lewis begins by defining chivalry as a system of values that emphasizes honor, courage, loyalty, and respect for women. He notes that these values are not unique to chivalry, but are universal human ideals that have been expressed in many different cultures and historical periods. Chivalry isn't a compromise between fierceness and meekness. It is fierceness to the nth AND meekness to the Nth.
Lewis argues that chivalry represents a unique and valuable expression of these ideals, particularly in the way it elevates and celebrates both of these characteristics, which is paradoxical, though ideal. He gives the example of before school, we are told that every bully is a coward and every brave man is gentle. On our first year at school we learn this isn't true. But all the more reason fierceness and meekness are both needed, though they don't naturally gravitate together. In fact, often the warrior needs to learn the lesson of humility, which the Code of Chivalry provides.
Further, in modern times, if we cannot produce Chivalrous knights, we are left with two types of people: those who deal in strength and violence, but who cannot be civilized; and those who are "meek in hall" (civilized in society and around women) but who are useless in a fight or battle. Another type, the politician, who is brutal in peace and cowardly in war is hinted at but not further discussed.
Follow history and you'll see a cycle where strong barbarians come and obliterate a civilization, taking it over. Then they become civilized and weak, at which point another round of barbarian comes in and destroys them. He indicates modern machinery won't change that cycle, it only enables it at a larger scale. This is why it is imperative for "stern" and "meek" to not fall into mutually exclusive classes (wolves and sheep). Men who combine those qualities - a knight - is the best of men. We need not a few, but a thousand or more of these men to stand up against human nature at it's worst and actually stand for something.
In the liberal, "enlightened," tradition, the man's nature is widely considered "toxic" in today's terms (pure, atavistic evil) and Chivalry will be painted as a "false glamour" of war. Those who oppose Chivalry will often paint it as an outflow of "toxic masculinity" and claim that it's only use is to oppress the weak, when in fact that is the opposite of the truth. Lewis does note that the Medieval world failed to obey the Code of Chivalry, but those who attack Chivalry pin the evil that occurred on the concept that was rejected.
He notes that chivalry was born in a time when women were often marginalized and oppressed, and that it sought to redress this imbalance by exalting women as objects of beauty, purity, and grace.
Lewis argues that chivalry is still necessary today because through democratization, modern society has lost sight of the importance of these values, with only a select class maintaining the values of Chivalry while most men chose the path of brutality or softness. This is a negative effect of a class-free society. The modern world is characterized by a "cult of efficiency" that values productivity and practicality over honor and nobility. This has led to a society that is increasingly shallow, materialistic, and self-centered, and which produces brutal "wolves that do not understand" and weak "sheep who cannot defend."
In order to combat this decline, Lewis argues that we need to revive the spirit of chivalry. He contends that we need to cultivate a renewed sense of honor, courage, and selflessness, and that we need to relearn the art of treating women with respect and reverence. He acknowledges that this will be a difficult task, but he believes that it is essential if we are to create a society that is truly just, noble, and humane.
- "the knighdy character is art not nature - something that needs to be achieved, not something that can be relied upon to happen."
- "There was, to be sure, a rumour in the last century that wolves would gradually become extinct by some natural process; but this seems to have been an exaggeration.""