It is tempting, and sometimes fun, for conservatives to play the role of the biblical prophet Jeremiah, using inflamed rhetoric to rail against the decline of modern culture and to beg for society’s rapid repentance and return to purity. In the South we call that fire and brimstone preaching.
Even so, sometimes preaching against modern culture falls on deaf ears. To those who do not share the mutual detestation of what we consider rude, obscene, and inconsiderate, all our preaching just comes across as foreign language. Without meaning to be rude or condescending myself, it must be pointed out that some people have simply been raised in that type of environment and know nothing of our culturally conservative ideals of integrity, purity, and piety.
Therein lays the problem. Too often conservatives only know how to communicate what they are against, failing to articulate what they are for. This is especially true in regards to culture. So rather than rant about how quickly our culture and society embraces moral decay, I will discuss what kind of example we, as conservatives, should be setting. I will not talk about what our society is becoming, but rather what it ought to become.
As citizens of these United States and patriots of liberty, we have a moral responsibility to be both gentlemen and scholars. It is an idea that is old as man himself, but a terminology that originated in England. “You, sir, are a gentleman and a scholar!” became a popular phrase in England throughout the 1700-1800s. The phrase has also entrenched itself in American culture as well, particularly in the South. It is generally seen as the grandest compliment one can give a fellow man. It praises one’s superior etiquette and good manners while also acknowledging one’s admirable academic abilities. To be both kind and wise is a fine combination indeed.
I have grown up with the phrase –perhaps that’s why it is so important to me and why it has come to shape so much of what I believe people ought to be like. Growing up, my dad has often told me that I was a gentleman and a scholar, typically after I had done something nice for him, as is the traditional use of the phrase. In my younger days, I didn’t think too much about it. I was just glad to have received a compliment from my Daddy. Now, however, I appreciate it much more. There truly is no greater honor in my opinion to have others say that you are both a gentleman and a scholar.
Think about it. What if we all strove to be gentlemen and scholars every day? What if civility and chivalry were made our daily goals, along with the desire to expand and enrich our minds? How different would our relationships look? How different would our families look? How different would our country look? It’s a lofty goal, I admit. I am no optimist, nor am I an ideological utopian. However, that’s what it means to me to be a conservative: to be a gentleman and a scholar. Politics come second, principles come first.
There are some people with whom you just cannot rationalize. Logic won’t make them into a conservative and neither will preaching, but sometimes the way you live your life can. Never underestimate the power of your example. Remember George Washington’s motto, “deeds not words.” If each one of us strives to be the gentleman and the scholar we are all capable of being, perhaps others will see our example and follow our lead. Perhaps our dedication to truth, beauty, honesty, and integrity will allow them to see past party lines. Live your life as an example to those around you so that they can see that conservatism is so much more than a political philosophy. Show them by your actions that it is a lifestyle.
What good is it to be a conservative politically but not culturally? I will be the first to stand up for constitutionally-limited government and individual liberty (as I routinely do on this blog), but what does any of that matter if the society we are protecting politically is dying spiritually? What is the civil society if it lacks civility? What is individual liberty if its possessors abuse it?
I would rather live under tyranny and among the company of gentleman and the scholarly, than live among the wicked in a land called liberty.