Adventures in Humanist Secular Neo-Chivalry for the Modern Man (and Woman!)

Chivalry is a western tradition which is fairly strongly embedded in the cultural memory of most of the modern world. It represents an idealized state of being, a romanticized existence where knights fought for honor, God and courtly love instead of greed and corruption. How well such chivalry actually applied to history is debatable, but likely it had very little effect at all. But that doesn’t matter for the modern man or woman – what does matter is that eternal question: “How should I live my life?”. If you have not yet asked yourself this question than I invite you to do so now as we enter adventures of Neo-Chivalry!

The Old Chivalry

Chivalry was a code by which knights lived. It shares striking similarities to the honor systems seen in the east (for example the Samurai of Japan). The word Chivalry is a french word, which comes from a combination of the words for knight and horse in that language. However its meaning has since evolved to mean much more than that, albeit completely inconsistently and very much subject to exactly who is using the word.

Chivalry has many admirable qualities and it is for this reason I believe we should all look back to it for inspiration on how to live our lives today. Chivalry vouches such virtues as courage, loyalty, faith, humility and many others which can help a person to live a better life. However Chivalry is also very incompatible with modern society, it contains religious, sexist and simply outdated concepts which should no longer be upheld in modern society – not to mention that we don’t have knights anymore.

New Times

So why should neo-chivalry be humanist and secular? My reasoning is that such a code should be designed to fit to all people, regardless of their faith, military status or sex. Such a code should be universal and should be built on universal truths of humanity.

Chivalry has many similar ethical values as those preached in many of the world’s religions. However being a member of a specific (or even being a member of a set of) religion(s) is excluding others. And there is no reason to believe that religion is necessary for a person to be good.

Chivalry originally related only to knights. This was the result of the strong tiered class system of the middle ages – something which is largely redundant in the modern world. People do not need to be rich to be good, nor do they need to participate in military actions of any kind to be good – thus there is no reason to exclude people on that basis.

Finally a strong element of Chivalry (and one highly emphasized in the modern world) is the concept of courtly love. The phrase “Chivalry is dead” is often used to represent men who do not respect or act courteously to women. I’m not sure if the phrase “Chivalry is dead” is used more often than it is rebutted by modern gentlemen, but odds are its a close race. The problem with this is not courtly love, but rather the strong emphasis on male courting female. Those gender specific labels are unnecessary for such a code to work. Women can be chivalrous to men as can men to men and women to other women. There is no reason restrict such love to heterosexuals nor is there any reason to impose an asymmetrical distribution of chivalrous actions between a couple.

A Neo-Chivalric Code

So what then should the code for a neo-chivalric society entail? I have drafted here my own interpretation, but I’d be interested in hearing any other versions or elements I may have missed. This code is based off what I have found through some research to be a summarized theme of general chivalric values consistent across most writers and adapted to fit the adventures of the modern man and woman. The code is designed to be interwoven into all aspects of your life in a consistent manor.

1 – Idealism.

Live your life by an ideal and have faith in it – be this the code of a religion or any other reason. Purpose is important and you should live your life for the purpose you choose. Life has meaning and it is up to you to choose that meaning. Once you choose you may change upon revelation, but do so after deliberation and not flippantly. To live for your ideal you must be an icon of both courage and justice. You must have the courage to follow your ideal even when it is hard to do so, you must take the hard path regardless of the cost – for you know it to be right. Further you must show justice in all you do by taking this right path, you must release yourself from personal interest and bias.

2 – Loyalty.

You must be loyal to the ideal you choose, but further to the people around you. If you give your word then you should endeavor at all costs to keep it. You should not betray or gossip against those whom you are loyal to and you should defend them against those who would aim to harm them in any way. You should not give out your loyalty freely as then it will lose its meaning and its potency.

3  – Humility.

The modern man or woman needs to have humility. Their life should be in the service of their ideal and those they are loyal to. They should praise the works of others but remain silent on their own works, for such actions will lead them to even greater renown. In addition to humility the modern man or woman needs to also be generous with all that they have. You must realize that material products are in the end irrelevant to your ideal and your life and should give them away freely and generously to those who need them.

4 – Grandeur.

You should endeavor to improve yourself and those around you for the betterment of all. You should endeavor to do the best in everything you do and never give up on an area, no matter the difficulty. Your perseverance and skill will benefit all that you do and help your ideal and those you are loyal to more. You should stand as a leader and a role model to those around you.

5 – Love.

Love is an important part of life and you should embrace in it. However the modern man or woman must be sure to treat their partner with care and respect not just in courtship but further within a relationship. You should treat all people courteously and equally for even if they are not your own love, they are surely someone else’s at some time.

Why should the modern man or woman follow a chivalric code?

With a code assembled, the only question which remains is quite clear. Why follow a code at all? I believe a code is important for people to live their life by. Perhaps they already have something similar to this in the form of their religion or perhaps they don’t. In either case, taking a secular look at the way you live your life cannot hurt. The key elements of this code; idealism, loyalty, humility, grandeur and love are all important parts of life and although they are shaped to make the world a better place on the whole for everyone – the specifically help you more than any other. Living a good life which is driven by personal achievements (for the right reasons) is a route to happiness and contentment. It won’t be possible to live by these rules all the time, but endeavoring to do so should help make all of us better people and make the world a better place.


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~ by Myles O'Neill on March 9, 2009.

4 Responses to “Adventures in Humanist Secular Neo-Chivalry for the Modern Man (and Woman!)”

  1. I believe that the idea of Chivalry itself has warped into modern-day courtesy. The term ‘Chivalry’ itself implies elitism. This (IMO) somewhat contradicts the basic idea behind chivalry itself.

    As far as the Neo-Chivalric Code, it can be summarized as Have a purpose in life, adhere to the harm principle (John Stuart Mill), with socialist overtones, of course.

  2. Having a purpose covers #1, adhering to the harm principle covers #3 and courtesy I guess fits #5. However #2 and #4 are still very important points.

    Loyalty is key to Chivalry and I believe it is something we have to an extent lost, something we should look to reestablish. Furthermore, the elitism is implied but I don’t think it is contrary to the core ideal. As grandeur explains, it is about taking yourself to higher levels – but for the right reasons. It is the motives behind the actions which count.

  3. Its good as an ideaology. But I really don’t see how everyone is going to follow it.

    Old Chivarly had rewards. When you did something “good” or “right” then you were 10 percent more likely to go to heaven compared to the others. Not only that but, womens loved honorable man.

    Over half the population doesn’t believe in God. At least the God we used to talk about in the old days. If you live a good chivarly life and gets “Well done John! God loves you” from the local pastar, its not very tempting..

    Womens. Well many likes honost men. Truthful men. But most of men aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. Sometime terrible mistakes like cheating. I don’t think “Hey I cheated yesterday” is going to be super effective. Those who are having good relationships are often those with lots of secrets and can’t be bothered to care about it.

    I’m not trying to discredit any of the things you said. Those are all nice virtues you mentioned. But those with good qualities doesn’t seem to go too far in terms of “success” unfortunately.

  4. Knights nowadays have long forgotten their station. I’m doing my part to turn that around.

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