Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Paladin, The Champion, and the Bro Code

The Bro Code has come a long way from the Code of Chivalry and its progenitor, the Prudhomme. In fact, it seems to be about as diametrically opposed to these earlier codes of behavior as can be, and yet the Bro Code and those who espouse its toxic, often militaristic dogma often harken to a mythopoetic Paladin or Knight for its justification and validity. In fact, I can think of no clearer illustration of how antithetic the modern day manifestation of the ideal is than Paladin Press.
Paladin Press is a book publishing firm founded in 1970 by Peder Lund and Robert K. Brown. The company publishes non-fiction books and videos covering a wide range of specialty topics, including personal and financial freedom, survivalism and preparedness, firearms and shooting, various martial arts and self-defense, military and police tactics, investigation techniques, spying, lockpicking, sabotage, revenge, knives and knife fighting, explosives, and other “action topics” (though the availability of books on topics like improvised explosives has been severely curtailed in recent years).
To read this list, one would think that Rambo is the ultimate Paladin. Yet the definition of a paladin couldn’t be farther from this twentieth-century incarnation. According to Merriam-Webster, paladin was first used in 1592; some synonyms include: “advocate, advocator, apostle, backer, booster, champion, expounder, espouser, friend,  gospeler (or gospeller), herald, hierophant, high priest, exponent, promoter, proponent, protagonist, supporter, true believer, tub-thumper, white knight” and is related to “loyalist, partisan (also partizan), stalwart; adherent, cohort, disciple, follower; interpreter; applauder, cheerleader, encourager, fellow traveler” while a paladin is actively not: adversary, antagonist, opponent, or enemy, foe, rival; belittler, critic, faultfinder.”
One of my favorite definitions of paladin comes from the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. Esydamus finds that “Paladins take their adventures seriously, and even a mundane mission is, in the heart of the paladin, a personal test: an opportunity to demonstrate bravery, to learn tactics, and to find ways to do good. Divine power protects these warriors of virtue, warding off harm, protecting from disease, healing, and guarding against fear. The paladin can also direct this power to help others, healing wounds or curing diseases, and also use it to destroy evil. Experienced paladins can smite evil foes and turn away undead. A paladin's Wisdom score should be high. .  . . Many of the paladin's special abilities also benefit from a high Charisma score.” While it would be easy to dismiss this definition as a bit of fantasy fluff, it actually recalls the twelfth century ideal far more accurately than the catalog of Paladin Press would indicate.
The chivalric code is a code of conduct associated with the medieval institution of knighthood which developed between 1170 and 1220. Over time, its meaning in Europe has been refined to emphasise social and moral virtues more generally. The Code of Chivalry, as it stood by the Late Middle Ages, was a moral system which combined a warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners, all conspiring to establish a notion of honour and nobility.
Léon Gautier, in his La Chevalerie, published for the first time in 1883, bemoaned the "invasion of Breton romans" which replaced the pure military ethos of the crusades with Arthurian fiction and courtly adventures. Gautier tries to give a "popular summary" of what he proposes was the "ancient code of chivalry" of the 11th and 12th centuries derived from the military ethos of the crusades which would evolve into the late medieval notion of chivalry. Gautier's Ten Commandments of chivalry are:
  1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and thou shalt observe all its directions.
  2. Thou shalt defend the Church.
  3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.
  4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.
  5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
  6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy.
  7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God.
  8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.
  9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone.
  10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.
In these “Ten Commandments,” the militaristic religious mandate is clear, but to walk away from this list seeing only the holy war aspects is simplistic, as invalid as seeing the Muslim code of behavior as only the jihad.
According to David Crouch, prior to codified chivalry there was the uncodified code of noble conduct that focused on the preudomme. This uncodified code - referred to as the noble habitus - is a term for the environment of behavioural and material expectations generated by all societies and classes. As a modern idea, it was pioneered by the French philosopher/sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, even though a precedent exists for the concept as far back as the works of Aristotle. Crouch argues that the habitus on which “the superstructure of chivalry” was built and the preudomme was a part, had existed long before 1100, while the codified medieval noble conduct only began between 1170 and 1220.
The pre-chivalric noble habitus as discovered by Mills and Gautier are as follows:
  1. Loyalty: It is a practical utility in a warrior nobility. Richard Kaeuper associates loyalty with prowess. The importance of reputation for loyalty in noble conduct is demonstrated in William Marshal biography.
  2. Forbearance: knights' self-control towards other warriors and at the courts of their lords was a part of the early noble habitus as shown in the Conventum of Hugh de Lusignan in the 1020s. The nobility of mercy and forbearance was well established by the second half of the 12th century long before there was any code of chivalry.[26]
  3. Hardihood: The quality of hardy aligns itself with forbearance and loyalty in being one of the military virtues of the preudomme. According to Philip de Navarra, a mature nobleman should have acquired hardiness as part of his moral virtues. Geoffrey de Charny also stressed on the masculine respectability of hardiness in the light of religious feeling of the contemptus mundi.
  4. Largesse or Liberality: generosity was part of a noble quantity. According to Alan of Lille, largesse was not just a simple matter of giving away what he had, but "Largitas in a man caused him to set no store on greed or gifts, and to have nothing but contempt for bribes."
  5. The davidic ethic: It is the strongest qualities of preudomme derived by clerics from Biblical tradition. Originally it was a set of expectations of good rulership articulated by the Frankish church which involved the rightful authority based on protection for the weak and helpless (in particular the Church), respect for widows and orphans, and opposition to the cruel and unjust. The core of Davidic ethic is benevolence of the strong toward the weak.
  6. Honor: honor was what was achieved by living up to the ideal of the preudomme and pursuing the qualities and behavior listed above.[31] The loss of honor is an humiliation to a man's standing and is worse than death. Bertran de Born said: "For myself I prefer to hold a little piece of land in onor, than to hold a great empire with dishonor.”
Chivalry and especially its predecessor the noble hablis stand in sharp contrast to the cornerstones of masculinity identified by Brannon and David in 1976:
  1. No Sissy Stuff: Never do anything that even remotely hints of femininity. “Real” men always steer clear of any behavior or characteristic associated with women.
  2. Be a Big Wheel: Masculinity is measured by success, power, and the admiration of others. Consequently, men need wealth, renown, and prestige to be identified as “real” men.
  3. Be a Sturdy Oak: Manliness requires rationality, toughness, and self-reliance. A man must remain calm in any situation, show no emotion, and admit no weakness.
  4. Give ‘em Hell: Men must exude an aura of daring and aggression, must be willing to take risks and “go for it” even when reason and fear suggest otherwise.
At no point does this modern code of behavior identify compassion and caring to those who are weak or suffering; indeed, it seems to actively espouse a callous view. The details of this masculinity may have changed, updating to incorporate the Cool Pose of the black urban man who has nothing and so has to find a posture to assure us all that he does, indeed, meet all four rules, or the unwritten fifth rule of male social conduct that seems so prevalent in the 90s and beyond: Bros Before Hos, meaning that relationships with women -- no matter how significant -- are of lesser priority than relationships with men -- no matter how casual.
Especially as regards the Davidic ethic, it is difficult to square the Paladin Press’ focus on individual survival and separation from society. If anything, it would seem that a true Paladin Press would include lists of charities and inequalities to address, a guide to good manners and gentleness. I am reminded of the Leo Buscaglia quote, “Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” This is the kind of strength and conduct we should all aspire to, men and women alike. Instead of seeing power and prowess as liberators from social obligation, they should tie us more closely to it.
Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus at
Gautier, Léon (1891). Chivalry. translated by Henry Frith.
Crouch, David (2005). The Birth of Nobility: Constructing Aristocracy in England and France 900–1300. Harlow, UK: Pearson. ISBN 0-582-36981-9.

Robert Brannon & Deborah S. David, The Forty Nine Percent Majority: The Male Sex Role, (Random House: 1976).