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What if Chivalry Never Happened?

Some people believe that chivalry was nothing more than a quaint, medieval phenomenon that offers no value for us today. At least that's what I read in their eyes when the subject is first broached.
    
I would like to suggest otherwise. Taking a look back in time, consider what might have happened if chivalry had not been formulated.

European Identity

Chivalry first arose as a distinct, identifiable code of honor during the eleventh century. This represented a turning point in Western Civilization which led to what is called the High Middle Ages, a time of social and cultural refinement that came to characterize the West as we know it today. Previously, the conquests and rule of Charlemagne carved out a logistical European identity that lingered long after the formation of nation states that followed. Indeed, Charlemagne represented a European impulse of solidarity that tried to raise the quality of life of all its citizens, spreading literacy and rule of law.
    
This sudden leap forward ultimately failed as his kingdom broke apart, but it left something behind in European consciousness, a dream not only of empire building, but of cultural interconnectedness. We see the results of that today in the formation of the European Union.
    
Chivalry helped make this interconnection possible. It provided a class ethic that crossed national borders and languages and made more positive alliances and relationships possible.

Women's Social Status

Chivalry elevated the status of women in European society. For this reason, wealthy female patrons propagated its development by subsidizing various writers like Chretien de Troyes, who went out of his way to portray the finest knights as dedicated to their ladies' whims.

The Church

The rise of Christianity from the ruins of the Roman Empire quickly embedded itself in rise of chivalry. At some point, the warrior code was considered a sacred vocation, resulting in the formation of religious military orders, such as the Knights Templar. The simple accolade of a buffet on the shoulder was transformed into an elaborate rite taking place in holy surroundings, like a church or chapel. Warrior symbolism took on new, sectarian meaning.
     Both chivalry and the Church benefited by this alliance, each absorbing the influence of the other. Knighthood became more refined, more humane and beneficent. The Church became more active and gained political influence among the elite.

Cultural Development

It was during the Crusades that knights came in contact with Islamic culture, which in turn led to the burst of creativity known as the Renaissance. Through their Muslim contacts, Europeans learned about the writings of Aristotle and other ancient Greek philosophers. They incorporated new architectural techniques that led to the Gothic churches we see today. Here was born the kernel from which all of Western science was born.
     What did this have to do with chivalry? The warrior code is what bridged the gap between Muslims and Christians. The Kurdish ruler of the Muslims at the time, known as Saladin, was considered the epitome of chivalry behavior, and therefore acceptable to knightly sensibilities. More than acceptable. He became a highly respected model of chivalry that was then transplanted into European traditions. This admiration for Saladin made Islamic influence not only palatable, but preferential. Indeed, Islamic poetry strongly contributed to the Western development of romantic love. In this way, our Greek inheritance was firmly established. Chivalry made this possible. There is no telling what sort of society we would have today without the spawning of science and art known of the Western Renaissance.

Social Courtesy

Chivalry transformed Dark Age barbarity into something more refined and morally based. Social expectations of honor became commonplace among the elite. This slowly filtered down to all strata, creating at least an idea of social refinement among the masses.
     In the midst of the 18th century, a resurgence of chivalric romance was sown by the writer Richard Hurd with his Letters on Chivalry and Romance (1762). His collection of 12 essays sparked a cultural interest in Britain that set the stage for a Victorian revival. Walter Scott wrote poems and novels that boosted the knight's image into popular admiration. Other writers followed, who in turn inspired artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites as well.
     It was Tennyson's Idylls of the King, however, that fully restored the influence of King Arthur's on a more enlightened culture. He took the original tales and modified them to appeal to more modern sensibilities. Here he cast an ethical blueprint for the Victorian gentleman that was still romanticized. It was, in short, immensely inspiring.
    
There's no telling what Victorian England would have looked like without this resurgence of chivalric ideals. And it was from these ideals that our modern concept of gentlemanly behavior was formed.
    
It is difficult to surmise how Western Civilization would have evolved without the romantic yet often practical influence of chivalry. Consider:

  • European Nationalism might have refused cooperation between neighbors, leading to wars that still continue to this day.
  • Chivalric adventurism might not have led to the early discoveries of the New World.
  • The cultural suppression of women may have continued without challenge. Equal rights might have remained out of the question.
  • The cultural divide between Christians and Muslims might have left Western Civilization in a perpetual Dark Age mentality. No Renaissance. No Age of Enlightenment. No Western science or technology. Since Greek thought was eventually lost to the Islamic culture, it would have been lost completely without its Crusader transmission to the West.
  • The Church might not have influenced kings and princes as well as they did, leading to further barbarity and conflict between Church and State. The tolerance of religion by Western democracies might not have occurred, But then, democracies might not have occurred either.
  • Our idea of gentlemanly behavior would be quite different, and possibly nonexistent.

What does this mean for us today?

It means that we can find in our updated ideology, Chivalry-Now, a multifaceted wellspring of open-minded civility and inspiration that can lead to a new Renaissance, a new Enlightenment, and a new, humanistic approach to technology. We can heal the social, cultural and spiritual wounds we suffer from today. We can renew the impetus to move forward in every aspect of our lives by establishing a new perspective of humanity and our place in the world. We can inspire the best in us all, instead of surviving on a dull mindset of consumer-mediocrity.
     We ask you to think about these things, and join us in mind and spirit as we spread the word to others.

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