Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Virtue That Has No Name

I think it's called chivalry. From The American Conservative:
The strategic victims are tiresome in the extreme, but what interests me more is the special virtue of those who aren’t like that, who don’t look for payback, who won’t administer the last vicious kick to a fallen opponent, who don’t look for people to sue and who in their own quiet way contribute to the rule of law. I do not have a name for their virtue.

It partakes a little of magnanimity, of the kind shown by Ulysses Grant and his army at Appomattox. The circumstances of his meeting with Robert E. Lee were so extraordinary, and Grant’s conduct so exemplary, that Americans today cannot fail to be moved when they recall it. Unless they happen to be social justice warriors. Grant observed Lee’s splendid new sword and privately decided that he would not ask Confederate officers to surrender their weapons, lest he embarrass Lee. The surrender signed, Lee left the Court House on his horse, quietly observed by a group of Union officers who were moved to tears by the pathos of the scene.

Union General Joshua Chamberlain took the surrender. Wounded twice in the days before Appomattox, he remained in command and drew up his brigade to greet the Army of Northern Virginia as it marched past for the last time. As it did so, Chamberlain ordered a “carry arms” salute for a worthy foe. The Confederates were led by General Gordon, at the head of the old Stonewall Brigade, who reared his horse and dropped his sword in a return salute, which was carried on down the line on both sides.

What Chamberlain and Gordon had done was an act of chivalry, and chivalry is also a virtue of those who do not rush to the courthouse. We saw the same kind of chivalry in the novels of Patrick O’Brian and in old Western movies where the marshal and outlaw each waited for the other to draw first. This in turn was how the British and French fought in Voltaire’s account of the Battle of Fontenoy (1745). As both sides approached each other for battle, the English officers saluted the French by taking off their hats. The French officers returned the compliment, and an English captain called out “Gentlemen of the French guards, give fire.” For the French, Count d’Androche replied, “Gentlemen, we never fire first. Do you fire,” at which the English finally obliged. (Read more.)

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