The gentleman is a social role that implies a recognition of forms and limits that constrain action, says Mark T. Mitchell , even as those very forms and limits elevate the meaning and nobility of actions they enjoin:

Forms and limits are not welcomed in a culture that sees freedom as the highest good, a culture that fairly worships at the altar of individual choice. The history of the liberal project has been a steady and determined attempt to defy limits, to destroy forms, to expand the idea and practice of liberation to all spheres of existence. How can the idea of the gentleman, the essence of which necessarily depends on the propriety of limits, co-exist with the goals of liberalism? One admits of limits and finds nobility in respect for them; the other finds limits offensive and seeks to break down any hint of limitation, form, or residue of difference. When seen in this light, the gentlemen appears to be a throwback to an older age, an era that progress has left behind, an ideal embraced only by romantics and the hopelessly and helplessly nostalgic.

Which brings us, of all places, to Iowa. By now most of us have heard of  Joel Northrup , the high school wrestler who chose to default rather than wrestle a girl. The stakes for Northrup were high: this was the first round of the state tournament where he had a good shot at the title. He expressed his reasoning in a statement released by his high school:

“Wrestling is a combat sport and it can get violent at times. As a matter of conscience and my faith I do not believe that it is appropriate for a boy to engage a girl in this manner. It is unfortunate that I have been placed in a situation not seen in most other high school sports in Iowa.”

He continued with praise for Casey Herkelman, the girl involved, expressing his respect for her accomplishments. The girl and her parents released a statement indicating their respect for Joel and his steadfast commitment to his beliefs. In short, there was no apparent rancor from either side.

It seems to me that Joel Northrup was raised to be a gentleman, and when he drew his first opponent at the state tournament, this ideal ran hard into the leveling impulse of the age. Or to put it in old-fashioned terms, gentlemen don’t wrestle with ladies.

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Articles by Joe Carter

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