The Young Barbarians

Philadelphianby Timothy Lane   10/19/14
A recent article by Ben Shapiro about some young hooligans at a Royals-Angels game made me think about where such people come from culturally. One possible hint comes from a section of Richard Powell’s find novel The Philadelphian (which was made into the Paul Newman movie The Young Philadelphians, including a memorable trial scene in which a butler’s confidence in his infallible sense of smell is spectacularly shaken). It involves the title character (Anthony Judson Lawrence) and his Salutatory at graduation – and the despicable English teacher who tries (and almost succeeds) to corrupt Lawrence into affirming his own radical notion.

Lawrence offers the Salutatory up for the teacher (Mr. Glenmor) to read, and the latter observes that it’s exactly what Franklin Academy wants to hear – and by implication, not really worth reading. (Only when it’s over will Lawrence learn that Glenmor already knew he wouldn’t be coming back next year.) Glenmor discusses the proposed speech mockingly – it’s very conventional, it’s what they want to hear.

The speech deals with knighthood and chivalry, comparing graduation to the ceremony of knighthood. Glenmor proceeds to ask Lawrence what he actually knows about knighthood, and then mocks his answer (which focused on the testing involved, and the chivalric concept of the strong defending the weak) with “Medieval History, Sixth Form class in.” This is an example of why D. Q. McInerny (in Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking identifies diversionary laughter as Logical Fallacy 20. Glenmor simply mocks Lawrence’s views as merely what he’s been taught, but then proceeds to offer his superior hidden wisdom.

To Glenmor, notions such as chivalry were put in place to enable “weak old men” to control strong young men and even get the latter to defend the former. The fact that they were also supposed to defend other people who lacked strong-arm capability (and sometimes even did so) is irrelevant, carefully ignored. To the radical Glenmor, the old men control the young ones by keeping them from thinking independently (he carefully never explained how chivalry inhibits independent thought). But the important point, of course, was his idea that the strong young men should simply take what they can from the weak old men (and weak women, and children – but Glenmor would never mention that aspect).

They collaborate on a more daring speech, not merely expressing Glenmor’s radical views but mocking more conventional sorts. (This is probably where Glenmor goes wrong in the end, in his vindictiveness. Perhaps, if he pushed the radicalism without the mockery, Lawrence would have delivered that speech. But in the end, he realized what effect it would have on his family and others he admired, finally deciding at the very last minute to deliver the conventional speech – to Glenmor’s rather clear displeasure.) It includes lines such as nothing that at Franklin they learned “The Charge of the Light Brigade” but never read any Karl Marx (a good thing in retrospect, of course, though there is always something to be said for knowing one’s enemy).

In the end, as I said, Lawrence chooses convention over radicalism, and finally concludes that Glenmor really doesn’t even have the courage of his alleged convictions – that he would be happy to set both sides off to the barricades while mocking them for caring enough to act. (He also learns in the end that Glenmor had told the school administration what he was doing, and dared them to stop it. They took no action, confident that in the end Lawrence would do the right thing – as indeed he did.) But I suspect that this “might makes right” attitude could easily be quietly encouraged. And, of course, schools today teach a victim-identity mindset that would never have fit into an elite private school (though Lawrence was there on a scholarship). But I think this section of the book (which was written in 1956) gives some notion of how morally corrupt teachers can encourage the young barbarians of our day.


Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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2 Responses to The Young Barbarians

  1. Jerry Richardson says:

    Timothy,

    To the radical Glenmor, the old men control the young ones by keeping them from thinking independently (he carefully never explained how chivalry inhibits independent thought). But the important point, of course, was his idea that the strong young men should simply take what they can from the weak old men (and weak women, and children – but Glenmor would never mention that aspect).
    —-
    And, of course, schools today teach a victim-identity mindset that would never have fit into an elite private school (though Lawrence was there on a scholarship). But I think this section of the book (which was written in 1956) gives some notion of how morally corrupt teachers can encourage the young barbarians of our day.

    I think the analogue of the concept of “chivalry” is today the practically non-existent concept of “simple courtesy.” And to a large extent I think the deterioration of “simple courtesy” begins with a deterioration of conversational language. The lyrics of rap music is a perfect example. The conversions of talking-heads (often so-called comedians) in which the “F” word is bandied about too often. Movies in which anything goes in discourtesy in conversation. The language of criticism from many news-media personalities in which ad hominem attacks are standard fare.

    In short, when a society goes down a path of degrading each other with language, you can be reasonably sure that the following step of degradation will be violence. Hence the young, and some not-so young, barbarians of our day.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is closely related to Moynihan’s “defining deviancy down”. Once morality is rejected as a basis for policy or even behavior, the inevitable result is a steadily increasing degeneration. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Yeats predicted the modern world several decades ago.

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