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The Decline of Civilization Can Be Seen Through Sports

What are the fundamental differences between the aristocratic sports of old, and the popular mainstream sports of today?

Article contribution by Rik Storey

I am not interested in mainstream sports, neither football nor rugby. Unsurprisingly, this can leave one less popular from many conversations in the workplace and other modern scenarios. Is it because these sports are just too masculine and rough? On the contrary, it is because they are too mainstream.

Things only get worse when I explain that I enjoy more traditional yet masculine sports.

What are the fundamental differences between the aristocratic sports of old, which focus much more on the individual man, and the spectator of mainstream sports of today, which focus more on popularity, seemingly devised to maximise profitability from said spectators?

Where the traditional aristocrat sought, for example, polo, the mainstream cultured people thinks, ‘Why on earth would you enjoyed that sports? It is elitist and non-relatable to us!’ The same attitudes apply to the traditional gentlemen sports, such as horse racing, fencing, wrestling, and jousting.

Notice how these sports focus on the individuals, often dueling one against the other. A certain sense of transcendence is required to engage in such macho activities, elevating the nobility above mere practical concerns in their struggle for glory – immortal fame, as it were. Once you conquer the mountain, conquer your rival and, in so doing, conquer your fear, you have in a certain sense conquered yourself. Winner or loser, the shaking of peers’ hands afterwards is, yes, but also a showing of respect or 'sporting' for those on the same noble quest.

So, what changed?

Acclaimed historian, Jacques Barzun’s book, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, describes the uneasy relationship between the old, knightly order and the newly developing, modern state, headed by an increasingly dominant bourgeoisie, merchant class. On the subject of duels, he wrote that the ‘desire for self-vindication is deeply ingrained in western man.’

Up to the early modern and revolutionary periods, this ‘was called “the point of honor.” Its moral force derived from medieval chivalry, which regarded the knight as the champion of all that is noble and fair and as an independent judge in his own cause. No monarch wanted his subjects to lose all of these qualities, and the ethos persisted.’ Time has since eroded any such regard for masculine virtue, however.

Barzun uses the example of the bourgeois, French monarch, Louis XIV, who led the transition not only from kingship to monarch but also from the quest for honour to quests for honours: ‘titles, decorations, favors slight in themselves but of infinite value, such as being spoken to by the king before anyone else among a cluster of courtiers.

As for the love of titles and decorations, it has become the rage in the democracies—prizes for everything and everyone.’ Thus, a mere glance at the transition from the medieval to the modern period can give us a clear picture of how far removed the modern, Western man is from his self-vindicating ancestors; whereas the modern bourgeoisie relies on the ubiquitous state to act as middle-man and safety net for all social interactions, and has no communal or cultural authority in his life except for the state, this is a far cry from the chivalry of old.

It is the generally irresponsible attitude of the modernist, bourgeois mind that I take exception to. For over five hundred years now, Western man has been palming off responsibilities to some far off group, purporting to be the Leviathan state, all in exchange for comforts. Of course, we are increasingly comfortable and entertained. I can’t complain, but we are also increasingly detached from reality, hardship and the consequent gumption to fight for what is ours, let alone to fight for what is right, good and true.

So, when I see grown men talking with the depth of a philosopher on the eve of battle about what is effectively a game for juveniles, and one in which they shall not participate and indeed will be played by overpaid foreigners, not even kinsmen of their beloved region, I dare not laugh, as these are the death throes of my civilisation.

I cannot help but agree with reactionaries of the 20th century in this regard, but this is no idle or defunct theory and I am in good company – the work of Prof. Walter J. Ong on the subject of masculinity confirmed these intuitions from the data regarding male development and competition:

‘Historically, the agonistic, masculinising era has given way to one of greater femininity. In a sense, the male television sports watcher…[described elsewhere as] slumped alone with his can of beer before the screen under the glare of his justifiably outraged sports widow…is a product of a highly feminized culture: no earlier oral-agonistic age could have produced this abstract half-disinvolvement with the agōnia in the arena.’

I would recommend his excellent work, Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness, but more than this, I would recommend we all revolt against the modern world by striving against such decaying of masculinity, by becoming physically fit and partaking gentlemen sports which really test our physical strength and mental resilience. I realise this will be hard for some of us to come to terms with, but, we as a gentleman should try.