One of the most popular blog posts atGentlemen’s Quarterly Magazine (GQ) in 2013 was a commentary giving men 10 reasons to stop viewing pornography. On GQ’s website the piece registered 24,000 thousand “like” on Facebook in just a few weeks. The popularity of the post could be a signal that Americans really are interested in discussing moral issues and perhaps GQ should take advantage of this opportunity to include more posts that offer moral direction even if some might ultimately disagree.
GQ is at least aware that the virtues that make a man emanate from his heart and not simply his wardrobe, to a certain degree, hence magazine’s motto, “Look Sharp, Live Smart.” Sadly, over the past 2 or 3 generations in America an emphasis on character has lost its role as the chief element of style. You can be a man of impeccable dress, taste, and flare and sabotage it all with unsavory character. In modern America, the symbiotic relationship between style and virtue is too easily poisoned by the cultural production of narcissism and moral relativism.
In fact, when we look back at the men many Americans admire the most — like Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill — what we remember most are the applications of their virtues and values. From Plato and Aristotle to Augustine and Aquinas, the West prides itself on the promotion of what is known as the “cardinal virtues” — prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. These four virtues are the ancient elements of style that guided men for centuries in the art of looking “sharp” and living “smart.”
A prudent man is one whose life is devoted to the pursuit of wisdom. He is primarily concerned that his day-to-day actions pursue all that is good, no matter what. A just man commits himself to treating people with dignity and respect in order to give others what they are rightly due. A man of courage is consistent in his fight for what is good and true even though he will likely suffer for it. Finally, a temperate man is one who knows how to moderate his passions, has control over his appetites, and does nothing in excess. To these virtues we could also add humility because living smart means knowing your limits, being able to admit when you are wrong, and not thinking of yourself more highly than you ought.
What does this look like? A virtuous man, for example, refuses to prey on weak-willed, broken women to satisfy his end-of-the-week sensual desires. He passes over promotions at work if it means fudging the numbers in order to impress his boss. He refuses to misrepresent data to his clients even if it means not closing the deal. His family, friends, and co-workers praise him because he excels in character.
Our world is groaning for virtuous men. Men who reject empty lifestyles characterized by greed, apathy, pride, envy, and gluttony in exchange for a life that pursues the virtues that make our relationships, families, businesses, schools, and communities extraordinary.
Virtuous men are the ones we remember. They inspire us. These are men we want our sons to become and the ones we want our daughters to marry. GQ certainly has an opportunity in 2014 to do something that no other popular magazine seems willing to do by regularly promoting the characteristics that make gentlemen virtuously “smart.”
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at the Acton Blog.