Saturday, July 19, 2008

More on Harvey Mansfield

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post on Harvey Mansfield and his book on manliness. I promised some more material on and by him, so here it is. Please note that I don't necessarily agree with Mansfield, but I think he presents some serious (though controversial) ideas worth discussing.

Mansfield is well-known as a fierce conservative. And I find it interesting that in this realm, it is often the conservative who is defending the "traditional" views of masculinity while the liberals tend to agree with feminism that men should be more like women. As a starting place in the discussion of the "new masculinity," we need first to defend the right of men to be men.

But I want a little of both. A third way. Men are more "manly," and it's biologically as well as socially constructed. At the same time, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that men cannot be more emotionally intelligent and more compassionate. We can be more than testosterone-driven brutes. I think Mansfield is moving in that direction (although haltingly, it seems) -- see the essay below.

First, his appearance on The Colbert Report, where "Harvey Mansfield and Stephen collide in a perfect storm of man musk."

Is "manliness" really about risk? Is John Kerry the biggest wuss in Washington? Should women only contribute 1/3 of the household income? Colbert kind of calls him on his views about women, suggesting, "So this book could be bullshit."

Here is a lecture Mansfield gave in 2006 at New Hampshire Institute of Politics and posted on the Saint Anselm College blog back in 2006.
Dr. Harvey Mansfield, Author of “Manliness”

April 20, 2006

Harvey Mansfield speaks about the topic of his new book, Manliness, during a public lecture at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. Mansfield argues that manliness seeks and welcomes drama, prefers times of war, conflict, and risk, and brings change or restores order at crucial moments.

Considered Harvard University’s most outspoken conservative, Mansfield is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at the school where he teaches political philosophy. He has also written about the discovery and development of the theory of executive power.

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Here is an article he wrote for The American Enterprise:
Is Manliness Optional?
By Harvey Mansfield

Today the very word “manliness” seems obsolete.

There are other words, such as “courage,” “frankness,” or “confidence,” that convey the good side of manliness without naming a sex. But to use them in place of “manliness” begs the question of whether moral or psychological qualities specific to each sex exist. Our society today denies that such differences are real, and seeks to abolish all signs of such qualities in our language. To the extent that feminism recognizes gender differences at all, it presents them as bad, and as the fault of men.

The women’s revolution has succeeded to an amazing degree. Our society has adopted, quite without realizing the magnitude of the change, a practice of equality between the sexes never before known in human history. My intent is not to stand in the way of this change. Women are not going to be herded back into the kitchen by men. But we need to recognize that there have been both gains and losses in this revolution.

Manliness can be heroic. But it can also be vainly boastful, prone to meaningless scuffling, and unfriendly. It jeers at those who do not seem to measure up, and asks men to continually prove themselves. It defines turf and fights for it--sometimes to defend precious rights, sometimes for no good reason. Manliness has always been under a cloud of doubt--raised by men who may not have the time or taste for it.

But such doubts about manliness can hardly be found in today’s feminism. Contemporary feminists, and the women they influence, have essentially a single problem with manliness: that it excludes women. Betty Friedan’s feminist classic The Feminine Mystique is not an attack on manliness, but on femininity. It insists women should be strong and aggressive--like men.

Though the word is scarce in use, there is an abundance of manliness in action in America today. Young males still pick fights, often with deadly weapons.What we suffer from today, is a lack of intelligent criticism of manliness. Feminism has undermined, if not destroyed, the counterpart to manliness--femininity--and with it the basis on which half the population could be skeptical of the excesses of manliness.

Of course, women are still women. While they want men to be sensitive to women, they don’t necessarily want them to be sensitive in general. That’s why the traditional manly male--who is protective of women, but a sorry flop when it comes to sensitivity--is far from a disappearing species.

Manliness offers gallantry to women. But is gallantry fundamentally insincere because it always contains an element of disdain? The man who opens a door for a woman makes a show of being stronger than she, one could say. At the same time, the woman does go first. Manly men are romantic about women; unmanly men are sympathetic. Which is better for women?

The “sensitive male” who mimics many female emotions and interests, while discarding the small favors men have traditionally done for women, is mostly just a creation of contemporary feminists who are irritated with the ways of men, no longer tolerant of their foibles, and demanding new behavior that would pave the way for ambitious women. Feminists insist that men must work harder to appreciate women. Yet they never ask women to be more understanding of men.

Manliness is a quality that causes individuals to stand up for something. It is a quality that calls private persons into public life. In the past such people have been predominantly male, and it is no accident that those who possess this quality have often ended up as political rulers and leaders.

Manly men defend their turf, just as other male mammals do. The analogy to animals obviously suggests something animalistic about manliness. But manliness is specifically human as well. Manly men defend not just their turf but their country. Manliness is best shown in war, the defense of one’s country at its most difficult and dangerous. In Greek, the word for manliness, andreia, is also the word for courage.

For good and for ill, males impelled by their manliness have dominated all politics of which we know. Is there something inevitable about this domination or are we free to depart from it? With more and more countries moving toward democracy and peace, perhaps manliness will become less necessary.

Yet there might also be a democratic manliness. In democracies, Tocqueville said, a manly frankness prevails--an open and fearless stance of “man to man” in which all are equal. Does democracy, then, tend to produce, and require, manliness?

Feminists find all sexual roles objectionable. They are insulted by the idea that nature has determined different social parts and purposes for the sexes. They have largely forced the abandonment of any idea of sexual nature in favor of the feminist notion of “choice.” A woman today has the choice of every occupation that used to be reserved for men, plus traditional women’s roles. Inevitably, “choice” for women opens up choices for men too. What happens when men are no longer pressed to face the duties that used to go with being a man? Traditionally, the performance of a man’s duties has required him to protect and support his family. To be a man means to support dependents, not merely yourself.

But the modern woman above all does not want to be a dependent. She may not have thought about what her independence does to the manliness of men (it might make men more selfish). And she may not have considered carefully whether the protection she does without will be replaced by sensitivity, or by neglect. The statistics on male abandonment of their children in our day are not heart-warming.

According to feminists, any traditional notion that the different sexes complement each other serves merely to justify the inferiority of women. On its face, complementarity suggests real equality--each sex is superior in its place. But if you are sure that the best positions have been the men’s and that women have been the “second sex,” then in order to achieve equality you must go for full interchangeability of the sexes. You must deny any natural preponderance of one quality or another in men and women.

Do men and women have different natures that justify different social roles? Or are these natures just “socially constructed”? If women can conclude that their roles have been designed artificially by society, then they are free to remake themselves without constraint. But the latest science suggests that being a man or a woman is much more than having certain bodily equipment (see the article below). Perhaps men and women are characterized more by how they think than by their sexual organs.

While maleness is partly just a fact of biology, in humans it is linked to thinking and reason in ways that make manliness something much more than mere aggression. In humans, masculinity is more than just defense of one’s own; it has been extended to require noble sacrifice for a cause beyond oneself.

Certainly, women reason and sacrifice too, and they are not devoid of aggressiveness. But their participation in these things is not “equal.” As Aristotle said, men find it easier to be courageous--and women find it easier to be moderate. Of course, you cannot avoid Aristotle’s qualifier, “for the most part.”

For the most part, men will always have more manliness than women have, and it is up to both sexes to fashion this fact into something good.

This is a pretty good essay, but he doesn't seem to see the need for men to rise above the idea that we are "a sorry flop when it comes to sensitivity." This is where I disagree with him. We can be manly, and even chivalrous, and still be sensitive.

Finally, here is a discussion from On Point, featuring Mansfield, Katha Pollitt, and Jack Beatty (On Point news analyst).

Aired: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 10-11AM ET

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By host Tom Ashbrook:

Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield has whipped up a small storm in the last few weeks with his call for the new embrace of an old idea: manliness.

Men acting manly, says Mansfield, are what this world needs more of. John Waynes and Teddy Roosevelts, Papa Hemmingways and Schwarzeneggers who stride the modern range and get things done.

The post-feminist dream of a gender-neutral society, says Manfield, has hurt both men and women, and it's time to bust out the manly men inside.

Critics are agog. With Cheney and Rumsfeld and Dubya on the march, they ask, is that not enough saddle burn?

Hear a conversation with Harvey Mansfield about manly men and the call for more manliness.
Here he seems a little less forward thinking in his views. The reality is probably a little of both.

I'd love to hear what any of you think of Mansfield and his ideas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very intriguing. Like you, I want a third way. It seems the problem is that so many want to place limitations on what a man can be, just as limitations are placed on women. Maybe this is just human nature, to want clear lines and categories. But that's where the problems sneak in. Regardless of how we define manliness or femininity, once we do so we, by default, leave out those who simply do not fit these categories. And there will always be those who do not fit. So are they not men? We're just perpetuating the idea that these men somehow do not measure up to the standard. Instead of just erasing the old lines and drawing new ones, i think we need to see men and women more as people and not genders. Are we not more than our genitalia?