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Manliness
By Harvey C. Mansfield
Yale University Press
HC, 304 pg., US$27.50
ISBN: 0-3001-0664-5

The last days of manliness

By Bernard Chapin
web posted April 10, 2006

ManlinessIn the twenty-first century workplace, the neutered male, all-too-often, is the employee most successful at climbing organizational hierarchies. Being a good listener, empowering others, and providing solicitous attention—as opposed to speaking the truth, taking a stand, and defending the meek—are the traits most likely to result in becoming a CEO or CFO. To get ahead, one must avoid confrontation rather than precipitate it. Characteristics like stoicism, independence, and reticence are now construed as signs of not being a team player despite their once being prevalent in the manliest of men. Perhaps a desire to commemorate what once was is what motivated Harvey Mansfield to write his book, Manliness, as the term itself has become a pejorative.

Manliness presupposes the judging of others, the need to act honorably, and that honesty is not optional regardless of whom the truth might offend. Mansfield defines the manly attributes and includes assertiveness, spiritedness, confidence, and risk taking as being essential elements. Such tendencies are diametrically opposed to consensus building and socially coerced sensitivity.

The author is careful to point out that manly men are a subset of the whole. Those who approximate these features are the superlative and rare; although, the author regards certain women, like Margaret Thatcher, as possessing manliness. For Mansfield, the perfect exemplar of these traits was Theodore Roosevelt, but Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill would also meet all criteria. Avoiding these two figures may have been a conscious attempt on the part of the professor to avoid appearing partisan. In fact, his initial unenthusiastic endorsement of the concept made this reviewer wonder if the book would be detached to the point of irrelevancy.

At outset, the author claimed to be putting forth only a "modest defense" of manliness saying that it was "about fifty-fifty good and bad." By the end, one will find that this is an underestimation. Attempts at impartiality may be misguided anyway as they will not please feminists or even those who purchase the book after reading about it in Oprah Magazine. To the radical feminist, all men are enemies and a worthy target upon which to project rage. They have no sympathy for non-submissive males of any variety. Mansfield already knows this due to the response he received to a speech from last year, in which he tried to help women better define their interests. The result was that he was hated, resented, and ridiculed.

Unlike Steven Rhoads' meticulous, and excellent, Taking Sex Differences Seriously, this text is philosophical in its focus and emphasis. Mansfield does not draw on contemporary studies and experiments as much as he does the classic minds of antiquity. For those in need of a primer, few works offer up the review of western thought which this one does. My use of the phrase, "western thought," is intentional as the words will horrify even the stoutest (and stoutest hearted) of university chair. Mansfield appears to have ignored academic dogma which forbids the use of Dead White Males as the basis of scholarship. In these pages, the ideas of Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes, William James, Thomas Hobbes, Baruch Spinoza, John Locke, Edmund Burke, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill are paraded before readers without a shame-filled nod to the fetishizers of diversity.

The best part of the work comes about halfway through his fifth chapter entitled, "Womanly Nihilism." Here he departs from his diplomatic tone and becomes acerbic when surveying the work of famous feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Kate Millett, and Shulamith Firestone. Of Millett, he argues that she

…says that men have bigger muscles but that superior strength has no authority within civilization. Civilization! Two pages before she said that all civilization has been oppressive patriarchy; now we see that patriarchy was not so bad after all.

Mansfield pokes fun at Greer over her belief that a woman's best weapon is her tongue:

Women who are free do not entreat, inveigle, or cozy up to you. They talk straight and tough, sprinkling their discourse with four-letter words for emphasis. In case of trouble with stronger males arising from this approach, like true revolutionaries they can always call the police.

Levity aside, the strongest message of Manliness is delivered in these lines:

As opposed to being manly, a defense of manliness requires that a man look A woman in the eye and tell her that she is inferior in certain important respects. Men cannot do that today.

He could not be any more right. The very reason that men are vilified and maligned is due to their refusal to defend themselves. Personally, as strange as it may sound, I have encountered numerous men who regard the refutation of fictitious charges of oppression, rape, and theft as being beneath them and unmanly. I have no notion as to now such an absurd disposition came about. Honor and justice demand that if someone lies about you, you must make the truth known. Defying conformity and asserting oneself are the manliest of traits. Government, via affirmative action, divorce and child custody proceedings, along with the biases endemic to sexual harassment law, has officially preferenced one sex over the other. We live in a time of the New Chivalry [1] in which men are expected to smile before being thrown into the abyss. America would be better served if men cautiously, assertively, and verbally defended themselves. For those who lack the proper arguments, studying Professor Mansfield's book is highly recommended.

Footnotes:

[1] Please see Selwyn Duke's excellent article, The New Chivalry, for more on this topic.

Bernard Chapin is a writer living in Chicago whose work addresses cultural and political issues. His book, Escape from Gangsta Island: A School's Progressive Decline, was recently released while a new book, Slaves to the Feminaria, will appear this summer. You can contact him at veritaseducation@gmail.com.

Buy Manliness at Amazon.com for only $17.33 (36% off)

 

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