Bully For You A Review Of Manliness by Prof. Harvey Mansfield

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This book might
very well be to the late ’00s and ’10s what the late Prof.
Allan Bloom's The
Closing Of The American Mind
was to the late’80s and
’90s. Both Prof. Mansfield and the late Prof. Bloom share a
common penchant: using erudition to challenge a prevalent belief
which is so hard to directly question that it takes on the status
of a taboo. The late Prof. Bloom questioned the open-university
concept which was ensconced by the administrative responses to university-centered
protests in the late 1960s, and the still extant Prof. Mansfield
has put his pen in the service of questioning one of the offshoots
of those days of tumult, present-day feminism. Like Prof. Bloom,
Prof. Mansfield is treading on ground already broached by scholars
in the social-sciences field, but which is still risky to stomp
through these days: witness the recent fate of his still-extant
top boss, Lawrence Summers.
Also, like Prof. Bloom, Prof. Mansfield is good at deploying erudition
in the service of his challenges, and thus at making evident a divide
between the higher learning and the popular classes in such a way
as to make him turn into a ready-to-pundit spokesperson among the
latter.

It's
easy if you already have the prior erudition and know how to time
it right. His latest book, Manliness,
is clearly a middlebrow work aimed at the middle classes — especially
college-age youths. Prof. Mansfield is clearly a liberal; he all-but-explicitly
identifies himself as such, and even tries the true trick of the
modern liberal by working in Edmund Burke, an icon of modern conservatism,
into his discussion of the manly liberal mind. Despite the presumptive
intention of his to revivify "manly liberalism," though,
he'll almost certainly wind up becoming one of the staple distance
instructors of raffish neoconservatism, just as Prof. Bloom wound
up becoming the long-distance tutor of late’80s pre-nihilists,
along with the accountant kind of’80s kid. More thoughtful neos
will note to themselves, and perhaps to others, "he pinched
our side when he called our hero a u2018liberal' so he should've known
we'd be all over it" when working the text of Manliness
into their new modes of thought. This consequence could not exactly
be called unintended, as Prof. Mansfield knows full well the iconic
status of Burke in the modern American right.

Both Manliness
and The Closing Of The American Mind hold out the promise
of acquiring erudition, which for the typical reader will be "instant
erudition" and little else. In the case of Prof. Mansfield's
tome, the potential for consequences which are genuinely unintentional
lurk in his orally delivered, simple, and quite quotable, definition
of manliness: "Confidence when in risky situations." Although
preferring to stick to provisionality (p. 16) in the text of the
book itself, what he put in the book is consistent with this definition
— "confidence and competence in the face of risk" (p.
216) – which, like the more clear-cut alternative of "courage
in the face of uncertainty," does hold a certain kind of man
up as a manly one.

To see what
kind, contrast it with a definition more consistent with our traditions:
manliness as "devotion to principle at all costs" or,
less clear-cuttedly, "rule-following in the face of temptation."
Once the contrast is made, it is seen that Prof. Mansfield's own
definition identifies a manly man as being something not dissimilar
to a plain bully. Its two closest analogs in the list of chivalric
virtues
are fidelity to morals – “Thou shalt be everywhere and
always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice
and Evil” – and valor: “Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.”
The two items in the chivalric code which are closest to what more
conventional thinkers define manliness as are: “Thou shalt perform
scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws
of God,” and “Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches, and
shalt observe all its directions.”

To be fair
to Prof. Mansfield, the bar brawler and his likesake are firmly
pegged by him as being amongst the lowest order of the manly, even
if they are not declared to be beyond the pale. There is even a
sensible model of manliness within his book, which puts the surly
and the aggressive at the bottom of a hierarchy of manliness, one
which is gradated using the standard of self-control, and the valorous
warrior-nobleman right at the top. There is a little more to this
book than yet another Harvard/M.I.T. co-production which highlights
the virtues and worth of those with beefy biceps. Interestingly
enough for a middlebrow work, there is even an explication of a
kind of manliness which specifically applies to scholars and thinkers,
with Aristotle and Plato, as well as the ubiquitous Socrates, doing
duty as role models. (Nietzsche is mentioned as well, though in
a more ambivalent light than is customary nowadays.)

The reader
is treated to a long description of the politician who Prof. Mansfield
evidently believes is the cynosure of American manliness, Theodore
Roosevelt; the recounting of T.R.'s life story is sufficiently detailed
to make me suspect that "Kettle Hill Roosevelt" got started
on the path to claim his manhood through being kicked out of the
family home by his parents. If so, then the archetypical American
manly man is someone who found masculinity through a kind of redemptive
life quest — which starts from a plush background. Not for Prof.
Mansfield is the more traditional redemptive quest which sees a
young bully boy turn into a chivalrous man, such as Robin of Locksley
did in the movie Robin
Hood: Prince Of Thieves
.

The temptation
to declare Prof. Mansfield to be an enabler of tyrants, like Machiavelli
was to Cesare Borgia and Plato was to Dionysius the Younger, isn't
very strong; Prof. Mansfield's liberal leanings are too evident.
In addition to his liberal bent, which is double-decked by his cheerful
stipulation that the existence of his kind of manliness amongst
the lower orders is a practical checkrein on any blooming tyranny
(pp. 176–7 in discussions of Spinoza and Locke), he also includes
William James' well-known dichotomy which folds rationality, intellectuality
and idealism into "tender-mindedness" and their antipodes
into "tough-mindedness," with evident approval on Prof.
Mansfield's part (p. 89). A person such as this does not make for
a good tutor of tyrants.

It's the opposite
means of categorizing rationalism versus empiricism which is the
tyrant's seedbed: these two quotes which together link rationality
and politico's manliness — "Reason must be the universal rule
and guide; all things must be done according to reason without allowing
oneself to be swayed by emotion" and "Harshness towards
individuals who flout the laws and commands of state is for the
public good; no greater crime against the public interest is possible
than to show leniency to those who violate it” — are both from Cardinal
Richelieu
. We all know how central rationalism and scientism
were to both Communism and fascism, even if the latter lets rationalism
in through the back door through “organization” and “order.” The
past century has provided more than enough evidence that the habit
of reason is best left to the tender-minded for the sake of freedom.
Bullying is deplorable, but the pugnacious bully is always easier
to restrain than the cruel master is. An upsurge in plain tyranny
is not likely to result from the popularity and success of Manliness.

What is likely
to result can be seen from Prof. Mansfield's choice of a paragon
of wimpishness, a choice which is more subtle than it seems at first
glance. His Great Wimp is none other than John Stuart Mill: after
conceding that "in Mill's thought manliness is still present
but keeps company with unmanliness" (p. 185), Prof. Mansfield
ends up calling Mill "a wimp when you come down to it"
(p. 189). What bugs Prof. Mansfield about Mill's thought is Mill's
respect for psychological individuality: at the bottom of Mill's
hierarchy of manliness is not the bully — who is clearly beyond
the pale — but the eccentric (p. 186). The requirement in Mill's
system of liberty that all desire to command must be confined to
self-command is written off by Prof. Mansfield as — well, wimpish.

Who is a more
manly — more virile — philosopher of freedom, according to Prof.
Mansfield? The answer may surprise you: he implicitly recommends
as a substitute the thought of John Locke. To the extent that Prof.
Mansfield is critical of Locke — "Liberalism is unmanly in
setting down self-preservation as the end of man, as do Hobbes and
Locke" (p. 185) — he is also critical of Hobbes.

Lest you think
that this pro-Locke element of partisanship in Manliness
is a sign that Prof. Mansfield is a covert lover of liberty, there
is sufficient evidence to conclude that Prof. Mansfield is yet another
Harvard liberal: he defined liberalism as a balancing act between
liberty and security, as (according to Prof. Mansfield) you can't
have one without the other (p. 165). It's easy from this to guess
the fate of minimal government should present-day liberalism become
suffused with Prof. Mansfield's kind of manliness again. Remember
his admiration of T.R.?

It is strange
that a fellow such as this would latch on to Locke, isn't it? Especially
when he also sends Mill out through the ladies' exit.

Perhaps this
ostensible antinomy isn't one, come to think of it. There is one
crucial difference between Mill and Locke which is evident in Manliness:
Mill takes civil society as a given, which Locke does not do.

What's evidently
wrong with Mill is that he's too civil. What evidently is
right with Locke is that his system allows for quarrelsomeness.
This latter point indicates precisely what will be the – genuinely
unintended, I am sure — consequence of this book entering into the
popular culture and in the hands of the popular classes: a rise
in quarreling, and a resultant rise in civil disorder in the United
States.

Realizing this
unintended consequence makes the fulsome praise of this book by
neoconservatives far easier to understand than a mere reference
to Prof. Mansfield having kind things to say about Edmund Burke,
as well as having unkind things to say about feminism, does. When
civil disorder goes up, so does the public demand for neoconservative
remedies, ceteris paribus. Manliness will serve them
well to this end, and for this reason it is a good book to poke
through for the purpose of seeing what kind of disorder it will
likely engender. It's a sad fact that all the erudition a man can
acquire never takes away the need for him to learn some things the
hard way, and this need to learn through experience definitely includes
re-learning what Grampaw already knew quite well. America is about
to learn the hard way that Mill is not an effete sidepath from Locke,
but a worthy successor to him.

Memo to
Professor Mansfield: You won't be able to stop the ensuing interregnum.

May
1, 2006

Daniel
M. Ryan [send him mail]
is a Canadian with a well-known habit of blundering into fields
for which he is inadequately prepared. Visit his
website
.

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