T.R’s cigar not just a cigar?

Email Print

In response to my recent comment:

Why are conservatives…so obsessed with words like “muscle” and “emasculate” and “impotence?”

Robert Higgs writes:

I have become more and more struck by this over the years as I have read about various “conservative” “great men” (as they are known). I am now reading a biography of Henry Stimson, a key figure in the horrible stream of statists/warmongers that runs from Ehihu Root to the present (though I’m not sure whom to cite as the outstanding human embodiment of this stream at present–maybe GWB?). All these guys were northeasterners who, I increasingly suspect, were obsessed with doubts about their manhood. Sometimes it’s transparent: Roosevelt’s idiotic antics as cowboy and great white hunter; Stimson’s cavorting about the West in similar guise (he idolized TR) and scheming his way into the Army at age 50 just so he could go to the front and, once and for all, prove his manhood. All of these guys seem to have lacked confidence in their masculinity, and, to borrow from the Freudians (whom I consider fools, in general), “projected” their self-doubts in the form of rootin’-tootin’ personal behavior out of doors and, worst, aggressive and belligerent engagement of the United States in the world at large.

I would have to agree that Freudianism isn’t terribly reliable, but the noticable overuse of words like “impotence” among authoritarians and those who admire them remains.

TR is probably the most obnoxious exemplar of such writing. Perhaps the modern pre-occupation with what is manly among conservatives comes from the fact that that a great many conservatives, including Pat Buchanan, who quotes TR often, admire him greatly.

Higgs’ note reminded me of a passage written by TR himself that a friend sent me earlier this year:

(From Walter McDougall’s Promised Land, Crusader State)

“All that this country desires [if you read on, you’ll see what a humble desire this is.] is to see the neighboring countries
stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct
themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation
shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency
in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its
obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States.
Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general
loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as
elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation,
and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to
the Monroe Doctrine may lead the United States, however reluctantly,
in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of
an international police power.”

That’s a lot of impotence for one paragraph, and the sentiment of the paragraph is repugnant in the extreme: Invade any country that’s too “impotent” for our tastes.

In my essay on the Western film genre I look a little bit at Roosevelt’s obsession with the frontier and how he thought running around and shooting buffalo and toasting marshmallows made him more of a man:

Perhaps the chief popularizer of this revolt against cultured urban life at the close of the 19th century was Theodore Roosevelt, a privileged Easterner who had convinced himself that his travels in the American West had somehow made him much more masculine than most of his fellow American men.

And so on.

Over the years I’ve read far too many columns in conservative publications that assert that it’s cute for men to be short-tempered and get in fist fights and generally behave like jackasses because that’s somehow good ol’ fashioned manly behavior.

Call me a killjoy, but it seems to me that husbands and fathers especially should look to men like, oh, say, Jesus Christ, or perhaps Saint Joseph as models for manly behavior. I’m pretty sure that Saint Joseph didn’t run around getting into bar brawls or making crass remarks at women or using aggression as a cover for his shortcomings. I could be wrong.

10:18 pm on November 13, 2008