A Man
Overboard

 

 

An interview with Harvey C. Mansfield


If the idea of an exclusively male organization disturbs you, then the book Manliness, by Harvey C. Mansfield, will make you absolutely apoplectic.

It was refreshing to talk with Mansfield, a Harvard Professor of Government, who has come to men’s work from a unique intellectual background replete in his knowledge of history, philosophy and politics. He quotes Tocqueville, Aristotle, Darwin, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Hobbs, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, John Locke and Teddy Roosevelt … he’s got ten pages of bibliography in his book.

I discovered the professor, of all places, on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report being interviewed by the host who readily mocked the notion of manliness as mere John Wayne/macho stuff ...

The author was good-natured about being on the show. I was angry at the way he was treated. I believe the notion of manliness is subjected to comic derision because our modern society has utterly failed men in helping them define their roles. Some may call our matriarchal Western civilization progress; I don’t.

“Stephen Colbert is a comedian,” Mansfield said of his TV experience. “He told me before the show started, ‘I’m the professional idiot.’ His approach was mostly intentional.”

Yale Press, the book’s publisher, put the professor on the program to appeal to a younger male audience, Mansfield added.

“I wouldn’t otherwise have done it,” he continued, “but I didn’t mind the jibes. I’m used to that sort of thing. I’m one of the very few conservatives at Harvard, so I try not to feel embattled. I have felt lonely … but over the years I’ve developed a thicker skin.”

Well, that sounds like a manly attribute.

“Honor is an asserted claim to protect someone, and the claim to protect is a claim to rule. How can I protect you properly if I can’t tell you what to do? This is how manliness leads to patriarchy, a form of rule in which the rulers behave as if they were protective fathers.” – Harvey Mansfield in Manliness

In my own studies I discovered that in Hebrew, the word for father is patriarch. In Greek, patriarch means father-ruler. In my world, patriarch means a Good King. And in the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, patriarchy meant a blessed order of civilization inspired by God.

“I believe that fatherhood and patriarchy can be a blessing in the modern day,” Mansfield explained. “As social beings, we need the exercise of authority – we need fathers. Our youth need to be taught by fathers. But not everything can be taught rationally, not even the reasonable can be taught rationally - especially to the young. Youth … and all of us … need a voice that speaks as from above - a voice that makes our lives feel as if they are directed toward some goal that is above ourselves.”

The author said his work was focused less on anything religious and more on the nature of men’s protectiveness.

“I do believe that patriarchy is the protectiveness of God in the way that it becomes most visible to us as humans.”

“The gods are a reminder of the need for authority in human affairs, of a higher power to which human beings can point when claiming their rights. Gods are necessary to manly assertion because without them assertion is mere assertion, arbitrary and unsupported.” – Harvey Mansfield in Manliness

I asked Mansfield if men were hard-wired toward manliness.

“Men are hard-wired, and also soft-wired in the sense that we can affect the way in which men get routed; every natural inclination is developed by or perverted by either a social or a human factor. Manliness is something natural to men, inherent in the human situation. Obviously there are different versions or variations, but there is something that is the same and unvarying. Manliness I would define as a confidence in a situation of risk. It can be danger, or a challenge to one’s authority, a competition, or a contest. Manly men are not only adapted to handle such situations, they seek them out - they take pleasure being in charge of whatever group is in question.”

I invited Mansfield to read Robert Moore’s Facing The Dragon for the insights around the manliness of healthy grandiosity. He said he would.

“Manliness has lost its reputation in our time and society,” the professor stated. “In this gender-neutral society you hardly hear the word anymore. I’m trying to bring it back into circulation; trying to make manliness serve as a standard or a guide to men, and also to women, so they can be more tolerant and respectful when they see it.”

“Manliness likes to show off and wants to be appreciated. And it is critical of those who do not measure up to its high standard. It is generous but judgmental.” – Harvey Mansfield in Manliness

I asked the author if he was familiar with The ManKind Project. He said he was.

“We need to go back to something like initiation,” he exclaimed. “We have the Boy Scouts, but it’s done in a modified and moderate way. They have their ceremonies that make young men aware of taking important steps, and passing milestones. Bar Mitzvahs are a kind of initiation. Every year I see the arrival of the next year’s class of students dropped off by their mommies and daddies in station wagons full of stuff. That’s a kind of initiation.”

I explained that The New Warrior Training Adventure was an intense weekend for men designed for them to explore their own life with the ultimate goal of reclaiming the sacred masculine

“That’s sounds interesting,” he retorted, mulling over my statement. “… reclaiming the sacred masculine … I think men aren’t going to be men unless they examine what it is to be a man. The results of their personal work will be a standard or a guide for them. We need to recover not only what a man is, but what a man does – particularly around masculine things.”

“Manliness is the willingness to challenge nature combined with the confidence, inspired by the knowledge, that one can succeed. In praising warriors Nietzsche says, ‘And if you cannot be saints of knowledge, at least be its warriors.’ Warrior are the ‘companions and forerunners’ of the saints.” – Harvey Mansfield in Manliness

Mansfield said he makes a distinction between the masculine all men share in traits “closer to the body” vs. “manliness and the quality of the soul.”

“This whole topic is very interesting because it does connect the body and the soul. It certainly raises the old question of how the body affects the soul and visa versa. Manliness, perhaps, is not exclusively male but very close to it. The question is there: ‘what is it about the male body that makes men behave and think differently than women?’”

I asked the profession if he thought manliness was simply a heterosexual construct.

“I disagree … I think that it’s not simply a construct because manliness is found in all human societies. For those of us who have children, we see the differences in the genders. Boys are more naturally aggressive than girls who tend to show more caution and moderation. You can go on to say that aggression causes trouble, and that’s true, but there’s no way to counter it except with another aggression on the side of the just and the good. The call for a world without manliness is a form of impossible passivism that supposes we’ll never have any dangers or risks and we won’t need people capable of handling such situations.”

Even within men’s groups, there is a still a certain reluctance to avoid conflict, right?

“Some of my harshest critics are full of aggression and manliness even as they attack the idea of it, even as they attack me. A lot of pacifists really like conflict, even as they denounce it in the streets showing how tough they are. The sensitive male has no self knowledge of his aggressiveness. They can be very cruel because they can’t see it in themselves, and they don’t tolerate it in others. Not recognizing it, they don’t accept or counter it with virtuous aggression. They only react to it.”

“Manliness is responsible for our individuality. And because individuality must be asserted to, and against, other people, its creation is essentially a political act.” – Harvey Mansfield in Manliness

If for no other reason, this book is worth the read for the history lesson in the evolution of modern feminism, going back to the writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and more currently Naomi Wolf. As we’ll discover, all of these women borrowed from Frederick Nietzsche for their manly approach to the women’s movement.

I told the professor that it seemed to me that so many “feminists” were simply reading from a common script. I asked him why there weren’t more original thinkers on the natures of men and women. (In his book he referred to unoriginal thinkers as “lazy social engineers.”)

“There’s this thing called political correctness,” he said, with a chuckle. “The feminist made their way in the world, not by argument, but by demonstration … by a perverted moral authority. They clucked their tongues, ‘tsch, tsch’ and waggled their finger at you and this was called raising consciousness. There was only one way to look at the controversial issue and any one who didn’t do it their way simply had bad manners, and bad morals combined. Their way of thinking became dictatorial. It didn’t exactly order you, but it made you feel silly if you thought otherwise. They used a more feminine way of getting authority, not through overt force, but by making you feel embarrassed until you agreed.”

“… when the focus of pity shifts from others to oneself and one’s class as victims, pity can be transformed into hard cruelty against the alleged oppressors. Manliness is the remedy for both softness and hardness as it enables one to resist self-pity and at the same time to be protective of those who are in one’s charge.” –

Harvey Mansfield in Manliness

According to Mansfield, feminists began with the idea that manliness is not an innate force, and therefore does not have to be confined to men.

“They believed manliness was attributed to men through historical oppression, and that it was their turn to define and create themselves. This theoretical view came from Nietzsche who believed in creating identity instead of merely accepting it. Now, for the women, there was no inherent reason for authority to be confined to men. Women could define and create themselves. They were told ‘you must not accept who you are a woman … you can be a man as much as a man can.’ All it takes is assertiveness – an essential male quality. Women were told they could transcend their nature. However, I think the short of it is, that women decided to define themselves by imitating men. They became like men, similar, but not entirely, because women still carried their own ways.”

The author said he sees assertive women but they cannot be as boastful, pushy, or as aggressive as men.

“They like to think they are … so Hollywoood makes movies with gangster themes and a lovely actresses plays the role of a hit man. It’s not convincing, but it’s the aspiration of the feminist world.”

“Manliness is not mere aggression; it is aggression that develops an assertion, a cause it espouses. A sense of honor is the source of the protectiveness so characteristic of manliness.” – Harvey Mansfield in Manliness.

“The meaning in a man’s life isn’t obvious,” Mansfield said. “It’s contested. Every society disagrees on its meaning. The meaning that most societies have is directed against another society: Athens vs. Sparta, Greeks vs. Barbarians, etc. So that kind of meaning is not simply writing on a blackboard or writing a book … it’s about making a statement that you have to make good …by make good, I mean defend. An assertive statement is one you are willing to stand up for, to fight, or to defend.”

The professor referenced the last line of the American Declaration of Independence.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Mansfield called the men who signed this document, manly, because they were “staking their most precious things on what they believed.”

People have a natural admiration for others, even one’s enemies, who perform great deeds, he added.

“There is a natural inclination to recognize, respect, and to follow a noble justice. Though it varies, this virtue is not something which depends on any particular society to construct it - it’s inherent in the human way of life. We admire courage.”

In his book, Mansfield describes the opposite of risk taking, or courage, as an unhealthy obsession with security.

“When Socrates asks Laches to define courage, Laches comes up with steadfastness of soul, a virtue that applies not merely to war, he agrees, but to such things as fighting desires and pleasures. Courage in holding fast, it appears, is a virtue to be found in all virtue.”

The courage of men and the modesty of women are virtues that set limits on the other, the author noted.

“Each virtue sets limits on the other and in that way defines the other. If there were no moderation, courage would be unrelenting hardness; and if there were no courage, the moderate person would not resist any temptation and moderation would be softness.

Our modern world perpetuates a gender-neutral society that confuses the relationships between the genders, he added.

“That is why I have called feminism ‘nihilism.’ It says that being a woman is nothing definite and that the duty of women is to advance that nothingness as a cause.” – Harvey Mansfield in Manliness

“Partly out of guilt, partly out of gallantry, men have abdicated their position in society without a fight,” he continued. “Rousseau argues that the sexes are not just different but strictly complementary, and that treating them so is vital to the harmony and integrity of human life. ‘The woman has more wit, the man more genius, the woman observes and the man reasons,’ claims Rousseau.”

According to the author, modern feminism is not serving women very well.

“The trouble with feminist women is that they don’t have wives to teach them sense. Their autonomy is not a substitute, much less a recipe for moderation. Autonomy sounds good when it is claimed for the sake of nobility, much less so when it is for convenience. The desire to be independent of men leaves women still in the grip of men. ‘This will show them! We’ll refuse to be women.’ In response one may say that women and men have this in common – they are happier and more attractive when they live for the sake of something above themselves … something like making a family together.”

How does this manliness play out in Mansfield’s real life?

“My wife tolerates it with some irony,” he confessed. “Fortunately, my wife likes a manly man.”

The professor has two grown sons, and five grandchildren.

“I spent time with my children and they’ve grown up very well. They went through a difficult era in high school where their peers were using drugs. They refused to participate in it. I can’t take too much credit for them … they had a lot of their own good sense.”

I asked the author if he had any parting thoughts for us.

“If you don’t have your Good King actively working in your life, you’ll most definitely have your Tyrant.”

© 2006, Reid Baer

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.



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