02: History cont’d

with 2 comments

Mansfield’s Manliness was first published in 2006. Mansfield is a Professor of Government at Harvard University who, according to his faculty biographical note, “has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949” (you see, right from the start, it’s tempting to put some spin on a statement like that, but if I did it would belong further down in The Problem section, for the sake of fairness).

The very first paragraph of Mansfield’s book gives us a quick insight into his worldview about masculinity (or, as he prefers to call it, manliness). Initial exemplars for manliness offered by Mansfield include Harry S. Truman and Humphrey Bogart’s characterization of Rick in the movie Casablanca (we may be getting to the point in time where such cultural references go way over the head of many readers). That first paragraph also claims that manliness “prefers times of war, conflict and risk.” Mansfield believes we live in a “gender-neutral” society, which seeks to erase sexual differences, and in particular to deny manliness wherever it finds it. However, what Mansfield describes as “common sense” makes it clear that manliness is there whether we like it nor not.

Mansfield’s manliness is about taking action and getting things done, often in a combative fashion. While those with a more evolutionary-biological worldview see manliness as simply being framed by aggression, Mansfield notes that this misses a crucial aspect: thumos, a term used by Plato and Aristotle to describe spiritedness which compels men to “risk their lives in order to save their lives.” This more cerebral element to manliness feeds into two of its fundamental characteristics: confidence and command. However, while thumos suggests something more complex and mindful than mere aggression, it is also a direct link between humanity and the other animals. Mansfield describes thumos both as “bestial courage” and “animal bristling,” which offers an opportunity to risk and sacrifice oneself in order to transcend the self: a “faculty in common with barking dogs,” as Mansfield put it. Humans may enact thumos with more sophistication than other animals, but we are common animals nonetheless.

This appeal to the animal kingdom and our biologically determined nature is crucial to Mansfield. He sees a host of “observable facts of plain biology” going back to the dawn of humanity which show that males are more aggressive than females: “men have more strength, size, and agility than females, who in turn have greater dexterity, delicacy, and endurance (they live longer).” For Mansfield this is all purely down to nature.

Also down to nature are certain facts about the way society has historically unfolded. For example, Mansfield claims that because men are naturally more aggressive and assertive “it is no surprise that men have ruled over all societies at almost all times.” Further still, a less evolved aspect of this assertiveness—in the form of simply defending one’s turf—can be found in various other animal species, which again Mansfield argues demonstrates its deeply ingrained nature.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 5, 2010 at 11:20 am

2 Responses

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  1. It’s very strange to me that people like Mansfield seem to ignore other female mammals who hunt and kill to feed their offspring and defend their turf. It’s quite common in nature. Half of those “barking dogs” are most likely female. And it’s pretty offensive to say courage is a male-only quality.

    Anyway, carry on…


    June 22, 2011 at 3:40 pm

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