02: History cont’d

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The numerous references to nature require an investigation of the age-old nature versus nurture debate. Much of Mansfield’s argument favors nature. However, Mansfield views this via the lens of human importance. In short, Mansfield argues that “human beings matter in the grand scheme of things.” If manliness was down only to nature, then humans would not matter: their experiences would simply be part of the great unfolding of nature. For Mansfield, this denies human dignity and the spiritedness of manliness: “Hence nature must therefore be seen as a the guide for nurture.” The fact that manliness cannot be reduced solely to nurture ultimately leaves the door open for humanity to define what constitutes the “human good.”

Equally qualified is Mansfield’s discussion of the public–private domain, which is often used to explain the differing roles of men and women in society. Men have historically been in the public domain (going to work and running society) and women in the private domain (having children and tending the home). Mansfield argues this distinction needs to function on two levels: it should hold true in the private domain, but not in the public. In other words, women should have free and equal access to the public domain, but in the private domain, we should all “admit” our natural sex roles, such as possessing manliness, with all its aggression and bestial courage. Mansfield speculates—following the precedent of history—that even with the freedom to choose, most women will opt for the private and most men for the public, which again asserts the “naturalness” of this formula.

So history works in a various ways for Mansfield. We have seen that he looks to our biological roots and commonality with other animals to understand the nature of manliness, which is largely characterized by aggression. While this is a comparison that could be undertaken today, it is essentially historical as it appeals to a timeless aspect of manliness that was present before the neutering effects of contemporary society, and which will inevitably outlive its contemporary denial.

But, of course, aside from animals Mansfield also offers plenty of examples of manliness performed by humans. However, this too is largely an historical exercise, given the neutering affects of contemporary society. As such, Mansfield makes frequent use of the classical Greeks who he sees as having a better grasp on the nature of manliness than contemporary society. For example, we read of the heroes of Homer who knew how to take a risk and do it with some honor. Indeed, the Greeks are presented as seeing manliness as “the main, or only, virtue.” Or among many other classical examples, Mansfield refers to the Stoics as a foundation on which to build manliness, who offered a “philosophy of inner freedom, of manly confidence learned by living as if you were a prisoner.”

Mansfield identifies more modern examples of manliness, but they are never truly in the here and now, or even real. Hemmingway’s fictional characters and jungle-swinging Tarzan are offered; Nietzsche’s superman makes numerous appearances. Mansfield’s manliness therefore has a continually “not here” feel; it is, as he says, “unemployed,” both defined by and relegated to history and fiction by the gender-neutral society, but waiting in the wings to return once more to its rightful place in the world.

To reiterate, Mansfield argues that manliness is:

  • an aggressive, assertive and public way of being a man
  • based in biology and the animal kingdom
  • at its best in historical contexts
  • denied in the contemporary gender-neutral society.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

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