Martha Nussbaum on Manliness: A Book Review that Says It All

Debbie says:

Clearly, both Laurie and I “should” have heard of Martha Nussbaum before Lori pointed us to this review of Harvey C. Mansfield’s Manliness on the Powell’s site.

It’s too good not to quote at some length. Her set-up is that a mysterious philosophical scholar, whom she calls “S,” is trying to investigate the concept of manliness.

Carefully, S would set out the puzzles, untangling opinions like tangled strands of yarn. (Women do so well at logic, says Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, because they have all that experience detangling and delousing, whereas men, who are impatient creatures, just like to wave their shields around.) Finally S would try to produce an account that seemed to be the best one, preserving the deepest and most basic of the opinions, and discarding those that contradict them. S would then hold this definition out publicly, inviting all comers to try things out with their own reasoning, and then accept the proposed definition or improve upon it.”

Harvey Mansfield’s credentials suggest to the reader that he will behave like S.

It quickly becomes evident, however, that Manliness is not the book that our imagined S would have written. To begin with, it is slipshod about facts — even the facts that lie at the heart of his argument. He repeatedly tells us that ‘all previous societies have been ruled by males,’ producing Margaret Thatcher as a sole recent exception. Well, one has to forgive Mansfield for not adducing Angela Merkel or Han Myung-Sook or Michelle Bachelet, since these female leaders won their posts, presumably, after his book went to press. One might even forgive Mansfield for not knowing about female heads of state in Mongolia, Argentina, Iceland, Latvia, Rwanda, Finland, Burundi, Bermuda, Mozambique, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Dominica, Malta, Liberia, and Bangladesh. Those are relatively small countries, and one would have to be curious about what is going on in them. But one can hardly overlook Mansfield’s neglect of the very newsworthy recent or current female leaders of New Zealand (Jenny Shipley, Helen Clark), Turkey (Tansu Ciller), Poland (Hanna Suchocka), Norway (Gro Harlem Brundtland), France (Edith Cresson), Canada (Kim Campbell), Sri Lanka (Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and now her daughter), the Philippines (Corazon Aquino, Gloria Arroyo), and Pakistan (Benazir Bhutto, a government major at Harvard who might have taken Mansfield’s class). And what might one say about Mansfield’s utter neglect of Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, two of the most influential politicians of the twentieth century? Don’t we have to think, in the face of these cases, that his assertions are some sort of elaborate charade, a pretense that the world is the way some audience would like it to be, whether it is that way or not?

So Mansfield is not overly concerned with fact.

We think that we are finally getting somewhere when Mansfield announces that his own definition of manliness is ‘confidence in the face of risk.’ We might have some issues with the proposal. [This] candidate definition — “confidence in the face of risk” — needs to answer a lot of questions. But at least it is something, a definite proposal from which we can move forward.

Imagine the shock to the feminine logic-loving mind, then, when within two pages the definition is, if not withdrawn, at least ignored, and quite different formulations, inconsistent with it, trot forward like eager children vying for attention. Manliness is aggressiveness, combined with promiscuousness in sex. It is the ‘brute spirit of aggression.’ It is not mere aggression, but only ‘aggression that develops a cause it espouses.’ It is ‘a claim on your attention.’ It is the ‘willingness to challenge nature combined with confidence … that one can succeed.’ ‘In the end aggression is all there is.’ It is ‘stubbornness added to rationality.’

On the logical principle that from a contradiction everything and anything follows, I conclude that Manliness says it all. Try that out on the back jacket.

There’s more, lots more, and it’s all just as well-written, incisive, and (to use Lori’s word) devastating.

Read the whole thing. I’m going to go look up more of Nussbaum’s work, myself.

<br /> men<br /> women<br /> feminism<br /> masculinity<br /> manliness<br /> Powells<br /> Martha Nussbaum<br /> Harvey Mansfield<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">Body Impolitic</a><br />