Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Manliness Studies

In the spirit of Christmas book lists, let me say that your gift package of recent books on manliness should include the following: Mansfield, MANLINESS; Tom Wolfe, I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS; Carson Holloway, THE RIGHT DARWIN; Ericson and Mahoney, eds, THE SOLZHENITSYN READER; Pierre Manent, A WORLD BEYOND POLITICS?;

For those of you who (with good reason) are convinced that Christmmas is not the season of manliness, I’ll try to put together some other packages later.

Discussions - 11 Comments

EVERY season is the season of manliness! Got a problem with that?

Calm down Dan, next you will be chanting kill, kill, kill or singing deck the halls with lots of bodies... and I might mistake you for a marine.

Fine list, Peter.
On the manliness/magnanimity issue, there is greatness of soul in Christ and in Christianity (rightly understood), but of a distinctive sort. And it’s not only about suffering well. Thomas Aquinas: a humility that can’t coexist with magnanimity isn’t true humility.
Merry Christmas!

And Merry Christmas to you, Paul! The Mary Keys book I talked up before addresses the Thomistic magnanimity/humility relationship. Essential reading for those who think Christian gentleman is an oxymoron...

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Where is the manliness and magnanimity in that? Of all the virtues possessed by the great-souled man humility does not appear to be one of them.

Interesting point FL... I would assume that with Aristotle one is allowed to take some liberties...after all ethics isn’t like mathmatics...or any precise science...but somewhat of an art concerning the emulation and habituation to the virtues of the great(or of those you wish to emulate...or of those whom you are capable of wishing to emulate)...but who you consider great/magnanimous would inform the hierachy you place upon virtues. The Kantians count this against Aristotle...i.e. how do you know who the great are?...and are the great great because they are virtuous, or because in Machiavellian fashion they know how to avoid blame and attract praise...ext...In point of fact is humility simply a tool to be deployed in order to deflect blame and attract even more praise? Maybe the great are humble...because if they were not humble you would resent them and not chategorize them as maybe humility is an unconscious qualification for being recognized as great...and thus informing what virtue is in the first place. The question is do the virtues make the man great or does the great man make the virtues. Also open to question is this... Aristotle says that a friend cannot wish that the best for his friend if this would elevate him to a point where the friendship would terminate. In other words friendship is only possible among equals. If there is only a limited amount of sucess we can wish for others...might there also be a limited amount of sucess we can wish for ourselves...For if we progress too far might we not end up sounding like Shaupenhauer, lamenting the actual solitude of greatness, a sort of moral alienation unsolvable even by a sincere humility? So what if there is even some moderation required in the question of whether being a great souled man is a good thing? So I do think humility is a virtue...if only as something to keep us focused upon our relationship with friends and familly, not to mention as an aid to prevent drowning when it rains.

Dear FL, to make a medium story very short: I’d argue (in a different venue) that Aristotle’s discussion of the greatsouled man is a subtle critique of his pretense to self-sufficiency. He’s an outer-limit of one tendency in the moral life, which Aristotle follows to the end, then draws back ... having exposed him as lacking in essential human qualities, including self-knowledge, wonder, and acknowledging his debts (to nature and to others). Shakespeare saw this, I believe, and depicted it in his portrait of Coriolanus, who finally saw (more of) the truth of himself in his kneeling mother, wife, and kid than he he when he was the busy sword of (and against) Rome. (The kid, though, was a budding monster, as he loved to torment butterlies.)
As for picking lines from the New Testament and asking, where’s the magnamimity in that? that is a kind of argumentation I don’t find very illuminating or productive. In general what I had in mind is that Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels had great firmity and elevation of soul, of a sort that people like Cato the Elder would have recognized. Gentleness and tenderness coexisted with tougher strands in his soul. And he did make some pretty elevated claims about himself.

Peter, I’ll take a look at Mary Keys’ book. Merry Christmas to all!

Paul Seaton that is interesting..."I’d argue that Aristotle’s discussion of the greatsouled man is a subtle critique of his pretense to self-sufficiency." I might agree...but couldn’t you make a subtle critique of any sort of man...for example wouldn’t it be somewhat easy to make a critique of Socrates...someone who had self-knowledge, wonder, and acknowledged his debts? And to what extent isn’t this the point of Aristotle...namely that not all virtues will be present in all people in all the right amounts for the proper circumstances? But that in turn rationalizes turning to those who are held to be great for moral instruction...because those who are held to be great actually had to earn those accolades in some fashion.

I agree with your reading of Aristotle. I am of that class that would not see Christmas as the manliest of seasons. My use of the New Testament was only to indicate a sensibility within the season, and I would say christianity, that does not fully accord with magnanimity or manliness. Your attempt to classify Christ within that class of great souled men has some merit but it does not respond to the fact that humility as a great Christian virtue is essentially absent in Aristotle. This is especially true of magnanimity which you show in your previous post.

John (#8): the general criticism we can level at any and all is particularly piquant when applied to the greatsouled man, because he’s supposed to possess all the virtues, then their crown. So he’s not supposed to have a "downside." But he "wonders at nothing" (so he’s not a candidate for philosophy; plus he fails to recognize important facets of the world and of life); he prefers to overlook his debts (so he’s trying to pretend to greater self-sufficiency than is humanly possible or desirable and he’s probably unjust (can’t pay your debts if you ignore them); Aristotle suggests - via a reference to Thetis approaching Zeus for a favor - that he can be manipulated); all in all, in his desire to live the fully or totally (and then some) "soul-life" he fails to see his complex humanity.

FL (#9)Biblical humility, of course, presupposes a Creator-God, utter human dependency, and the awkward fact of human sinfulness, none of which Aristotle knew. But aren’t there analogues available to him, things that he could recognize as "antedating" him and making him possible, things which would inform or qualify whatever achievements he did attain in philosophizing or in living, such as the giveness of nature, the remarkable civilizational achievement of the Greeks, and the mysteries of (his) generation and of thinking? Certainly in Nicomachean Ethics I, 5, he said that the form of human self-sufficiency he recognized included one’s parents, wife, kids, fellow citizens, even one’s ancestors. The next chapter alludes to Plato, to whom he had many obligations, of course. He certainly knew that human perfection required others and involved oneself in a network of mutual relationship, not all of which are, as we say, chosen. To quote de Jouvenel again: The wise man knows himself to be a debtor.
I’m not trying to christianize Aristotle! but it seems to me that there’s the real possibility of something analogous to biblical humility in the Aristotelian recognition of nature’s givenness and the marvels of Greek political and civilizational life that Aristotle knew were unique achievements that made his life possible.

Others may weigh in as they see fit.

PS: I’d accept the characterization that sometimes I’m a bit spirited in defending Christianity from various (Straussian-inspired) charges, (whether Socratic-Aristotelian-Nietzschean or whatnot). But it goes without saying that I’m neither greatsouled nor truly humble.

Well I like a more empirical or grounded Aristotle...I think you are Platonizing Aristotle. I don’t think that Aristotle would suggest that we could actually find great souled men if by great souled men it is implied that "he’s not supposed to have a "downside"." Here are passages from the Nichomachean ethics that I believe support this view. "Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of, for precision is not to be sought for alike in all discussions, any more than in all the products of the crafts." On Platonizes Aristotle when one seeks to place too much precision upon the great souled man...such that he can’t have a downside. Basically all of book 1 is pertinent to my objection of your attack on the great souled man. "And similarly with regard to the Idea; even if there is some one good which is universally predicable of goods or is capable of separate and independent existence, clearly it could not be achieved or attained by man; but we are now seeking something attainable."

That is I believe that Aristotle recognizes that even at the height of living ethically man will have a limited horizon...that is the idea that a man could actually possess all the virtues in perfect measure is not actually taken seriously by Aristotle. All great men will have detractors...and all views of what constitutes the perfect blend of virtues will be open to critiques pointing out downsides...

" Verbally there is very general agreement; for both the general run of men and people of superior refinement say that it is happiness, and identify living well and doing well with being happy; but with regard to what happiness is they differ, and the many do not give the same account as the wise. For the former think it is some plain and obvious thing, like pleasure, wealth, or honour; they differ, however, from one another- and often even the same man identifies it with different things, with health when he is ill, with wealth when he is poor; but, conscious of their ignorance, they admire those who proclaim some great ideal that is above their comprehension."

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