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The Novelist of Manliness

This is a manly week. The philosopher of manliness, Harvey Mansfield, is about to use the Jefferson lecture to rehabilitate the manly part of the soul against all forms of reductionism (not only Darwin’s). And thanks to Ivan the K, we’re reminded of the excellent judgment of the novelist of manliness and last year’s Jefferson lecturer, Tom Wolfe. Wolfe gives us some astute historical perspective on the Iraq war, testimony that our president is more literate than many self-proclaimed experts on literature, and tells the truth about true joy of writing.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Mansfield is the "philosopher of manliness"? Wolfe is the "novelist of manliness"?

Really? Is that what manliness means for American conservatives? A Harvard professor and a guy in a white suit?

Do you endorse Mansfield's "manly nihilism," which is the central teaching of Mansfield's book? Are conservatives now going to support the "manly nihilism" of Friedrich Nietzsche, Teddy Roosevelt, and George Bush?

I don't know how Larry Arnhart can possibly conclude that Mansfield "endorses" manly nihilism. Either Arnhart has not read Mansfield's book, or if he has, he hasn't understood it. Or perhaps he merely provokes nihilistically, so to speak.

At any rate, we discussed a draft text of Mansfield's NEH lecture in our last Manliness class of the semester at Wofford tonight (along with Tom Wolfe's from last year). As Peter intimates, Mansfield takes aim at the reductionism of his own profession, beginning and ending his talk with a rebuke and an exhortation, respectively, to "political science." But the best part of the lecture may be how clearly he presents the connection between the high and the low in human nature, by speaking of Aristotle as both a psychologist and a biologist, of how the truth of the body best comes to sight from the vantage point of the soul, without quotation marks. Teachers of Politics must be manly enough to assert the truth about human nature in the face of the presumed authority of science, as opposed to becoming a pale imitation of a pale imitation, the mathematics of physical space, and all that. Aristotle knows more about the body than Darwin, because he knows about the soul.

I should add, if Arnhart will read the book, he will discover that manly nihilism is created in large part by his pal Darwin. The rest of us deal with moderating it.

"how the truth of the body best comes to sight from the vantage point of the soul"

In other words, once you admit an arbitrary and superstitious explanation for one thing it becomes very easy to describe an arbitrary and superstitious explanation for everything else. Why do science when you can make up a spiritual explanation?

Saying "how the truth of the body best comes to sight from the vantage point of the soul" is like saying "the truth of reproduction comes to sight from the vantage point of the stork theory." The sexual model of reproduction has many holes and unanswered questions (see the science of embryology), but once you believe in a stork everything makes so much sense and there are no more pesky uncertainties.

"assert the truth about human nature in the face of the presumed authority of science...Aristotle knows more about the body than Darwin, because he knows about the soul"

Yes, all of those facts that we've discovered in the past 2200 years need to be ignored. What were people thinking when they started to actually look at the world in order to understand it. The truth about things is found in stories we tell about them, not in actually watching them.

Boo, no, the facts are not ignored--they appear in their fullness. You need to think through the matter in conversation with minds perhaps wiser than yours (not me!). Read Mansfield and others. Don't be peremptory in your dismissal of the superiority of a rigorous philosophy. After all, we are after all thinkers by nature. As for the "stork theory" of reproduction (a very unfair low blow, by the way =)), see what Tom Wolfe says about the Jack Frost theory of memes at the end of his NEH lecture of last year. It's on line. Best....

Rob's Comment 3 strikes at the heart of the relationship between Darwin and manliness. As I said before in a different way, the effectual truth of the false perception that Darwin explains it all is, as Harvey says, "manliness run amok" in some form. And the whole argument of MANLINESS is a self-conscious exaggeration. It neglects or abstracts from eros in a bold and inevitably futile attempt to give a manly account of everything. So you have to ask "Where's the love?" As HM says in his Jefferson speech, it's not there! Manly men are being criticized for their inability to talk about love or any other form of human gratitude and dependence. And you start to see that HM shows how manly exaggeration can lead to dramatic nihilism, and so all manliness and all men need the realistic correction of women. (The alleged realism of Darwin in not the real realism of women, who see the genuine significance of particular human beings.) We do have to wonder whether Larry displayed too much manly indignation in his reading of MANLINESS, missing some obvious facts like HM is clearly not endorsing some of the ridiculous excesses of TR that he displays.

With Christopher Hitchens and Tom Junod, Tom Wolfe is among my favorite essayists and probably my favorite modern novelist; but he is missing something. He is brilliant when speaking of status and taking apart the pretensions of others. And I think his explorations of modern life and of Greek thought are pretty stellar; but his own work rings with some of the same unfinished thoughts that the modern world he documents does. At the end of a man in full, you realize that none of them are men in full and no amount of stoicism can fix it. Wolfe and Mansfield are both missing the proper ordering of life, I think. They seem to be missing a certain softness and reconciliation to the beauty of our confusion and and the aesthetic that lies in our very longing to be complete.

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