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Confidence in the face of risk, eh?

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Speaking of people notably lacking in traditional masculine values overcompensating by conflating “manliness” with “reactionary authoritarianism in which other people do the dirty work”:

Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is writing a book called “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues Americans Need,” building off a speech he gave at a conservative conference claiming the political left is waging a war on masculinity. “The American Founders believed that a republic depends on certain masculine virtues,” the book’s description on Amazon says. “Senator Josh Hawley thinks they were right. In a bold new book, he calls on American men to stand up and embrace their God-given responsibility as husbands, fathers, and citizens.” His office did not respond to a request for comment. The book’s announcement comes after Hawley was mocked by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, which showed a video of him running out of the U.S. Senate chamber as lawmakers, reporters and staff were being evacuated.

Ah yes, the most traditional of masculine virtues, fleeing in like a terrified fawn from the seditious mob you helped to incite!

This protesting-too-much obsession with MANLINESS has been a thing in the Straussian divisions of the reactionary mind for a while. Enjoy Martha Nussbaum’s classic review of Harvey Mansfield’s version:

Harvey Mansfield’s credentials suggest to the reader that he will behave like S. He is a prominent political philosopher, recently retired from a chair at Harvard University, who has written widely about philosophical texts. He regularly taught a well-known class in the classics of Greek political thought. By his own account, the works of Plato and Aristotle are particularly important to him. Moreover, Mansfield has become famous as a defender of high academic standards and an opponent of “grade inflation.” He likes to excoriate his faculty colleagues for their alleged laxness and looseness.

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. A few minutes on Google would have made these facts available to a minimally inquiring mind. Is he, then, at least concerned with logic? Only if his concern is to demonstrate, boldly, his disdain for it. After being confronted with a bewildering range of attributes of manliness–confidence, aggressiveness, protectiveness, independence, ability to command, eagerness to feel important, love of attention–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. Don’t brave people often feel afraid? Aristotle thinks they do, and rightly, for the loss of life is especially painful when one has a good life. And what about risk? Doesn’t manliness also come into play in facing the inevitable, such as each person’s own death? And what sort of risk? Are we talking about the physical realm or the moral realm? Barry Bonds has a lot of physical confidence while being (apparently) a moral coward. Socrates probably wasn’t up to much furniture-moving, and Seneca is always whining about his stomach problems; but both had the confidence that counts morally, when they stood up to unjust governments and went to their deaths. So the 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.

Personally, if I were Hawley I would run away from this particular definition.

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