Harvey Mansfield VIII Transcript

Table of Contents

I: What is Manliness? 00:15 – 33:22
II: Manliness and the Liberal Society 33:22 – 1:14:14

I: What is Manliness? (00:15 – 33:22)

KRISTOL: Hi, I’m Bill Kristol. Welcome to CONVERSATIONS, and it’s a great pleasure to welcome back Harvey Mansfield.

MANSFIELD: Well, it’s good to be here.

KRISTOL: On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of your excellent book, Manliness.

MANSFIELD: Thank you.

KRISTOL: So we should talk about manliness the topic and also Manliness the book.


KRISTOL: How did you write – why manliness?

MANSFIELD: Well, I’ve been so – I had had it in mind pretty much all my career, you could say. I had as a kind of model of manliness my mentor or professor at Harvard named Samuel Beer. Both as an undergraduate and then graduate student, I studied with him. And he was a kind of model of manliness.

Once when he was being honored by Harvard, the Harvard Gazette called me up, a woman reporter, and they said, “Well, what was special about Sam Beer?” And I said, “Always his manliness.” And it was a pause and then finally her female voice said, “Could you think of another word?” And yeah. And so that’s the situation right now. People want to think of another word. So this is a kind of assertive, you could even say possibly, manly title that I wanted – also without a subtitle. Just out there by itself. What does that mean?

Then I also – another influence on this book was my late wife, Delba Winthrop, who was a graduate student, wrote a dissertation on Aristotle in which she developed the notion of assertiveness in philosophy especially. So that manliness is assertive, and that’s for sure. And so I wanted to write about that quality, too.

So what is manliness? It’s – just to start off with a definition, rough definition, it’s a person who likes to be in charge in situations of risk and has a certain take-charge attitude, plus a kind of authority about him, a kind of command. I’m saying “kind of” a lot because all of this needs to be made more definite and more specific.

But risk. So some people abjure risk, are adverse to it, but a manly person seeks it out. And most manly persons are men, but not all. One can think – my big example, of course, is Margaret Thatcher, very manly, very assertive in situations of risk which she did not seek to avoid at all.

But still mostly men and not all men. In fact, manly men are most critical of men who are not manly. If you’re a woman, you’re excused and so they don’t look down on or have contempt for women, but they do look down, they disparage those males who aren’t manly.

And this already makes a difficulty for the definition of it because it means that it’s really a judgmental quality. It’s something you have to see and observe and, therefore, it’s something that might be contentious. Other people might disagree with your judgment as to who is manly and not.

It’s not like – and here’s another word that you could use instead of manliness, it’s not like masculinity. Masculinity might be the features that all males have, just qua male. And so that’s the way it’s usually treated in the scientific literature, in social psychology or evolutionary biology. They speak of masculinity. And some of the feminists too have – they have doubtful, suspicious views, you could say, of certain manly traits. And so they call this masculinity. And you can find in universities and also in university press books studies of masculinity.

But that I think is to be distinguished from manliness, which is a certain subset of male and maleness and isn’t merely confined to maleness. And I think there are levels of manliness. So – and I’m writing about manliness as a kind of generic feature. But you could think of raw manliness, truly vulgar. There are certain vulgar things that men do, say, to assert themselves that women don’t do. Men spit and they cuss and they tell dirty jokes and they read porn and they drink beer. These are things that women don’t do.

Well, I once had a woman professor, Eva Brann, who said to me the only one of those five I can do is read porn, which she said she does. So that’s sort of vulgar manliness, very outspoken and, you know. On television you can see professional baseball players and football players always spitting, always. They can’t stop themselves. And they spit to make a point, perhaps, punctuate. I don’t know. Professors don’t do this.


MANSFIELD: Maybe you ought to make a list of the points, which you’re making in a lecture, and one, two, and three, and you just spit after making each one.

KRISTOL: If you were using chewing tobacco, you’d have to spit because –

MANSFIELD: Yeah. Yes, right.

KRISTOL: They don’t do that either.

MANSFIELD: No. But you’ll use chewing tobacco in order to spit. That’s why it’s done. So that’s this vulgar manliness, and then it could be refined into gentlemanliness. And a gentleman you could define as a person who doesn’t take advantage of others who are weaker or in a disadvantaged situation.

So you don’t take advantage. That means it’s not because you’re weak that you’re nice, but you’re nice despite the fact that you’re strong, or gentle. You’re gentle. That’s really the word. So that’s gentlemanliness. But then there are kinds of high occupations, which are manly: statesmanship and certain chivalrous knights of Middle Ages and the samurai and other – in Japan and other countries. A cowboy is a manly fellow.


MANSFIELD: So there are many different kinds of manly men of that sort. But then – and then, too, at the very top, and maybe we can come back to this – there’s I think a kind of philosophical manliness, an assertiveness on behalf of human reason. So that’s – those are levels of manliness.

KRISTOL: We’ll come back to several of those, but I guess what strikes me listening to you, and it would certainly strike, I think, viewers, is the book comes from a sort of philosophic, you might say, interest in this quality of the human soul or some human souls and human body, related to the human body and all that stuff.

And it’s not – I do think the reaction, which it’s 10 years later – I’m curious what you’d have to say. I was struck – I would say I was guilty of this, too. You would so much assume the book would be – is a polemic against the gender-neutral society. We’ll come back to that. Or not polemic against exactly, but a study of. And so the book, it seems, was taken much more politically and sociologically, if that’s the right word.


KRISTOL: Than philosophically, but it’s –

MANSFIELD: Polemically. Yeah.

KRISTOL: Yeah. And polemically as well. And as you say in the book, it’s a book for thinkers, not a how-to book about either how to live your life or even how to fix society.


KRISTOL: Tell me about the reaction to the book and what you – what struck you about it.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. You could say it’s partly my fault. It is a little bit provocative. And as I said this, I was trying to attract attention with a single-word title, but –

KRISTOL: You gave up –

MANSFIELD: Yeah, that’s right.

KRISTOL: If you had the subtitle –

MANSFIELD: Well, yeah –

KRISTOL: It’s a philosophic study of a quality of the human soul, it wouldn’t have been quite the same.

MANSFIELD: That’s right. That’s right. No. None of that came out in the reviews. So I – this book came out in 2006, and for two, three months after that I was on TV or radio just about every day. It was published by Yale University Press. Thank you, Yale. And their representative became my sort of – my social secretary.


MANSFIELD: For that period of time. “This is what you’re going to do.” One highlight was being on “The Colbert Show.”


MANSFIELD: That was where I played defense, a fairly manly defense but not very distinguished. So, it was reviewed by everybody in every newspaper, all the big intellectual journals, except not the political science journals. It was not reviewed by a single political theory or political philosophy or political science journal. This was something –

KRISTOL: Even though published by –


KRISTOL: Even though you’re a Harvard professor, and it’s published by a university press?

MANSFIELD: Yeah. And despite the content.


MANSFIELD: The rather academic content of it.


MANSFIELD: And at least in several part – not a very academic treatment, but still sure, I was talking about big names and big texts, for the most part. So that was –

KRISTOL: That’s interesting.

MANSFIELD: That was interesting. And by – I really got under the skin of the feminists. And what happened was that almost all the major newspapers and magazines that were on the liberal side, which means most of them, gave it to a feminist to review. And so this was – this was fun for them.


MANSFIELD: Yeah. And I kind of enjoyed it, too, and I slapped back when I could.

KRISTOL: Yeah. Even the friendly reviews – I’d say even ours in The Weekly Standard – they were, I guess, just easier. They were more interested in and focused more on the gender-neutral society, the opening chapter and –


KRISTOL: A little bit of “Unemployed Manliness,” the conclusion, and a little less on what’s between, which is quite –

MANSFIELD: That’s right.

KRISTOL: Yeah, maybe a little bit more difficult, but –


KRISTOL: A lot of Hobbes and Nietzsche and Aristotle and so forth.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. But also some more attractive stuff that you might have thought would have –

KRISTOL: Yeah. Tarzan and Kipling and –


KRISTOL: Your literary endeavors, Henry James.

MANSFIELD: That’s right.

KRISTOL: I think people – I was struck looking back a little bit how little –

MANSFIELD: Hemingway. I tried to cover everything that would be remarkable for manliness that one would think of – every author, especially Teddy Roosevelt.


MANSFIELD: Among American presidents and so on. So yeah, and Kipling, including his “femalism” or deadly – the female of the species is more deadly than the male.

KRISTOL: Yes, that’s good. Right.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. So that’s a kind of challenge for manliness, a mother-bear type of –

KRISTOL: Do you think in another year that it would have been treated differently, or is it just that it’s more difficult and that you’re – I think you wanted it to lead people to the more philosophic side through the more immediate, right?


KRISTOL: And I guess in any year when most of people stop at the more immediate, right? That’s why – some get led beyond.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. Right. Yeah. Well, yeah, that’s a picture of what happens when you try to teach philosophy. A lot of people just stop. They’re interested. They’re intrigued. And they go so far and then they stop.

KRISTOL: And you expected that.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. I guess I expected that, but still I wanted to show something and work it out for myself and others.

KRISTOL: And I think it was important. I suppose to begin with the more political or the more immediate.


KRISTOL: Because otherwise it is just an academic –


KRISTOL: You could have written the history of – you could have done it beginning with Plato and every thinker. I’m sure there were books like this.

MANSFIELD: Yes. Right.

KRISTOL: There were books that go through in a sort of academic, in a somewhat formulaic way sometimes.


KRISTOL: You know, the history of political philosophy and this thinker on X topic and then the next thinker on X topic, and you avoided that very much, I think.

MANSFIELD: Yes. Although there are – I’m not sure there are such books.

KRISTOL: Not on this.

MANSFIELD: I think that – yeah, not on manliness. This is I think really the only book on manliness under that name and, you know, with the extent of coverage that I think I offer in this book. So –

KRISTOL: Yeah. Why is that actually?

MANSFIELD: Yeah. Nor has it been all that popular. I mean it sold very well for considering it was one of my books. But it didn’t get as many copies sold as most, you know, decently –

The fact that it was reviewed everywhere might have led you to believe that I would have sold many more copies than I did. But and then there has been a kind of – there’s a steady continuing interest in or purchases of the book. But no, it is not – and it’s not, I don’t think, regarded as something you have to read, say, if you’re studying feminism or if you’re studying the whole question of sex differences. So it’s – yeah, it’s still up there in a kind of limbo.

KRISTOL: And do you think that’s because our society doesn’t want to think too much about sex differences and the issues raised by manliness, or is this beyond just our time in our society that somehow it’s a – I don’t know – so, you think –

MANSFIELD: I don’t know because it’s got a lot of jokes in it.


MANSFIELD: You would be entertained, if you want to be.


MANSFIELD: But no. It just –

KRISTOL: But the fact that Delba’s thesis on Aristotle was maybe the first to bring out this side of it, which – the assertiveness and how important that is. Maybe there’s a broader resistance, I don’t know, to thinking about this set of topics almost?

MANSFIELD: Yes. I talk about that a little bit. It’s against the mainstream of modernity. Modernity doesn’t like manliness. Modernity likes reason, rational control, technology, science. Whereas manliness goes in for drama.

KRISTOL: And academics maybe don’t like manliness. It doesn’t fit into the topics –

MANSFIELD: It won’t be scientific. Yeah.

KRISTOL: They want to talk about.

MANSFIELD: That’s right.

KRISTOL: They want to talk about the social contract or sovereignty, but things that are abstracted from this core fact that there are men and there are women and –

MANSFIELD: That’s right.

KRISTOL: The implications of that, I guess. Is that right? I mean –

MANSFIELD: Yes. No. I think that is right. That is right. And yet everybody is interested in the subject of how men and women are different, and everybody has opinions on it. So I certainly encountered that. So when I was on the radio or a talk radio show or something, a lot of people called in, and they all had their views, some of them interesting. And so that – yeah, so it’s on a, you know, a kind of a winner of a topic, I think.

KRISTOL: And you’re calling attention in the first chapter to the gender-neutral society as kind of the breakthrough if you want to use that term, the novel thing about our – or a novel thing, maybe the novel thing about our times politically.


KRISTOL: It’s certainly been vindicated or strengthened in the last decade, wouldn’t you say? Has anything happened that’s either surprised you or made you rethink the claim –


KRISTOL: That this was kind of a deep attachment that we have?

MANSFIELD: No. I think the description stands up pretty well. There’s still a push in the direction of gender neutrality, as we saw last week when the Secretary of Defense announced that the United States military forces would not be holding anything – refusing any position to or rank or job to women. So I think that – so that’s still a very powerful force working in the direction of gender neutrality. But also the resistances to it are still present.

KRISTOL: And do you, at the end of the day, think, sort of, the gender-neutral society is a problem because it can’t be achieved or because it will be achieved? I’d say that’s an ambiguity in the book.

MANSFIELD: That is – that is an ambiguity.

KRISTOL: Well, maybe it’s not an ambiguity.


KRISTOL: It’s just a – just a statement.

MANSFIELD: Let me start by saying that this really is something new in human history. The radical and revolutionary character of gender-neutral society is obvious and yet very little appreciated.


MANSFIELD: People don’t realize that we’re undergoing a great experiment, and it’s not regarded as an experiment. It’s just regarded as something that was for some reason overlooked.

KRISTOL: No one thought of.


KRISTOL: I’m struck by that, too.

MANSFIELD: No one thought of in the whole of human history.


MANSFIELD: Yeah. Except a few people, Plato, Karl Marx.

KRISTOL: Right. Aristophanes.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. Aristophanes. Yeah. Just a very few people. And of course, they dismissed it. So and they were dismissed. And now suddenly we’re doing this thing, and we’re doing it totally without consciousness, and we’re doing it for the first time. And the experimental character of it.

So we are experimenting as to what manliness is. Now, the gender-neutral society I would define as a society in which your sex matters as little as possible. It doesn’t give you your place. It doesn’t give you your situation, your job, your duty, your rights. All of that is effaced. All those distinctions based on sex are to be done away with.

And so I mean, you could compare it a little bit to the color-blind society that we’re attempting with race. And that also was difficult and new.

When you’re walking down the street and you see another human being approaching, the first two things you notice about them is the sex and the race. Maybe not – I don’t know in which order or maybe it’s right together both. And yet we’re living in a society in which you’re not supposed to notice either thing or draw any conclusions from it.

KRISTOL: Sex is more fundamental, don’t you think? I don’t know. There are only two of them.

MANSFIELD: I suppose it is. I suppose.

KRISTOL: I mean, I know you’re not allowed to –


KRISTOL: Maybe you’re not supposed to say that these days, but there are only two of them.

MANSFIELD: No. It is more fundamental, and it’s different because one sex calls for the other, or is a counterpart in the other.


MANSFIELD: And that isn’t the case with the racial differences.

KRISTOL: Yeah, but you’re right. We’re trying to –

MANSFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. There’s something incomplete about each sex that we’re abstracting from or not recognizing.

KRISTOL: And your argument goes beyond the public-law character of not discriminating and not, you know, treating the sexes equally in law to the claim that we also as a society want to move towards gender neutrality.

MANSFIELD: Yes. And that’s the principle of one of the statements of feminism is “the personal is the political.” So it used to be that the personal was – this is under, you could say, a standard liberal theory – that the person is supposed to be apart from, separate from the political, and that politics is about your formal rights. And it’s not the business of the government to stick its nose into your private affairs, especially your sex.

But the feminists wanted the government to intervene on behalf of women and to make their lives equal to men. And equal to men meant the same as. So that’s I think very important. That equality isn’t secure, isn’t really equal unless it’s utterly the same.

And this begins with sex itself. So sexual differences is about having sex. That’s the most fundamental, most obvious thing about it. And the gender-neutral society is saying that there’s no differences between the sex. There’s a difference in the sex act, but even that can be minimized.

So we have now same-sex marriage. That’s a consequence of a fact that the two sexes are thought to be pretty much the same. If the two sexes are pretty much the same, then there isn’t any real difference between a mother and a father, and there’s no reason why two mothers couldn’t be – take on the role of father or both of them take turns doing it or one of them take it mostly.

KRISTOL: Like if there is even such a distinct role as father.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. It’s a little bit more difficult for fathers to be the mother, and that’s I think somehow recognized. And that means that there is still a difference between men and women that that’s being covered over with – in same-sex marriage. But same-sex marriage comes out of feminism, I think, the feminist view and the gender-neutral society.

Other resistances to gender neutrality can be seen in housework. And that’s still a changing situation, that’s part of our experiment. That men and women are equal, that should mean that they should be equal in the things that women used to do all by themselves, namely – or mostly by themselves, namely housework. But it still seems to be the case – I don’t know how you measure this, but I’ve seen the measurement that one-third of the housework is done by men and two-thirds by women.

And that also there is a kind of comparable inequality the other way between men and women as to who brings in the income of the household. Yet there does seem to be a movement toward equality. And there are certain male things, like taking out the trash, that women prefer not to do and maybe cooking for women, which has more science, more interesting.

But still – so that I think is still in abeyance because there are a lot of men who in a reactionary way look down on housework as women’s work. I don’t think that view has been expunged yet to make ours a perfectly gender-neutral society. And women too discover that perhaps it’s not totally in their interest to do housework 50-50.

And that’s because a man, if he’s doing half the work, might want to be half in charge of the situation. And that’s not something that a woman wants to see. She would like to decide when the house is clean. I saw a funny episode once of a TV show called Desperate Housewives in which the man and woman changed roles and the woman got the job and the man stayed home and did the work. And his way of doing housework was not to clean the whole house at once but to clean one room per day. So one-seventh of the house was clean. That meant that the house every day was mostly dirty.


MANSFIELD: And this is a nice rational scheme. So routinize the job and made it more technologically feasible and agreeable to the man. It was totally unacceptable to his wife.

And so things like this can make a woman think that she wants to be the one to decide when the house is clean and when or whether it’s clean, and she would like to be in charge. So these reactionary thoughts do occur.

KRISTOL: Are you surprised by how much they occur or how little, I guess? I mean, is the gender-neutral – is the striking fact of the relative success of the gender-neutral society much beyond what people might have thought possible, or is it the –

MANSFIELD: I think it is. I think it is. I think that all of the male chauvinists are really still quite astonished. And now women in combat, to come back to that, that’s a difficult thing. Very little opposition.

KRISTOL: It doesn’t seem – it doesn’t – very little opposition. And very little public – I mean, I’ve talked to many people privately like veterans and others who serve.


KRISTOL: I can’t believe it but actually getting Senators to speak up against it, very hard.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. No. You can’t do that. Yeah. So, the women are asking for this, and I think most men think, “Alright, let them have it. See how they like it.”


MANSFIELD: Same as homosexuals wanting same-sex marriage. “Let them have marriage. See how they like it.” But if, you know, if you were facing – in battle and facing a unit that was composed entirely of women, you would not be as fearful as if it were the Wehrmacht that you were –

KRISTOL: The most eloquent opposition, I think, have been women, clearly women who served in non-combat.


KRISTOL: And understand the difference between combat and logistics and other support operations.

MANSFIELD: Right. Yeah. Not too many women will volunteer, I don’t think. We’ve got a volunteer army so I’m not –

KRISTOL: Right. We’ll see.

MANSFIELD: But very few will be sort of pioneers, but it’s hard to think – of course, there are a lot of women in the military in non-combat situations.


MANSFIELD: It’s a good situation for lots of people, and especially women. Women like, in general, to work for the government. But maybe I should be careful about reactionary remarks.

KRISTOL: Yeah, probably. And I should even be careful about listening to them these days.


KRISTOL: It’s just passively, you know, nodding or not even nodding.


KRISTOL: But keeping my objections to myself could get me in terrible shape if I ever want to be a, you know, a professor or a –

MANSFIELD: Yeah. A dean, as a dean or a president.


MANSFIELD: Of a university. That’s true.

KRISTOL: But the degree to which – just to finish up on the women in combat thing – as an example – I mean, in a way the objection – if it’s an objection – well, there’s not many people, not many people that are actually going to – it sort of misses the point – doesn’t it? – because then the whole institution gets changed as a result of the requirement that it be gender neutral.


KRISTOL: The military does. Society does.


KRISTOL: And the fact that you may end up with 4 percent or 25 percent is somewhat secondary.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. The military is changed by the requirement that it not – that it avoid keeping a “hostile environment.”


MANSFIELD: That’s now a requirement put on all universities and employee – employers. So and that will have to apply to the military as well. That’s changing its connection and embrace of the vulgar manliness that I described and defined before.

KRISTOL: Which was once thought to be important, however, to military –

MANSFIELD: Yes, that’s right.

KRISTOL: You know, success.


KRISTOL: And esprit and all that sort of thing.

MANSFIELD: That’s right.

KRISTOL: But we’ve transcended that, I guess.


KRISTOL: Therefore, producing – this last sort of more sociological point before we get to the more political-philosophical side of the book – producing what you call at the end of the book “unemployed manliness.” That’s a very good phrase, I think. Say a word about unemployed manliness.

MANSFIELD: Yeah. Well, manliness is something natural, which cannot be done away with. And you can take away the occupation of a man or the pride that he takes in being a man and doing things that a man does, for example, taking care of your family, protecting your family, and providing for your family by being the breadwinner. So that has been taken away from men now. So that good aspect of manliness is unemployed.

KRISTOL: And I mean, the implications – I mean, what is it just –

MANSFIELD: Well, it’s going to sit there and find some avenue to express itself, like voting for Donald Trump.


MANSFIELD: A great – an example of a man who deserves to be unemployed though manly.

KRISTOL: Right. Vulgar manliness.

MANSFIELD: Yes. Vulgar manliness, a demagogic manliness but he’s appealing to the manliness of, I think, his supporters with his outrageous remarks and his willingness to take on the establishment, which means – which includes especially the gender-neutral establishment.

KRISTOL: Yeah. When he talks about political correctness, when you think about it, what is he really capturing there?


KRISTOL: Some of it is this, right?

MANSFIELD: Yeah. I think a good part, most of it probably. Part of it is racial, but part of it’s also sex. Yeah.

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