Friday, March 11, 2005


The Virtue Of Manliness

Without a doubt, the most manly of 20th-century presidents was Teddy Roosevelt. His support of labor unions and conservation most likely would cause modern conservatives to turn their backs, and one cannot imagine a contemporary liberal finding much comfort in Roosevelt's love for killing animals or figuratively slaying intellectuals. But no matter what one's stance in the modern political spectrum, it's impossible not to respect TR - hell, the dude took a bullet to the chest and still delivered his speech. That's toughness, American-style. Teddy was indeed a cowboy, albeit one with a tender heart and a great appreciation for the planet we live on, and unfortunately our country doesn't generate more leaders like him - with our national history, we really should be generating 'em by the dozen.

Harvey Mansfield, a Professor of History at Harvard, writes about the "virtue of manliness" in his upcoming book, and an essay excerpt from it discusses Roosevelt's embrace of that particulare virture:

The most obvious feature of Theodore Roosevelt’s life and thought is the one least celebrated today, his manliness. Somehow America in the twentieth century went from the explosion of assertive manliness that was TR to the sensitive males of our time who shall be and deserve to be nameless.

TR appeals to some conservatives today for his espousal of big government and national greatness, and all conservatives rather relish his political incorrectness. As a reforming progressive he used to appeal to liberals, but nowadays liberals are put off by the political incorrectness that conservatives rather sneakily enjoy. Conservatives keep their admiration under wraps because they fear the reaction of women should they celebrate his manliness. Liberals have delivered themselves, in some cases with discernible reluctance (I am thinking of President Clinton), to the feminists. Yet they too are concealing an embarrassment. Nothing was more obvious than Roosevelt’s manliness because he made such a point of it not only in his own case but also as necessary for human progress. It was being a progressive that made him so eager to be manly. Here is gristle to chew for liberals and conservatives, both of whom—except for the feminists—have abandoned manliness mostly out of policy rather than abhorrence.

The problem with manliness nowadays is that it's become almost self-parodying, or at least nothing more than maniless for the sake of simply not being something else (a fear of being wussy, perhaps?). The virtue isn't celebrated for the same reasons that drew Roosevelt to it; that is, the way it provides a moral vision while at the same time serving as a means by which to "get 'er done!". Nope - nowadays, manliness in itself is the end goal, and if indeed there's a some further purpose to it, it's usually to obtain superiority over some perceived weaker group ("there's no way that fags could do a job this tough" or "those tree-huggers would never enjoy such a manly hunt"). It's good for the SUV manufacturers, but perhaps not so great for the country as a whole.

Too bad, since in these times, times that are tough much like most of American history, a bit of manliness, irregardless of gender, and an honest appreciation for nature could help pull the country along and help keep us from finding the path of least resistance. Teddy would have wanted it that way.

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