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Man Overboard

Harvey Mansfield speaking at the Art Museum at Arizona State University
Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia
Harvey Mansfield speaking at the Art Museum at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, in 2017.


Suppose a philosophical scholar--let us call this scholar S--with high standards, trained in and fond of the works of Plato and Aristotle, wished to investigate, for a contemporary American audience, the concept of “manliness,” a concept closely related to the one that Plato and Aristotle called andreia, for which the usual English rendering is “courage.” (Harvey Mansfield himself tells us that andreia is his subject.) How would this scholar go about it? Well, following the lead of Aristotle, S would probably begin by laying out the various widespread beliefs about the topic, especially those held by reputable people. S would also consider the opinions of well-known philosophers. In setting down all these opinions, S would be careful to get people’s views right and to read their writings carefully, looking not just for assertions but also for the arguments that support them.

Inevitably this welter of opinions would contain contradictions--not just between one thinker and another, but also within the utterances of a single thinker. People are amazingly able to live with contradictions, since most people do not stop to sort these matters out in the way that Socrates recommended. People also use terms imprecisely and ambiguously, so S’s inquiry would uncover much fuzziness and equivocation. Nor do most people most of the time, when they make statements of the form “Manliness is X,” pause to tell us whether they mean to say that X is a necessary condition of manliness, or a sufficient condition, or both, or neither. So S would have to sort all this out, too. (“Don’t use your feminine logic on me,” I can already hear my partner saying teasingly in the background, as he typically does when words such as “necessary condition” are wheeled onto the stage.)

Carefully, S would set out the puzzles, untangling opinions like tangled strands of yarn. (Women do so well at logic, says Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, because they have all that experience detangling and delousing, whereas men, who are impatient creatures, just like to wave their shields around.) Finally S would try to produce an account that seemed to be the best one, preserving the deepest and most basic of the opinions, and discarding those that contradict them. S would then hold this definition out publicly, inviting all comers to try things out with their own reasoning, and then accept the proposed definition or improve upon it.

Being a friend of the Greeks, S would naturally have curiosity about the cross-cultural aspects of this particular topic. It is evident that Athenians of the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. had rather different ideas about manliness from those of modern Americans. A lot of them thought that manliness naturally expressed itself in a preference for young men over women as sexual partners, and that the most manly of the gods, Zeus and Poseidon, enjoyed such lovers. Most Americans, even if they grudgingly grant that men in same-sex relationships are potentially manly, would shrink at the thought that Jesus or Jehovah had any such inclinations. Many Athenians, moreover, and even more Spartans thought that erotic attraction between males was a fine cement for a military combat unit--something that the American military is so far from thinking that it would rather not think anything at all about the topic. So S would investigate these differences, and these would naturally lead S to the copious cross-cultural literature on manliness that by now exists: to the work of, say, Daniel Boyarin, on how Jewish males refashioned Roman norms of manliness, making the astonishing claim that the true man sits still all day with a book, and has the bodily shape of someone who does just that; or to work on Indian conceptions of manliness, contrasting the sensuous Krishna, playing his flute, with the tougher norms of manliness recommended by the Raj. A scholar with S’s curiosity and love of truth would find in this material rich food for reflection.

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.

Imagine the shock to the feminine logic-loving mind, then, when within two pages the definition is, if not withdrawn, at least ignored, and quite different formulations, inconsistent with it, trot forward like eager children vying for attention. Manliness is aggressiveness, combined with promiscuousness in sex. It is the “brute spirit of aggression.” It is not mere aggression, but only “aggression that develops a cause it espouses.” It is “a claim on your attention.” It is the “willingness to challenge nature combined with confidence ... that one can succeed.” “In the end aggression is all there is.” It is “stubbornness added to rationality.”

Mansfield does tell us that his definition will shift as he moves, in later chapters, “from aggression to philosophical courage.” But these examples are all quite close together in the early portion of the text; and the later chapters do not supply a new, coherent, contradiction-free account. Things do not get better, then. Philosophers get mentioned more often, but are never emulated. We never find Mansfield even worrying about his mass of contradictions or trying to clean up the account. On the logical principle that from a contradiction everything and anything follows, I conclude that Manliness says it all. Try that out on the back jacket.

As for the careful reading of other thinkers’ works that our friend S would recommend, such reading is nowhere to be found in these pages. Mansfield is horrendous when he reads feminist thinkers. He gives us a hasty, superficial summary of several bits of some early works (de Beauvoir, Millett, Greer, Firestone), but absolutely no sense of how any of these women argues, and no sense of what the women’s movement has produced since the early 1970s. (Cursory references to Carol Gilligan and to an exchange between Judith Butler and Seyla Benhabib do not tell us anything about the framework of their ideas.) Susan Okin is mentioned once in the text, and Andrea Dworkin is ignored altogether. (Catherine MacKinnon turns up in the bibliography.) By such strategic omissions, Mansfield is able to hoodwink his implied reader into thinking that all feminists want to have a lot of sex without commitment, and that they ignore or denounce the family, and that they “do not worry about violence in sex, and they do not refer to the respect in which one should hold one’s partner.” This last is the most extraordinary claim of all. If any topics could be said to be absolute cliches of modern feminist thought, they would be the topics of sexual violence and sexual respect (treating a person as a person instead of as an object).

But never mind. It turns out that Mansfield is an equal opportunity misreader. Male philosophers get the same slipshod treatment. To mention a typical example, Mansfield evidently believes, and asserts with high-spirited glee, that for him to require the reading of Mill’s On Liberty in his class at Harvard, a private university, is “contrary to [the work’s] main thesis.” He seems to think that Mill’s “harm principle” supplies limits on all human conduct, not just on the legal regulation of conduct: nobody can require anything of anyone, including the young, unless that person is harming others. This “reading” flies so flatly in the face of Mill’s elaborate views about education, not to mention the plain meaning of the text of the fourth chapter of On Liberty, that one thinks with distress of this jokey aside being retailed to pseudo-knowing undergraduates almost as another example of manliness: “See? I can teach Mill as a required text, thus showing that I have contempt for his main idea.”

Indeed, when we compare Mansfield to our decent-if-not-very-flashy S, it seems appalling that Mansfield has spent decades teaching great philosophical texts to undergraduates who cannot easily tell a careful reading from a careless one, or low standards from high ones--especially when the teacher keeps portraying himself as the bold defender of standards. Undergraduates typically take a while to learn to analyze the arguments in Plato logically and to care about things like validity, ambiguity, and contradiction. Many of them, then, will not notice how riddled with logical error and verbal ambiguity their teacher’s pronouncements are. That is the sort of thing that they are in class to learn. But surely other, older people know. How did someone whose every paragraph is a stake in Socrates’s heart come to be an exemplar of philosophical seriousness?

If the author of Manliness is far from being the patient philosophical type for whom we have been searching, who might he be? Plato’s dialogues knew the answer: he is a rhetorician or a sophist, one of those theatrical types so admired by the conventionally ambitious men amply on display as Socrates’s interlocutors. Far from seeking truth, the sophist seeks to put on a good show. Far from wanting premises that are correct, the sophist seeks premises that his chosen audience will find believable. Far from seeking analytical rigor, he offers a show of rigor in arguments that are riddled with ambiguity and equivocation and logical error. Far from submitting bravely to Socrates’s questioning, he slinks away when the going gets tough, or cranks up the volume in order to try to drown out the courageous voice of the truth-seeking philosopher. Audiences love him--because, says Socrates, he is like a clever cook: instead of promoting true health, he goes after what his audience will eagerly gobble up.

That is Mansfield to a T. In this book that repeatedly proclaims its own manly boldness, offering its author as a John Wayne of the intellect, he serves up a concoction that is contrived mainly to delight the conservative audience that already lionizes Mansfield as the hero of high standards, the enemy of grade inflation, and the foe of feminism. Mansfield’s daring physical prowess, he told a New York Times Magazine reporter, is displayed in his ability to move furniture around his house. His daring moral prowess is displayed in his ability to make speeches on the floor of the Harvard faculty opposing the creation of a women’s studies program, a risky feat indeed. Should average readers wonder whether this does indeed bring him into competition with John Wayne, or even with the questionable Barry Bonds, Mansfield does not care an iota, because he has his expected audience dead to rights. Readers of The Weekly Standard and National Review, they are already devouring the logic-free, ambiguity-riddled concoction he has served up and smacking their lips.

Mansfield’s intended readers do not care what modern feminism really says, and they know so little about the subject that they are likely not even to see how little of it Mansfield has described. From their youth they remember the chilling names of Millett, Greer, and Firestone, and they are sure that feminism cannot have had a thought since then. They certainly relish the tasty claim that sexual promiscuity is a central goal of the new feminism. And just to be sure that they are utterly delighted, Mansfield smears all over the top of his dish a thick layer of sneers and jibes, rather like anchovy paste, delicious to some but revolting to others--patronizing characterizations of women as harboring a “secret liking for housework,” or enjoying “the pleasurable duty of henpecking.” Or this: “One has only to think of Jane Austen to be assured that women have a sense of humor, distributed in lesser quantities to lesser brains.” At this point, I think, even some of the implied readers of this book might turn away. In fact, I suspect that Mansfield underestimates the care and the acuity of his chosen audience (or some of it) throughout his book.


Mansfield’s assertions (I cannot quite call them arguments) seem to be as follows. Manliness, the quality of which John Wayne (says Mansfield) is the quintessential embodiment, is a characteristic that societies rightly value. But modern feminism wants a society that has effaced all distinctions of gender, a society in which men and women have the same traits. This is a dangerous mistake, because manly aggression, though not altogether reliable, supplies something without which we cannot have a good or stable society. (Mansfield connects manliness not only to military performance but also to the ability to govern a nation, and, as we have seen, he denies that women who are not Mrs. Thatcher have this trait.) Since women are only rarely capable of manliness, a society in which both sexes have the same traits will have to be lacking in manliness. We should reject this aim, and, with it, modern feminism.

The second half of the book contains, as Mansfield has warned his reader, a more complex set of assertions, though they all lead to the same bottom line. Taking Theodore Roosevelt as his more complex icon of manliness, Mansfield notes that traditional John Wayne-style manliness is not necessarily combined with virtue. Indeed, traditional manliness is often linked to a Nietzschean sort of “nihilism,” which accepts no restraints and desires to soar “beyond good and evil.” (This reading of Nietzsche, like so many readings in the book, is not defended by any close look at an actual text. Is this the Nietzsche who prizes the disciplined virtue of the dancer, who teaches that laisser aller, the absence of restraint, is incompatible with any great achievement of any sort?) Theodore Roosevelt, though, did combine traditional manliness with virtue, thus showing that it is both possible and valuable to do so.

On the whole, however, men will allow the constraints of virtue to drag down their manly flights only if women insist on virtue as a condition of sex. So women’s non-manly inclinations hold men in check. This old saw, which one encounters over and over again in the writings of Leo Strauss’s followers, seems to derive not from a realistic look at life but from an opportunistic reading of Rousseau’s Emile, minus all Rousseau’s complexity and nuance. Rousseau shows clearly that the difference between Emile and Sophie is produced by a coercive regime that curbs Sophie’s intelligence and even her physical prowess--she would have beaten Emile in the race had she not had to run in those absurd clothes. He also demonstrated, in his unpublished conclusion to the Emile-Sophie story, that a marriage so contracted would be a dismal failure, since parties so utterly distinct in moral upbringing would be totally unable to understand one another.

But back to feminism. Feminism (exemplified in Mansfield’s book by a few carefully selected bits of early 1970s authors) wants women to reject virtue and to seek sexual satisfaction promiscuously. In effect, it teaches women to be as “nihilistic” as men. But women are doomed to dismal failure at this task, because their manliness is puny. Meanwhile, they will lose the hold they once had on men through modesty and virtue. They will therefore be more endangered: Mansfield actually asserts that a woman can resist rape only with the aid of “a certain ladylike modesty enabling her to take offense at unwanted encroachment”! (How does he handle the well-known fact that a large proportion of rapes are committed by men with whom the victim has already had an intimate relationship, or with whom she currently has one?) Society, meanwhile, will come to grief. So, once again, the lesson is that we ought to rid ourselves of feminism.

Where to begin? Since in Mansfield all roads lead back to the bogey of feminism, let us begin there. Modern feminism is a hugely diverse set of positions and arguments, but almost nobody has seriously suggested that gender distinctions ought to be completely eradicated. Indeed, much of the effort of legal feminism has been to get the law to take them seriously enough. Thus feminists have urged that rape law take cognizance of women’s unequal and asymmetrical physical vulnerability. Some courts had refused to convict men of rape if the woman did not fight her attacker. In one recent Illinois case, the conviction was tossed out because the woman, about five feet tall and less than one hundred pounds, did not resist a two-hundred-pound attacker in a solitary forest preserve. But in a situation of great physical asymmetry, feminists have urged, fighting is actually a stupid thing to do, and in the Illinois case even crying out “No!” would have been stupid, given the extreme solitude of the place and the likelihood that shouting would provoke the attacker to violence. (I take this example from the feminist legal scholar Stephen Schulhofer. Mansfield utterly ignores the existence of male feminists, though they are many. Feminism is a concern with justice, not an exercise in identity politics.)

Feminists have also taken exception when insurance companies refused to offer pregnancy benefits and then claimed that they were not discriminating, because their policies protected all “non-pregnant persons” and refused to protect “pregnant persons,” male and female. Catharine MacKinnon made the valuable observation that sameness of treatment is not enough for the truly “equal protection of the laws,” when there are underlying physical asymmetries that significantly affect women’s social functioning. The “equal protection of the laws” requires, instead, that society dismantle regimes of hierarchy and subordination. MacKinnon’s strategy was based upon existing law in the area of race. Laws against miscegenation had been defended on the ground that they treat everyone alike: blacks cannot marry whites and whites cannot marry blacks. Yet the Supreme Court held that these laws violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because they uphold and perpetuate “white supremacy.” The denial of pregnancy benefits, MacKinnon argued, was like that, a regime of male supremacy. The refusal to offer pregnancy benefits is now seen as a form of sex discrimination, thanks to feminist argument.

Feminists, then, have not typically sought a society in which there are no gender distinctions. They have challenged imposed and unchosen gender norms that interfere with women’s freedom and functioning--seeking clothing, for example, in which one can do what one wants to do and is capable of doing (not like Sophie’s absurd doll clothes). Anne Hollander has written eloquently of the way in which women have claimed the suit, that attribute of the successful man the world over, as their own, replacing with it those billowing petticoats that made women seem vaguely like mermaids, human on top and some hidden uncleanness below. But women’s suits never have been and never will be precisely like men’s suits--perhaps because women have better fashion sense, perhaps because color-blindness is a male-sex-linked gene.

What feminists have sought above all is a society in which there are no sex-based hierarchies, in which the sheer luck of being born a female does not slot one into an inferior category for the purposes of basic political and social functioning. Just as society now refuses to discriminate on grounds of religion and race, so too it should refuse to discriminate on grounds of sex.

If we now consider the example of religion, we can easily see that non-discrimination does not entail homogeneity. Indeed, the connection, if any, works in the opposite direction. Precisely because the United States does not have an established church, and refuses to discriminate politically on grounds of religious membership, people are extremely free to choose any religion they want, to make one up if they want to, or to have none if they want none. Wherever political privileges are attached to religious membership, this freedom, even if nominally protected, is not total: most people want to be in the dominant group, so it is not surprising that there are lots of Protestants in officially Protestant nations, and so forth. What makes the United States the most religiously diverse and colorful nation in the world (perhaps in company with India) is its firm commitment to non-discrimination (which it also shares with India). Go and convert to Buddhism if you want, or to the newest sect of Pentacostalism. Be a Jew and do not feel pressure to convert to Christianity, as Jews always did in Establishmentarian Europe. Your political privileges will not be affected by your religious choices.

What non-discrimination means for gender difference is not yet clear, because people have only begun to experience non-discrimination. Using the religion analogy, however, we might predict that once gender is no longer a source of hierarchy and subordination, people will express themselves more and more personally where gender is concerned. Even now, some women wear skirts and others feel more comfortable in pants. Some wear their hair very short and others very long. More and more, form follows function. Women’s athletic clothes are not the same as men’s athletic clothes; gone are the bad old days when female runners had to wear an ill-fitting garment designed for the male torso. But they are suited to running, which is what matters here; and the same garment is not suited to the office (whereas Sophie had to wear her modest housewifely clothes for running and studying and flirting alike).

In sum, when people are not forced, their choices make sense for them and the lives they want to lead. So, too, in relationships: some women will choose flirtiness, others a “manly” directness. Some men will like taking care of children (if government and employers give them decent support); others will try to avoid care, and women will be able, let us hope, to see that one coming in advance and make the choices they want to make in response. Some women will attach great importance to their identity as women (as some African Americans attach great importance to that identity), and others will care less. What really troubles Mansfield, I fear, is personal liberty itself, and the diversity that a culture of personal self-expression, fostered by non-discrimination, brings with it.


But what about manliness? Do we want John Waynes around, or don’t we? Manliness, all of Mansfield’s singulars and abstractions notwithstanding, is clearly not a single trait. It is a family of traits: upper-body strength, aggressiveness (and there are many forms of that), physical endurance, mental endurance, physical courage, moral courage, and probably many more. Barry Bonds might be said by many to be “manly,” but if we are thinking of the Gary Cooper of High Noon as our paradigm, we will find Bonds quite unmanly. When the Chicago Cubs catcher Michael Barrett slugged the Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, unprovoked, callers on Chicago sports talk shows (overwhelmingly male) generally agreed that Barrett’s gesture, “manly” by the Mansfield standard of “brute aggression,” was a sign of weakness, not strength. They understood that he was cracking under the stress of a miserable season, and that a “real man” would (like Gary Cooper) avoid conflict unless it were inevitable.

Sure, we need upper-body strength, at least in some functions, though these are fewer today, even in the military. (Even Mansfield grants that women outdo men in endurance, another valued physical characteristic.) And sure, we need some of that old punch-’em-out aggression, though boys need to learn that some types are better and other types are worse. (Significantly, all Chicago White Sox fans, including this one, applauded rookie Brian Anderson when he ran out of the dugout and joined in the ensuing brawl, punching Barrett’s teammate John Mabry and thus standing up for his own teammate--the very teammate who had made the six-foot-two, 215-pound rookie walk around in a female cheerleader’s outfit, as a comic form of hazing.)

Above all, we need to follow Aristotle’s lead and distinguish the sort of courage that stands up for a valuable goal from both upper-body strength and punch-’em-out aggression. That sort of courage, which was the only sort that Aristotle thought a true virtue, always good no matter what the circumstance, requires the ability to reflect on what risks are worth running, on what goals are noble and what goals trivial or even base. It is because the Gary Cooper character exemplifies this sort of reflection, and not only because he is unafraid to face a villain, that he is deemed a hero; but one can have that sort of reflection and not have much in the way of physical strength. If we take Mansfield’s candidate definition, “confidence in the face of risk,” and ask which American presidents have exemplified this trait--when understood in Aristotle’s way, meaning risks for ends that have been reasonably deemed to be important--who could be a better candidate than the other Roosevelt, who is mentioned only once in Mansfield’s book?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt had that famous optimism that kept a nation together through the dark times of the Depression and then through global war. He stood up for people in situations that were risky in all sorts of ways (the danger of a socialist revolution, the dangers of countless deaths of innocent people, the dangers of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan). His ends can be plausibly seen as valuable and good. And yet he was hardly an icon of manliness in Mansfield’s sense. He was reassuring more in the way that a good parent is reassuring than in the way that T.R. was (if he ever was) reassuring. Yes, he dissembled, making people think he could walk at least a little bit. So he did understand that the American public needed (and perhaps still needs) to see its president as manly in a more vulgar sense. But how many would have thought him a John Wayne, even then? There are some things to be said for T.R., but for Aristotelian manliness I’ll take FDR any day.

Now let us come back to the gender question. If we ask whether the Aristotelian virtue of courage belongs more to men than to women, we will need to ask, first, what it is that makes people willing to take enormous risks for the sake of others. It is difficult to study that topic, but a beginning was made by Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner in their book The Altruistic Personality, a famous study of rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust. With careful social science techniques, they identified a number of variables that might be highly correlated with those courageous acts, and then they questioned rescuers to discover what traits they had. The two traits that they found most highly correlated with this sort of courage were what they call a “caring attitude” and a sense of “responsibility.” The rescuers had all been brought up to think that people ought to care for one another, and that it was unacceptable to shirk responsibility for someone else’s suffering if one could do something about it. That was why (the Oliners conclude) they stood up for strangers as they did, risking their lives in the process. Rescuers were, of course, both male and female. Their common bond was, however, a set of traits that, at least in terms of common gender stereotypes, are more “feminine” than “masculine.” Kristin Monroe, working with the list of “righteous gentiles” from Yad Vashem, came to a similar conclusion in The Heart of Altruism.

If this is right, and if we want to produce young people who have the sort of courage that these rescuers embody, then we will want to be sure that boys and girls both grow up with the capacity for concern and care, and the ability to take responsibility for the situation of others--traits that seem to be sorely lacking in American society at present. It would have been nice to have a book on manliness that focused on this problem. Clearly ordinary people can become virtuous in the way that Aristotle recommends, and clearly neither gender has a monopoly on the virtue in question. The problem we have is that so many young people in our money-and fame-focused society do not get much experience taking care of anyone or anything, and are all too lacking in a sense of responsibility, as has been clearly shown in Dan Kindlon’s Too Much of a Good Thing and other recent social scientific research on American adolescents.

What might one do about this, if one thought it a problem? A mandatory program of national service might be one way to begin bootstrapping courage--or true “manliness”--even if the materialistic and competitive culture of our high schools has left character in a pretty bad way, and even if families are all too uneven in the values they communicate to their children. We could also try to make primary and secondary education settings in which children learn the importance of care and social responsibility--a goal that has been greatly set back, of late, by the constant harping on scientific and technological proficiency, so important for competition in the global market, and the relative neglect of history, the humanities, and the arts.

Such reasonable and decent goals will be greatly impeded, however, if we do not even get to the point of distinguishing Franklin Delano Roosevelt from Michael Barrett, or, worse still, if we encourage young people to believe that the latter is better than the former. Even die-hard Cubs fans know better. Harvey Mansfield does not utterly reject such goals (I think), but his cavalier way with logic, his lack of definitional clarity, his ideological enthusiasm, and his tendency to romanticize characters similar to Bonds and Barrett make his book, well, uncourageous, just when we badly need to think well about how better to cultivate true courage.