Monday, August 28, 2006

The Manly Aristotle

Turned up via Metafilter this weekend: A dee-licious review of Harvey Mansfield's Manliness by Martha Nussbaum, who begins with a hypothetical:

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?

I know! I know! He would start with the premise that manliness is under attack. Then he'd have his agent call a well-known pseudofeminist to make sure she'd be on board with blaming an insidious culture of emasculation for the decline of manliness. And then he'd--wait, Nussbaum says that's not right?

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.

But that sounds like a lot of work, Ms. Nussbaum. You can't really blame Dr. Mansfield for wanting to skip ahead on the research a little--

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.

Oh. Oh, he likes research. Well, then--

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?

I know what I'D say! I'd say we'd better find a way to protect manliness from the scourge of MARTHA NUSSBAUM, that's what I'd say!

Okay, I've excerpted far too much of that already (but it's just that good). Check out the whole thing when you get a minute.

2 comments:

John said...

Jeebus Hisself, people. Real life is too complicated to boil down to one or two pet peeves and try to use them to explain the state of things. Scholars ought to konw better than that. That's what I was trying to get at with my "Terms and Models" post. This is just one more datum in my archive that points towards the conclusion that all Humanities "scholars", whatever their political views, are idiots.

Ilyka - have you read H.L. Mencken's "Prof. Veblen"? You can find it here.

Sultan Knish said...

facts tend to slip when scholars work backwards from a conclusion or more accurately a strongly held prejudice and then try to croft it over with arguments and evidence

a scholar is only as good as the consistency of his thought after all