Manliness (book)

Manliness is an academic work written in 2006 by Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield. In it, he laments the decline of "manliness" in modern Western society, and singles out feminism as the key culprit in its disappearance.


Manliness evaluates the concept of "manliness" as it has evolved over the course of Western civilization, and presents a qualified defense of it. As Mansfield stated to NPR's Tom Ashbrook, "Some people say manliness doesn't exist. Others say it does exist and it's bad. I say it exists and it's good... and bad." Drawing on classical philosophy, literature, and science, Mansfield argues that manliness is a virtue primarily associated with the male sex which ought to be promoted in a world increasingly dominated by gender-neutral societal organization.

Beginning with appeals to modern scientific discoveries, Mansfield appropriates these insights to offer essentialist claims that innate biological realities exert a determining influence upon gender and the expression of traits related to that gender. Mansfield then proceeds to literature, drawing on Homer, Kipling, and Hemingway to support his thesis that "manliness" has been a perpetual component of the male psyche and behavior. Mansfield then offers an analysis of the historical forces in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, singling out Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, and Germaine Greer as the central villains in what he describes as the dismantling of manliness. In Mansfield's view, all these feminists shared two common insights that were derived from earlier philosophers: from Marx they drew the theory of economic exploitation, and from Nietzsche their flirtations with nihilism. Finally, Mansfield turns to Aristotle as the archetypal expounder of manliness to identify the quality of "philosophical courage," which Mansfield concludes is the ideal understanding of manliness.


The book garnered several press reviews, sharply polarized along political views.

From the conservative media, the Weekly Standard commissioned a positive review by Christina Hoff Sommers, a self-described equity feminist who has been considered by liberal feminists to be "antifeminist". In her book review she writes, "Mansfield's amusing, refreshing and outrageous observations must already be causing distress for his Harvard colleagues. But many readers will be grateful to him for his candor and bravado [...] Women would be foolish not to pay close attention to Mansfield's subtle and fascinating argument." Though Sommers admits that "his description of 'feminist nihilism' rides roughshod over many distinctions within feminist theory and the women's movement," she concluded that the work amounted to offering the "truth and wisdom" of an "elegant treatise."

On the whole, however, Mansfield's book was intensely criticized. Writing for the Boston Globe, Christopher Shea called Mansfield's definition of manliness "maddeningly imprecise," relying on "common stereotypes" long since exposed as erroneous by contemporary scholarship. Likewise, New York Times critic Walter Kirn dismissed Mansfield as "stuck in a semantic time warp" for his gross ignorance of modern culture, sweeping and anachronistic generalizations, and deliberate misinformation.

The most trenchant and well-circulated analysis, however, was philosopher Martha Nussbaum's review, published in The New Republic. Nussbaum charges Mansfield with being wholly unconcerned with fact and openly hostile to logic. "Mansfield is horrendous when he reads feminist thinkers," Nussbaum writes, but soon reconsiders, "But never mind. It turns out that Mansfield is an equal opportunity misreader. Male philosophers get the same slipshod treatment." Ultimately, Nussbaum comes to wonder:

See also

Index: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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