Sunday, February 25, 2007

Modern Manliness

Friend Andrew wrote concerning the previous post:

“Please do not stop making "careless sweeping statements" (as if you really needed encouragement); I had a professor at Hillsdale who once said that scholars generally shy away from making generalizations; they have encyclopaedic knowledge of all the trivial and obscure points of their particular discipline, but rarely venture any sweeping statements. In my own brief experience with professional academics, I found this to be true. You've certainly given me far more to think about than any of my professors at Bryn Mawr ever did.

"Regarding your reply, I have one further question (some prodding so that you continue this thread). You write that "the civilization that gives way to feminism will decline in excellence and in the appreciation and estimation for character". I agree, but I wonder if the opposite isn't also true: a civilization which has declined in excellence and appreciation for character gives way to feminism - or at least to the brand of feminism we have today. Indeed, perhaps this has to do with the difference between earlier and later forms of feminism. Well, a few more thoughts, and keep up the high quality work on your blog.”

I agree with Andrew’s point. But whether we see feminism as the cause or the result of a decline in appreciation for excellence seems to me less important than asking – what is excellence, what is quality, and why should we care about it? Harvey Mansfield is making the attempt to frame the debate in these terms. He spoke the other night at Bryn Mawr College under the auspices of the Wynnewood Institute. He is one of the few conservatives – perhaps “The Last Conservative Standing” – at Harvard, and has recently published a book by the title, Manliness.

Even to ask the questions -- about excellence, quality, virtue, courage, etc., and how these relate to “manliness” – is to move beyond the dead zones of complacency. I recall reading some years ago – back in the 1990’s, I think – that some conservative writer stated that American political institutions were so durable and effective that we really didn’t need to worry about producing people of quality. I felt utter contempt for this remark, and of the smug mind-set that inspired it. What me worry!! Our elites are actually worse than those of any previous age, for they are not only arrogant and impervious, they are also betrayers of culture. [1]

Since the time I encountered that remark, American politics has seemingly descended only ever more deeply and hopelessly into a messianic sanctimoniousness. American political life abounds with multicultural slogans and paeans to equality, but our foreign policy is spurred by a profound contempt for other people and other cultures. One may well ask if we have lost the ability to see ourselves as others see us, and further, might there be a connection to feminism in this loss of capacity for objectivity?

There are many kinds of feminism, but in its most dogmatic form feminism asserts that there are no inherent differences between the sexes, or that such differences that exist are culturally rather than biologically determined. The distinctions between the male and female destiny, being thus viewed as a mere accident of history, are therefore considered to be rectifiable, and that for all practical purposes a woman can do everything a man can do (and vice versa – although this point tends to get downplayed).

This is a partial truth. But even if one were to take the most charitable attitude toward it, it seems to me undeniable that it suppresses distinction for the sake of monotony, and difference for the sake of sameness. The net result is that the creative conflict which inheres in the encounter between the sexes is denied, and thus the capacity for objectivity and empathy is stunted or dampened. For men and women no longer have access to that “school of life” which teaches true tolerance: that is, being able to accept one’s sexuality, accept opposite-sexedness as a fact of nature, and in fact make use of the energies it provides for the creation of culture. [2]

Add to this stunted capacity to see ourselves as others see us the messianic tendencies of the post-Protestant politically-corrected feminist – e.g. the Hillary Clinton syndrome [3] – and you have a powerful engine for the status quo. The apostles of the New World Order love it when women aspire to men and men aspire to be nothing. In fact for leaders of nation-states to spout feminism is a way of gelding them, and this suits the transnational money-regime perfectly. Thus John McMurtry: “At an unseen level, the world has been usurped by a pattern familiar in the microcosm, but not yet decoded at the macro level – a revolt against human society itself… Its meaning is primeval. It is the atavistic return of society to an unaccountable male gang seeking to dominate the world.” [See his Value Wars: The Global Market and the Life Economy, p. 79; reviewed in an earlier post on this website.]

The book, Manliness, may be taken as a sign that there is a subterranean audience beginning to revolt. Harvey Mansfield has started the debate. He bases some of his argument on biology, yet at the same time cautions against over-reliance on it. Biological explanations are not adequate to the full range of human expression, for they are too reductionistic. Instead of male “aggression,” we need to talk about assertion, protectiveness, confidence, courage – the Greek thymos. Thus Mansfield is developing a cultural argument for manliness – that is, manliness as a sign of cultural creativity. This is a much-needed new beginning. Many Americans have decried for many years the stultifying effects of mass culture [4] . But it is only in recent years, with the ascent of neoconservatism, that a vastly greater number of Americans have begun to feel also dispossessed from politics.

Certainly the repossession of American culture and politics and a return to true American ideals will depend greatly on whether men and women can unite in a common cause. Paradoxically, perhaps, this "uniting in a common cause" will involve the reaffirmation of differences between the sexes. The transforming agent which is manliness needs to be betrothed once again to the agent of responsibility- that is, to the values of civilization which it was the historic role of women to guard. This will mean overcoming one of the worst effects of feminism, which has been the promulgation of the view that men and women have opposing interests. The promotion of this nihilistic and destructive view only benefitted the growth of the State -- “Uncle Sam” found it a handy way to thrust himself between “Mr. and Mrs.” The result has been Behemoth, Bureaucracy, a lot of orphans, and an American State that has run off the rails of reason, law and mercy.

[1] Julien Benda, La Trahison des Clercs (1946): "Thanks to them [i.e. intellectuals or intellectual elites] one can say that, for two thousand years, humanity did evil but honored the good. This contradiction was to the honor of the human species and constituted the fissure by which civilization was enabled to come into being." Already by 1946, Benda saw clearly that modern elites no longer "honored the good."

[2] cf. Ferdinand Mount reviewing a book on Tocqueville: “He was amorous, too, nearly fought a duel, wrote love letters in invisible ink made out of lemon juice, married for love Marie Mottley, an English girl with no money, and never stopped loving her despite his numerous strayings. In middle age he lamented “how could I manage to stop that sort of boiling of the blood that meeting a woman, whatever she may be, still causes me as it did twenty years ago?” Harvey Mansfield has also written on Tocqueville.
cf. also Roger Scruton: " epochs of high civilization the effort of gender construction is enhanced... in the intuitive recognition that the nervous energy of society-- its ability to sustain elaborate artifice-- is dependent upon the excitement created between the sexes in their coming together." From: Sexual Desire: A Moral Philosophy of the Erotic, 1986; p. 270. This is very good, but I would add that there is more to the erotic than sustaining the "nervous energy" of society and its "elaborate artifice." I think there is a more fundamental keynote of creativity and thinking that such a bracing view of eros makes possible - namely, simplicity, sincerity, disinterestedness, and ardor.

[3] See Murray Rothbard's "Saint Hillary and the Religious Left"--
arguing that Hillary's feminism is a racheted-up version of messianic Methodism.

[4] Louis Menand, I think, wrote a few years ago something to the effect: "what is worrisome is not that so much American popular culture is bad, but that so little of it is good."

See also my "Metaphysical Womanhood" -

Additional Note: Posted today on "Sober Passion" website, the poem "Storyteller at Times Square." It was sparked by having met Linda Sussman, in New York City, about a year after 9/11. Linda Sussman is the author of a fine book about the legends of the Holy Grail, Speech of the Grail: A Journey Towards Speaking that Heals and Transforms. She is an educator, scholar and storyteller; her capacity for empathy and ability to find the story in every life inspired this poem, in which little touches of her own story appear. The poem is my response to the 9/11 event, and contains reflections about America, our nation and destiny.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Against Feminism

"The fixed stars signify the angel in man. That is why man orients himself by them; and that is why women have no appreciation for the starry sky; because they have no sense of the angel in man."
~Otto Weininger
The news is enough to drive one to become a disciple of Otto Weininger [1880-1903], the Viennese author of Sex and Character who took his own life at age 23.

I have not written on feminism in this blog, first because I despise it, and second because I have not wanted to devote attention to a social phenomenon I regard as silly, conformist and pernicious. Yet now, with the election of Drew Gilpin Faust to the presidency of Harvard, it seems that the time has come for me to devote a few thoughts to it.

In 1963 I was shipped off to boarding school in Massachusetts to complete my junior and senior years of high school. In retrospect I regret leaving Birmingham at that critical time in its history. Yet being at Concord Academy was, of course, an opportunity of a different kind, although I was not much of a go-getter and Concord Academy did not prove to be the indispensable stepping-stone to Radcliffe – given my abysmal grades in math – which my father (Harvard, 1930) probably hoped would be the case.

That first fall semester I was one of the two roommates of Drewdie Gilpin, who was only a month older than me but in the year ahead. I remember Drewdie as large – tall and large-boned rather than fat – genial, outgoing, and friendly. She liked to sit on her bed with books piled high around her listening to Haydn’s trumpet concerto while doing her homework. I don’t believe we had much in common, and in later years, in what little I heard of her, I was surprised to learn of her interest and success in the field of Southern history. It was rather strange, I thought, that this refugee from the South and its history – namely myself – should have roomed with this person who was later to direct her prodigious energy to the very field which I knew in an intimate, though haphazard and non-academic, fashion.

Cut to 1990. I am living in Philadelphia, and I have been invited to a luncheon at Lucy Durr Hackney’s to honor her mother, the redoubtable Virginia Durr, who was visiting her daughter. Virginia Durr was known to me from my youth in Alabama – one of the strong influences on my life, and about whom I wrote extensively in my unpublished book, Stewards of History. Lucy had told me that Drew Faust would be attending the luncheon. I cannot remember how it came about, but when a slender (almost anorexic) woman came up to me to introduce herself, I chuckled and said something to the effect – "Don’t you remember me?" But in truth I could not fault her for not recognizing me, for if Lucy had not told me beforehand, I would not have recognized Drewdie – or Drew, as she then called herself. By then Drew was a professor of history at Penn. The only thing I remember of our conversation was Drew telling me her daughter had been a student at Friends’ Central for five or six years and was now only in second grade.

It’s a few years later, and I am in the process of writing my book, Stewards of History: The Covenant of Generations in a Southern Family, which was first called The Thoroughbred Colt: Identity and Moral Will in a Southern Family, when it enjoyed a first brief life in an Internet edition. For some reason or another I bethought myself to read something that Drew Faust had written about the South, and I chose for my task her 1982 book, John Henry Hammond: A Design for Mastery. I thought her portrait of this ambitious slave-apologist from South Carolina was a well-written and competently researched history, with certain portions of it of real philosophical interest. [1] But what brought me up short was her view of the Southern code of honor: "…the power of South Carolina’s master class depended to a great extent on symbols and display.. . A symbolism of violence made clear to all how quickly selective force would be invoked to reinforce the structure of power." It was then I realized that this author had no understanding of the human past, much less the Southern one, and that the entire edifice of competent academics represented by this book was hollow at the core.

Thus Weininger’s quote, that the woman has no understanding of the angel in man, seems to me appropriate in this context. I contradicted Faust's view of honor in my book, writing that "Honor is the mutual recognition of transcendent human possibility and worth – transcendent, that is, to merely utilitarian considerations of life. This code of honor indicated a willingness to fight (as with the duel) or to sacrifice oneself in the labor to bestow a boon, as Cocke put it. [John Hartwell Cocke, my anti-slavery ancestor, was the primary subject of my book.] That displays of violence could go to absurd lengths – in Faust’s example, two students fought a duel over a dish of trout – does not necessarily mean that violence was being used to maintain power. Rather, it indicates that the supreme principle of non-utilitarianism, of transcendent possibility, even of self-sacrifice, must be continually renewed."

Drew Faust, after leaving Penn, went on to become the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, which, according to Heather MacDonald (City Journal, 9 February 2007) " is one of the most powerful incubators of feminist complaint and nonsensical academic theory in the country." In early May, 2005, I sent a letter to the president of Bryn Mawr College, Nancy Vickers, referencing a sadistic and pornographic play that had been produced on the Bryn Mawr College campus- "Conquest of the Universe: When Queens Collide." Drew Faust, an alumnae of that College, received a copy of my letter. I made some pointed comments about feminism – e.g.

"Bryn Mawr College certainly seems to promote alternative sexuality. I have had to ask myself whether the College offers a liberal education or if it is in actual fact a feminist indoctrination training camp."

Mentioning Gloria Steinem's visit to the campus:

"MS. Magazine, which Steinem edited for many years, was indirectly
funded by the CIA, as a part of its agenda of cultural warfare against the
citizens, institutions and values of the United States on behalf of an
international banking elite and New World Order global control."

"More than any other single factor, feminism infantilizes women by arresting their moral development and teaching a false view of Western society.
Indeed, the accusation of ‘patriarchal dominance’ is far more characteristic
of Judaism than of the society we inherited from Western Christianity, and
it is no accident that a high proportion of radical feminists have been Jewish."

Those are some of the choice bits of my letter, which is reproduced in full here.

Need I add that I never received any acknowledgement of my letter from Drew Faust, the priestess of political correctness who is now Harvard’s president; and Nancy Vickers was only prodded with great difficulty to respond to it in a one-sentence e-mail. [2]

Of all the baneful ideas which the American erstwhile Republic has fallen for, feminism seems to me among the worst. Feminism is a social catastrophe which is responsible in large measure for the degradation of civilized values in Western society and for its turn to aggressive and predatory wars. I consider feminism to be the true partner of New World Order brutality, which John McMurtry calls the "male gang" mentality. Feminists, having opted out of the human race -- seeing themselves either victimized or superior, but in any case apart-- have given us over to thugs.


[1] "John Henry Hammond's ambition was unquenchable. It consumed his life, directed almost his every move, and ultimately, in its titanic calculation and rigidity, destroyed the man confined within it." From the description of the book by the publisher, University of Louisiana Press. Names are omens, and that a "Dr. Faust" would find in Hammond a fit subject for meditation upon the Southern Way of Life is in itself a subject for a type of historical meditation quickened by spiritual "dread."

[2] Priestess of political correctness: Two things in particular stand out in Sheldon Hackney's "Conversation with Drew Gilpin Faust," published in the National Endowment for the Humanities website. First, there was Faust's comment about the Southern women she studied - "I'm not meaning either to condemn or celebrate them but rather to show how difficult the circumstances they faced were and how the kinds of expectations they'd been led to have of themselves made their lives difficult." Dear Miss Faust, we are all thrown into circumstances not of our choosing, and we are all raised in an atmosphere of expectations of one kind or another. The point is, what do we do with it? Thus Faust's view seems to me both deterministic and sentimental: at one level missing the poignancy of the human situation, and at the other expecting too much of it. The second remark that caught my attention was this: "I've been studying unpleasant people or politically incorrect people for my whole academic career. " True, history and life are mostly comprised of people who are disappointing in one way or another. Unlike the ancients, we do not cast admiring glances behind us. But we might also ask ourselves whether our inability to esteem is so much the fault of our ancestors as of ourselves. As an expression of Puritan-Protestant self-righteous judgmentalism, Faust's comment is truly astonishing.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Dissing Toynbee

Dissing Toynbee
February 8, 2007

Comments on H.R. Trevor-Roper’s “Arnold Toynbee’s Millennium,” Encounter, June, 1957.

The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote a long dismissive piece on Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History for Encounter Magazine in June, 1957. This article may have done more to sink Toynbee’s reputation than any other critical notice, and as it is a window into the world we have today, it seemed to me of interest to discuss it.

First of all, I should say I have not read all of Toynbee’s twelve volumes, so I am at a disadvantage in commenting on Trevor-Roper’s criticisms. On the other hand, it is difficult to ascertain just what T-R’s criticisms consist of. He begins by asserting that Toynbee’s opus “has not been well received by professional historians,” with almost every chapter of it “shot to pieces by the experts,” but that he does not intend to discuss its historical truth or falsehood, its empirical validity or invalidity. We are thus given to understand that Toynbee has errors, but not just what those errors are. He finds it an interesting phenomenon of the time, and notes that Toynbee’s opus is popular with the masses – “as a dollar-earner, we are told, it ranks second only to whisky.”

The main charge that T-R levels against Toynbee is that Toynbee does not believe in rationalism. “In spite of its Hellenic training, his mind is fundamentally anti-rational and antiliberal.” Well and good. But it would have been more honest if T-R had stated more forthrightly, “I do not like it.” Instead, he charges Toynbee with an “obscurantist” message – which he likens, in a later passage, to Belloc and Chesterton. Chesterton “obscurantist” ? One may dislike Chesterton’s message – and if one is not Christian or Catholic, one will probably not like it – but it impossible to read Chesterton without getting his message. Chesterton is anything but “obscurantist.” My point is that T-R dislikes Toynbee, Belloc, and Chesterton, and he probably dislikes Christianity – although he doesn’t actually say so. But instead of owning to his dislike, he climbs a little platform called “rationalism” and from there, throws stones at Toynbee and the defenders of Christianity.

As for anti-rationalism: there is a difference between anti-rationalism and what I find in Toynbee, which might be called “integralism." The soul has many parts, and reason or rationalism has a place, but not pride of place. But that reason or rationalism should have a “place” is an idea inherently distasteful to the modernist mind-set of Trevor-Roper.

Milton’s Satan expresses this view of placeless, timeless, discarnate and ungrounded Reason when he enters Hell to take possession of it: “… and thou profoundest Hell/Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings/A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.” Paradise Lost, I, 251-3

But the second point to be noted about the modernist reason is, when it is not viewed like a Satanic machine – that is, not dependent upon the personal or the circumstantial, it can be deployed as a useful accusation to mask likes and dislikes. Trevor-Roper calls reason that which he likes, and he calls unreason or anti-rationalism that which he dislikes. For example, he accuses Toynbee of being “moved by a detestation of human reason and all its works.” This is a little hard to believe. Toynbee states at the outset of his investigations that he wants to bring forth an empirical study of the phenomenon of “human civilizations,” and he spends a great deal of time discussing the problem of how you can go about studying the empirical facts of something which has been known to occur only twenty-one times, or of which there are only seven living cases and fourteen extinct ones to be found - civilization having only been in existence for some 6,000 years. This is his thesis, which he presents through rational argument, narrative, example, illustration, description and the demonstration of concrete instances. In arguing this thesis – in a clear, though admittedly at times complex prose style - he discusses the laws of statistics, historical sources, theories of primitive or pre-civilizational man, sociality, race, environment, the views of scientists regarding the age of the earth and the cosmos – and all of this (hardly an exhaustive list of his “incidental” or supporting topics) merely in the first volume before he actually turns to discussing societies. This is “antirational”?

Evidently, T-R considers the vast foundation of Toynbee’s learning to be merely the normal acquirements of an Englishman of his time and class, and thus hardly meriting comment. Is this merely a historical blind spot or does it point to a deeper failure to grasp what is comprehended in the spiritual nature of man? An anthropologist once remarked that humanity is but one generation removed from barbarism. The spiritual nature of man is the crux of Toynbee’s thesis, and goes far in explaining why civilization is a rare fruit on the human tree, and why it is perpetually in danger of being lost. My sense of Toynbee thus far is not that he welcomed the prospect of the defeat of Western civilization (his “messianic defeatism,” according to T-R) so much as he realized its uncertainty – its fragility.

If nothing else, Toynbee’s emphasis on the importance of religion to civilization ought to serve as a warning to the danger that reason faces when reason becomes All in All. When Reason becomes God, it soon degenerates to Unreason and further into a crusading zeal for Destruction. We are seeing this dynamic play out today, with horrifying consequences.

All of this, of course, lies far into the future, at least where Trevor-Roper was concerned – though perhaps not too far. It seems to me a historian, like any student of human affairs, ought to examine first his own presuppositions and ask whether his own rationalism is reasonable, and secondly, whether his rationalism is merely a mask for his likes and dislikes. And on this point again Toynbee, who in one of his later volumes devotes quite a bit of discussion to the new researches of C.G. Jung and psychology, seems more integral – more developed and open than his critic. See, for example, the discussion in Volume Seven – “… for the Subconscious, not the Intellect, is the organ through which Man lives his spiritual life for good or evil. It is the fount of Poetry, Music, and the Visual Arts, and the channel through which the Soul is in communion with God when it does not steel itself against God’s influence…” pp500 et seq. It is not only that Hugh Trevor-Roper could not have written this. He appears unable even to appreciate it. And “appreciation” too is also an important part of the story of a reasonable rationalism, attesting to the capacity of reason to throw light onto hitherto neglected aspects of its comprehension, and thus setting out possibilities for future growth.

Toynbee may not have understood that the idea of the Subconscious from psychology would metamorphose into new dogmas of determinism – that it was not altogether the liberating idea it may have initially appeared to him to be. Nevertheless, Toynbee’s quest is keyed to the search for the whole man, the wholeness of the person who is more than an intellect wired to a body. It is only the human being in his wholeness who can create and sustain a civilization. In this sense Toynbee’s interest in what were, for his time, new discoveries in the field of psychology is understandable. They seemed to promise a way toward the whole in an era in which the Western mind was ferociously closing down all its options of being except the one offered by a monotonously intellective rationalism.

It is true that Toynbee and Trevor-Roper inhabit different universes. Toynbee is on a spiritual quest, and because his mind is oriented spiritually, he is not impressed by the things in which Trevor-Roper takes such pride – such as the Renaissance, the Reformation, modern science and modern rationalist civilization. Toynbee always looks above and below; Trevor-Roper looks straight ahead, and thus to Trevor-Roper, Toynbee’s attitude toward Western civilization was one of “messianic defeatism.” But blinders that serve a horse ill-serve man – though men of these latter days often conceive of themselves as beasts – though never beasts of burden but rather beasts of conquest. [3. A perhaps ironic culmination of Darwinianism.]

These are two different kinds of men: the man of the distance and the man of the age, and the tensions between these two different human types have long been a theme of history and myth and perhaps even politics – Cain and Abel, Prometheus and Epimetheus, liberal and conservative. [4. Toynbee’s work is rich with allusion and reflection on Greek mythology. In V. IX, pps 149 et seq he makes much Atlas and Anteaus. – the “Atlantean stance and the Antaean rebound”. Atlas has to hold up the weight of the Heavens upon his shoulders; Antaeus could not be defeated so long as he was able to evade his enemy’s grasp and touch the earth once again with his feet. Toynbee’s finds in these two contrary movements great meaning for the historical fate of civilizations responding to challenge. The danger of the Atlantean stance is to rigidify into “mimesis” and obsession. The Antaean rebound enables new beginnings, the reappropriation of culture from the depths.] This leads up to our final point.

Trevor-Roper’s essay is twenty pages long, and exactly half of it argues that Toynbee believed himself to be the Messiah of a new civilization that would arise in the decomposing heap of Western civilization. Since I have not read the tenth volume of A Study of History, in which according to T-R Toynbee reveals himself as said Messiah, I will wait to reserve judgment. But I think Trevor-Roper’s charge here is interesting for what it says about the psychology of “mass man” – the type of man of our time who resents the exceptional man, even the idea of superiority. I would go so far as to say that if even Toynbee thought of himself as a sort of new historic type – thus violating one of our most cherished beliefs, that of equality – that it is not in how he saw himself that is the issue, but how he saw everything else. The twelve volumes of A Study of History seem to me to justify the view that Toynbee was an exceptional soul. He is vastly learned, knowledgeable in several languages, in religion, mythology, literature, conversant with the science of his day, and attentive to a vast range of details of human societies in a cosmopolitan range of races, cultures, and circumstances. Given the generosity of his vision of civilization and his steadfast loyalty to the Christian – and Protestant – religion in which he was raised, I’d say that even a Toynbee claiming to be a Messiah is a better bargain than Trevor-Roper as a critic. Toynbee’s faults need to be measured against his striving to comprehend the supernatural in the context of the historical. His day is yet to come. Trevor-Roper’s day is over.