Sunday, February 25, 2007
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. 
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. 
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  – 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  . 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.
 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."
 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: "...in 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.
 See Murray Rothbard's "Saint Hillary and the Religious Left"--
arguing that Hillary's feminism is a racheted-up version of messianic Methodism.
 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.