Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Unmanliness is the Answer?

SACRED TRUTHS. A woman named Ruth Marcus has figured out how to run the world. She's written a critique of a Harvard professor's book which suggests that manliness is a key to leadership. Her conclusion?

Mansfield writes that he wants to "convince skeptical readers -- above all, educated women" -- that "irrational manliness deserves to be endorsed by reason." Sorry, professor: You lose. What this country could use is a little less manliness -- and a little more of what you would describe as womanly qualities: restraint, introspection, a desire for consensus, maybe even a touch of self-doubt.

We haven't read Mansfield's book yet, and it's possible we won't ever. Our perception is that a Harvard professor of Government doesn't know about the real qualities of manliness any more than a Washington Post feminist does. We'll confine ourselves to commenting on her prescription for a wise administration of the affairs of the United States and the world.

Except for this significant quibble about the Mansfield quote Marcus cites: "irrational manliness deserves to be endorsed by reason." If this is an accurate quote, it's devoid of context and therefore meaningless. Still, it's worth pointing out that the subject of the sentence is absurd, an oxymoron that must be exposed. Manliness is not irrational. It has a moral component at its core -- that a man should behave in ways that embody courage, resolve, personal responsibility, dignity, and fairness -- which explicitly subordinates mere maleness to the guidance of reason. As an ideal of civilization, manliness governs emotion. It does not need to be endorsed by reason because it is already infused with reason.

Ruth Marcus

Now we're ready to tackle Ms. Marcus, who like most of her generation confuses manliness with the superficial macho that is in many ways its opposite. Macho starts fights to show off; manliness confines aggression to the situations that reasonably require it. Macho tailors its behavior to the audience; manliness dictates the same behavior in all company and in solitude. Macho is about ego; manliness is about character.

This error of understanding clearly has affected Ms. Marcus's list of supposed womanly qualities. The first two, restraint and introspection, are historically the province of men more than women. Restraint is a quality that becomes more important as one ascends the scale of strength and power. The most dangerous have the greatest obligation to turn the other cheek. Conversely, it is those who perceive themselves to be weak who frequently abandon restraint and indulge in explosive and destructive emotion. Introspection is more characteristic of those who make their own decisions in life without always seeking a consensus, and it is more likely to become a habit with those who do not have the option of presenting a painted face to the world.

With respect to consensus, I grant that women seek it more than men do. Whether this represents a better approach to decision-making is open to serious question. It is distinctly incompatible with manliness, because it is the first refuge of those who desire not to be held personally accountable for the consequences of their actions. It is also generally fatal to long-term resolve, because it so often results in half-baked plans that have only been half thought through, and it's far easier to give up by consensus than to soldier through to the end of a difficult course of action.

Self-doubt is part of the human condition and is never a virtue simply because it exists. The virtue accrues to those who can withstand self-doubt to complete an important task, even if it means finding reserves of strength and faith that may not have been known to be available.

What's important about Ms. Marcus's list of virtues is the picture it paints of how she believes serious situations should be addressed -- with lots of talking, a timid approach to concrete action, a fuzzy chain of responsibility that lets everyone off the hook for ill consequences beforehand, and enough dithering and uncertainty in execution to ensure that every action plan will ultimately be terminated before it achieves its half-assed goals. Throughout, of course, there must be plenty of agonizing and considerable concern for the feelings of everyone involved.

This may be an ideal system for publishing a daily wad of yellow journalism, but it isn't remotely close to what is needed when thousands or millions of avowed enemies are actively trying to kill your people, wreck your cities, and impose a seventh century barbarian regime on the entire world while most of the world cowers in impotent consensus.

Ms. Marcus and her feminist colleagues may have succeeded in trans-gendering the west into a woman's world, as most contemporary social evidence seems to confirm, but how much of their woman's world will still be standing when the consensus decides it's safer to accept sharia than to shed any more blood fighting it? Not much.

But, then, I'm not a woman, so what do I know?

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