August 25, 2006 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Martha C. Nussbaum reviews Harvey C. Mansfield's book Manliness for The New Republic, and she hands him his own ass.
posted by cgc373 (40 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A link to Powell's! Hooray!
posted by mrnutty at 1:44 PM on August 25, 2006

You forgot Finland!
posted by anthill at 1:47 PM on August 25, 2006

I didn't believe it but it's true: she literally handed him is own ass!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 1:50 PM on August 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

He's an ass to begin with, all she did was hold up a mirror.
posted by Floydd at 1:54 PM on August 25, 2006

Well, to be fair, he'd been looking for his ass for weeks. I hope he thanked her.

Nice post!
posted by languagehat at 1:58 PM on August 25, 2006

Wow. Impeccable scholarship, eloquent sarcasm, a meditation on modern American values, and sustained Cubs bashing--all elegantly deployed in a single review. No wonder the woman has 25 honorary degrees.
posted by Iridic at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2006

I took Moral Philosophy with Mansfield many years ago. His intellectual weakness was apparent to this college sophomore even then, disguised by much arrogance and ranting about other peoples' failure to meet his standards.

He was also a first class prick of a teacher.
posted by fourcheesemac at 2:09 PM on August 25, 2006

Wow, deliberate, blistering critique.

A pleasure to read and reflect upon. Thanks!
posted by bullitt 5 at 2:17 PM on August 25, 2006

Somehow both Nussbaum and Mansfield both missed Queen Elizabeth, who would have handed Mansfield quite a different body part.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:17 PM on August 25, 2006

So she's saying he cherry-picked his evidence in order to support a pre-determined argument? I'm shocked, just shocked that a conservative would do such a thing.
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2006

Kim Campbell ruled Canada? I must have been in the shower.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:36 PM on August 25, 2006

What a great essay. There's been a lot of philosophyfilter lately. Melikes.
posted by painquale at 2:50 PM on August 25, 2006

I must admit, it was Nussbaum who turned me around on feminism, and it's not hard to see why, I think, with great articles like this.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 2:51 PM on August 25, 2006

Kind of along the lines of fourcheesemac, it was a big deal when Mansfield came to give a talk to my college back in the 90's (we were using his edition of The Prince, my poly sci profs were died-in-the-wool Straussians), and frankly, I don't think I'm giving myself too much credit in saying that it was obvious to me that he's entirely mediocre. He so desperately wanted all us darn librul' kids jumping out of our chairs by saying incredibly inflammatory (and ignorant) things, but we all just kind of sat there and recognized him for the uninspiring tool that he was, and apparently still is. Maybe his schtick worked at Oberlin or Sarah Lawrence.

What's highly amusing to me is that his academic career is the product of Harvard's version of affirmative action. Honestly, there are some pretty smart conservative political theorists out there (I've studied with a few). It's hard to tell why Mansfield carries the banner for the rest of them, when he's lacking in so many ways.
posted by bardic at 3:24 PM on August 25, 2006

I happened to catch Mansfield on one of the WNYC chat programs a while back. I hadn't read the book, or even a review of it, but I knew that the interview would attract a lot of irate callers, just because of the subject matter. And it did.

But what I did not know was that Mansfield would turn out to be such a nitwit and make such shoddy arguments. At one point he went on at length about how women shouldn't try to get men to participate in housework such as cooking, because it "offends their dignity" or some such nonsense. The host could hardly conceal his contempt.

Mansfield kept insisting that he wasn't saying that men were better than women, just different. But the examples he used were all about how women need to do all the menial household stuff and how they weren't suited for any kind of leadership position. It was really ridiculous that he didn't even seem to see that he was really saying that men were better at important stuff.

Besides, cooking is the MANLIEST thing there is. KNIVES and FIRE!
posted by lackutrol at 3:30 PM on August 25, 2006

Who would you pick in a manly physical fight?

posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 3:34 PM on August 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Hehe. Nussbaum was scheduled to speak at my grad. school for a lecture series I helped organize. She bailed on it when she found out that we didn't have the right type of track for her to run on--I take it she's a marathoner.

Mansfield? Yeah, not so much. (Although he looks like Hugh Hefner a bit, so maybe that's another form of manliness.)
posted by bardic at 3:40 PM on August 25, 2006

If there were such a thing as intellectual pinups, Nussbaum's photo would be on my wall right this minute, and I would be swooning in its presence.
posted by jokeefe at 3:55 PM on August 25, 2006

How could anyone recover from such a thorough and precise deconstruction/demolition of thier work?

I'm not really a scholar but I'll be reading more of her work.

This was fascinating. Thank you!
posted by snsranch at 4:02 PM on August 25, 2006

Oddly enough, O Magazine (the Oprah magazine) published a nifty little interview with Mansfield a few months ago by the novelist/journalist Elizabeth Gilbert. I seem to recall that despite a little ladies-mag fawning, Gilbert also managed to hand him his own ass.
posted by footnote at 4:12 PM on August 25, 2006

Man I loves me a good takedown. She demolished him into little tiny bits.

What IS it with Harvard? Between this guy and Larry Summers, they sure do have a lot of sexist crap-spewers making the news lately.
posted by emjaybee at 4:13 PM on August 25, 2006

The funny thing is, she could have hit him a lot harder. Such relatively gentle treatment is one of the highest forms of contempt.
posted by jamjam at 5:16 PM on August 25, 2006

Bravo. I'm not the biggest fan of Nussbaum's moral theory, but she sure can hand it down.
posted by ontic at 6:01 PM on August 25, 2006

Great post. Thanks, cgc373.
posted by homunculus at 7:12 PM on August 25, 2006

So level and so brutal. What must it feel like to have the ostensible crown jewel of your late career plucked out and irrefutably proclaimed a fugazi?
posted by kosem at 10:29 PM on August 25, 2006

A lot of them thought that manliness naturally expressed itself in a preference for young men over women as sexual partners, and that the most manly of the gods, Zeus and Poseidon, enjoyed such lovers. Most Americans, even if they grudgingly grant that men in same-sex relationships are potentially manly, would shrink at the thought that Jesus or Jehovah had any such inclinations.

Why leave out Mohammed?
posted by semmi at 10:42 PM on August 25, 2006

Nussbaum on Butler. I think she even uses some of the same sentences in her critique of Mansfield that she used in her critique of Butler.
posted by sp dinsmoor at 5:51 AM on August 26, 2006

What's highly amusing to me is that his academic career is the product of Harvard's version of affirmative action. Honestly, there are some pretty smart conservative political theorists out there (I've studied with a few). It's hard to tell why Mansfield carries the banner for the rest of them, when he's lacking in so many ways.
posted by bardic at 6:24 PM EST on August 25 [+] [!]

I heard (and this may be apocryphal) that in order to get tenure Mansfield pretended not to be a conservative. Then, the moment tenure came through, he hung a poster of Leo Strauss on his office door and repudiated all his previous work.
posted by footnote at 6:02 AM on August 26, 2006

I have not read much Nussbaum, but this is a good place to start! I had the enviable duty of selecting a speaker for a college's distinguished speaker series (not my current school). Nussbaum was one in the running, but our schedules didn't synch up, iirc. Still, I enjoyed the series of emails we exchanged regarding possible topics.

I consider myself a manly man (though not in the attraction to the same sex area--not that there's anything...) and one of the attributes I think is a condition of manliness (not sure if it is sfficient or necessary) is to acknowledge when one feels-in the words of the contemporary American philosopher George Clinton--"the presence of a brain." The father of funk must have been referring to Martha Nussbaum.
posted by beelzbubba at 8:42 AM on August 26, 2006

The New Republic has a great tradition of commissioning hit-pieces on intellectual stars, and they are always interesting. I enjoyed this one.

What I don't get, is how Mansfield can explain to his colleagues that his latest project is a serious book celebrating "manliness" and keep a straight face when he says it. It's so damned silly, it takes nerves of steel to actually write such a book. Mansfield would almost seem to be courting derision.

I guess that means that writing a serious book extolling manliness is a manly thing to do.
posted by jayder at 9:59 AM on August 26, 2006

Why leave out Mohammed?

What does Mohammed have to do with anything? (Surely you're not under the impression he's regarded as a god?)
posted by languagehat at 11:11 AM on August 26, 2006

It's worth mentioning that Nussbaum has a reputation as a bit of an academic homewrecker, which is, oddly, another form of "manliness" in the American idiom (IMHO).

I mean, look at her friggin' biceps. She's a female Adonis. And very, very smart. And a bit of an ass from what I hear, but it sounds like she's earned her misanthropy.

Mansfield's just a twit. But to quote the eminent scholar Woody Allen, even Harvard makes mistakes.
posted by bardic at 12:10 PM on August 26, 2006

Obviously they both need to read The Alphabet of Manliness.
posted by wobh at 4:22 PM on August 26, 2006

What IS it with Harvard? Between this guy and Larry Summers . . . .

FWIW, Mansfield was one of Summers' great defenders during the debacle that led to his resignation. Harvey delights in being daddy's boy. That's what makes him so manly.

I remember thinking that for sure this dude was as closeted as they come when I had to deal with his bullshit twice a week. All this emphasis on manliness has happened since then, but it seems obvious enough, does it not, what the subtext is.

Not that there's anything wrong with that!
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:55 PM on August 26, 2006

I read this (a Soloman Q&A w/Mansfield) in the NYT Magazine and forgot til this thread:

Were you sorry to see Harvard's outgoing president, Lawrence Summers, attacked for saying that men and women may have different mental capacities?

He was taking seriously the notion that women, innately, have less capacity than men at the highest level of science. I think it's probably true. It's common sense if you just look at who the top scientists are.

Yeah, he missed that correllation-causation concept ...
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:45 PM on August 26, 2006

I clicked with relish to read this, but I was disappointed. I like Nussbaum's work, but this smackdown lacked solidity for me. It starts by promising us that we're going to see intellectual laxity taken down by clear and careful reasoning, but then, instead of engaging him on turf where she's well-qualified to win intellectually (e.g., what Aristotle say about andreia vs. what Mansfield's Aristotle says), she uses sweeping strokes of rhetoric to get TNR's general readership to cheer for her. I'd have thought she could have written a review that would make Mansfield himself squirm when he read it (the Straussian cult of close reading does make a Straussian vulnerable).

She gives a long list of female heads of state & then announces triumphantly, So Mansfield is not overly concerned with fact. Always be suspicious when someone accumulates a long list of the bloody obvious. This doesn't get at the core of anything Mansfield says. The would-be demonstration (via the bearded Poseidon's robust appetite for sex with boys) that Mansfield has botched his Aristotelian project: this too is great for the choir but gives Mansfield & his admirers only a smug chuckle. Then we hear about how Mansfield failed to read Judith Butler carefully enough to do justice to her "framework"; at this point I'm quite certain we've lost anyone who needed convincing. But I guess I'm just naive, and the point of such a piece is to make sure the audience acquires the soundbite, "Harvey Mansfield is a dangerous conservative man." But I thought we knew this.

I had the strange experience of hearing Mansfield present his manliness ideas, before publication, to an extremely sympathetic audience among whom I was inconspicuous as the only outsider. Afterwards the discussion really degenerated into a gushy exchange (including some of the female undergraduates) concerning happiness for women via unfeminist methods. But this was fairly harmless à la mommy-lit self help. More interestingly, the audience pretty much forced him to accept and discuss G.W. Bush as the perfect example of an unmanly travesty, a man who might leave anyone thinking about the good things to be had through the manly virtue he lacks.

I'm sure I'm just being parochial; I'll admit that I have some regrets at the loss of Martha Nussbaum the careful reader of Greek literature. Of course this has been the gain of politics, which needs more intelligent voices.

P.S. I haven't read Mansfield's book, so pls forgive the irrelevancy of what I have to say to what are, I'm sure, the many moral outrages therein.
posted by Zurishaddai at 6:59 PM on August 27, 2006

Nussbaum is really just the coolest person. She's good friends with one of my old profs, so she spoke at our university a bunch of times. The one I remember best was when she gave a 15 minute, perfectly crafted and eloquent discussion of Cosmopolitanism that somehow devolved into a dissection, in great detail, of the shortcomings and oddities of every man she'd ever slept with. I love that woman. If only there were a few dozen more like her, we might have a chance.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 9:06 AM on August 28, 2006

Remind me never to sleep with Martha Nussbaum.
posted by languagehat at 9:49 AM on August 28, 2006

Hey languagehat, never sleep with Martha Nussbaum.

And hey, didn't Steve Martin find her credit card once?
posted by UKnowForKids at 10:06 AM on August 28, 2006

Mansfield on WBUR's On Point this morning - an hour long radio show from Boston. Listen and be enraged! I mean, wow. Wow. What a dick!
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2006

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