A Minotaur in Miniter

The author's idol is Ernest Hemingway, a paragon of manliness much referred to in this book.

The author's idol is Ernest Hemingway, a paragon of manliness much referred to in this book.

There are three things, according to this book, that will make a man (or 'man', if you're female) of you: 1) Confront what you fear *or don't want to see*. (Yep: I know all about that -- especially the part in the asterisk, about which more in a moment.) 2) Reject comfortable self-preservation in favour of taking reckless risks, even if there is no beneficiary other than your pride or relief in having dodged a bullet. 3) Manliness is the strength to be found, in addition to items 1) and 2), in belonging to a group that shares a code.

It's hard to know where to begin in critiquing this. On the one hand, the 'code' stuff is obvious and important -- but it's not sufficient. The code -- many examples of which are given at the end of the book in an appendix -- is all-important. ISIS members have a code, and it's evil. What you fight for is more important than your 'manliness' in fighting for it, since it's better to be a less-than-brave man on the side of justice than to be a very courageous man on the side of INjustice -- something the author acknowledges early on but then leaves aside. The way of mediating among codes -- which code to choose -- requires philosophical and political thought and judgement, which is well outside the scope of this book.

Then there is the vulgarity. The author uses the word 'gentleman' on occasion, but the nature and quality of a gentleman are almost entirely outside his interest and understanding. You won't find anything like Harvey Mansfield's discussion of what distinguishes manliness from gentlemanliness -- and how and where they overlap -- in this book. There is very little genuine reflection in it. So we might say that Miniter's idea of manliness is that the manly man doesn't inquire or reflect very much. He may think that the whole book is an inquiry and a reflection, but what I found instead is an affirmation: entirely a different thing. And what was affirmed was very often the Wisdom of the Manly Masses, the Self-Approval of the Manly Herd. But what comes across most strongly is not that they need to feel connected to real living (guess what?-- we all do) but rather that the only things that connect them are extreme, thrill-seeking, risk-for-its-own-sake experiences -- as if life, just by being life, isn't dangerous and tricky enough!

We are told by the author that real men are manly for the sake of something beyond themselves. Yet the centerpiece of the book -- the Pamplona bull runs -- doesn't bear this out. I am much more impressed by the military men that, with or without vulgarity, put their lives on the line for the higher good of free and decent self-government and peace in the world. I am much less impressed by the exemplars typically described in this book. Far from making manliness seem grand, Miniter succeeds in making it a brute, insensible, and rather pitiful need.

*What we don’t want to see*: how many of Miniter’s exemplars face up to THAT? How many have more than a willingness to do physical harm or have such harm done to themselves?