Posted: January 29, 2007
Wimps & Barbarians
As a young man raised in a Christian, conservative, and military family, I have been schooled in what Terrence Moore has described as manliness ("Wimps & Barbarians: The Sons of Murphy Brown" Winter 2003). The greatest shock to me, however, having been around so many "wimps and barbarians," is the fact that the same discouraged women who accept this type of behavior look down upon those who attempt to fellow the old "fierce-gentlemen" school of thought. Mr. Moore should consider an essay charging women with demanding virtue from their men. Nothing is more distressing than seeing a young woman shamed because of the company she keeps. It does not help the struggle for virtue to see trashy or wimpy behavior rewarded with the company of women who will be miserable for the rest of their lives and yet who choose to remain with those who bring them down.
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Do not blame the women's suffrage movement for emasculating men; blame World War I and II, for destroying the perfect world of proper Western lads who "carefully guarded their language so as not to offend the fair sex." One only need juxtapose Plato (who was abused extensively by Mr. Moore to illustrate his points), with Eric Maria Remarque, or Hemingway, or Eliot, or Vonnegut.
Most women I know are not ready for commitment, and for those who are, the idea of being protected seems repugnant. Today's committed relationships, including marriage, are based on love and companionship rather than domination and protection. What man could respect someone weaker than he is, someone who needs protection? And what is companionship without respect? In an age when men don't have to carry the burden of sole financial responsibility, the idea of man as protector is more than outdated. I do agree that the high divorce rate and single-parent families are a problem in today's society, but these aren't only the result of boys not living up to their expected status as men—partially because very little is expected of them in that sense. Girls have been desperately fleeing the traditional definition of femininity as well. It seems that you assume that a woman, once she's trapped a man in the chains of commitment, will never change her mind. The writer also assumes that sex and love and commitment are synonymous, overlooking the benefits of a separation of love and eros. In the end, he just makes assumptions based on the ideals of the past which, if read carefully and in a historical context, end up being little more than Platonic forms.
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Though there is very much that I agree with in Terrence Moore's "Wimps & Barbarians," it seems that Mr. Moore has framed the problem of today's young men from the perspective of what women want. Holding young women up as the "natural judges of the male character," he seems to imply that families and schools should only strive to train boys better so that young men can earn higher marks from their judges. How dehumanizing! For women to define what a man should be is exactly how we, as men, have allowed ourselves to come to this point in our culture. As long as men allow women to set the standards of what a man is, then men will be seen as a product to be produced and marketed for utility, with all the cultural whims that that entails. Men, and young men, will never be seen as something worthy in their own right.
Randy E. Penrod
Prior Lake, MN
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"Wimps & Barbarians" is probably one of the finest articles of its kind that I ever read. Terrence Moore lays out the problem, and some of the causes, very well. I realize the emphasis was on boys, but I would like to have seen how our culture has changed girls as well. If you think about it, the feminist movement has fundamentally changed girls, while boys were affected by the fallout of this movement. One reason for barbarians is that girls don't know how to be ladies anymore. And one reason for wimps is that girls want to dominate and rule over boys now. It's a matter of cause and effect.
Carl Euting, Jr.
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In observing college women from the vantage point of a sorority alumna volunteer, I see the same barbarian-wimp dichotomy among young females. Some young women speak the barbarian language, go to parties with the express intent of getting wasted (and sometimes have sex with particular cute guy), eat like pigs, and are strangers to concepts like virtue, honesty, loyalty, and commitment.
Most horrifying, some voluntarily use "daterape drugs" in order to get blasted without all the calories involved in the traditional method.
Other young women are whiny, manipulative rationalizers who have learned how to weasel out of the consequences of their behavior by justifying it in one way or another. If whining or tantrum-throwing won't get them their way, they will threaten us with Daddy-the-lawyer (we haven't heard from Mommy-the-lawyer, but that will inevitably come). Since sororities at the national level are irrationally fearful of lawsuits, national involvement in an issue usually means that any common-sense decision by the local organization will be overturned, a lesson not wasted on the collegians.
Ann Arbor, MI
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As the father of a 13-year-old young man, I see and sense the pull of barbarism against the better angels of my son's nature. At the same time, I believe that Mr. Moore may be painting with a brush that's at once too broad and too narrow.
Certainly not all families are bereft of enough thumos to pass along to their young men. In my own family, my son looks up to his grandfather, great-grandfather, and uncle as paragons of "toughness." Toughness, in this context, does not mean barbarity. Rather, he understands that his forebears made tough choices, treated people firmly but fairly, persevered through adversity (both personal and public), fought hard for their beliefs, and flat-out fought when the situation demanded it of them. What today's young male lacks as much as anything is a sense of history— of connectedness to ancestors; it is something I am striving to provide for my own son.
At the same time, I frankly think that some of the same cultural entropy that propels young men toward barbarism or wimpiness has affected young women as well. I think you give them too much credit. When I was a young man, there were very, very few young women who would have been caught dead alone in the house with a young man—new CDs or not. Young women have been taught lessons about propriety and reputation at the same time (and by the same teachers) as young men.
Edmund S. McAlister
Orland Park, IL
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What I did not find in Terrence Moore's essay was a good working definition of being a true man. He seems to rely on the outdated "hunter and gatherer" model or the more modern but still obsolete "Leave It To Beaver" head-of-the-household model. Where women have evolved to expect an equal partner in life, he seems to be asking women to take a step back and become the "little woman" again.
Women have found a way to define what being a woman is in a modern world. If men are to be successful too (and if women are to reap the benefits of this success: strong leaders, fathers, lovers, and partners), men need to define what being a man is today, not in some deconstructed past. In the past, many of the "gentlemen" Mr. Moore refers to enslaved and raped African women and then denied their offspring. Domestic violence was a tolerated "secret" and genocide of many people—Native Americans, African-Americans, and Jews— was not only tolerated but encouraged. I do not look forward to a future that includes these elements from our past. But I do look forward to a natural balance where both the feminine and masculine are equally valued and understood as necessary and beautiful.
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Thank you, in the course of working out the unhappy sides of this coin, for not indulging in some gay-bashing along the way. It would have been all too easy, especially in these days of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (which I enjoy watching, by the way).
I am a gay man myself, of middle age, and a psychotherapist. One of my interests is in the fostering of gay manhood. It is my belief that men who discover that they are homosexual also discover at the same time that they have failed or will fail to achieve what I call "normative masculinity". (And in my non-postmodern mind, there is nothing wrong with norms.) Many gay men are so wounded by this failure that they turn and attack the very notion of manhood itself. Much contemporary feminism makes them feel virtuous for this, but I see it as a terrible violence done to themselves, often out of rage and pain. Given the brief existence of the communal identity we know as gay, there are not a lot of alternative road maps. Your article makes it clearer that this is a wider problem for young men, regardless of their erotic direction. But I am also of the opinion—and this makes me something of a fossil among my peers—that much of what traditionally constitutes manhood remains accessible to and mandatory for gay men, also.
Stephen Manning, Ph.D.
San Francisco, CA
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Willmoore Kendall, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin
In their review of the Willmoore Kendall volume, Steven D. Ealy and Gordon Lloyd say that Kendall intended to write a textbook in political theory, that he had found a publisher, but that Leo Strauss talked him out of the project because "he (Strauss) did not want a volume competing with the then-in-progress Strauss-Cropsey History of Political Philosophy." I can't believe that Strauss said any such thing. I do believe I have something of interest to say about their association.
Kendall and I were colleagues at Yale and, knowing that I had been one of Strauss's students, he asked me—this would have been in 1957 or '58—if Strauss would be willing to meet with him. I assured him that, of course, he would and that Strauss thought well of his (Kendall's) book on Locke. The meeting took place, and some of their conversation had to do with Eric Voegelin, with Kendall insisting that Voegelin was a religious thinker and Strauss denying it. As I subsequently learned from both of them, the disagreement came to an end when Strauss asked, "Mr. Kendall, can you imagine Professor Voegelin on his knees, praying? "
American Enterprise Institute
Steven D. Ealy and Gordon Lloyd reply:
We ask Walter Berns to consider the following excerpts from the unpublished Kendall- Voegelin correspondence from 1959:
Kendall to Voegelin: "I could content myself with saying that when Strauss heard that I was planning such a book (I had found a publisher, incidentally) he wrote me that I'd best talk to him before setting to work on it. I did, and it turned out that what he had to say was that he and his pupils are about to produce a 40-chapter (one chapter for each of 40 major figures) history of political theory…. Now: his book would be finished long before mine, so that the latter would not launch itself into the kind of gap that exists today; and, as I am sure he intended me to infer, the market is not so big as to absorb two books of the kind, even in the most favorable circumstances."
Kendall continues, saying Strauss tends to attract "students who are unbelievers," and thus they would probably reject a Voegelin inspired textbook. "All of them, curiously," adds Kendall, "are quite blind to the more or less religious orientation of Strauss."
Voegelin replying to Kendall: "Your information about the state of political theory and the problems of textbooks are [sic] very illuminating. It doesn't surprise me that the students of Strauss who don't grasp his own religious attitude (as you observe sagely) [don't] like mine, as it is even more outspoken."
Whether or not Strauss dissuaded Kendall from his textbook project, it is clear that that was Kendall's understanding of what Strauss "intended," and whether or not Strauss believed that Voegelin wasn't religious, it is also clear that Strauss didn't persuade Kendall with the rather crude "can-you-imagine-Voegelin-onhis- knees-praying" proof of religiosity. Both Kendall and Voegelin believed that Voegelin was a religious thinker, and both believed that Strauss was a religious thinker.
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I am gratified by Albert Keith Whitaker's praise of my care in writing ("The Bible and Philosophy," Winter 2003). But I regret that he has not only profoundly misunderstood, but, what is worse, has gravely misrepresented the thesis of my book. In particular, he has ripped out of context and has thus misquoted a crucial passage of the book, and has on this concocted basis proceeded to ascribe to me a repulsive and childishly illogical line of reasoning.
After quoting (with significant ellipses) part of one sentence and then another sentence from a paragraph on page 160 of my book, Professor Whitaker falsely states: "And so Pangle concludes, 'The core of the just man's self-understanding would appear to become incoherent and self-cancelling….'"
It is not true that this fragment is the "conclusion" or any part of the conclusion of my analysis that is proceeding on page 160 and that continues for several pages. These words that Whitaker quotes, and the sentence from which they are taken, are not even the end of the paragraph in which they stand. They explicitly state a conditional appearance ("would appear") that is based on premises which I then go on, in the following sentences of the same paragraph, to show to be questionable or indeed falsifiable. What is more, I show exactly how, or on what basis, this appearance and its premises are falsified.
Furthermore, and consequently, I entirely disavow the imagined so-called "thoughts" that Whitaker claims, two paragraphs later in the review, "Pangle invites us to put together," namely, "If we can make no sense of justice," "what follows" is, "Clearly: No Justice, No God." If such were the "thoughts" to which my book invited the reader, I would be a fool, and my book would be an insult to the reader's intelligence. I cannot discern how any of this could be said to "follow" with any conceivable logic. But more important, my book's thesis is exactly the contrary of what Professor Whitaker attributes to it. My book is meant to show that we can, through very long and hard reflection on the Biblical text, assisted by the guidance of political philosophy, make ever greater sense of justice—that we can clarify, deepen, and purify our initially inadequate because unreflective notions of justice; and my book suggests that what follows from this is an alteration in our understanding of God and of the Bible: a clarification, deepening, and purification of our initially inadequate because insufficiently reflective conceptions and experiences of God and of the Scriptures. And this, I believe, is part of what Leo Strauss had in mind when he suggested, on the first page of The City and Man, that "political philosophy is the indispensable handmaid of theology."
Thomas L. Pangle
University of Toronto
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In presenting Thomas L. Pangle's "dialogue" with the Bible, Albert Keith Whitaker writes: "Pangle constructs this crucial element of the conversation, appropriately enough, in commenting on Abraham's dialogue with God, in which Abraham asks God to spare the few just inhabitants of Sodom." This description of the dialogue in Genesis 18: 23-33 is incorrect. It should be clear to any reader that, contrary to Pangle's (and Whitaker's) paraphrase, Abraham strenuously argues, not for the salvation of the righteous alone, but that all of Sodom and Gomorrah be spared if there are even only a few righteous people to be found there. This error is no small matter, because it apparently forms the basis for Pangle's analysis. Whitaker writes, "For does not Abraham concede that the just should be rewarded and the unjust punished? "
The answer is—not at all. Abraham argues that it is in the nature of justice that the existence of a critical mass of righteousness warrants that the unjust shall not be punished. This radical claim is far from the self-serving approach Pangle wishes to ascribe to Abraham and the Bible. One can only wonder how such a blatant misreading could be publicized by advocates of careful reading.
New Hyde Park, NY
Albert Keith Whitaker replies:
In my review, I noted Professor Pangle's devious attempt to nullify the moral and religious claims of Genesis while seeming to take them seriously. His reply is of a piece with his book.
Pangle complains that I take his words out of context, misrepresent the middle of an argument as its conclusion, and misconjoin widely separate parts of his argument. All this sounds a lot like what critics say about Straussian readings of the great philosophers. As Pangle surely knows, I have merely applied Straussian techniques to Pangle's own carefully written prose.
For example, one would have to be a poor student of Pangle or of Strauss to think that the "conclusion" of an argument has to come at its end. Pangle's precious conditional ("would appear") does appear in the middle of a paragraph, the end of which Pangle massages with another conditional, this time backtracking and insisting on the more pious view he quotes above. And, true, his dissection of Abraham continues for several more pages. But not in a seriously different vein.
So, on page 161, after insisting that God and the just man take "pleasure" and "take delight" (his emphasis) in doing justice, Pangle adds, "Yet then it is necessary to take another step, and thereby to confront a deeper perplexity. For does this last not imply that in devoting himself to justice and piety, the just man is necessarily thereby seeking his own greatest good and highest pleasure? " He adds on the next page: isn't the just man's sacrifice of his life on this earth then "merely apparent"? And then the clincher, also on 162: "And more fundamentally, would this understanding of justice as the supreme benefit for the just person not take away the ground for a coherent notion of desert? For if in devoting himself to justice, if in becoming just, a man like Abraham fulfills and completes himself and is thus successfully devoted to his own greatest good and self-interest, how is it that he comes to merit great additional reward (compensatory benefit) beyond his justice? " (emphasis added)
Still, Pangle insists, if Abraham's justice and piety aren't to collapse, justice can't be good for the just man. In the following section (pp. 162- 171), Professor Pangle tests this hypothesis with the "greatest trial," the ultimate case for justice's requiring real (not "merely apparent" sacrifice): the binding of Isaac. Here too Pangle's argument nicely twists and turns. But it comes to the same result: If Abraham really doubted that God would keep His end of the covenant with Abraham and his offspring, then he must have considered God a capricious Tyrant (and hence unjust; see p. 169). But if Abraham truly believed in God's righteousness, he must have trusted that God would not break His promises and destroy the just—leaving Abraham in the bind that Pangle described back on pages 160- 162. Thus Pangle does wind up this entire tortuous chapter—without any conditionals or similar verbal dodges—with the passage I cited.
In Pangle's view, then, Abraham's belief in justice is unintelligible. His belief in the just "Judge of all the Earth" must also be unintelligible. For, again on page 155, Pangle wonders aloud how the belief in God would change "if the intelligibility of the attribute of justice were to alter." What matters if this musing appears in parenthesi? Shouldn't a skillful student of Strauss put his decisive points in parentheses and footnotes? (Consider the last quotation in the last footnote of the book, which Pangle leaves untranslated in German, and in which Strauss comments, "All 'modern' people are religious." Pangle's book aims to overcome this modern religiosity—the current impediment, as he sees it, to philosophizing—by overcoming true religiosity, in the Bible.)
Professor Pangle also misrepresents Strauss's work, when he says that his book forms "part of what Leo Strauss had in mind when he suggested, on the first page of The City and Man, that 'political philosophy is the indispensable handmaid of theology.'" Strauss says almost the opposite there. He says that he will not show that philosophy is the indispensable handmaid of theology. But Pangle's ironic misquotation of his teacher's words so obviously contradict so much of what Strauss said and wrote, that far from mislead, it must only amuse.
My thanks to Mr. Greenstein for his pointed correction to Pangle's reading of Genesis. Interestingly, his correction echoes a claim made by Leon Kass in this context, one that Pangle indeed references (p. 256, n. 14) but peremptorily dismisses.
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John Marshall's Conflict of Interest
In his well-written essay, "The True Story of Marbury v. Madison" (Winter 2003), David Forte failed to address one aspect of this case that has troubled this lay person for years. As the professor wrote, outgoing President John Adams signed the appointment of Marbury to the prosaic office of justice of the peace late the night before Jefferson's inauguration. However, the formal appointment document was never delivered to Marbury. This oversight was largely the fault of then-Secretary of State John Marshall. My dilemma concerns Marshall's failure to deal with his responsibility in this matter—why did he not recuse himself? One little fact that is not given much emphasis, is that John Marshall was both secretary of state and chief justice of the Supreme Court from January 27 until March 4, 1801.
Alex F. Wysocki
Chadds Ford, PA
David Forte replies:
The fact that John Marshall was both Secretary of State and Chief Justice caused no one any problems. Many justices before and since have undertaken official duties for the executive department during their judicial tenure. There is no explicit constitutional bar to the practice. In fact, President Jefferson continued John Marshall as Acting Secretary of State until Jefferson's Attorney General took over the temporary portfolio the day after the inauguration.
Neither is there any conflict of interest between Marshall's being Secretary of State in charge of delivering the commissions and sitting as judge at a trial to determine whether the commissions had been wrongly withheld. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the accepted rules for recusal were much narrower than today. Generally, only when a judge had a personal proprietary stake in the outcome of a case did he recuse himself. Marshall, for example, recused himself in the case of Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, which determined who had the valid title to land, part of which Marshall himself owned. The legal and political community of early America was very small. Everyone knew one another; many were in mutually overlapping litigations. The fact that Marshall was in the State Department when the commissions were to be delivered struck no contemporary observer as seriously anomalous.
Furthermore, both Jefferson and Marshall knew that the person with the conflict of interest was the self-serving clerk of the State Department, Jacob Wagner, whose duty it was to deliver the commission but who failed to do so in order to gain favor with the incoming president and to keep his job. Jefferson certainly was not going to expose what Wagner did, and at trial, Marshall retained a respectful neutrality in listening to Wagner's testimony. Marshall refused to turn these very legal proceedings into a forum designed for political advantage.
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The Bank of England
In his otherwise positive and thoughtful review of my book, A Free Nation Deep in Debt ("Debt and Taxes," Winter 2003), Forrest McDonald comments on a "large oversight." Apparently I failed to point out the connection between England's public debt and its money supply. I think that it is possible that the connection could have been emphasized more repeatedly. However, the point is discussed in a general way in the introduction; in a still general, but more detailed way on page 98; and in the specific context of the Bank of England on page 172.
More important, however, is the need to correct a misleading statement made by Professor McDonald: because of the way that the Bank of England operated, "every issue of new government paper increased the circulating medium." Had this been the case, Britain would undoubtedly have suffered massive inflation as the public debt rose to over 200% of GNP during the course of the 18th century. The Bank of England may have had the authority to issue notes up to the level of its holdings of government debt; however, it chose to limit its note issue to the relatively modest amount compatible with stable prices. It was this freedom to decide on the level of note issue that was the basis of all modern central banking practice.
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Saddam and the Soviets
I am grateful to Arnold Beichman for his lengthy screed about my book ("Out of Gas ," Winter 2003). Beichman is right in noting my disdain for the Bush Administration and that my "enemies" are the "megalomaniacal right-wingers [seeking] to promote their militarist policies and dreams of perpetual world domination." I believe the war against Iraq is obstructing the fight against terrorism and delaying the capture of Osama bin Ladin. Saddam's regime had been so badly weakened by the first Iraq war and by the subsequent trade restrictions that he no longer could threaten his neighbors, much less the United States. After years of inspections it was also clear to me that he had few, if any, weapons of mass destruction.
As for the threat of Soviet Communism, which Beichman accuses me of ignoring, I argue that this was a chimera, and that the Soviet Union was not defeated by the West but collapsed peacefully of its own dead weight. American leaders needed the Cold War to sustain support for a militarized economy and to marginalize the Left. If American rulers had moved to end the arms race in the late '50s and early '60s, the Soviets might well have collapsed decades sooner than they did. I also didn't think it necessary to dwell on the panoply of Soviet atrocities. They are now common knowledge and require repetition only for polemical purposes.
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Cri de Coeur
In taking issue with Pierre Manent ("On Pierre Manent," Fall 2003), Jeremy Rabkin associates this extraordinary man with ill-will towards America and Israel, and lack of firmness in the face of evil or amoral public opinion—attitudes that, as his colleagues for many years, we know to be completely alien to him.
Manent is a thinker of exceptional breadth, generosity, moral seriousness, and, not least, courage. Even when we sometimes find ourselves differing from his positions we listen to him with profit and indeed with pleasure. He is an exemplary practitioner of the sort of serious discussion of public questions to which we know your journal too is devoted.
That a man of this quality is treated so shabbily in its pages is therefore something we cannot allow to pass without protest.