nancylebov (nancylebov) wrote,

Word of the day : thumos

From a review by Kay S. Hymowitz of _Manliness_ by Harvey C. Mansfield and _Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey Into Manhood and Back Again_ by Norah Vincent.

Both Plato and Aristotle described an element in the human soul called thumos, a kind of animal spiritedness or “bristling” that vies with our reason, especially in men. Thumos, Mansfield observes, has “no natural end beyond itself.” It is an impulse that must be tamed and trained, channeled into the virtue of manly courage. Even while recognizing the danger of men’s natural assertiveness, the philosophers understood that a good society had to “give it its due.”

Modern thinkers, according to Mansfield, followed Darwin’s lead in turning their backs on this valuable ambiguity and sense of balance. Nietzsche, William James, Rudyard Kipling, Teddy Roosevelt—all were “manly nihilists,” advocates of assertiveness for its own sake, of “transcendence with no stated goal.” Feminists, starting with Simone de Beauvoir and continuing with Kate Millet and Germaine Greer, also threw in their lot with such nihilistic thinking, simultaneously denouncing men for their animal aggressiveness and demanding the same self-assertive rights for women.

What really ails men, Mansfield concludes, is that their manliness is “underemployed.” Feminism is only one of its enemies. Just about every modern tendency is hostile to the manly urge: the bourgeois yearning for comfort and security fails to channel manly excitability; professionalism rejects manly courage; even democracy, which defers to equality and reason, is no friend. “Manliness favors war, likes risk, and admires heroes,” Mansfield writes. “Rational control wants peace, discounts risk, and prefers role models to heroes.”

Just to finetune it a bit, it's interesting that there are no legal ways to take risks unless you've got money.

I'm not sure that thumos/manliness is a sort of nihilism nor where Darwin stood on that sort of thing, but I find the rest of the passage plausible.

I'd say that the title essay of Joanna Russ's _ Magic Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans and Perverts_ is about what happens if you try to suppress thumos completely--anyone who resembles a leader gets attacked by the group, leading to both ineffectiveness and a lot of misery.

I haven't read _Manliness_, but I recommend _Self-Made Man_--it's interesting and vivid and has more that a little about how surprised the author (a highly political lesbian) was to find out that white men don't get such a good deal out of the world, either.
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