What Is a Man? 3,000 Years of Wisdom on the Art of Manly Virtue

Edited with a Commentary by Waller R. Newell

Harper Paperbacks, 2001 (2000)     Amazon.com

Book Description:

At a time when all of America is debating the wayward course of contemporary manhood comes this rich and eye-opening anthology of 3,000 years of the most profound and inspiring writing on the subject of manliness. A source of guidance and inspiration, this wisdom-filled collection also reflects on the confusions of modern manhood by addressing contemporary issues through voices as diverse as James Dean, David Foster Wallace, and Kurt Cobain. Reminding us all of the relevance of the manly tradition, What Is a Man? offers a readable and revelatory guide to the virtues of men at their best.


What Is a Man? violates all of the norms of political correctness by reminding us that men have specific virtues – virtues that are neither the watered-down qualities of niceness and compassion nor aimless and violent aggression. This rich anthology will be an eye-opener for many, but particularly for the young men who are most confused about how they are to act in life.”  Francis Fukuyama, George Mason University

“Newell’s anthology covers an astonishing range and is a constant source of ideas about a neglected, almost a suppressed, virtue.”  Kenneth Minogue, London School of Economics

What Is a Man?…is an asteroid hurtling toward our planet – and, if I am not mistaken, it is headed straight for the Tower of Babel, the construction that produced the babble about sexual matters that we all now speak. Brilliantly timed, conceived, edited, and introduced by Professor Newell, What Is a Man? is an anthology of buried treasures. It is unlike any recent book for the general reader I know of on the relations between the sexes. Newell’s inspiring book is about how to build manly virtue – which sounds antiquated because manly virtue is all but forgotten or remembered only in parody. But manly virtue, he argues, is our best hope of bringing men and women together with respect and dignity.”  Norman Doidge, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University

What Is a Man? is that rare sort of book that rewards serious study while delighting and inspiring the casual reader. The meanings and the perplexities of manhood are illuminated by an assemblage of literary gems culled from the greatest writers at their most incandescent.”  Thomas Pangle, University of Toronto

From the Introduction:

“Honor tempered by prudence, ambition tempered by compassion for the suffering and the oppressed, love restrained by delicacy and honor toward the beloved – from Plato to the twentieth century, there is a common store of richly textured observations, maxims, illustrations, and confirmations of this enduringly noble standard of conduct. Thus, although that tradition can be easily parodied and ridiculed today as something hopelessly outmoded and far away, in fact it is very close…We don’t need to reinvent manliness. We only need to will ourselves to wake up from the bad dream of the last few generations and reclaim it, in order to extend and enrich that tradition under the formidable demands of the present.”

“How might we recover an understanding of what it means to be a man in the positive sense – brave, self-restrained, dignified, zealous on behalf of a good cause, imbued with sentiments of delicacy and respect for one’s loved ones?…[A]mong the cases made consistently throughout [the book’s] pages is that the surest way of convincing men to treat women with respect is to expose them to those traditional virtues of manly character that make it a disgrace to treat anyone basely. Reclaiming the positive tradition of manly refinement and civility is the surest antidote to the much-decried balikanization of the sexes that has characterized the last thirty years.”

“…we need a return to the highest fulfillment of which all people are capable – moral and intellectual virtues that are the same for men and women at their peaks – while recognizing the diverse qualities that men and women contribute to this common endeavor for excellence. We need a sympathetic reengagement with traditional teachings that stress that men and women share what is highest, while accepting that their passions, temperaments, and sentiments can differ, resulting in different paths to those high standards shared in common.”

“In the absence of a clear idea from their distant, distracted fathers of what it means to be a man…bored and frustrated youths react…by reverting to the crudest stereotype of ‘macho’ violence…”

“[S]ome hold that we should try to abolish ideals of manliness altogether and make more rigorous efforts to create a genderless pesonality free of male violence…But it is not so simple. The last thirty years have in fact witnessed a prolonged effort at social engineering throughout our public and educational institutions. Its purpose is to eradicate any psychological and emotional differences between men and women, on the grounds that any concept of manliness inevitably leads to arrogance and violence toward women, and to rigid hierarchies that exclude the marginalized and powerless. This experiment was meant to reduce violence and tensions between the sexes. And yet, during this same period, ‘macho’ violence and stress between men and women may well have increased.”

“[T]he absence of a father is one of the strongest predictors of violence among young men…at least as important as poverty, lack of education, or minority status…The casualties of [feminism’s and the sexual revolution’s] hard, bright credo of selfishness are today’s underfathered young men, many of them from broken homes, prone to identify their maleness with aggression because they have no better model to imitate.”

“A strong case can be made that manly honor, and shame at failing to live up to it, are the surest means of promoting respect for women. Moreover, manly anger and combativeness can provide energy for a just cause…The point is not to eradicate honor and pride from the male character, but to rechannel those energies…to some constructive moral purpose.”

“[T]he first step…is to rescue the positive tradition of manliness from three decades of stereotyping that conflates masculinity with violence, hegemony, and aggression. We have to recognize that men and women are moral and intellectual equals, that decent and worthy men have always known this, and that, while men and women share the most important human virtues, vices, and aptitudes, they also have different psychological traits that incline them toward different activities.”

“Again, the point is to channel these energies into the development of character. Boys and young men still want to be heroes, and the way to teach them to treat girls and women with respect is to appeal to their heroism, not to try to blot it out.”

“Having failed to find an authority they can respect, someone to guide them from boyish impetuosity to a mature and manly vigor of judgment, [young men] confuse authority with oppression.”

“It is precisely in traditional understandings of manly pride and honor that we will find the only sure basis for respect between men and women. The best way of convincing young men to treat women with respect is to educate them in those traditional virtues of character that make it a disgrace to treat anyone basely, dishonestly, or exploitively. Moreover, the surest way of raising young men to treat young women as friends rather than as objects for sexual exploitation is to appeal to their natural longing to be honored and esteemed by the young women to whom they are attracted.”

“[I]f anything impresses us about our forebears, judging from their lives, letters, and diaries, it is the refinement of their affections for one another, and of men’s esteem for women in particular…boys and young men today need to be reintroduced to the tradition of manly civility, to supplement our contemporary insistence that all romantic stress between men and women can be solved by the adjudication of rights and the stigmatization of exclusively male traits of character.”

About Newell:

Waller R. Newell is professor of political science and philosophy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He was educated at the University of Toronto and Yale University. The author of numerous books and articles on Classical, Renaissance, and Modern European political philosophy and literature, he is a contributor to the Weekly Standard and other publications. He has been a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., and the National Humanities Center in Research Triangel Park, North Carolina, and a John Adams Fellow at the Institute of United States Studies at the University of London.

JOB’s Comment:

I will discuss the book and the passages cited from the introduction asap.

2 Responses to “What Is a Man? 3,000 Years of Wisdom on the Art of Manly Virtue”

  1. 1 Mattias February 4, 2013 at 2:03 am

    Denna bok låter väldigt intressant. Det blir att inhandla vid nästa tillökning i kassan.

    Det har inte blivit någon fortsatt diskussion om boken och citaten, eller? Kan inte hitta fler inlägg när jag söker på “Newell”.

  2. 2 Kristo Ivanov January 30, 2014 at 9:27 am

    I wonder whether you JOB have fulfilled elsewhere your plan of “I will discuss the book and the passages cited from the introduction asap” or whether you have written something about the matter, before or after this insert. Or whether you or other readers of this text know about other equally interesting, analog writings about the subject, which fits many related concerns as expressed in

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