What makes a man?

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President.  He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.

  • Transcript


Question: What makes a man?

Harvey Mansfield: So manly means confidence in the face of risk. And that, I think, is a quality that’s not necessarily called a virtue, that you do see more with males than with females. Women have a certain confidence, but it’s … they don’t seek out the risk the way that most manly men do. And I hasten to say that not all manly men are good in fact; at least half of them, I would say for a start, are not good. You can face risk in order to do terrible deeds. So … so like the Islamic hijackers who took down the World Trade Center. But on the other hand that’s the only way to counter them is with countered manliness. So in the manliness of the policemen and the firemen in New York who went up the World Trade Center, knowing there was a very good chance they wouldn’t come down. So it’s … it’s …manliness is not necessarily something good. It’s not necessarily a man. It could be a woman. My example is Margaret Thatcher, I would say was the mightiest woman of our age. And there are other formidable, manly women. But for the most part, it’s a quality that hovers over the male sex.

Recorded on: 6/13/07