I strongly disagree with the arguments and conclusions in Mansfield's book. I give it four stars because it is a well-argued and well-organized book on an important topic. Mansfield does a great service because he lays bare for us the moral and ethical and philosophical roots of his version of "manliness," and in the process of reading and re-reading his book and finding where I disagree with him, it helped me think more clearly about what I do consider real manliness and courage. And that's what a good book should do.
Most of us know from real-life experience that the biggest bullies are often some of the most insecure males (and females) around. Read the book "Warriors, Workers, Whiners and Weasels"Warriors, Workers, Whiners, & Weasels: Understanding and Using The Four Personality Types To Your Advantage and you'll quickly recognize the ones most likely to seize on Mansfield's arguments about "manly" men will often be the insecure weasels rather than the warriors. When you unpack it, the book Manliness really amounts to an elaborate set of excuses for Napoleon, Hitler, the neighborhood bully, and any other insecure males (or females) out there. These are the first ones to be overly concerned about what everyone thinks of them and want to convince everyone their pushy obnoxious and deceitful actions are a sign of strength, rather than an outgrowth of their huge inner doubts and insecurity.
Mansfield opens his book with tales about brave and tragic heroes in Greek legend. After he mentions the Greek word "arete" (courage, excellence) a few times, he replaces the word bravery with the more value-free words confidence (or assertiveness) through the rest of the book. This is a conscious choice of words and if you read between the lines you can see the bait-and-switch - Mansfield knows full well that bravery and confidence do not mean the same thing at all. For a sharp contrast to Mansfield's existentialism and emotivism, read A Short History of Ethics by Alasdair MacIntyre (then chapter 15 from his later book After Virtue). A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century
Consider the distinction between brave or foolhardy, a difference that relies completely on deeper values and priorities and intentions. These deeper intentions tell us whether an action is worth the risk (brave) or not (foolhardy). This distinction is completely lost with the word confident. Mansfield, nihilism, Machiavelli and Nietzsche reject all the values which give words like brave or foolhardy or tragic any meaning. Machiavelli counseled Italian princes to give mere lip service to values like excellence, faith, justice, or concern for others, while Nietzsche rejected them outright. What both of Mansfield's most "manly" heroes have in common is the pure will to power and power for it's own sake. Translation: ethics are for women (and weak males), while real men are beyond good and evil. Real men make their own rules, and do this for no purpose other than to impose their will on others. The Prince, Beyond Good and Evil
Confidence is a very poor substitute for bravery. Confidence amounts to being sure of one self (or settling for the next closest thing: looking confident). Someone can act confident without taking any real risk. Someone can act confident without ever weighing what purposes are really worth striving for. By contrast when a man is brave, two things must be true. First he is not sure of the outcome, because if he is confident of the outcome and has no doubts then he is not taking a real risk and is not brave. And second he takes the risk anyway, because it is worth the risk to achieve some greater good. If a man did not realize he was taking a serious risk, or was not doing it for a valuable purpose, then he was not brave. Period.
A world of confident nihilists that reject deeper values and purpose is a world stripped of bravery or tragedy. In Mansfield's "manly" world, a successful drug dealer who's confident no one will get past his underlings and ensnares people with addiction to feed his greed is potentially just as manly as the hostage negotiator, or the firefighters and paramedics who lost their lives selflessly rushing into the Twin Towers. But the drug kingpin is not brave. I reject the overriding importance Mansfield puts on confidence, nihilism, and imposing our will on others, and reject his arguments that these are the foundations of real manliness.
Mansfield offers us the thin promise that this value-free and sometimes childish egotism is a necessary evil because without it, our society will not produce the heroes who will rise up to save us from our evil opponents. Reality check: true real-life heroes are rarely egotists who go in for the kind of existentialist arguments Mansfield is making. And he admires the 9/11 terrorists as manly and admires them for making heroes more necessary too, so his argument here is circular and the "saviour" argument is obviously not really at all central to his views. Brave men do not need Mansfield's book - their strength comes from a much deeper source. The firemen and paramedics who rushed into the Twin Towers might or might not have all been confident, but we can say with certainty they were brave. Men and women like this will rush into buildings with or without all Mansfield's elaborate philosophical excuses for controlling personalities, show-offs, and obnoxious loudmouths.
When Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition (Ch. 18) uses Nietzsche's own words from The Will to Power to show us the emptiness and falseness and loneliness of his "Great Man" (ubermensch) he also shows us the emptiness of Mansfield's version of "manliness": "A great man - a man whom nature has constructed and invented in the grand style - what is he? ... If he cannot lead he goes alone; then it can happen that he may snarl at some things he meets on the way ... he wants no sympathetic heart, but servants, tools; in his intercourse with men he is always intent on making something out of them. ... When not speaking to himself, he wears a mask. He rather lies than tells the truth: it requires more spirit and will. There is a solitude within him ..." And we know from his own words that Nietzsche is Mansfield's greatest "manly" hero. Mansfield clearly admires controlling, manipulative, deceitful men. And I clearly do not.
Yes, our society does need more manliness, but certainly not the manliness Mansfield describes. Mansfield's strutting nihilist version of manliness in fact contributes to the very decay of confidence he criticizes. Confidence is a very poor substitute for real courage, and our society does not need even more desire to be confident and assertive. Television and the newsmedia and shopping malls and ads in our bathroom stalls already bombard us to no end with messages that we should think everywhere and always about looking more confident and assertive. But very few messages about being truly brave. It turns out harping on confidence and breeding more insecurity happen to be profitable for advertisers, while bravery is not. Mansfield argues our society suffers from too little nihilism and confidence, when in fact our society suffers from too much nihilism, too much focus on confidence, and too many weasels and crackpot Machiavelli wanna-bees. Instead we need more brave men and women to recognize what is truly most important and meaningful in life and are strong enough to back up their beliefs with their day-to-day actions.