Last night, my Dad and I went to see Harvey C. Mansfield speak at the James Madison Program at Princeton University. And boy were the public intellectuals out that night. Robbie George, Marvin Olasky, Cornell West, and countless others attended.
Mansfield’s subject was “manliness.” Mansfield, who desperately wants to preserve societal gender roles, posits the notion of “manliness” as a virtue. In order to understand Mansfield’s position on this matter, we have to dig deeper into his underlying philosophy. Mansfield is one of those “East Coast Straussians” who believes neither in God and the Truth of Revelation, nor that metaphysical Truths are self-evidently found in nature. Yet, he believes that a healthy society must believe that there is (capital T) Truth to be found in God (revelation) and Nature (reason).
Thus he lends his intellectual support to those arguments on behalf of traditional gender roles that are both religiously and natural law (metaphysically) based—even though it is not clear that he believes in the ultimate Truth of either supports.
What distinguishes Mansfield from the leftist-Nietzsche inspired rejecters of Reason and Revelation (other than being secretive about his nihilism) is that these post-moderns have also come to reject biological nature as well. And it is clear that Mansfield believes in biological nature.
In their drive to reject “nature” in the “ought” sense, Foucault inspired leftists (the deconstructionists), following very bad science, have come to reject nature in the “is” sense as well. All gender differences, it is argued, are “social constructs.” Raise a girl from birth as a boy and vice versa, and, if we had the right controls, we would see XYs with healthy “female” personalities and XXs with healthy “male” personalities. This experiment was in fact tried and and yielded gruesome results. The social constructionists are wrong. Nature, in the “is” sense, does indeed exist; there are pretty significant biological (physical and mental) differences between the sexes.
And during the lecture, Mansfield endorsed the science in the book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously, authored by leading conservative documenter of natural gender differences, Stephen Rhodes. However, in it, Rhoads documents such natural gender difference as males having naturally promiscuous (seed spreading) sexual instincts. This trait certainly has a sound evolutionary basis; the farther and wider a man spreads his seed, the more likely the human race in general and a man’s genes in particular will perpetuate. Here is how Mansfield reacts to this natural fact:
What evolutionists think is the closest we usually get to the notion of nature these days. But it is not close enough. For evolution sees everything as organized for survival and cannot recognize our better, higher nature. Thus it sees no difference in rank between the male desire for an active sex life and the male interest in being married, or between the promptings of desire and the instruction of reason. What kind of seriousness is this?
Of course Mansfield realizes that “our higher nature” is a myth (a “social construct” if you will, that needs to be perpetuated, not deconstructed). And if it were true that nature in the “is” sense, didn’t exist (as the social constructionists argue) then defending the notion of “higher nature” would be all the harder.
But because there is a big overlap between what nature “is” and Mansfield’s concept of higher “ought” nature (the “ought” is always in some way derived from the “is”), these “is’s” give Mansfield ammunition to defend his “oughts.” As Mansfield puts it:
No doubt with a view to these problems, Rhoads does not declare evolutionary psychology to be true. He merely refers to what "evolutionists think" as a useful authority, perhaps with which to defend common sense. He also does not accept the injunction of social science against judgments of value. He has no hesitation in stating, as the result of his research, that "women would be wise to realize" they have a sexual makeup that differs from men's. All women who doubt this finding would be wise to read Rhoads's fine book.
In other words, by virtue of our biological nature, women really may prefer and be better suited towards nurturing and home-care, and men, supporting, protecting, and providing (where the “is’s” and Mansfield’s “oughts” coincide). But nature also makes men more predisposed to violence and sexual promiscuity (the “is’s” that don’t confirm or that even contradict Mansfield’s “oughts.” Certainly homosexuality—something not a part of the traditional morality that Mansfield endorses—exists in human and animal nature as an “is”).
But the same argument that Mansfield may make against sexual promiscuity or homosexuality (it may be part of human nature, but not our “higher nature”) can be made against the traditional gender roles that he supports: Nature may incline men towards providing and women, homemaking, but, in a fair society, one premised on equality as an ideal, that doesn’t make such societal gender roles just.