Manly Manliness

An article appeared in yesterday’s Globe and Mail about the nostalgia for manly men. Chuck, malady being very much into chivalry and warriorhood, ask eagerly read the article, sickness and came a way just a little bit disappointed. Read the article: Guy Guides: Nostalgia For When Men Were Masters of the Universe.

Below is Chuck’s response. He was going to send it to the Editor of the Globe, but they have a 150 word limit for letters to the editor. So I’m posting his entire response here.


In his recent article, Russell Smith passes judgment on “how-to-be-a-gentleman guides” (Nostalgia for When Men Ruled, April 14th), arguing that these guides are “maniacally conservative” escapist fantasies grounded in a “nervousness” about gender, and a nostalgic desire to return to the days when “men were masters of the universe” and women knew their place.

Anything can be “psychologized” away (a variant of the ad hominem circumstantial fallacy sometimes known as “Bulversism”or “Appeal to Motive”) if one tries hard enough. A psychologist who studies terror management theory could try to explain away the desire to be a good parent, for example, as nothing more than reacting to existential anxiety by focusing on the survivial of one’s offspring, and Freud might have described writing an article for the Globe and Mail as a sublimation of neurotic sexual conflict. Smith’s attempt to reduce the desire to be a good man to nostaglic crypto-sexist neuroses is just such a maneuver.

Regarding the charge of sexism, Smith offers no evidence in support of his accusation. He makes no attempt to deal with the fact that current contributors to this discussion, whether we are talking about Kate and Brett McKay’s book The Art of Manliness or Scott Farrell’s “Chivalry Today” podcast, explicitly sever considerations of gentlemanly behaviour from any implications of male superiority. Smith states that “in discussion of gentlemanliness there is no mention of how best to divide child care,” which is flatly incorrect, as can be seen in the discussion of stay-at-home dads at the Art of Manliness website, for one example. And Smith’s charge that behaving like a gentleman is about trying to assert dominance shows a lack of understanding of gentlemanliness. In my book on warriorhood (a topic associated with manly stereotypes if ever there was one), my research into warrior codes both past and present showed the core of martial greatness to be servanthood rather than masterhood, and Scott Farrell’s application of chivalric ideals to today’s gentleman is grounded in the relinquishing of dominance.

Smith also claims that the proliferation of gentlemen’s guides are the product of nostalgia, as evidenced by the anachronistic language used by most popular books on the subject. Given the attention paid by the media to the “metrosexual” and the 30-something who still plays Xbox in his parents’ basement as images of today’s man, and the often-heard claim that chivalry is dead (or at least badly wounded), it is not surprising that current thought on gentlemanliness often involves a desire to reconnect with something that is perceived to have been lost. However, the publication and popularity of the guides themselves cannot be attributed to mere nostalgia. From Geoffroi de Charny’s 14th-Century manual of chivalry to the writings of US President Theodore Roosevelt, men have always sought the advice of other men on the topic of how a man might live well, in the same way that women have always sought advice from other women. The current crop of “gentlemen’s guides” are no different.

Charles H. Hackney, PhD
Author of Martial Virtues: Lessons in Wisdom, Courage, and Compassion from the World’s Greatest Warriors (2010, Charles E. Tuttle Publications)