Two modern male figures show us, respectively, excess and defect. The Brawny Man, uncouth and with a fiery temper, distorts the right disposition of manliness just as much as the Sensitive Man, who collects vintage records and has a soft, pliable body. One’s powers of observation needn’t be taxed in order to perceive that many living men fall into Brawniness or Sensitivity. After three waves of feminism, where is one to look for the figure whose manliness, being neither brawny nor overly sensitive, shows forth in the appropriate degrees?
Plato might have hit upon the first stirring of a good answer. In Book III of the Republic, we learn about the proper education of guardians, those tasked with ensuring that the just city is protected. Although Plato’s Socrates doe not refer to the mean of manliness, it appears that this is what he is after when he tries to describe the overall character of the guardian.
Socrates says that a guardian would have to have thumos (in the Grube/Reeve translation, thumos is rendered as ‘the spirited nature’) first and foremost, and this thumos would have to be exercised through physical training. If the guardian were to only spend his time in pursuing physical exercise, however, the spirited part of his soul would become ‘tough’ and ‘savage.’ We are reminded of the Brawny Man epitomized by Arnold, Rambo, WWF, and (more recently) cage fighting. Should it become exercised even further, such a man would become angry, nasty, and cruel.
Thus, the spirited part, which cannot be left to its own devices, must be cultivated by the wisdom-loving part of the soul, the part which is concerned with simple music, simple poetry, and earnest philosophy. The physical training of the body is thereby complemented by the softer arts that work on the soul to make it higher, better, harmonious.
But if the guardian is given too much to music, poetry, and philosophy (here, one might be inclined to think that this overindulgence has to do also with too much of the wrong kinds of these activities), he is bound to become soft and overcultured. Worse still, his spirited part may vanish entirely. Evident in this result is the Sensitive Man who frequents high-end art exhibits or research libraries and who has lost his power, assertiveness, and erotic sense.
As a result, the proper instruction in manliness would have to be conducted with exceptional dexterity and facility. Submitted to rigorous physical training alongside the softer arts, the guardian, Socrates says, would be ‘stretched and relaxed to the appropriate degree,’ and thus would achieve a ‘completely harmonious’ character.
The implication is that manliness is not opposed to being graceful. On the contrary, the former is heightened by the latter. In Part 3, we investigate how this is so and what kind of training in the body and the arts is appropriate in order for one to embody manliness.