Addendum: Sweetness of temper

Thus I wrote yesterday evening to my Aleksandra:

In the opening of Book I of his Meditations, Marcus gives thanks to his grandfather first and then to the biological father he never knew. In his grandfather, he sees an example of ‘sweetness of temper.’ In the father he never knew, that of modesty and manliness. Combine these three in just proportions–two virtues with a certain sweetness–and we have a manly man most certainly. Sweetly tempered indeed is the manly man who knows and uses and refrains from using his own powers. But then let us not in haste forget the raised cups: the libations, our eloquent tokens of thanksgiving.

How can a man embody manliness after three waves of feminism? (Part 3)

We are inquiring into the man who embodies manliness. Manliness is a disposition that is neither Brawny (and hot-headed) nor Sensitive (and frail). If it is hard to come up with living examples of men who are manly and graceful (Cary Grant, perchance, though he is dead?), the reason could be that few seem to exist at the present time. Most men who seek to cultivate themselves make the mistake of trying to become ‘ripped,’ only to become distorted pictures of vanity and pride, or to become ‘artsy,’ only to lose their ‘spirited part’ entirely.

For those of us who can clearly perceive the question of manliness as a pressing matter concerning how men can become excellent, after a fashion, at being men, it is necessary to inquire into with what kind of training in the body and the arts is appropriate in order for one to embody manliness, so understood.

Our ‘spirited part’ is best cultivated, I think, through those activities that stem from once-military sources but which have been transmogrified since into forms of art. I am thinking of the martial arts, of ashtanga yoga, of climbing (born, initially, of a conquering spirit), of archery, of swordplay. These are lifelong practices whose ferocity has been transformed, by means of study, attention, and guidance, into a vigorous practice. (I am not sure about boxing or certain styles of hockey. Parkour may count, however. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.) Tai chi is more appropriate for the old man than it is for the younger man, since the younger man needs to forge his thumos by pressing his shoulder squarely into something. He wants to lean into something hard enough to feel that something press at him, stress him, at least initially.

Meanwhile, our wisdom-loving part is best cultivated through gaining a wider appreciation of the ordinary natural beauties (the wind, birdsong, the cricket, the flee–see the haiku tradition), of the kind of simple music that honors human existence (hence, no songs of misery or wretchedness), of simple poetry written in praise and honor (the Daodejing, for instance), of earnest works of prose (no postmodernism, therefore), and of earnest, humble philosophy. Here, I find that reading Hadot lifts the spirit, though it is also true that his prose could show more lightness, vivacity, and humor. In this kind of education, the young man is perceiving the kind of simplicity and directness in nature as well as in thought that makes ultimately–in Plato’s elegant phrase–for ‘beauty of reason.’

We are proposing that a muscular existence, focused and concentrated, can be directed in such a way that it becomes graceful action. Manliness is neither a voice cutting another to pieces nor a limp article of clothing drying on the line. It is a man’s power strained yet softened to the appropriate degree. A simple, hearty song that takes years to sing aright.

How can a man embody manliness after three waves of feminism? (Part 2)

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.

How can a man embody manliness after three waves of feminism? (Part 1)

First wave feminism, beginning in the late nineteenth century, called into question the idea that women were especially well-suited for running household affairs and thus were ill-suited to taking an active part in the affairs of the city.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from private anonymity to public visibility.

Around the 1960s during the Vietnam Era, second wave feminism comes into being. Those without voice and without recognition of the manifold nature of sexuality were able to draw attention to forms of discrimination and oppression.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from voicelessness to voice.

In the past thirty years, third wave feminism has testified to the exploitation of women in the developing world, not least those former colonial subjects living in the aftermath of colonial rule.

  • Hence, the shift effected: from powerlessness to a sense of power.

No reasonable person would deny the importance of these three waves of feminism for women living in the past or for those seeking to lead full lives into the present. What has yet to be considered, however, is what effects these three waves have had on men’s ability to exhibit the mean of manliness without being regarded as perpetrators or wimps.


It seems to me that two modern male figures dominant the social scene: the Brawny Man and the Sensitive Man. The Brawny Man, who came to prominence during the early 90s and who remains on college campuses and in gyms today, has overfed his physical part. He is concerned with getting bigger and bigger, with ineffectually growing stronger and stronger, and he spends his leisure time seeking pleasure, showing off, and watching sports.

His counterpart is the Sensitive Man. This character has strange predilections for esoteric art and music, has skinny legs and skinny arms, a round  tummy, and a concave chest. He lacks physical strength and spends most of his time being sensitive, ironic, and wanting to be an artist in the art world, a musician in the indie music scene, or a scholar in the academy. He is a cowardly wuss.

The Brawny Man is too hypertrophic, uncouth, incapable of compassion, and prone to angry outbursts; the Sensitive Man is too weak and overindulgent to be of much good. Neither figure embodies manliness, and both are unharmonious within and without.

Tomorrow, I aim to show how the discussion of guardians from Book III of Plato’s Republic provides a beautiful sketch of the kind of man who has properly cultivated his ‘spirited part’–his thumos–to the point where it has become stretched and cultured yet not softened and removed. This sort of man is physically strong without being aggressive or intimating; cultured without being a dandy; courageous without being hot-headed; well-spoken without being too nice with his distinctions; and temperate without being an ascetic. He is thus admired by men and women both and worthy of love and of being loved.