June 25, 2010

American Manly

American Manly is an example to us all, and let us hope, in him, we may find the redemption of that troubled country. I shall resist the temptation to introduce any particular real-life exemplars of American Manly, for within its purview there is room to move, to breathe, even to square-off and box, and I wouldn’t want to prejudice anyone against the possibilities of this noble breed. Where it exists, American Manly is an aspirational figure, an embodiment of respect and, in his presence, a guarantor of a raised tone. He is the finest of all things, save perhaps for the English Gentleman (of course), and it is high time that the shady bushel that has been obscuring him of late is once and for all uprooted to reveal the gleaming light.

Allow me a moment of comic-book fantasy, if you will. In the good old days, Superman’s superhero status had a lot to do with Clark Kent. He was hard-working, diligent, and well-dressed, but modest and courteous to boot. Awkward, yes, but the awkwardness was the ultimate affectation: a modest disguise for the ultimate modesty. A secret identity ensured that the man would receive no glory, no unwanted attention. He could go about his business. His transformation into strength itself, a noble fighter of evil and doer of good, depended in part on the gentle sensibilities of the alter ego. Cometh the hour, and so forth. Superman’s character worked because it said something about American values. Politeness, diligence and the grace of civil life were matched by the controlled power, strength, and determination to fight for the protection of that civil life, when duty called. Superman, the ideal type of American Manly, was America’s finest citizen.

On the walls of the Memorial Church in Harvard Yard are the names of many of Harvard’s alumni who gave their lives in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, and the Gulf, replete with their School and graduating year. The memorials themselves are nothing of note. After all, there are lists of names of the fallen everywhere, cenotaphs in every British town. Once I was at the Last Post at the Menin Gate in Ypres, and the names fell around me like a deathly shroud. Yet in this church more than any other place one gains a sense of sacrifice; a notion of what was on the line; an appreciation of the substance behind the names. For here are marked the snubbed flames of American potential, who fought that others might have the chance to realise theirs. These were leaders in intellect, in enterprise, in spirit; they saw purpose in their way of life, and saw that it was worth the fight. Given the chance, they might well ask what we have made of their sacrifice.

You can see the descendents of American Manly across the country. They are intelligent, but are galled by the ‘smart’; they throw up their hands at the politicians and thereafter roll up their sleeves; they understand the importance of form, carriage, comportment, courtesy and modesty; they know the measure of a man by his handshake, and judge themselves by the cast-iron of their word. Nothing is more disappointing than disappointment in themselves. American Manly treasures his family and his heritage, and understands that the love of his country must be rooted in the things for which it has historically stood. And this means that he must be a reader, a learner, an asker of questions, and above all a listener. In times of disarray, American Manly marches to his own tune, assured that it is composed of the right stuff, and confident that it is better to take the lead than to follow fools.

Homo Americanus should take note, for American Manly is not a distinct species. He is there to follow, and with good measures each of perspiration and hard thinking, he is there to become.


  1. Doctor,

    as I've never before read a praise of manliness that described such general things - and so abstract - that they make magazine covers come to life, I must commend your very peculiar achievement. - But most assuredly there is no chance of anyone being prejudiced against possibilities... and I am sure no one could have anything against that which you describe. - Everything you describe seems very good, not quite enough so to give anyone hope, but enough to stir a certain feeling, but I do have one small question: what is this to do in particular with America?

  2. It is a framework. I don't think it should be overly prescriptive, but of course there is ample time to think about and fill in details. It's particular Americanness has, I think, to do with the backdrop of freedom, wherein this man can singularly exist. It does not preclude the description's applicability elsewhere, but manly Americans have a peculiar relationship to - and global guardianship over - freedom, both in its meaning and its protection and extension. My description, general as it is, is in accord with this.

  3. Hurray! Can we put this on a bulletin board? I feel men need to see, and perhaps align their behavior with this creed in my part of the South, since it seems there are more Macho versions here.

  4. My dear Rhubarb,
    Please feel free to post wherever it pleases you. We may hope that anybody may see fit to aspire.

  5. Dear VB,

    I appreciate the permission, it'll be credited properly.

    Looking forward to reading your next installments.

  6. My good doctor, you must forgive me, I somehow missed the point about freedom. My carelessness aside, I do agree freedom is what drives the Americans and so find myself forced to agree with your description - forthwith, ignore my other reply.



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