Off The Mishnory Road: The Stoic Virtues And Masculinity

Before we launch into today’s tirade, please read Dystopic’s latest opus at The Declination. The snippet that inspired me is at the very beginning:

There is a certain irony in the fact that Progressives, with their White privilege narrative, are too deeply rooted in European history to notice that other cultures are fundamentally unlike them. So when China tells them that human rights are a thing, and they are working on the problem, the Left blindly believes them. They do not understand the nature of Asian culture and persist in seeing it from a Western perspective.

The alpha male of the world order, the US, is neither willing nor capable of defending the steering system. It has ceased being the indispensable nation. The streak of idealism has disappeared, forcing the US to fall back on raw power despite the talk about soft power. Moral authority has slipped away, no longer available to support and substantiate US policies and interventions. [From this piece — FWP]

Terminology is important here. The author carefully made use of the term “alpha male,” a code word on the Left that signals a universal derision. Your official Two-minutes Hate is now required. For them, this is a seminal moment. In their minds, the great Evil, the sinister demon, the focus of all their efforts, is finally beginning to topple from its golden throne. They have exposed the war mongering beast.

“Alpha male” a pejorative? Yes, indeed it is…on the Left. Did you think the anti-masculinity stance of the gender-war feminists was irrelevant to the greater whole? Quite the opposite: it’s at the heart of the Leftist philosophy, insofar as they have one.

Masculinity in this context has nothing to do with sex. It’s entirely about the virtues traditionally associated with the well-bred, well-reared Western man.In the classical era, masculinity was deemed inseparable from the Stoic Virtues:

Borrowing from the Cynics, the foundation of Stoic ethics is that good lies in the state of the soul itself; in wisdom and self-control. Stoic ethics stressed the rule: “Follow where reason leads.” One must therefore strive to be free of the passions, bearing in mind that the ancient meaning of ‘passion’ was “anguish” or “suffering”,[20] that is, “passively” reacting to external events—somewhat different from the modern use of the word. A distinction was made between pathos (plural pathe) which is normally translated as passion, propathos or instinctive reaction (e.g., turning pale and trembling when confronted by physical danger) and eupathos, which is the mark of the Stoic sage (sophos). The eupatheia are feelings that result from correct judgment in the same way as passions result from incorrect judgment.

The idea was to be free of suffering through apatheia or peace of mind (literally, ‘without passion’),[21] where peace of mind was understood in the ancient sense—being objective or having “clear judgment” and the maintenance of equanimity in the face of life’s highs and lows.

For the Stoics, ‘reason’ meant not only using logic, but also understanding the processes of nature—the logos, or universal reason, inherent in all things. Living according to reason and virtue, they held, is to live in harmony with the divine order of the universe, in recognition of the common reason and essential value of all people. The four cardinal virtues of the Stoic philosophy are wisdom (Sophia), courage (Andreia), justice (Dikaiosyne), and temperance (Sophrosyne), a classification derived from the teachings of Plato.

Following Socrates, the Stoics held that unhappiness and evil are the results of human ignorance of the reason in nature. If someone is unkind, it is because they are unaware of their own universal reason, which leads to the conclusion of kindness. The solution to evil and unhappiness then, is the practice of Stoic philosophy—to examine one’s own judgments and behavior and determine where they diverge from the universal reason of nature.

If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the “cardinal” virtues, there it is. Wisdom (alternately, prudence), courage (alternately, fortitude), justice, and temperance are just as essential to the well-bred, well-reared man today as they were to the classical Greeks.

In this connection, ponder this compact expression of Aristotle’s approach to happiness:

  1. Happiness – that which we seek as an end in itself and for no other reason – is the consequence of a life well lived.
  2. To live well requires the cultivation and consistent practice of the Stoic virtues.
  3. We acquire the virtues by practicing them – i.e., by acting virtuously in advance of internalizing them.
  4. Therefore, happiness – what we all seek – depends upon the practice of the Stoic virtues.

Gentle Reader, it could not be made any simpler.

If you accept the above, it would follow that masculinity as the Stoics understood it is essential to happiness. (That the Stoics were less concerned with the feminine virtues need not trouble us here.) If a society’s men are adequately masculine – i.e., if they cultivate and practice the Stoic virtues – that society will have a good chance of being a happy one. Inversely, if a society’s men are notably unmasculine, that society will be mired in misery. It’s probably at the edge of destruction.

A happy society need not consist entirely of unvaryingly happy men. Every man will know setbacks, disappointments, and suffering at various times in his life. But a happy enveloping society will incorporate the attitudes, institutions, and mechanisms by which he can survive, persevere, and ultimately prevail over his troubles, with or without assistance. Note also that the assistance of others in one’s times of troubles is far more likely in a society that celebrates the Stoic virtues.

I argued in the previous essay that Leftists are hostile to the concepts of fun and play. That follows from their “The personal is the political” attitude toward all of human affairs. Fun and play are inherently personal experiences. They cannot be collectivized; they can only be sought by individuals, each to his own. Thus, the Left resents those quintessential manifestations of happiness: if you’re having fun, you’re insufficiently engaged in a Left-approved Cause.

I begin to sense that everything that conduces to happiness will countervail Leftist thought and goals. Nor am I surprised by that.

To sum up: the Stoic conception of masculinity is a better approach to the concept than the simplistic contemporary idea of the masculine as purely aggressive. The famous maxim from John Bernard Books in The Shootist:

I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.

…captures Stoic masculinity better than any equally concise formulation, both in what it asserts and what it omits. There’s a reason for the enduring popularity of Western adventures such as that one; their heroes inspire us to think of what we could be.

To recover what we have lost, traditional Western masculinity, depending upon the Stoic virtues and their implications, must be conserved and perpetuated. To conserve it, we must defend it; to perpetuate it, we must celebrate it and the examples of it, and pass it on to our successor generations. The passivity and acceptance of subjugation characteristic of most Eastern cultures, which the Left would have us emulate, cannot stand against it.

More anon.