March 29, 2007
The Melodrama of Beset Manhood

Powells has a thoughtful review of a recent biography of Andrew Carnegie. The Anti-Imperialist League had a strong contingent of free thinkers, including Andrew Carnegie. The nation would be wise to revisit the movement and the arguments its members made in its heyday.

When Roosevelt asserted that “righteousness and justice” were more important than peace, and that those goals sometimes required war, Carnegie reminded the president that since each side in war declared that it was in pursuit of righteousness and justice, the question was: who was to decide where the moral right lay? “No one, according to you,” he told Roosevelt. ‘They must go to war to decide not what is right’ but who is strong.”

Roosevelt’s obsession with strength was a part of his own melodrama of beset manhood. Deriding peace advocates as the “male shrieking sisterhood of Carnegies and the like,” he confused physical courage with moral courage, and nations with individuals. Nowhere was this clearer than in his critique of arbitration treaties. The nation pledged to arbitration, Roosevelt wrote, would end up “dishonored and impotent, like the man who, when his wife was assaulted by a ruffian, took the ruffian to court instead of attacking him on the spot.” This was the sort of thinking (or not thinking) that led Senator Chauncey Depew to dismiss the anti-imperialist critique of the Philippines War as a “scuttle and run” strategy. The same sort of category mistake continues to plague public discourse today.

Carnegie attacked this confusion head-on. Rather than promoting manly virtue, Carnegie charged, war only enhances man’s capacity for “physical courage, which some animals and the lower order of savage men possess in the highest degree. According to this idea, the more man resembles the bulldog the higher he is developed as a man.” Pruned of its pseudo-evolutionary arrogance, the statement stands as a rebuke to the silly verbal swaggering that still so often substitutes for actual policy debate.

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Posted by Buck Batard at March 29, 2007 08:06 AM
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From the perspective of Folsom Street in San Francisco, it just seems stupid that human beings in the rest of the world put on exaggerated displays of masculinity, not as camp, but in appalling earnest. If these fellows have no saving sense of irony to help them distinguish between role-playing and real life, how exactly do they differ from male pigeons?

Posted by: Martha Bridegam on March 31, 2007 2:48 AM

The Kingston Trio used to sing a song called (I think) "The Sinking of the Reuben James." One line went, "The worst of men must fight and the best of men must die." Still true today, as Shrub and Big Dick have shown us.

Posted by: Fast Eddie on April 2, 2007 4:20 PM
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