Boys to men

October 25th, 2012

William Bennett, former United States Secretary of Education and host of the Bill Bennett Show, has a relatively-new book out, published about this time last year: The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood. Reviewing the collection in the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books, Terrence O. Moore, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, provides his thoughts on why he thinks the book is especially important today. After recounting the latest research on “the end of men,” Moore writes:

The failure of today’s young males to grow up and become men owes to many factors: economic change, the breakdown of the home, and cultural hostility towards traditional manhood, among other things. Yet their educators bear part of the blame. Today’s schools and colleges treat boys as androgynous humanoids rather than as men in the making. Male students, for example, are hardly lining up to take philosophy classes. And why should they? Ethics professors themselves usually don’t realize that Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Cicero’s On Duties, once the staples of a college education, are books designed in part to teach men how to live. […]

Perhaps no American understands the crisis better than former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett. And he has a remedy: to give boys and young men the education they deserve, an education in manhood. The Book of Man, a comprehensive and engaging selection of readings, is a worthy beginning to that education. The book is organized into six sections: man in war; man at work; man in play, sports, and leisure; man in the polis; man with woman and children; and man in prayer and reflection. This order is fitting, because war is the place to begin the discussion about modern manhood. Man’s signature virtue has always been courage, and without the courage to defend family and civil society, those institutions cannot exist with any security.

Bennett’s illustrations of man fighting are not of warmongers but of men who accept war as a solemn duty in a world full of danger. In addition to essential selections from Pericles, the Bible (David and Goliath), Henry V, and Winston Churchill, Bennett offers portraits of Sergeant York, Audie Murphy, and the Marines, SEALs, and soldiers of today. One piece features the heroism of Rick Rescorla, a Briton who was a child during World War II, served in the British Army, moved to America and served in Vietnam with distinction, and later worked as head of security for Morgan Stanley in the Twin Towers. Not only did he caution officials about the possibility of a truck bomb a year before the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he warned of the possibility of a plane attack—and for years required Morgan Stanley employees to conduct evacuation drills. On September 11 all but six of the company’s 2,700 World Trade Center employees got out of the building; Rescorla was among those killed. His last known words came to his wife over a cell phone: “Stop crying. I have to get my people out…. I want you to know that you made my life.” […]

Man is a political animal, and so Bennett includes several short selections from Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and Tocqueville. To this sketch of political philosophy he adds the history of men acting as citizens: Cincinnatus, Cato the Younger, George Washington, and a host of striking modern examples. He tells the story of an American Muslim who served as a medical doctor in the Navy and later as a physician to the U.S. Congress. This gentleman, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, has taken heat from the Muslim community for being outspoken against the attacks of September 11 and for claiming that the modern jihad is a complete misreading of the Koran. Jasser attempts to cultivate what he calls “Jeffersonian Muslims,” and, like Jefferson, holds that people of different religions should be able to live together in civil society. Similar themes of citizenship are explored though portraits of men in law enforcement, the famous inner-city math teacher Jaime Escalante, and Álvaro Uribe Vélez of Colombia. To articulate the beauty of civic action, the chapter includes the stirring words of preachers and statesmen. Lincoln’s Lyceum Address is there, along with parts of speeches from Daniel Webster, Calvin Coolidge, and John F. Kennedy. In his Farewell Address, President Reagan tells the story of a small boat of Asian refugees rescued by American sailors. When one of the escapees of Communist tyranny saw the Americans, he yelled, “Hello, American sailor. Hello, freedom man.” Young men will learn from such true stories that freedom is a civic good men cannot have without fighting, in peace and in war.

Read Moore’s entire review over at Claremont

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