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19 October 2005

Harvey Mansfield and Judith Butler agree!

In my department here, our most conservative professor is Harvey C. Mansfield.  Mansfield is something of a lightining rod for many of the people and groups on campus.

Yesterday, he gave a talk to the “pro-life” group on campus (I only put
quotes around pro-life because that’s their self-preferred term, but
it’s arguable as to whether it’s the most value neutral term
available–“anti-abortion” would be better, I think).  It’s covered in the campus rag
Mansfield discussed his latest political theory work on
“Manliness.”  (This seems to me a topic worth investigating, as it
seems a substantial background concept in so much of modern political
theory, e.g., in Machiavelli’s works.  If you just dismiss
manliness outright [and the study of gender considerations generally],
you are likely to miss a lot of what these thinkers have to say. 
That said, I don’t agree entirely with Mansfield’s conclusions. 
But I am willing to engage them intellectually.)

Members of the GLBT student group are predictably outraged.  Their
response is that they’d like to organize a lecture on “Womanliness” with a Mansfield look-alike in drag.

I’ll skip over the fact that the point of such an action seems less to
engage on an intellectual level and more to vent anger and
humiliate.  And they can’t win in that way, I think.

More to the point, we have a report of the following:

Multiple students challenged Mansfield’s opinions concerning
gender and family in respect to gay and transgender people. Mansfield
responded that he thought gay and transgender people are on “society’s
margin” and should remain there.

“Substitutes for the traditional family are dysfunctional,” he said, “You wouldn’t want children to grow up in them.”

(I, BTW, don’t agree with the conclusion about the
dysfunctionality of non-traditional families.  Traditional
families enjoy no monopoly of functionality and no lack of dysfunction.)

Contrast his statements to what Judith Butler said in 2004, after the
legalization of marriage in Massachusetts, in a 7 March NYT article about the
ambivalence many queers felt about matrimony:

Many gay men and lesbians — in fact most of the ones I know — are not
jumping to jump the broom. They like their status as couples living
between the lines, free of all the societal expectations that marriage
brings. But since they don’t want to feed politicians using gay
marriage as an election issue, they are largely mum.

”It’s very hard to speak freely right now,” said Judith Butler,
a gender theorist and professor at the University of California,
Berkeley. ”But many gay people are uncomfortable with all this,
because they feel their sense of an alternative movement is dying.
Sexual politics was supposed to be about finding alternatives to

”I’ve been with the same
woman for 13 years,” she continued, ”and she jokes if I ever tried to
marry her she’d divorce me. I know many people who feel the same way.”

I think we can safely regard Butler and Mansfield on different sides
and even ends of a discussion about gender.  But both are
concerned with keeping some sort of marginal status for sexual

Perhaps they could work on a book together.

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2 Responses to “Harvey Mansfield and Judith Butler agree!”

  1. Matt Says:

    Clever juxtaposition, but of course Mansfield is the one who wants to keep sexual minorities on the margins. Butler’s interest lies in the direction of finding better models for the intimate social unit.

    On another note, it’s sad to see yet another big-campus blatherer attacking the legacy of feminism. Women should long ago have corked the gobs of these champions of patriarchy.

  2. Nate Says:

    Your commitment to freedom of speech and inquiry is extraordinary, my friend.

    I agree with your differentiation between the “theories” of Mansfield and Butler. But it seems to me that the end-result, practical effect remains the same or quite similar with either of them.