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Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. (born 1932) is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard Universitymarker, where he has taught since 1962. He has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center; he also received the National Humanities Medal in 2004 and delivered the Jefferson Lecture in 2007. He is notable for his generally conservative stance on political issues in his writings.

Mansfield is the author and co-translator of studies of and/or by major political philosophers such as Aristotle, Edmund Burke, Niccolò Machiavelli, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Thomas Hobbes, of Constitutional government, and of Manliness (2006). In interviews Mansfield has acknowledged the work of Leo Strauss as the key modern influence on his own political philosophy.

Among his most notable former students are Andrew Sullivan; Alan Keyes; William Kristol; Nathan Tarcov; Clifford Orwin; Mark Blitz; Paul Cantor; Delba Winthrop; Mark Lilla; Arthur Melzer; Jerry Weinberger; Francis Fukuyama, Shen Tong and James Ceaser.

Personal background

According to his Harvard University faculty webpage, Mansfield has been at Harvard since his own student days in 1949, having joined the faculty in 1962. He received his A.B. at Harvard in 1953 and Ph.D. from the same institution in 1961. He was married to the late Delba Winthrop, with whom he co-translated and co-authored work on Tocqueville.

Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. is the son of Harvey C. Mansfield, who was the Ruggles Professor Emeritus of Public Law and Government at Columbia University at the time of his death in 1988 at the age of 83.


  • Statesmanship and Party Government: A Study of Burke and Bolingbroke. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1965.
  • The Spirit of Liberalism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.
  • Machiavelli's New Modes and Orders: A Study of the Discourses on Livy. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1979. Rpt. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2001.
  • Thomas Jefferson: Selected Writings. Ed. and introd. Wheeling, IL: H. Davidson, 1979.
  • Selected Letters of Edmund Burke. Ed. with introd. entitled "Burke's Theory of Political Practice". Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984.
  • The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli. Trans. and introd. 2nd (corr.) ed. 1985; Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998. (Inc. glossary.)
  • Florentine Histories, by Niccolò Machiavelli. Ed., trans. and introd. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988. (Co-trans. and co-ed., Laura F. Banfield.)
  • Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power. New York: The Free Press, 1989.
  • America's Constitutional Soul. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1991.
  • Machiavelli’s Virtue. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.
  • Discourses on Livy, by Niccolò Machiavelli. Trans. and introd. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996. (Co-trans., Nathan Tarcov.)
  • Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville. Trans. and introd. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000. (Co-trans., Delba Winthrop.)
  • A Student’s Guide to Political Philosophy. Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2001.
  • Manliness. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006.
  • Tocqueville: A Very Short Introduction. New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007.

Awards and honors

A Student's Guide to Political Philosophy

In his 2001 book A Student's Guide to Political Philosophy, Mansfield traces the history of political philosophy in "the great books" written by Plato, Aristotle, Locke, Rousseau, and others of the "highest rank" (1). He also finds political philosophy in practical politics, which Mansfield considers necessarily partisan, because it involves citizens "arguing passionately pro and con with advocacy and denigration, accusation and defense" (2). He argues that politics does not merely consist of liberal and conservative options, but rather, they are fundamentally opposed to each other, with each side defending its own interest as it attempts to appeal to the common good (2). Since such adversarial sides in a political dispute appeal to the common good, an observer of the dispute can use his capacity to reason to judge which side supplies the most compelling arguments. If such an observer is competent to be a judge, he or she may be thought of as a political philosopher, or as at least on the way to engaging in political philosophy (2–3).

Mansfield stresses the connection between politics and political philosophy, but he does not find political philosophy in political science, which for Mansfield is a rival to political philosophy and "apes" the natural sciences (3–5). From Mansfield's point of view, political science replaces words like "good," "just," and "noble" with other words like "utility" or "preferences." The terms are meant to be neutral, but as a result of the political scientist's purported change of role and perspective from judge to so-called "disinterested observer," such a "scientist" is not able to determine whose arguments are the best, because he or she falls victim to relativism, which, according to Mansfield, is "a sort of lazy dogmatism" (4–5).

In his guide, Mansfield reminds students that political science rebelled from political philosophy in the seventeenth century and declared itself distinct and separate in the positivist movement of the late nineteenth century: thus, he argues in it that whereas "Today political science is often said to be 'descriptive' or 'empirical,' concerned with facts; political philosophy is called 'normative' because it expresses values. But these terms merely repeat in more abstract form the difference between political science, which seeks agreement, and political philosophy, which seeks the best" (6).

Furthermore, according to Mansfield, when people talk about the difference between political philosophy and political science, they are actually talking about two distinct kinds of political philosophy, one modern and the other ancient. The only way to understand modern political science and its ancient alternative fully, he stresses, is to enter the history of political philosophy, and to study the tradition handed down over the centuries: "No one can count himself educated who does not have some acquaintance with this tradition. It informs you of the leading possibilities of human life, and by giving you a sense of what has been tried and what is now dominant, it tells you where we are now in a depth not available from any other source" (7–8). Although modern political science feels no obligation to look at its roots, and might even denigrate the subject as if it could not be of any real significance, he says, "our reasoning shows that the history of political philosophy is required for understanding its substance" (7–8).

Jefferson Lecture

On May 8, 2007, Mansfield delivered the 36th Jefferson Lecture ("the highest honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual and public achievement in the humanities," according to its sponsoring organization the NEH). In his lecture Mansfield suggests "two improvements for today’s understanding of politics arising from the humanities ... first ... to recapture the notion of thumos in Plato and Aristotle ... [and] ... second ... the use of names—proper to literature and foreign to science."

Concerning links made between the political views of Leo Strauss and the Bush administration's policies leading to the 2003 Iraq War, and prior to focusing particularly on Mansfield, whom he calls "a major Straussian in action," in his "Thoughts: A Strauss Primer, with Glossy Mansfield Finish", Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott observes that
Much nonsense has been written on Strauss's political thought—often caricatured as crudely anti-democratic, obsessed with secret meanings and in love with white lies told by powerful men to keep the rabble in line.
Some have suggested a dark cabal of Straussian intellectuals secretly pull the strings of the Bush administration—which is ridiculous: The mistakes and false suppositions that led us into the Iraq war are all on the record and understanding them requires no supplemental speculation about ulterior motives or conspiracy theories.

After noticing that Mansfield "didn't mention the war, which is the big embarrassment to proponents of manliness [a key concept for Mansfield and subject of his book of that title] and powerful executives and especially to neoconservatives (who adore Mansfield)," Kennicott concludes:
It is the elephant in the room at every gathering of conservative intellectuals today, the thing that threatens to undo all their arguments and credibility.
Mansfield, who defines manliness as the willingness to accept, even welcome, big risks, had nothing to say on the biggest gamble in recent American history.
A strange omission.

But even though his argument was made with his trademark unflappable intellectual calm, it also had a hint of desperation—an argument showing signs of strain as the evidence arrayed against it mounts to crushing proportions. Plato once compared thumos to a dog that defends its master, a metaphor that suggests the passion of a cornered animal. Call it whatever you like, Manliness, thumos, Straussianism, the worldview of boyish battle and braggadocio is looking awfully dangerous in light of recent events. It takes a lot of thumos to keep arguing for thumos these days.

Controversies pertaining to Mansfield's work and views

Grade inflation, affirmative action, and the ironic grade

Mansfield is well-known for his opposition to grade inflation at Harvard Universitymarker, which he claims is due in part to affirmative action. This controversial opinion provoked peaceful demonstrations, including a sit-in demonstration inside his classroom (to which Professor Mansfield did not object). It also led to a debate on affirmative action between Cornel West and Michael Sandel (arguing for affirmative action) and Harvey Mansfield and Ruth Wisse (arguing against affirmative action). The debate attracted a "massive audience" of a thousand Harvard students, requiring its campus venue to be changed twice before it could take place on November 3, 1997 in Harvard's Sanders Theater, prompting Professor Sandel to comment, "'This puts to rest the myth that this generation has a political apathy, and apathy to political debates.'"

In response to grade inflation, according to Harvard Crimson reporters Lulu Zhou and Rebecca D. O'Brien, Mansfield revived the "ironic" (or the "inflated") grade in 2006, in order to let his students know what they really deserved in his class without causing them harm by grading them lower than the other professors at Harvard: "In Mansfield’s 'true and serious' grading system, 5 percent of students will receive A’s, and 15 percent will receive A-minuses. But Mansfield won’t share those marks with anyone other than his teaching fellows and students. ... By contrast, Mansfield’s 'ironic' grade—the only one that will appear on official transcripts—will follow average grade distribution in the College, with about a quarter of students receiving A’s and another quarter receiving A-minu[s]es"; in contrast, their privately-received deserved "real" (lower) grades usually centered around a C or C-minus, earning him the nickname "Harvey C-minus Mansfield." "This [grading] policy—meant to demonstrate the causes and effects of grade inflation—drew heat from students and faculty, and attracted national media attention." Mansfield himself has joked that his middle initial "C." stands for compassion: "That's what I lack when it comes to grading."

Defense of the "strong executive"

Mansfield has argued that the President of the United States has "extra-legal powers such as commanding the military, making treaties (and carrying on foreign policy), and pardoning the convicted, not to mention a veto of legislation," observing that the U.S. Constitution does not ask the President to take an oath to execute the laws, but rather, to execute "the office of the president, which is larger." Referring to domestic surveillance, Mansfield notes, "those arguing that the executive should be subject to checks and balances are wrong to say or imply that the president may be checked in the sense of stopped. The president can be held accountable and made responsible, but if he could be stopped, the Constitution would lack any sure means of emergency action. He defends the Separation of powers, arguing that "the executive subordinated to the rule of law is in danger of being subordinate to the legislature." Washington Post staff writer Philip Kennicott (cited earlier) views Mansfield's defense of executive power as "an argument for suspending civil liberties not just in the sense of martial law, but pretty much any time a strong, impetuous leader—stoked to the gills with thumos—deems it efficient and, more frightening, conducive to enlarging his historical reputation."

Gender roles and equality

In his 2006 book Manliness, Mansfield defended a moderately conservative understanding of gender roles, and bemoaned the loss of the virtue of manliness in a "gender neutral" society. In a New York Times interview, he defined the concept briefly as "confidence in a situation of risk. A manly man has to know what he is doing."

Manliness was criticized by Martha Nussbaum in the June 22, 2006 issue of The New Republic. Nussbaum accuses Mansfield of misreading, or refusing to read, many feminist and nonfeminist texts. She contends that his book is premised on overt misogynistic assumptions that take a position of indifference towards violence against women. Mansfield blindly asserts that a woman can resist rape only with the aid of "a certain ladylike modesty enabling her to take offense at unwanted encroachment". A disregard of modern feminism follows from this assumption.

Concerning controversial comments by former President of Harvard Lawrence Summers about mental differences between men and women, Mansfield said that it is "probably true" that women "innately have less capacity than men at the highest level of science... It's common sense if you just look at who the top scientists are."

See also


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