I wrote this essay some years ago, but I still like it. I have up-dated and improved it a bit.
My friend and former student Jenn Clarke in now of Las Vegas, a great place of speculation, referred to her latest beau as her “boy-toy” to me. Strangely and oddly, aptly, this term seems to refer to practically every young man in his twenties and younger whom I have come know, especially through the university where I used to teach. Young men today are unmanly men is how I characterize them. It is a kind of castration, others might say.
Yet, this phenomenon shows itself on a higher intellectual level where it can be argued that the unmanly man is indicative of a world that is entirely new. This argument was made by Alexandre Kojève, the great Hegelian sage, in 1956 (“The Latest New World”) when he commented on the then-scandalous book Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, who herself scandalized others because she was an unwed mother as well (a no-no at the time in France). In that book, all the men are boy-toys as if the entire masculine world were that way. It was thought rather shocking at the time as something that couldn’t be, but now, a year or so since Sagan’s death, it appears to me that all the young men are just that and no one seems to mind.
Kojève notes, “Before this French girl took up her pen, no writer wished to discuss it, at least not in fine language. To be sure, a great American writer, a specialist in the analysis of manly behavior, did consider of the problem, emasculated by its still-unidentified father. Having grown a beard (long since turned white), probably in order to muster up the courage for his heroic struggle with despair, this well-known writer searched the world over for the last human male, or rather for the truly male last man, and claimed to have found him in the Caribbean Sea in the person of an old fisherman, admittedly half dead. The only worthy adversary he could find for him was, as it happens, a fish, a heroic and powerful adversary to be sure, but still a fish (of a different species, incidentally, from the fish that served as a model for one of the symbols of a well-known religion).”
This delicious irony used against Ernest Hemingway only illuminates the problem of masculinity in modernity (and let’s not forget the bovines that Papa obsessed about matadors gored in the groin). At one time, men took women, raped them, and put them in their houses as slaves or wives; men fought in hand-to-hand combat; a man like Caesar or Alexander went into battle to conquer the world; and so on. Today, consider the boy-toy soldier who sits behind a computer touch screen in Tampa, Florida and with all the practiced precision of a videogame player sends off a missile to kill 50 men in an Afghan or Iraqi field a halfway around the world. Alexander the Great wanted to be Achilles, and went to find the worst fighting so that he could excel all others. No one fights hand-to-hand today except in a gym. Julius Caesar personally led his troops at the most important moment of the Battle of Alesia, wearing his red cape is that the enemy Gauls could identify him and know it was great Caesar there.
At the same time, there was another form of masculinity was that the superiority of the mind and that masculinity that desired to make something overwhelmingly beautiful. Look around the boy-toys and their aspirations: Who has this erotic grasp of the good and the beautiful any more?
Today’s boy-toy is rude; pushes a woman away from the mirror so that he comb his hair; takes more time in the nightclub bathroom than women do; and would rather play Texas hold ’em poker than play with his highly-sexed girlfriend (what an idiot).
Kojève was not making fun of the man-man writers of the earlier part of the 20thcentury, men like Hemingway, AndreMalraux, or Henri de Montherlant (oh, forget Homer), for no reason. What Kojève believes is behind this demasculinization of the male is part of a genuine historical change, what is popularly known as post-history. To be brief, according to Kojève, there was a historical progress through the ages, especially in thought and philosophy, that culminated in the achievement of true and final wisdom by Hegel, the German philosopher. This wisdom coincided with Napoleon’s complete transformation of Europe. It also coincided with a man known as Beau Brummell, a dandy, “a man dressed in civilian garb (and obviously in the color of mourning) could henceforth aspire to honor (which some consider futile) of virile heroism (if only in haberdashery).” In other words, clothing makes the boy-toy. This change also coincided with one Marquis de Sade that about the only place a man could really be violent was in the bedroom, cutting the flesh of a woman and dripping hot wax into the wounds after she has been tied up.
At this moment on, Kojève argues that history has ended and now the rest is just a massive mopping project which culminates in what he calls the Universal Homogenous State, one universal political regime whose residents are content, living in universal justice, at permanent peace, capitalistically with socialist equity, and completely atheistically. It is a grim vision for a man like me who prizes his individuality, intellect, and his heterogeneity.
In fact, this historical change, Kojève argues throughout his works, will result in man living completely naturally, i.e,, without any of the conventions of the past as if he were a bee in a hive. Masculinity, the old maleness, is disappearing, because it belongs of the world before post-history and the new men are the boy-toys who will live in the new future. For the old world was masculine. In the new world, the girls stay girls, just as they have always been, because the old world was a male’s world. It is not clear what the women of the Universal Homogenous State, but I imagine they will be very much like my lovely young women friends whom I love very much: feminine, yet sexually aggressive, equal or better than the men around them; unsublimated and thus not really romantic as simply sexual; dedicated to fun and joy; sensitive to others and to themselves; and living a world where men are not obligated to care for them or marry them, perhaps enjoying the leathers of sado-masochist tortures. They will have boy-toys. And everyone, male and female alike, will be wise, because all the answers of what life is about are answered. Imagine, the boy-toy is wiser than the Buddha or Aristotle.
In the Universal Homogenous State, people will gain satisfaction through family and economic life, Kojève says. We really don’t know what these people will be in the future, but we are seeing the transition to this new world through Sagan’s vision of a world without men, the world of the women in Sex and the City, the television series and now two movies, where Mr. Big seems very small and the greatest, ecstatic pleasure is a wonderful pair of shoes.
Kojève debated his friend, the philosopher Leo Strauss, over the future and the problem of the Universal Homogenous State. Strauss without fear or favor labeled the Universal Homogenous State a tyranny, one that eliminates philosophy from all life. What Strauss meant, in part, was that free inquiry is by its very nature is heterodox and that the freedom of the mind is always at odds with any political regime. If the Universal Homogenous State were to come to be, all people will think exactly alike about the greatest questions of all. Although Kojève argues that the Universal Homogenous State is completely just and everyone will be content (not happy, a philosophical understanding), Strauss argues that in a certain sense true philosophy is always politically subversive and would never accept the Universal Homogenous State. Thus, philosophy really would have to eliminated, perhaps in the most radical way. Wisdom or the search for wisdom can never be politicized, especially over the entire world, even if it is at peace and is just.
In a certain decisive sense, Strauss is standing up for the classical view of masculinity where the man of great liberality and mind constitutes the real man. Everything else really doesn’t matter when it comes to being a man. The real man is Socrates, not Achilles or Alexander. We know what happened to Socrates. The city of Athens generously poured poison in a cup for him to drink (we would strap him on a gurney). It is not just Socrates: Consider, for example, a masculine woman the great woman philosopher, Hypatia. She was assassinated by Christian monks at the order of St. Cyril of Alexandria. They ripped the flesh off her bones with seashells while she was still alive, burned the pieces, and threw her skull and bones in the bay in Alexandria, Egypt. No, philosophy is subversive, perhaps even more so when the philosopher is a woman.. The powerful are afraid of free thought and tyranny is always against thought and enforced against the body.
Strauss characterized the resident of the Universal Homogenous State as “the Last Man,” who is a major character in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Last Man is the man who has invented happiness. Blink. He is the human being who drives to the mall in an SUV for happiness. Blink. He is the boy-toy with an iPod and iPhone 4. Blink. Yo. Hey.
For those who think that the Universal Homogenous State is an impossibility, think again. Kojève was not a scholar shut up in some university. He was a bureaucrat in the French Ministry of Economics and its guiding genius. He was one of the founders of what we now call the European Union that is erasing the borders of Europe. When every country sent great hordes of economists to the first GATT conference (now the World Trade Organization), France only sent one, Kojève , a philosopher/sage, not an economist. Yet, Kojève is personally responsible for putting into place the capitalist engine that is driving us to the Universal Homogenous State. Consider the radical changes that are changing the face of India or even of the Arab countries and places like Vietnam as they integrate into one world. Consider the recent Busheviks’ drive to make the whole world democratic, i.e., homogenous. Everyone will think the same.
We are now at the decisive moment politically with respect to the Universal Homogenous State and now if all the men are boy-toys there are no men to stop it. I feel like a man lost in the past and cut off from the future which is now.
It was Valentine’s Day, and Jenn said to me after I asked what she was doing for a date, “My boy-toy is in London.”
It’s a very small world and there is no place to get away.