Friday, June 9, 2017

Manliness as a Civic Virtue

From The National Review:
The high point of this domestic side of Eastwood’s rehabilitation of manliness must be Gran Torino (2008), his last turn as an actor-director. In this case, an old white American man in a decaying Detroit neighborhood takes responsibility for his Hmong neighbors and helps out a family facing a gang. A lot of what’s wrong in America is on display in a heartbreaking way: the mid-century America where men could live decent lives working for the car companies, the collapse of the liberal metropolises that were once safe, the failure to integrate various immigrant populations, the rise of gangs that replace authority in lower-class areas already blighted, and unemployment. So Eastwood created his most persuasive blue-collar hero, Walt Kowalski, with the virtues and vices you’d expect, and with a remarkable moral realism, which is at once American and Biblical. Walt wants to make the American dream true in at least one case, in which he can change things by assuming responsibility. 
The late Peter Lawler rightly identified American Sniper as a story about southern Stoicism and insisted on how the South contributes to America’s warrior classes beyond what its numerical representation might suggest. He also mentioned that American Sniper got the highest praise an American movie can get: not applause, no standing ovations in theaters, much less prizes — though it got all of those — but silence at the end of the story. In an age of distractions and novelties, people took it seriously and took it to heart. That’s where we need to begin thinking about these movies. 
Of course, not all stories of heroism are set in the South. Neither do all of them feature southerners. They don’t need to, because the southern Stoic is an all-American hero. Atticus Finch, in To Kill a Mockingbird, was Peter Lawler’s favorite example. “Southern” there more or less stands for manly; and “Stoic” means a man who takes his duties to include public service of a dignified kind, without looking for great power or making a career of piling up privileges and entry into the classes of the wealthy and influential. A variety of this kind of dignified American man seems to dominate Eastwood’s concerns in his later years, and it brings together his reflections on both what’s great about America and what’s going wrong. (Read more.)

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