Human assertiveness is always intentionally divisive, our group against yours; hence it is always political. Man the political animal unites himself with other men by dividing himself from other men. Every political association is deliberately partial by excluding the rest of humanity and determinedly partisan by thinking itself to be a superior way of life. Thus the standard of nature is by nature contestable; at least in human affairs, nature does not yield a single, obvious standard for us to see and adopt. Although Aristotle says that man is by nature a political animal, he also says that there are by nature several regimes, not one; bees make one kind of beehive, but humans have a choice of regimes. This does not mean that there is no best regime; there is one, and it is the regime of the wise. But the best regime requires too much virtue and too much philosophy, and it will not be recognized as best by enough people with enough power to bring it into existence and to keep it alive. Those who reject nature as a standard because they believe that a standard, in order to be a standard, has to be unequivocal can be excused, for they share in a widespread error characteristic of modern thinking. But let them investigate the possibility that modern thinking, being too impressed with exactness and too confident of its own superiority, underestimates the need for human assertiveness. The classical thinkers see it better.
Assertiveness has its basis in a brutish quality we have already mentioned, called by Plato thumos. In the Republic he presents thumos, the bristling snappishness of a dog, as the outstanding feature of the guardians or rulers of the just city that he constructs. A dog defends itself, its master, and its turf; and thumos is a part of the human soul that performs the similar function of defensiveness. As a dog defends its master, so the doggish part of the human soul defends the human ends higher than itself. In this defense the paradox is that the lower defends the higher and thus asserts the value of the higher. Instead of having reason defend itself in the calm statement of principles and the careful progress of an argument, the reasonable person often gets angry as his thumos takes over the defense of its supposed master, reason. In adding up the characteristics of thumos detailed by Plato we find ourselves on the rough, nor the gentlemanly, side of manliness.
Thumos, Plato says, has no natural end beyond itself; it is blind and wants only independence. It is what gives us personal pride and makes us individuals, as if each of us were self-sufficient. Having no end, it is reactive to outside intrusion and seeks to get even with intruders. Yet thumos is also expansive and has sympathy for its own kind. It needs to live with those for whom it has sympathy in order to establish trust, which is thumos. It loves to do what it is willing to do; so thumos is acting in accordance with one's own will. It is the basis of both friendship and enmity, and Aristotle remarks that one becomes most angry with one's friends. Thumos is frustrated when evils are present and at ease when they are absent. Since you cannot question yourself while defending yourself, thumos is essentially self-satisfaction. Thumos makes the soul insist on itself and, precisely when insisting on itself, offer to sacrifice itself so as to be unbeatable. The ultimate sacrifice is the ultimate defense. When the low in you defends the high in you, it will want to save you by putting all of you, especially the high, at risk. This is the price of using a brutish thing for your self-defense. It would be more rational to restrain your thumos from risking your being, but can you successfully defend yourself without risk? Thumos is nature's tool for rescuing man from nature's indifference to individuals. Sex allows individuals to reproduce not themselves but other individuals. Thumos allows you to insist on yourself, sometimes against the children you have produced when you get angry with them.
Aristotle draws a distinction between thumos, which is uncultivated, and the habit of a virtue. For Aristotle, courage (= manliness) is a virtue, the first of the moral virtues that he discusses in his Ethics. There he marks off courage from the thumos of a wounded beast, with which it is often confused. Thumos, Aristotle says, is spurred by pain and blind to danger, and though it co-operates with courage it falls short of it. Courage is distinctively human, as it is a virtue deliberately chosen like the other virtues and for the sake of the noble. Still, Aristotle says that courage, coming from thumos, appears 'most natural.' It appears spontaneously, and the first, most obvious meaning of 'natural' is what moves spontaneously by itself. In his Ethics, Aristotle is concerned to describe and promote moral virtues that transcend animal spirits and natural temperaments and that require habituation or nurture. In discussing courage, he does not comment on the etymological connection between courage and maleness or on sex differences in courage. He implies that being male is neither sufficient nor necessary for courage. As a virtue, courage transcends maleness as well as brutish thumos. In discussing courage as a moral virtue, Aristotle has nurture transcend nature, understood as the brutish, unreflective part of humans, for the sake of the noble, which is only for humans. The noble itself, because it varies, is not said to be natural. Here nature is not the guide, for moral virtue appears to be above nature.
In the part of the Ethics on moral virtue (Books 1-6), Aristotle wants to define, preserve, and promote moral virtue as an end in itself and hence noble. He does not want to seem to allow excuses for not exercising a virtue, such as the excuse of being a woman, of having a nature that makes courage difficult. He refers to each virtuous person impersonally, such as 'the courageous one' in order not to imply that moral virtue is the possession of the male sex. For the sake of moral virtue Aristotle implies the possibility of a gender-neutral society in which all are required to be virtuous. It is a very different gender neutrality from ours, but it has the similar effect of constraining the pretensions of males. The lesson that not only males are virtuous is less needed today because maleness is no longer in charge of our morality. Yet males, being bumptious and presuming by nature, still need it in some degree. If we convince ourselves that manliness need not be, we will conclude not that males have no nature but that they are by nature sensitive. And so we would blind ourselves to the need to educate them in sensitivity. The practical measures taken in our schools to make boys more like girls are based on the premise that boys by their nature start out unlike girls. Gender-neutral schools have to be schools in gender neutrality.
In Aristotle's Politics, however, the picture changes from his Ethics and the sex difference becomes relevant. We learn at the very beginning that the city is composed of households and that the household has relationships of male and female and of master and slave. Both these relationships are natural, for Aristotle at this point defines master and slave as equivalent to the mind (ruling) and body (ruled). He adds that although female and slave are 'by nature' distinct, the barbarians confuse them, and then, as we have seen, he quotes the poets asserting that it is fitting for Greeks to rule barbarians under the assumption that barbarian and slave are the same. The difference between Greek and barbarian is what might be called an assertive distinc-
tion, one in which the first term is asserted as superior and all the rest is herded indiscriminately into the second term. The household, with its two natural relationships that ought to be distinct, suddenly confronts us with a problem, for male and female must be coordinated with master and slave. Male and female as such ought to be equal, both being necessary for reproduction, but the other relationship of master and slave, or mind and body, gets in the way. The barbarians make the mistake of equating female and slave, while the Greeks answer by mistaking barbarian for slave. In coordinating, the barbarians make an error, says Aristotle, and the Greeks make a poetic assertion that is also an error (though not said to be). What is 'by nature' is not so clear as we might think.
The situation is clarified later (at the end of Book i) when Aristotle gets around to discussing the household within the city as opposed to its condition before the establishment of the city. We now see the difference that politics makes for nature and nurture. The government of the household, Aristotle says, is in the hands of males but as ruling over free persons, the husband ruling 'politically' over his wife and in 'kingly' fashion over the children. The city, the political, compels the males to treat the rest of the household as free, no longer as slaves as in primitive times. Indeed, why should males always rule in the household, Aristotle wonders, since both sexes can share in what he calls 'gentlemanliness' (kalokagathia)? We might wonder about the same thing and venture to say that husband and wife might rule in different things, but Aristotle says that ruling and ruled differ in kind, not degree. When we look at souls we see that 'by nature most things are ruling and ruled,' and this applies to the deliberative capacity (which is the capacity for ruling) and the moral virtues. A woman has the deliberative element but it lacks authority (akuron). This seems little different from the lack of aggression and assertion in women compared with men that we have studied in the science of our day. As to moral virtues, both men and women have them, as accords with the Ethics; yet they have them differently, there being a ruling and a serving courage and similarly with the other virtues. Moral virtue is affected by the fact of ruling— by politics.
To illustrate the point, Aristotle singles out the virtue of moderation and quotes a poet saying (not asserting) that 'silence is an ornament to woman,' though this is not so for a man (aner). Let us rest for a moment on the quotation so as to give an idea of the intricacy and depth of Aristotle's text. The quotation comes from Sophocles' play Ajax and from a scene in which Ajax is about to leave his tent to do something extremely foolish that will bring him to ruin. His girlfriend Tecmessa tries to calm him and persuade him to stay, but as Ajax leaves regardless, he calls over his shoulder 'silence is an ornament to woman.' Here is a woman superior to her man in intellect and in deliberative capacity but in comparison to him akuron, lacking in authority, neither for the first nor the last time in the relations between the sexes. The pregnant silence of intelligent women watching men making fools of themselves casts a pall of helpless regret over many manly deeds. One thinks of Raphael's portrait of such a woman, La Muta—the Mute who in her eyes understands everything. But the men who rule do not listen.
Wisdom is necessarily impotent, and Aristotle himself is in the same situation as Tecmessa. Unable to rule and lacking authority, the philosopher has to watch manly men be manly and while criticizing their excesses, he tolerates and even endorses their often misguided forwardness. Like a woman, he serves as a measure of manliness, appreciative of its capacities and aware of its limitations. As judge of manliness he transcends it but does not try to replace it. He can offer advice to manly rulers but not with confidence that it will be listened to. As to their title to rule he remains silent, apparently unlike his friend Plato who in the Republic proposes replacing them with philosophers. Actually Plato, too, has no reasonable hope that this proposal can ever be effected.
Since for Aristotle moral virtue depends on your station in life, he consents to sexual roles. As women do not have the authority, the political capacity, of men, they are, as it were, elbowed out of politics and ushered into the household. There women find more to do than reproduce, as in the original, primitive household; by rearing children, women now share in the perfection of citizens. Their political nature expands and corrects their primitive nature. Meanwhile the male rules because of his greater authority, even though he may be constituted 'contrary to nature' in this regard (for nature does not always achieve its intention). Aristotle notes that the ruler 'seeks to establish differences in external appearance, forms of address, and preroga-
tives'; these are the conventions of male authority known to the Greeks as nobility and to us as 'patriarchy' by which, one supposes, male rulers make their authority known or, in some cases, conceal their lack of authority. The conventions of authority give it a certainty that its doubtful natural basis in the greater authority of males does not have. For human purposes nature needs to be supplied with more exactness than it has by itself, yet this addition is made possible by nature, as it accords with the human being's political nature.
Why is male authority so necessary to the city? Male authority supplies the military element in the city, and the military is needed both to maintain the regime and to defend the city against external attack. To maintain the regime, those who want it to continue must be stronger than those who might oppose it; the most stable regime is the one Aristotle calls 'polity,' the regime dominated by those who bear heavy arms (the hoplites). 'For those who have authority over arms also have authority over whether the regime will last or not.' These are the ones who also preserve the city against attack, thus preserving the city's freedom and the freedom of all citizens within it. Which of the several types of regime a city may have is also a matter of assertiveness, and Aristotle examines the claims about justice that are typically present in political debate. Although in every regime those who want the regime must be stronger than those who do not, authority in a regime does not simply come from strength or from the military. Every regime claims to be just as well as having supporters and defenders who are stronger than its enemies. These claims are not merely registered at some office, like a claim of property; they are asserted in a debate or dispute. To all, justice seems to be equality, but it is a certain equality, not equality in general. Justice is a certain benefit for certain persons, for example, the well born, the free, or the wealthy, and justice should be equal for persons equal in one or several of these particular qualities. But this certain equality has to be asserted, Aristotle specifies, because it will be disputed by another equality opposed to the one asserted, as the claim of the free must be asserted against that of the well born and the wealthy. Aristotle himself in his office of political philosopher enters an assertion on behalf of virtue, usually ignored in political dispute on behalf of the other claims.