affectivity dietrich von hildebrand

Manliness, Masculinity and Culture

11:52:00 AMJoseph Anderson

“The affective sphere, and the heart at its center, have been more or less under a cloud throughout the entire course of the history of philosophy” -Dietrich von Hildebrand(1)
Growing up, boys and girls are given a wide variety of different ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman. Children look to adults and dream about what it is going to be like once they are grown up. Yet some of us never finish growing up. We learn the theory behind what it means to be a person, but we don’t really know what it means to be a man. So what we do instead is we take up roles. We find role models or things that we admire and we make ourselves out to be like them. For a lot of young men, this means ignoring one of the most important realms of human experience: the heart. Too often, we think it is better to turn away from the affective sphere of reality and focus on things that come more naturally to us, like computer games, working out or getting the newest tech or designer sunglasses. But there’s more to being a man than to do things that are considered male. Manliness is not isolated to our physical makeup. Instead, manliness has a lot to do with embracing the sphere of our affectivity that Hildebrand calls “the heart.” Hildebrand’s philosophy of the heart shows us that the most personal experiences in life happen within the realm of affectivity. He says that it is too often neglected in philosophy, and that it's about time we started taking it seriously(2).

Turn on the radio and you’ll be inundated with gushy pop songs about feeling good. This sensational feeling pop stars sing about is mislabeled “love.” But the kind of understanding of the heart that Hildebrand shows us is not self-serving, nor appetitive. He is speaking about the affective sphere, the realm through which we experience things like love of beauty, and charity. This means that the “heart” isn’t something that only belongs to women. We males love to play off the realm of the heart as something intrinsically feminine. We act superior to it, and say that feelings come second to reason and logic. But the realm of the heart knows things differently than does the sphere of our reason. And unless we understand the importance of the heart, young men can never understand the nature of manhood. Being male is reduced, aided by the accessorizing of the male form, to that of the physical appearance of manliness.(3)What I mean by the accessorizing of the male form is that modern trend towards taking the masculine body and turning it into a half naked object used to sell cologne. The accessorized man is young, around twenty or so, and totally fit. He is also–preferably–rich. Because apparently the only way you can ever be happy in life, or be worthy of love from a woman, is if you have a lot of money. Or so our male accessorized society tells us. This false image of manliness causes confusion among young men, and they can’t help, little by little, to give into it–no matter how good their intentions. At an age when they are desperately searching for some role to fill, young men are given few truly masculine, popular role models to model themselves after.
Consequently, when we think of the value response garnered from this affective sphere, and how this value is expressed through the human person, it can be easier to think of women as the more charitable or relational part of our sex. This is because matters of the heart are sometimes easier for them to understand. But womanhood does not elicit a value response at the expense of manhood. True manliness, a spiritual manliness, draws a great deal of attention as well. We don’t have to look any further than the excitement over the Pope’s visit to America to see the effects of a spiritual manliness. That manliness is not drawn from physical attributes. It originates, in part, within the realm of the heart. Pope Francis embraces the affective sphere. The love and kindness he shows people is contagious. It draws crowds to him. Spiritual manliness is attractive. It’s impossible to be blind to its value.
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It’s for this reason that Hildebrand writes “[i]ndeed, when the Lord reveals the secret of his heart, its vulnerability, its unprotectedness, its human love, we cannot but adore him”(4). Man foremost expresses the nature of God through his masculinity. And masculinity is more than just physical. Not that our biological function of giving life is not important: it definitely is. But to reduce man to his biological capacity does not do justice to him. To be truly masculine has nothing to do with materialistic ideals: wealth, body image, or swag culture. Masculinity is nurtured in us by embracing this vulnerability and love, from embracing the affective sphere “of the heart,” and allowing it to enrich our work, our lives, and our relationships.

1: Dietrich von Hildebrand The Heart (3)
2: Dietrich von Hildebrand The Heart (16)
3: Buchbinder, David. "Object Or Ground? The Male Body As Fashion Accessory." Canadian Review Of American Studies 34.3 (2004): 221-231. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.
4: Dietrich von Hildebrand The Heart (98)

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