Must-Read Books on European Masculinity

On September 9, 2016 by Josh Vandiver

Prospero and Caliban large


A key set of Enlightenment thinkers, especially Rousseau and Burke, reimagine European masculinity in the modern world. It’s not that men and masculinity weren’t endlessly being represented for political purposes in these and other periods – they were, as in the idea of the American ‘Founding Fathers’ – but that they were not being explicitly conceptualized and questioned as such. As for the male sex, for nearly two millennia since classical Greece and Rome – save for the brief but marvelous exception of the High Renaissance – it is largely hidden from public view and political discourse. Explicit depiction or discussion of the male sex is the great taboo shared by the otherwise distinct post-classical, medieval, and modern periods.

Although some saw the writing on the wall decades before, the 20th century witnessed multiple political crises for European masculinity. The world wars, fascism and Nazism, the European withdrawal from global empire, and the Cold War – to say nothing of late capitalist post-industrialization – all challenged the previous hegemonic models of masculinity.


The Discourses and Emile

Jean-Jacques Rousseau sensed European masculinity was in crisis.

Reflections on the Revolution in France

Edmund Burke attempted to tie European masculinity to a political ideology which would become known as conservatism.

The Will to Power (1901)

As early as his first published work, The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche was obsessed with European masculinity. His contrast between the Apollonian and Dionysian in that work can be read as a contrast between two gendered forms. His thinking on gender and the sexes became more explicit over time, much of it clearly visible in this book, assembled by his sister and published the year after his death.

Black Skin, White Masks (1952)

As he traverses his Caribbean home of Martinique and his training in Paris, the metropole where he studied psychoanalysis and philosophy, Frantz Fanon wrestles with what it means to be a black man in a world dominated by European imperialism.

Male Fantasies, vol 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History (1977) and vol. 2: Male Bodies – Psychoanalyzing the White Terror (1978)

Inspired by Deleuze and Guattari, Klaus Theweleit’s pathbreaking work reveals constructions of European masculinity among German men after the defeat in WWI and in the early development of Nazism.

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Josh Vandiver, a graduate of Harvard College and Princeton University, is an American political scientist and intellectual historian of political ideas. Based in Manhattan, he was the Lord Harlech Fellow at New College, Oxford, and has taught at the University of Chicago and Williams College.