Philosophy and facial hair

Many of you will remember that I held a mustache growing contest in the Kant and His Successors course last year.  It was inspired by this quotation from Nz on staches:

‘The most placid, most reasonable man, so long as he has a big moustache, can sit quietly in its shade — as the accessory of a big moustache he will give most people the impression of being military, irascible and sometimes violent, so they will behave accordingly.’ — The Dawn

Well, I have been made aware of another philosophy quotation on facial hair, this time from St. Anselm in his ‘On the Fall of the Devil’.  It is a dialogue between a Teacher and a Student.

Teacher:  ‘[T]he absence of justice is dishonorable only where there ought to be justice.  For example, not having a beard is not dishonorable for a man who is not yet supposed to have a beard, but once he ought to have a beard, it is unbecoming for him not to have one.  In the same way, not having justice is not a defect in a nature that is not obligated to have justice, but it is disgraceful for a nature that ought to have it.  And to whatever degree his being supposed to have a beard shows his manly nature, to that degree his not having it disfigures his manly appearance.’

Student:  ‘I now understand quite well that injustice is nothing other than the absence of justice where there ought to be justice.’ (Ch. 17, On the Fall of the Devil)

The upshot as regards the important point here (no, not the point about justice but the point about beardedness and manliness):  A clean face on one who ought to have a beard is nothing other than the absence of manliness.

But the passage raises another important question:  at what point ought one have a beard?  A beard seems to be the sort of thing that one must needs grow into, perhaps even earn.  I see a fair number of pretty lame beards, mostly worn by people who have ‘not yet grown into a beard’.  For my own part, I feel that I have only just earned the beard.  Strangely, it never came in quite as full until rather recently as well, as if the beard knew I had not yet achieved the appropriate manliness yet.


Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

12 thoughts on “Philosophy and facial hair”

  1. I once shared with Kleiner a remark from a novel (I think it was Cryptonomicon [whatever] by Neal Stephenson). The remark was that white males grow beards in order to flaunt their hegemony, since no other group on the planet can be counted upon reliably to be able to grow beards. So it’s a way of saying, “Look what I can do!” Though one would then expect to see more beards in politics and Wall Street. I think a bearded man would have about the same chance of being elected president as an atheist. A bearded woman, even less.


  2. Hm, I wonder if mine was among the lame that Kleiner mentioned. No doubt Huenemann’s greek monster would win any comparable contest this year.

    I think the beard issue may have changed due to the Second World War and the solid beginnings of the military’s clean shaven look. To suddenly embrace that look as a politician or TV star meant you embraced the ethics of work, industrialism, goodness, and the vigor of youth enough to do the job. I might be wrong, so correct me if I am, but I don’t think we’ve had a properly bearded, or even mustached president since Kennedy gave Marilyn the smooth treatment.

    I think I agree with Huenemann about the beard being elected too. This is the third straight president who was the young gun with little real experience but who got by on charisma and massive media spending. A bearded candidate would look too old, like the ‘fat cats’ both sides are always whining about, that or like a crazy old farmer and probably a Polygamous sect prophet.

    Considering a bearded woman though, I’m reminded of Lewis Black’s comments after the Bush and Kerry school yard tiff (presidential election).
    “If this is evolution in terms of leadership I think in 12 years we’ll be voting for plants.”


  3. This is from a friend of mine:
    I wonder if Anselm was of Frankish or Germanic descent. From what I understand, the Germanic tribes were amazed that the Romans weren’t ashamed to be clean shaven. OK, I just checked. His father was a Lombard. Definitely of Germanic descent. I’d be willing to bet large money that Meister Ekhart had a serious beard.


  4. It is also worth adding that the word ‘beard’ is not just a noun. It can also function as a verb, meaning ‘to confront boldly’.
    That is so awesome. I think I might beard some atheists today, particularly any clean-shaven (that is, emasculated) ones I come upon.


  5. I should bring my Militant stache to properly subdue their empty, disordered nature. It really works when I have my yardstick with me!
    I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you, religious people are WHAT exactly?!


  6. Looking back at the Anselm quotation, it is almost that the beard is the outward sign of some other fact about oneself. Beards as sacraments (lower case ‘s’)? (outward signs of inward graces?) So Huenemann is right, the beard does not make one manly (or a philosopher). Still, anyone that is manly (or a philosopher) ought to have a beard. And we might then infer that those who do not have a beard are capable of being bearded by those that do, since they evidence their emasculated (and perhaps non-philosophical) status in not having a beard.


  7. I don’t know how philosophy and manliness got tied together. It was not part of the original post, nor does Anselm make that connection. I mentioned bearding some atheists, perhaps that is what got the connection going. Or perhaps some latent phallocentric tendencies on the part of evil eurocentric and logocentric philosophers (like me) came forth.
    Anyway, my apologies to the fairer sex (though I don’t know if we have many female readers or posters) and please consider my last post edited to just the manliness point, cutting out the wrongheaded connection between manliness and philosophy. While I do think philosophy has certain stereotypically masculine traits, there is a sense in which we are all woman with respect to Truth.


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