How to Save Men
Recovering masculine virtue will require more than 'owning the libs.'
The firebrand gender philosopher Camile Paglia once famously declared that there is no female Mozart because there is no female Jack the Ripper. Provocative as always, Paglia’s point is that, historically speaking, the extremes of human achievement—both superlative genius and murderous sociopathy—tend to be occupied by men. Society, Paglia argues, must therefore pay close attention to masculinity because the stakes are particularly high. The trajectory of the American male over the past few decades is proving Ms. Paglia unnervingly correct.
Conservatives have often sensed an anti-masculine bias in elite spaces of journalism, higher education, and pop culture. This was the animating spirit in a recent speech by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to the National Conservatism Conference. Hawley’s talk, titled “The Future of the American Man,” eloquently summarized many concerns that religious and traditionalist Americans have about contemporary masculinity.
Hawley pointed out that record numbers of young men are failing to graduate, work, or marry, and that this constitutes a genuine social crisis. Moreover, as Hawley observed, the emerging generation of American men do not seem to have a definite vision for their lives. Vocational ambition and community leadership are increasingly ceded to women, as many twenty and thirtysomething men languish in inactive lifestyles dominated by video games and pornography.
These are trends conservatives certainly should be talking about, and Hawley should be commended for talking so transparently about them. But if “The Future of the American Man” gets the symptoms correct, it names the disease only in part. Throughout the speech, Hawley casts the current plight of masculinity on “the Left,” arguing that third-wave feminism’s misandry is at the heart of Democratic and progressive policies, and thus, the primary agent of this crisis.
The truth is far more complicated.
Our contemporary crisis of masculinity is not merely a partisan skirmish. It stems from a holistic loss of moral vision. The ambition to reign over one’s instincts with self-control and use one’s strength to promote and preserve that which is truly valuable is near to the heart of true masculinity. This vision of manhood is about defending virtue as necessary for human civilization.
Two revolutions—the sexual revolution and the digital revolution—have radically redefined how Western society discerns this masculine calling. Disconnecting the vital links between covenant and sex and between sex and children catechizes men away from orienting their lives toward the flourishing of others. Meanwhile, the rise of meaningless, impersonal information labor and the omnipresence of digital amusements induces a particularly masculine kind of despair at the transient and unreal character of day-to-day life.
Much of what is derided as “toxic masculinity” is actually just masculinity, and the poison of identity politics has unjustly biased many elites against men. But it’s also true that conservatives aren’t immune from making peace with the consumptive, frat-boy vision of manhood, especially when such images upset their ideological enemies. Thus, the crisis of American masculinity rises far above election results. and the only lasting transformation available will be distinctly Christian rather than distinctly partisan.
It is not an accident that the Bible contains an entire genre of literature dedicated to training boys to become future kings. It is certainly not an accident that this wisdom literature emphasizes the fear of the Lord above all else. To become a man able to bring stability and flourishing to those around him—in other words, to become a good king—means first and foremost to live in submission and reverence toward the Creator, to tether oneself to the immovable Center of reality. The fear of the Lord is existential ballast for the soul, and with it comes the desire and ability to live as distinctly honorable men.
The recovery of American masculinity will thus be a recovery that starts not in Congress but in churches and families. It will be a counterrevolution of dignity, encouraging men to embrace their God-given strength, competitiveness, and desire for meaning as signposts pointing them toward a rich life of worship, temperance, and self-sacrifice. Such a movement does not begin with politics. Still, it will certainly arrive there, and the result could be a renewal of life and liberty that reverberates for generations to come.
Originally published November 2021.