It’s no secret that men in the 21st century are going through a . Fewer of them attend college, work a job, or marry and have kids; far more of them commit suicide, abuse drugs, watch porn, and break laws. For decades now, women have increasingly eclipsed men in various areas of achievement, and the many waves of feminism have gradually eroded the defining traits of masculinity.
In his book Manhood, Senator Josh Hawley attempts to address this problem head-on and to offer a way through the stigmas and confusion obscuring true masculinity. For him, a great number of the pathologies afflicting men stem from today’s values or lack thereof. Whereas men in previous generations were formed in a solidly Christian culture that prioritized character development and healthy communities, today’s men are seduced by what Hawley calls “modern Epicureanism,” which sets men on a path of indulgence, mediocrity, and dependency.
Hawley begins with the ultimate prototype of masculinity: Adam. From the time he is created, Adam is called to be a leader “devoted to serving the work of the garden – protecting his family, expanding the temple, bettering the world, worshipping God.” Through his disobedience, however, he ends up doing the opposite, and mankind is left to try to make a garden in the “outer darkness,” without God.
Hawley then proceeds to illustrate parallels between Adam and the men of today. Unfortunately, men continue to make the same mistakes and experience the same fate, over and over again, as the first man. Instead of fighting the darkness (the chaos of modern ideology), expanding their temples (the domestic church of marriage and children), improving the world (through gainful employment), and worshipping God (instead of themselves), they give in to manifold falsehood and, thereby, repudiate their own masculinity.
While it’s easy enough to criticize these weak men, Hawley offers a way forward in the second part of the book with other Old Testament heroes, specifically the examples of Abraham, Joshua, David, and Solomon.
The first two that Hawley discusses are ones that today’s men either put off or forego altogether: “Husband” and “Father.” For both of these roles, Hawley uses the example of the patriarch Abraham who accepted God’s command to be a husband and father for His chosen people. A husband must commit to protecting and providing for a spouse. The same idea applies to fatherhood, which includes the additional element of humility and sacrifice.
The roles that make up Hawley’s following chapters reinforce the responsibilities of husband and father. In order to attend to his duties as a husband, a man must become a warrior who is willing to do battle with darkness. This has become counterintuitive in an aggressively non-confrontational culture that seeks to pacify all men from a young age and that identifies strength and courage as manifestations of “toxic masculinity.”
Hawley leads us to consider two other roles that tend to be neglected by masculinity advocates: “Builder” and “Priest.” Men are made for work as well as worship, but many have been leaving the workforce and churches for decades now. In terms of work, this is not so much an issue of too many people arguing that work is bad, but more an issue of too few people arguing that it’s good.
In a chapter on the role of priests, Hawley recognizes that life not only loses purpose when belief in God is absent, but also frequently substitutes dangerous utopianism for true religiosity. Examples in history abound as atheist regimes claim to “liberate” a people from their former beliefs and customs, only to impose a stricter anti-liberal hierarchy. To a certain extent, atheism also wreaks havoc on a personal level, where men give up their belief in God only to pour their souls into some vice like alcohol or opioids.
Finally, Hawley enjoins men to become “kings” – citing the example of King Solomon. Hawley takes this idea of kingship as an opportunity to discuss order, liberty, and self-mastery. Similar to Socrates in Plato’s Republic, he treats a kingdom as an allegory for the soul. Unlike the modern Epicureans who promote “self-gratification” and “pleasure-seeking” in the interest of freedom, Hawley explains how these things bind people and prevent them from the true freedom that comes through discipline and an ordered soul: “when a man orders himself, he becomes what he could be – and gains new control over his life. He gains liberty.”
For sincere conservatives and even most moderate progressives, there seems little to object to in Manhood. After all, the argument that a life of virtue is the path to true happiness was made millennia ago by Aristotle in the and developed further in the Christian tradition. To be sure, it’s an important point to raise with each new generation of men, but Hawley often makes it too easy on himself when he sets up radical leftist straw men to knock down.
Fortunately, while Hawley’s overall argument lacks an edge, his well-crafted anecdotes make up for this. Having grown up in the cornfields of small-town Kansas and attended Catholic schools, he’s able to recreate engaging scenes with sensitivity and warmth. The stories of family gatherings, mentoring his students in law school, or coaching a rowing team in England are what make the book readable and rather moving. Hawley’s relative youth is also a big advantage in this regard. Even as an older millennial in his early forties, Hawley demonstrates that the good life is possible even for today’s generations of men and can empathize with them better than most people.
Altogether, Hawley deserves enormous credit for speaking out on one of the greatest problems of the 21st century. Let’s hope he can break the monopoly that and other internet “influencers” seem to have. Hawley may not be as flashy or entertaining, but he’s a much more authentic and relatable advocate for manhood whose words ring true.