A Call to Greatness

The following is the graduation address for the 2007 class of the Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado:

Although high-school graduation is a cause for joyous celebration, an occasion to congratulate students for their work and accomplishments and to cheer them on as they enter the world on a more independent footing, it is also a tough time emotionally for those who are a part of it. Young people who have known each other for years, who have formed fast friendships and whose happiness has come to depend on each other, will go off into the world in different directions. They will take on new challenges and make new friends and find new ways to exercise their talents. But the life they have known—its challenges and friends and activities—woven tightly into the unique setting of high school, will pass from the world of the here and now into the more distant realm of fond memory.

The emotions of parents on such an occasion I cannot begin to know because I have not yet had such an experience. Yet I can imagine that realizing that the child whose diapers you changed, to whom you read children’s books again and again, with whom you played hide-and-seek and catch and hopscotch, and over time who gradually grew to your height and began to hold his or her own during dinner-time conversation: to realize that this living being you have known for so long as your child has become a man or woman must amount to a supreme moment of awe at the wonders of nature and of love.

Today, however, I speak not as a student or a parent but as a teacher. And I speak of the special relationship of teachers, books, and students that constitutes education and culminates in the rite of passage known as graduation. To understand fully why we are here today we must consider for a moment the significance and purpose of teachers, books, and students.

Before you, parents, you see your children’s teachers. They are good teachers. Our culture, of course, serves up many jokes about teachers, jokes about how little money they make or how they supposedly have their summers off (and I guess teachers who do not read books actually do have their summers off) or how those who cannot do end up teaching. Perhaps some of these jokes are warranted, given the state of most of the schools in this nation. When done properly, though, the calling of teacher is arguably, other than that of warrior, the most ambitious and bold and even necessarily offensive of human endeavors. For the teacher is the one who says to other human beings, usually the young but often the old as well: “You are unformed, you are ignorant, you do not know things, you are incomplete human beings; and since others cannot or choose not to teach you, you must learn from me.” That is a tough message to deliver, and not one that many human beings, much less teenagers, normally welcome. The ambition, the boldness, the offensiveness of education in wanting to make others better, to perfect them, though they may not want to be better, explain why the two greatest teachers the world has known, Jesus and Socrates, were both put to death. They offended too many people. Their message did not suit in their own times the unruliness, the prejudices, the pride of man. And yet their teaching persisted beyond their time on earth. The stones which the builders rejected became the cornerstones supporting the temple of truth and beauty.

However ambitious and bold and offensive the teacher must be, teaching is also one of the most humbling of human experiences. To begin with, the teacher who tells others that they are imperfect and unformed suspects that he himself is far from perfect, far from a complete human being. Further, the teacher must know that he cannot find completion without his students; without them he is but a half, and a half is always less than a whole. He seeks students not because he wants to sell them something; and those who try to make education into a business always fail. A true teacher needs something more from his students than their fees and he has more to give them than a simple service or a product. As Plato understood, the life and breath of education differs considerably from mere commercial exchange. Rather, teaching, like parenting, must begin and end in love. And in a way, there is nothing more humbling than love, than the realization that you have a fundamental need for and your happiness depends on another human being. The teacher loves his students and therefore longs to make their lives better, and by making their lives better, he finds meaning and purpose in his own life. Even more humbling to the teacher is his realization at some point that the better he performs his life-ennobling work, the less his students will need him. As the teacher’s love for his students increases, their need of him and his instruction becomes less and less. If he has done his work well, after a few years, the teacher will not be needed at all. The truly masterful teacher will see one day his students surpass him.

Teachers must have something to teach. Therefore they need books. For however long your children have been coming to our school, in many cases for six years, in others for two or three or four, they have been doing the same thing virtually every day. They have been going to class, opening their books, and talking about these books. Whether these several years have been time well spent depends obviously on what is in these books. Now I use the term books somewhat loosely or metaphorically. In the case of art, the students have opened their eyes to the wonders of nature in order to capture its beauty or its strangeness. With music, they have opened their ears to the harmonies of different rhythms and sounds. The purpose of the fine arts can easily be seen in the beauty that results from their practice. With regard to the mathematics and the sciences these students have labored over, I doubt whether anyone would question whether the time has been well spent. In these classes, the students have obviously been applying their reason to natural phenomena or to the wonderful world of numbers in order to understand the physical order of the universe. The rational understanding of that universe gives us a freedom in and a power over our world. As essential to human flourishing as are that freedom in and power over our physical world, such power and freedom must yet be subject to something higher. Recently an astute young man I know named Luke Heyliger [salutatorian] made the point that without a higher end, without what the Greeks called a telos, the sciences can be directed to inhumane and destructive purposes. It is thus reassuring to know that such humane and creative young men as Mr. Heyliger and some of his fellow classmates will dedicate their lives to the sciences.

At Ridgeview to find the ends of the sciences, to find indeed the ends of human life, we go to what are commonly called the great books: the best of literature, history, and philosophy as written in the beautiful and noble languages of the world. The students on this stage have been immersed in the great books of the Western world, from the Homer and Plutarch they encounter as ninth-graders to modern authors such as Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and Conrad with whom they wrestle in their senior year. There have been many reasons given for why young people living in the modern world, what has come to be called the Information Age, should invest themselves in these great, old books. It has been said that the great books give us a kind of cultural capital or cultural literacy that allows us to find more success in the world. It has been said that the great books allow us to know our tradition. It has been said that the great books give us something better to do with the increasing amount of free time we have than mindlessly watching television or playing video games. It has further been said that without reading the great books we can scarcely know who we are, since human beings are so powerfully shaped by the thoughts and mentalities of the past. In addition to these reasons, I suspect there are a few people who have read great works simply so they can show off their erudition, because they have found success at playing the game of “who knows the most.” And I also know that there are antiquaries who amuse themselves by sporting with the diverting accounts of the past.

As compelling as may be some of these reasons for reading the great books of our tradition, as much as our human tendencies towards pride or amusement may direct every one of us to some extent in our intellectual pursuits, these reasons do not fully do justice to what is to be found in these books nor to the deepest longings in human nature. The great books must be read—the great books are great—because their subject is greatness and these books call us—their readers, teachers, and students—to the greatness that is possible in man. The great books demand us to know, to love, and to practice what is good, beautiful, and true in our world. In other words, fully embracing the great books means much more than being a mere spectator to their plot lines and lines of argument. Fully embracing the great books means acting on their commands. A liberal education is not just an attempt to put a lot of fancy information into our heads. A liberal education is an effort to strengthen our souls so that we may do noble deeds throughout our lives.

You see, there is all the difference in the world between reading to attain erudition and reading to form a plan of action. The first sort of reader will look at Aristotle’s Ethics and learn that Aristotle said this and that about virtue and happiness. This reader may be able to say a lot of clever things about how much Aristotle agreed or disagreed with his teacher Plato and how both of these philosophers compare to modern philosophers. The second, active reader studies Aristotle’s account of the great-souled man so that he may himself become great-souled, so he may become the man who in Aristotle’s words “thinks himself worthy of great things and is really worthy of them.” Such a reader does not just learn the definitions of, but labors to acquire the great virtues: prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. Acquiring those virtues is the end for Aristotle. As he tells us in the first book of the Ethics, “The purpose of our examination is not to know what virtue is, but to become good, since otherwise the inquiry would be of no benefit to us.” The Scriptures put this same sentiment even more succinctly and more poetically into the imperative: “Go thou and do likewise.” This sort of reading, this reading for action, equips us, encourages us, ennobles us to do good in the world. The active reader of Plato’s Republic learns to combine in his own soul both fierceness and gentleness, those two qualities that seem so opposed, in order to become a courageous guardian of his own nation and its people. The active students of Washington’s and Churchill’s lives internalize the lessons in prudence, courage, and justice these heroes offer and then enlist themselves in the great crises, the great fights for freedom in their own time. The active reader of Jane Austen becomes a keen observer of human nature, learns to distinguish good men from rogues, so that when Mr. Darcy comes, and he will come, she will be able to recognize him, to enchant him, to marry him, and thus secure both love and happiness.

The great books call us to be great warriors, great saints, great scientists and philosophers, great healers and poets and builders, and, not least, great wives and husbands, mothers and fathers. These are not merely professions that I list; I speak of ways of being, of programs for doing noble and beautiful things in the world. The great books are an idle pursuit if they result only in passive wishing for the good; these books are a living force in the world if they lead their students to an active creating and defending of the good. The great books call on their readers to be great-souled. They call on you, the men and women of Ridgeview, to be what the Apostle Paul described as “all things to all men.” Sometimes, they call on you simply to be good. These books teach us how to think, how to believe, how to hope, and how to love. They guide us in knowing when to make peace and when to wage war. They urge us at times to be just and at others to be merciful. They teach us how to live and how to die.

And now I should say something about these fine students. To say that these graduates are among the best and brightest students in the nation is merely to state the obvious: a simple fact that can be captured with numbers. To realize that they are the greatest of heart does more justice to their souls. The young men and women before you today have read the great books. And these Ridgeview graduates, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and teaching and loving these past few years, are anything but flat-souled. They have not only read the great books; they have read them with purpose, with imagination, and with heart. They have fought with Achilles; they have sailed with Aeneas; they have wept with Dido. These students are still young and as such have not yet proven themselves great. Their parents and their teachers know that they still have much study, much work, and much hardship ahead of them. Yet they bear in their character and their learning the unmistakable promise of greatness. These young men and women cannot be fooled by the false sophistication of modern man, the last man, but are full of spirit and longings and hope. For these several years they have given their minds and their hearts over to conversations about the good life and how it might be achieved in their lives. As a result, they have a head start on doing the good, and the beautiful, and the true.

I could give many instances collected from the past six years that would illustrate these students’ love of learning and of life. Perhaps the first time I was amazed by their maturity and work ethic was when two young seventh-graders, Candice Niquette and Sarah Erthal, came to me at the beginning of the second semester to ask whether they could, in addition to completing the remedial math class they were in, work on their own to do all of the pre-algebra class and thus be placed into Algebra I the following year. They only requested to meet with Mr. Yu occasionally. I gave my permission, probably thinking that such a laudable desire could not long hold sway over thirteen-year-old hearts. And yet by the end of the year, through hard work and some assistance from Mr. Yu, they had done what they had committed themselves to, and in the following year were two of the strongest students in algebra. Not surprisingly, several years later, they asked permission to do a similar self-paced program, this time by completing all of German II on their own because they had found first-year German too easy. This time I did not take their request so lightly. Other students in this class have shown a similar dedication to their studies and drive for self-improvement. Making up entire years of work in single semesters has seemed to become the rule rather than the exception. The stories of Katelyn Miller, Tara Mertens, Elin Moorman, and David Wiederhold in this regard are simply epic. Many of these students have given up their lunches to take classes they just couldn’t miss out on and have begged their teachers to offer more electives, not so they could pile up credits and grades, but so they could read more deeply into the literature that feeds the soul. Cassandra Fink and Tim Dwyer skipped their lunch period their freshman year so they could take rhetoric. They were allowed to eat in the class, however, which is why Tim crunched his potato chips through about every speech given in that class. And then there are the students who initially did not want to come to Ridgeview, students such as Kat Wyns [valedictorian] and Jonathan Asbury. They had simply heard too many rumors about us; perhaps they thought they could not make good grades at Ridgeview. Or they thought they could find better education in brand new schools costing tens of millions of dollars. But the chronic cursing in the halls by the other students brought Kat and Jon quickly to our doors. Ridgeview’s classes and the whole school would not have been the same without them.

The character of this class of students can best be witnessed in their efforts these last few weeks. Finishing up harder courses than any of our students have taken before, sitting for Advanced Placement exams left and right, these students have nonetheless performed under pressure and without much sleep with grace and wit and intelligence. Their senior theses were from start to finish magnificent, as you parents got to see. Even more, they have brought joy to their teachers and animated the whole school. We have seen Justin Schaffer staying up all night not only to study for an AP Latin exam but also to finish a script to an unsanctioned dramatic production that did honor to the faculty and to the school. (I am told he even fit in some swing dancing and a couple of rugby games that same night.) We have seen Leah and Hannah and Tara weeping and hugging each other before going into their last literature discussion with Mr. Hild. We have seen Matt and Candice and Sarah getting together to make sure that a fine young man who could not have gone to Prom otherwise would have a tux, a ticket, and a date, a very lovely date, I might add. We have seen Jonathan, after winning more scholarship money than any student ever has from this school, when nothing he turned in could affect his grade, writing an in-class essay until the last second it could be turned in when all the other students had finished. And we have seen Budi Waskita, that good-hearted, hard-working young man from Indonesia who will honor us at Stanford next year, coming up here on the seniors’ day off, to spend 40 minutes talking with Mr. Herndon about the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset. I might add that Mr. Herndon was not reluctant to spend forty minutes talking about Ortega. I could tell many other wonderful stories about these young men and women. Some would be a little embarrassing, and some are just too personal to share with everyone. But, alas, I must finally let them go, though they seem unwilling to go. Just yesterday at 4 o’clock Mr. Carpine and I had to tell that fine young man Josiah Fusher, who was hanging out in the halls signing yearbooks with his friends, to go home. High school is over, we said, though neither of us wanted to see him go.

Which brings me back to where I began: what happens to the teacher when his students who once needed him move on? Perhaps this question only betrays my own, private concern. But it is a real concern, nonetheless, and I am sure that not a few of these other teachers share it with me. I give away no secret in saying we care very deeply about this class that has a special place in our hearts. Though there are many great students coming up through the ranks whom I shall enjoy teaching and spending time with, I have yet wondered for some time whether when these students graduate and leave me behind, life might lose some of its savor. This increasing sense of worry explains why I have taught more classes than I ought to and still be able to run the school. I quite simply long to be with them and to share with them the heartening fellowship of human understanding. I crave their company and am lost without it.

Yet I have found hope in the midst of their senior theses, in the most unlikely of places. I do not normally consult Nietzsche on matters of ethics and the afterworld. His idea of the eternal recurrence of the same, however, strikes me as among the most sublime of human sentiments. I shall read a passage with which our students are very familiar.

How, if some day or night a demon were to sneak after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you, “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything immeasurably small or great in your life must return to you… Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or did you once experience a tremendous moment when you would have answered him, “You are a god, and never have I heard anything more godly“… The question in each and every thing, “Do you want this once more and innumerable times more?” would weigh upon your actions with the greatest stress. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal.If it were given to me to live these last six years over and over, to be able to have these students again and again in class, to be able to open up our books and our hearts together every day, to hear their laughter in the halls, to share their joys and their setbacks, to read their essays and even haggle with them about the dress code, to weep together through the last scenes of Pride and Prejudice; to be able to live such an eternal recurrence would be, for me at least, Heaven indeed.

For now, I thank the parents from the bottom of my heart for entrusting us with your wonderful children. We must charge these graduates to go out into the world, ennobled by their learning, and to become great-souled men and women. They have much work to do. We teachers have nothing left to teach them. We have nothing left to offer, we have nothing left to give them—but our love.

A Special Place in Hell

The vast majority of visions offered of the afterlife, whether that of Dante or the ordinary man on the street, figure that the fires of Hell will be reserved for murderers, thieves, rapists, and other malefactors, while a rather better fate awaits faithful saints, brave warriors, and the caretakers of children. The Democratic education leadership of the Colorado state legislature apparently has greater insights into such matters than the rest of us. Among them one will find the new Dante: State Representative Mike Merrifield, until a couple of weeks ago chairman of the House committee on education. In a private e-mail to Sue Windels, the state Senate education chairwoman and long-time choice opponent, Merrifield proclaimed, “There must be a special place in Hell for these Privatizers, Charerizers [sic] and Voucherizers!” Thus Merrifield condemns to their own circle in the Inferno parents and public-spirited men and women who want to give children a chance to leave a failing public school system and enter schools in which they will actually learn to read, write, do math, and think about important things. Due to public uproar, Merrifield resigned his position as chairman. However satisfying that resignation may be for the moment, the legislator’s opinions are hardly unique to him. Rather, they finally bring to light the true animosity and contempt the educational establishment has for school reform and not a little about the establishment’s methods as well.

The venomous statement against school reformers was made in the context of Merrifield’s and Windels’s plans of abolishing the Charter School Institute, a board created under bipartisan leadership to authorize charter schools in the state, especially in districts hostile to the formation of charters. Not surprisingly, the hostile districts constantly invoke the deceptively Federalist-sounding watchword “local control of schools.” Translation: groups of parents and school founders wanting a better education for children who are constantly rebuffed by local school boards controlled by ed-school professors, union activists, and retired public-school teachers and administrators.

Just how hostile those districts can be is well illustrated by the heavy-handed tactics used by the Poudre School District of Fort Collins against the charter school of which I am principal. Though boasting a steadily growing enrollment, a substantial waiting list, a strong financial balance sheet, and the unique advantage of being ranked as the number-one public high school in the state, Ridgeview was treated to a grueling re-chartering process spearheaded by a notoriously anti-charter lawyer who attempted to revise in every place he could the original charter contract that had been working for five years. Particularly egregious was the district’s attempt to change our governing structure and the funding system used by every district in the state of Colorado, of course to the financial disadvantage of the charter school. Only after a successful appeal to the state board of education was the school able to obtain a contract even slightly to its liking. Throughout the process the school knew it had the option of seeking a charter though the state Charter School Institute, an option that at least allowed our teachers and parents to sleep at night during the months of unnecessary “negotiations.”

Should the Institute be abolished, the writing will be on the wall for charter-district negotiations. Local school districts will be able to bully charters even more or deny their applications altogether. Not surprisingly the PSD board, in league with two other districts in the state, has sued to have the Charter School Institute abolished. This same board has at another time voted illegally to limit the number of students who may attend charter schools in the district, a de facto limitation on the formation of any new charter schools that could be countered only by the existence of a state chartering authority. Thus far the attempts on the part of hostile districts to limit the scope and number of charter schools have not met with much success. The 2006 state elections that put Democrats in control of both houses of the legislature and the governorship have given local districts reason to hope that they have powerful allies at the state level.

Every school reformer in the state suspects that the Democratic assault on the Charter School Institute will be only the first battle in a war to undo the impressive school-choice legacy of Governor Owens and his fellow Republicans over the last decade and a half. Representative Merrifield’s revealing e-mail suggests that those fears are far from paranoia. The continuing battle over charter schools in Colorado should offer a lesson to the rest of the nation in the 2008 elections. Anyone who assumes that the gains made by “charterizers” and “voucherizers” will remain safe with Democrats at the helm (with a few notable exceptions) would do well to remind themselves of the words the real Dante placed above the entrance to Inferno: “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.”

originally published by the Ashbrook Center

The Perfect Game

The Perfect GameHow does a boy become a man? How do institutions–family, church, sports–train him in the virtues so he might live a happy life and be a force for good in the world? How ought teenage boys to spend their time and relate to others? Have Americans forgotten what it means to be a boy and how to bring up their boys? This is a story about one young man’s summer–about boys and baseball, about fishing and fighting, about friendship, family, and faith–about discovering the greater purposes of human life. A short novel about a thirteen-year-old boy and his experiences during one summer, _The Perfect Game_ puts forth a real hero (not today’s typical anti-hero) who must work through moral problems while enjoying his own adventures. He is no goody-goody or namby-pamby; he is a real boy with real passions. But he is also a man in training. The boys in this story do not sit around playing video games. They work. They play sports. They seek adventure. They love to win. They try to understand girls. They do things with their families. They trade insults without being vulgar and revel in their own humor. They live the strenuous life that all boys lived until not too long ago. Furthermore, the story unveils the workings of a good family. Tolstoy famously said that all happy families are the same, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Consequently, authors usually write about unhappy families.

Our age could use a few good stories about happy families–so that we can order our own lives and turn adolescent boys into good men. The Perfect Game is such a story. The novel also takes up the question of man’s relation to God and particularly what God expects a man to be. The modern world has lost is sense of the Christian fighter, of fighting the good fight. The characters in this novel are both fighters and Christians. In short, this is a story not unlike the great American Westerns, though set in modern times. There are good guys and bad guys. There is a moral struggle. There are heroes. There is love.

Heather’s Compromise

If we imagine that the decline of boys into wimps and barbarians has led inversely and categorically to the rise of girls, we would be gravely mistaken. In the new gender-blind world promising careers open to talents, young women have found unprecedented opportunities in science, medicine, academia, letters, and the law. Title IX has ensured that no stone is left unturned in allowing women to wrestle, play lacrosse, or bass fish competitively. But today, many young women are suffering from the aftermath of the sexual revolution and the extreme demands of the radical feminist agenda. These movements have made it far more difficult for them to find honorable men to love them. As the authors of the immensely popular The Rules contend, “many women we know find it easier to relocate to another state, switch careers, or run a marathon than to get the right man to marry them!” The truth is there are fewer “right men” around these days—in part because of the ways women themselves have compromised their natural modesty and the inmost promptings of their hearts. Though women can command higher salaries, they have ceased to be able to command men.

Many young women today look upon the world of dating with anxiety, hopelessness, disappointment—even dread. They express disappointment with young men’s stubborn immaturity, with their own slim chances of finding love, and with the sad fact that whereas in the past, everyone expected women not to have sex before marriage, nowadays everyone, especially their boyfriends, expects that they will. And though they often don’t say so directly, many young women are disappointed by their parents’ advice or, more often, complete lack of it.

Young women have, of course, adjusted to the world around them. In the vernacular, they aren’t looking for Mr. Right but for Mr. Right Now. But looking for Mr. Right Now has taken an enormous toll on their lives and emotions. The decision to look, or settle, for Mr. Right Now might be described as Heather’s Compromise. Heather, today’s young woman, is tempted continually to compromise her ultimate happiness for the momentary attention of an undependable young male on his terms.

Young women respond to this temptation in roughly three ways. According to their different responses, we might call them party-girls, perennial girlfriends, and romantics: the first have lots of sex with lots of men; the second become continually “involved” in relationships; and the last are those women who hold out for something better.

The party-girl embraces the new regime of sexual freedom. She’s the celebrity of the hook-up world. Paris Hilton is her patron saint. She is stunningly attractive and has no conscience. She wins hot legs contests, flashes passers-by at Mardi Gras, and goes home with a guy she meets at a club, if she wants to. If not, she leaves with the satisfaction that as she danced to Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” all the men truly wanted her “naked by the end of this song.” (Though given the way she dresses, there isn’t much left to take off.) There have always been girls who are considered “loose” or “fast.” But in the past they had to be somewhat discreet in their escapades. Nowadays, they are brazen. The party-girls begin dating college guys when they are in high school. In college, they join the sorority most known for its attractive women, low average GPA, and wild parties. The party-girl will, of course, have a boyfriend from time to time. Between boyfriends she will hit the clubs aggressively, partly to get back at her old boyfriend, partly to see if she can find anyone else, mostly just to have fun. She has no thoughts of the future and no dreams about romance. Nor has she any worries that men will not want to be with her because of her sexual history. She has guys literally falling all over her. Why should she care if there are one or two men out there who would not want her to be the mother of their children? Those guys are boring anyway.
True party-girls are few in number. But there are many more party-girl imitators and wannabes. Girls of weak character and low self-esteem, left alone by laissez-faire parents, frequently crave social acceptance. Sex becomes the easy answer. Most any girl who offers sex cannot fail to be accepted, at least for a night. By the time she gets to college, if she goes to college, her habits are fixed. Unlike the celebrity party-girl, who has her pick of men and can say no to anyone, the party-girl wannabe must say yes to almost everyone. She often ends up sleeping with entire groups of young men. The girl who wants to be with a certain type of athlete ends up servicing the whole team. The same is true of the “house-rats” who sleep their way into a fraternity and never leave. Indeed, even some of the fraternity brothers get sick of these women hanging around. These pathetic girls are simply used. Though not publicized in recruiting brochures, many colleges in this country have something called “the walk of shame.” On Sunday mornings a steady file of female students can be seen walking from fraternity row back to the dormitories, their clothes somewhat wrinkled, their hair a mess. The real shame, however, is that these women don’t appear, at least on the outside, the least bit ashamed. They have had drunken, casual sex with a fraternity guy. What’s the big deal? Their secret unhappiness and chronic self-doubt are the big deal.


Most young women are incapable of brazen sexual abandonment. They long for stability and permanence and love in their lives. But they begin receiving the attentions of young males at an early age, long before they intend to marry. So they enter into a half-way covenant between marriage, the longed-for ultimate source of stability and love, and the worrisome condition of the unattached female. To be unattached and female in our society is a difficult undertaking, psychologically, socially, and, at times, physically. Psychologically, the unattached woman often wonders whether she can get a man. Her self-confidence is not helped by her friends reassuring her that she will get a man “some day” or that she will “have lots of men.” Unattached males, on the other hand, are always assumed to be playing the field. Women by their very nature have more difficulty being alone or unnoticed. They want to be loved, or at least complimented. The best male compliment to a female that we currently have in this society is the invitation to a date or to a kind of ongoing date.

Socially, women and men both have a hard time being unattached because the world is set up for couples. High school formals, for example, come with great regularity. These events practically mandate teenage pairing-off. Who wants to show up at a formal occasion alone, have his own picture taken, and have no one with whom to dance? To the unattached adolescent, a high school formal appears like the coming of The Deluge. To board the Ark two-by-two one must find another unattached person. The collective attempt to find that other person constitutes the great emotional drama of the high school years. Nowadays it is also becoming physically necessary to “be with someone.” Because the barbarians leer and jeer at women walking alone, women often attach themselves to men just to feel safe when going out. To keep the gorillas off, as young author Wendy Shalit has observed, you have to find your own gorilla. These various pressures practically force young women to attach themselves to someone. To whom is less important than the fact of being attached.

This attachment is called a relationship. The woman who enters into a relationship takes on the status of girlfriend. In relationships we come to understand Heather’s Compromise in its purest form. The pattern begins somewhat like this. Heather is a 16-year-old girl, a sophomore in high school. All her friends began dating even in middle school, but Heather was a late developer and was not asked out very often. Now she is developing, and boys are beginning to notice her. She is pleased by the attention. Finally, the cute guys in the school are noticing her rather than her best friend. One of the boys is in her chemistry class. He’s “a pretty nice and cool guy,” so she goes out with him. Her parents are pleased that Heather is now dating just like all the other girls. Pretty soon Heather and her boyfriend are a serious item. No one else would dare ask Heather out. He introduces her to all his friends, and she quickly becomes “popular.” Admittedly, she does not always like the way he acts around his friends, but it’s different when they’re alone. He makes Heather laugh on their dates. He can also be romantic. On her birthday her boyfriend puts a card and a flower in her locker. After about three months, right around Christmas, he uses the word. One night while saying good night on her front porch and kissing her (her parents are already asleep), he says, “You know I love you.” Heather is thrilled. His words give her butterflies in the hollow of her stomach. She can hardly get to sleep that night. A week later his parents go out of town on a skiing trip. Though he normally takes these trips, he stays behind this time to work on his chemistry project. Heather goes over to his house without telling her parents that the two will be entirely alone. They get pretty serious that night. They do not go all the way, though. Throughout the spring, they try increasingly to be alone together. He takes Heather to Junior Prom, of course, and that night they do go all the way. Heather does not feel completely right about it at first. But he loves her. He assures her that he will still respect her even after they’ve had sex. All her friends had sex “a long time ago.” Why should Heather be any different?

Such is the nature of relationships. They become more serious, physically and emotionally, by increments. No one step seems completely revolutionary except perhaps the last one. But that step is taken at Prom, which after all, is a special occasion. Realize, however, that after Prom, Heather has no reason to refuse sexual favors nor may she want to. She loves her boyfriend and loves being his girlfriend. They have already gone that far, so why should a Tuesday evening in the summer be any different from Prom Night? Prom Night has served its romantic, or carnal, purpose as The First Time. But when Heather and her boyfriend break up, as surely they will when they go off to college or he gets tired of her, Heather now has no reason not to go all the way with any other boyfriend. That boyfriend only has to say, “So you loved him more than you love me?” “No, of course not. It’s not like that. That was a different kind of relationship,” Heather will counter. Here Heather is wrong since every relationship is like that. When she lost her virginity, she lost the argument for sexual continence. She is right when she invokes the experience of her other friends in saying, “I have known so many couples whose relationships have been ruined by sex.” But her current boyfriend won’t understand that reasoning. Nor does Heather, because she doesn’t understand the true nature of relationships and of being a girlfriend. That ignorance is the source of her undoing and her unhappiness.

In today’s culture, chastity is a difficult enterprise. Girlfriends are not libertines. They do not get involved in sexual relationships based upon the pleasure principle. Rather, two principles of their own nature work against them. First, their feminine nature invites them to please others, especially those close to them. Second, they long for intimacy. Young men are by nature keen and devious psychologists of the female sex. They can easily appeal to these principles of the female nature and produce a winning argument for their case by using the language of sacrifice and intimacy.

And indeed, these psychological comforts can be had for a time within relationships. Ultimately, however, relationships fail precisely because there are no social sanctions or supports to make them work and they have no view to the future. In former times, the ends of marriage were straightforward. Marriage was the basis of the family, which in turn was a microcosm of the political or religious order whose purpose was to secure the good life. But what’s the purpose of a relationship? Relationships don’t aim at the procreation and education of children; indeed, they must avoid procreation at all costs. The ends of a relationship make no reference to the whole of a person’s life. Young people date in order to express their passions, to find companionship, to gain social acceptance, and to have fun. All of these are fleeting aims. The goal may also be love, in some sense. Particularly in these times when, due to the breakdown of the family, love is not easily come by at home, adolescents tend to throw themselves into these volatile affairs of the heart. I suspect that whereas in the past most adolescents (especially girls) confided in their parents about their romantic troubles, today more young people confide in their boyfriends and girlfriends about their home troubles. Nonetheless, if this attachment in relationships can be considered love, it is conditional and temporary rather than permanent. It depends on the couple’s present feelings towards each other, which may change very rapidly, especially because the young, as yet unformed, boys and girls are themselves changing as they grow up.

To be sure, relationships end up imitating marriages. Boyfriends and girlfriends talk of “anniversaries” and of belonging to each other, and they engage in sex and often live together. When not involved in a relationship, they call themselves “single.” Yet every girlfriend secretly knows that a “break-up” could occur at any moment. Indeed, couples even talk about “taking time off” for an indefinite period when things do not seem to be going well. Married people don’t have the luxury of taking time off. There’s no sabbatical for the seven-year itch. Marriage, at least according to its vows, settles for nothing less than always and forever.

The prevailing culture of relationships, however, tends to undermine marriage. Most perennial girlfriends will have had several serious relationships before getting married and therefore several serious break-ups. These break-ups take an enormous toll on the happiness of young women. Especially when sex is involved, young women can feel these failed attempts at love as “losing pieces of yourself.” They no longer feel whole. Erotic encounters, like any repeated activity, are habit-forming. If you have broken up several times before, what will stop you from doing the same thing once you are married? Relationship gurus assert that dating helps you find the right mate and that living with someone teaches you how to live with someone. It is more statistically accurate to say that the cycle of dating and breaking-up is good practice for divorce. In our society, with all the emphasis placed upon youth and individuality and fun, marriages more often imitate relationships than relationships prefigure marriage.

The obvious outcome of Heather’s Compromise is that Heather loses more often than she wins, if ever she wins. Occasionally, a young woman will, after several tumultuous relationships, find a decent man, marry him, and live happily ever after. That happiness appears to be the result of Fortune, as fickle a deity as Eros, rather than any planning or attributes of character on her part. More often she ends up emotionally drained, jaded, confused.

At this low point, Dear Abby might tell Heather to seek a “spiritual advisor.” Oprah would tell her to go on a journey to find her spirit. Dr. Phil would tell her to get tough. The Rules show her all the tricks of playing hard-to-get and tell her not to have sex until she is in a “committed relationship.” No one, at least no one she is listening to, tells her to become a lady and to require this “guy” to become a gentleman. The sexual revolution aimed at undermining the sexual restraints imposed by a supposedly patriarchal, puritanical, repressive society. Young people of both sexes waged this revolution. The young people won, so it would seem. But only the young, unattached males won completely, from their limited point of view. The females gained a Pyrrhic victory. They are forced to resort to tricks to keep their boyfriends “committed,” but commitment is relative and changes with the wind. The girlfriends “can’t get over it,” it being the endless series of relationships that rarely materialize into something beautiful, transcendent, ultimate.

Heather’s boyfriend, at least for now, thinks he has won. He always gets sex and, equally important, the base sense of achievement that comes with sexual conquest. Certainly, guys may get upset and even cry during a break-up. In part, they are sad that they are losing a good deal. In part, they are not completely unfeeling and have some sympathy for their girlfriends. They can also be good actors. For the nice guys who enter into relationships with the best of intentions, breaking up can be a very hard thing. But the emotional consequences are far less dire for the male.

The sexual revolution, nonetheless, has had deleterious effects on men as well. In previous ages, the system of courtship and marriage required on the part of young people both sexual restraint and a strong sense of the future. Young men had to “clean up their act” before they could become truly eligible bachelors. In order to gain a young lady’s approval and ultimately her hand, a man had to do several things. He had to master his sex drive. He had to prove his devotion to her, usually over a long period of time. He had to pass inspection before her discerning parents. He had to become financially stable so that he could support his wife and the children they would have. In short, he had to become a man of means, a man of parts, and a man of character. The exacting demands of courtship discouraged males from becoming wimps or barbarians.

What worked to the advantage of individual women also worked to the advantage of society. Women, at least a certain kind of women, force men to become civilized when they are not already. Clearly men will not be properly civilized in our day unless the traditional standards of courtship and marriage return in some form. Rowdy men who are not married and have no plans of getting married; who can “score” with party-girls from time to time and with party-girl wannabes all the time; who may occasionally lie enough about their emotions to have a girlfriend for a few months; who share the rent with their roommates, both male and female; who need only shell out for beer, cable television, and pizza; and whose ambitions amount to little more than a higher “max” bench press—these barbarians have all the basic pleasures and no incentive to shape up. They’re just living out their favorite beer commercial.


We will never re-establish the happier relations between the sexes until the third group of young women, the romantics, make their preferences known and become models for others. The romantics are those few young women who are disappointed in the young men they meet these days and unwilling to compromise their hopes just to have boyfriends for the moment. They believe that the ultimate source of romantic happiness is marriage to a good man. Unfortunately, they live in a world largely populated by wimps and barbarians. The romantic would rather sit at home or go out with her female friends than be bothered by such types. This patient longing for a true man is admittedly not an easy task. The romantic woman may often find herself lamenting to her parents like Rousseau’s Sophie:

“Give me,” she said, “a man imbued with my maxims or one whom I can bring around to them, and I shall marry him. But until then, why do you scold me? Pity me. I am unhappy, not mad. …Is it my fault if I love what does not exist? I am not a visionary. I do not want a prince. I do not seek Telemachus. I know that he is only a fiction. I seek someone who resembles him. And why cannot this someone exist, since I exist…?”

But the romantic woman, the modern Sophie, prefers this anxious waiting for a good man to the unhappiness she is sure to find in settling for a bad one. Meanwhile, she will let the wimps and barbarians who try to whine or crash their way into her world know that their behavior is unacceptable and unmanly. Deep down, no man wants to be rejected or, worse, laughed at by a superior, discriminating woman.

Once while teaching the topic of chivalry in a Western Civilization class in college, I put the question to a “barbarian” student: If women refused to be around you if you cursed in front of them, stared at their chests, and in general acted in a lewd and drunken manner at parties, would you clean up your act? His answer was straightforward. “Yeah, of course. Who wouldn’t?” Should romantic women across the nation make their preferences known by their great power of refusal, and should increasing numbers of perennial girlfriends come over into the camp of the romantics, young women would regain their natural capacity of commanding men. As surely as day follows night, young men would have to reform their character in short order.

What women want is neither Rambo nor Woody Allen. Nor is it Mel Gibson in pantyhose and in their aerobics classes. They don’t want men to boss around. They don’t want men who cook meals and do the dishes. They want real men, the kind that men themselves deep down want to be but have largely forgotten how to be. A former college student of mine explained the problem succinctly. The class was debating the merits of a required period of national service for men, lasting at least two years. The women saw the benefits of such a program, not so much for the nation as for themselves. Boys would leave high school, they imagined, serve their country for a couple of years in some important capacity, and enter the university as mature and responsible men rather than as immature partiers and class-ditchers. They would be more like the men in Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, said one woman, a business major. Back then it was not unusual for a man to be a real man at 19. Nowadays, she said, guys that age behave like they are 14. On a much larger scale, the enduring popularity of movies such as Blast From the Past and Kate and Leopold, in which gentlemen literally come to the present from a previous age to woo jaded and unhappy women, reveals that young women long to be treated like ladies again; but on the whole have lost the self-confidence, the arts, the patience, the self-restraint, and the hope to make their dreams a reality.

This article appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

Wimps and Barbarians

The Sons of Murphy Brown

More than a decade ago the nation was in a stir over the birth of a fictional boy. The boy was Avery, son of Murphy Brown. Television’s Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen, was a successful news commentator who, after an unsuccessful relationship with a man that left her alone and pregnant, bore a son out of wedlock. The event, popular enough in its own right, became the center of political controversy when then Vice President Dan Quayle in a speech to the Commonwealth Club of California lamented that the show was “mocking the importance of a father.” Suddenly the nation polarized over this question of “family values.” But the controversy over Murphy Brown’s childbearing soon died down. The characters on the show became more interested in Murphy’s hairstyle than her baby, as did perhaps Murphy, who eventually found a suitable nanny in her painter so she could pursue her career without abatement. The show was off the air before Murphy’s son would have been seven. Vice President Quayle was not reelected. Eleven years later, it is worth pondering what might have happened to Avery had this story not been just a television show. More to the point, what is happening today to our boys and young men who come from “families” not unlike Murphy’s and who find the nation as divided now as it was then over the “values” by which we ought to raise them?

For more than a decade I have been in a position to see young men in the making. As a Marine, college professor, and now principal of a K-12 charter school, I have deliberately tried to figure out whether the nation through its most important institutions of moral instruction—its families and schools—is turning boys into responsible young men. Young women, always the natural judges of the male character, say emphatically “No.” In my experience, many young women are upset, but not about an elusive Prince Charming or even the shortage of “cute guys” around. Rather, they have very specific complaints against how they have been treated in shopping malls or on college campuses by immature and uncouth males, and even more pointed complaints against their boyfriends or other male acquaintances who fail to protect them. At times, they appear desperately hopeless. They say matter-of-factly that the males around them do not know how to act like either men or gentlemen. It appears to them that, except for a few lucky members of their sex, most women today must choose between males who are whiny, incapable of making decisions, and in general of “acting like men,” or those who treat women roughly and are unreliable, unmannerly, and usually stupid.

The young men, for their part, are not a little embarrassed when they hear these charges but can’t wholly deny them. Indeed, when asked the simple question, “When have you ever been taught what it means to be a man?” they are typically speechless and somewhat ashamed.

The question for teachers, professors, and others in positions of moral influence is what to do about young women’s growing dissatisfaction and young men’s increasing confusion and embarrassment. Teachers cannot become their students’ parents, but they can give direction to those who have ears to hear. Two lessons are essential. First, a clear challenge must be issued to young males urging them to become the men their grandfathers and great-grandfathers were. This challenge must be clear, uncompromising, engaging, somewhat humorous, and inspiring. It cannot seem like a tired, fusty, chicken-little lament on the part of the old and boring, but must be seen as the truly revolutionary and cutting-edge effort to recover authentic manliness. Second, a new generation of scholars must tell the tale of how men used to become men and act manfully, and how we as a nation have lost our sense of true manliness. The spirit of this inquiry cannot be that of an autopsy but rather that of the Renaissance humanists, who sought to recover and to borrow the wisdom of the past in order to ennoble their own lives.

Historians and political theorists and professors of literature must realize that the topic of gender is not the monopoly of those who would try to eradicate gender but the natural possession of the great thinkers and actors and even the common folk of the Western tradition. Aristotle had a great deal to say about gender and manhood, as did Washington and Burke and Jane Austen. These two enterprises, the one rhetorical and the other philosophical, are and must be related. One comes from and appeals to the heart. The other comes from and appeals to the mind. Young men today have both hearts and minds that are in chronic need of cultivation. Specifically, they need to realize what true manhood is, what it is not, and why it has become so difficult in the modern world to achieve the status and stature of the true man.

Character Counts

Manhood is not simply a matter of being male and reaching a certain age. These are acts of nature; manhood is a sustained act of character. It is no easier to become a man than it is to become virtuous. In fact, the two are the same. The root of our old-fashioned word “virtue” is the Latin word virtus, a derivative of vir, or man. To be virtuous is to be “manly.” As Aristotle understood it, virtue is a “golden mean” between the extremes of excess and deficiency. Too often among today’s young males, the extremes seem to predominate. One extreme suffers from an excess of manliness, or from misdirected and unrefined manly energies. The other suffers from a lack of manliness, a total want of manly spirit. Call them barbarians and wimps. So prevalent are these two errant types that the prescription for what ails our young males might be reduced to two simple injunctions: Don’t be a barbarian. Don’t be a wimp. What is left, ceteris paribus, will be a man.

Today’s barbarians are not hard to find. Like the barbarians of old, the new ones wander about in great packs. You can recognize them by their dress, their speech, their amusements, their manners, and their treatment of women. You will know them right away by their distinctive headgear. They wear baseball caps everywhere they go and in every situation: in class, at the table, indoors, outdoors, while taking a test, while watching a movie, while on a date. They wear these caps frontward, backward, and sideways. They will wear them in church and with suits, if ever a barbarian puts on a suit. Part security blanket, part good-luck charm, these distinctive head coverings unite each barbarian with the rest of the vast barbaric horde.

Recognizing other barbarians by their ball caps, one barbarian can enter into a verbal exchange with another anywhere: in a men’s room, at an airport, in a movie theater. This exchange, which never quite reaches the level of conversation, might begin with, “Hey, what up?” A traditional response: “Dude!” The enlightening colloquy can go on for hours at increasingly high volumes. “You know, you know!” “What I’m sayin’!” “No way, man!” “What the f—!” “You da man!” “Cool!” “Phat!” “Awesome!” And so on. Barbarians do not use words to express thoughts, convey information, paint pictures in the imagination, or come to a rational understanding. Such speech as they employ serves mainly to elicit in others audible reactions to a few sensual events: football, sex, hard rock, the latest barbarian movie, sex, football. In the barbarian universe, Buckleyesque vocabularies are not required.

Among the most popular barbarian activities are playing sports and lifting weights. There is, of course, nothing wrong with sports or physical training. Playing sports can encourage young males to cultivate several important manly virtues: courage, competitiveness, camaraderie, stamina, a sense of fairness. For this reason, superior cultures have invariably used sports as a proving ground for manly endeavor. As the Duke of Wellington said, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” The problem is that many young males of today receive no manly education apart from sports. When the British boys who later defeated Napoleon were not competing in the sporting contests conducted in elite public schools, they were learning how to become gentlemen. They spoke the King’s English, carried themselves with an air of dignity, treated women with respect, and studied assiduously.

Today’s barbarians act as though they never leave the playing field or the gym. They wear the same clothes, speak the same language (just as loudly), spit and scratch themselves just as much, whether on the field or off. More properly, nothing off the field matters to them, except perhaps sex, which they also treat as a game, and alcohol. As a result, they live almost a divided life. On the field, they can be serious, competitive, eager, and disciplined. Off the field, they are lazy, careless, disorganized, and disaffected. Such a divided life is the hallmark of barbarism. In his classic account of the ancient Germanic tribes, the Roman historian Tacitus contrasted the energy and purpose of the German men on the field of battle with their listlessness in the camp.

Whenever they are not fighting, they pass much of their time in the chase, and still more in idleness, giving themselves up to sleep and to feasting, the bravest and the most warlike doing nothing, and surrendering the management of the household, of the home, and of the land, to the women, the old men, and all the weakest members of the family. They themselves lie buried in sloth, a strange combination in their nature that the same men should be so fond of idleness, so averse to peace.

The ancient barbarians did little except fight and hunt. The modern barbarians do little besides play sports and pursue women. To be sure, they have other amusements. But these activities do not as a rule require sensibility or thought. Indeed, typical barbarian pastimes, like drinking mightily and watching WWF wrestling, seem expressly contrived to stupefy the senses and nullify the intellect.

Barbarians, not surprisingly, listen to barbaric music. Allan Bloom famously identified rock-and-roll as the music of sexual intercourse. It was no accident that the progenitor of the rock-and-roll revolution was nicknamed “the Pelvis.” Equally basic, but fundamentally different, are the passions enlisted by modern rock without the roll, that is, heavy metal. It is certainly not the music of intercourse, at least not of the consensual variety, since girls and women generally hate it. And with good reason: It is impossible to dance to. You can, of course, thrust your fist over and over into the air. Heavy metal lacks all rhythmic quality, sounding more like jet engines taking off while a growling male voice shouts repeated threats, epithets, and obscenities. Heavy metal lacks all subtlety, reflection, harmony, refinement—in a word, civilization. For good reason did Plato combine music with gymnastic instruction in the education of the guardian class of his Republic. A certain kind of music would soften the souls of young men. Heavy metal softens nothing. It is the music of pure rage.

Barbarians, strictly speaking, have no manners. They shout out to each other in public as though the world were a playing field or a rock concert. To complement the shouting, there is a recognizable barbarian posture, carriage, and comportment. They slouch in their seats. They belch and proudly pass loud gas in public places. They spit practically everywhere they go. A particularly annoying barbarian habit is not looking you in the eye. He will look this way and that, shrug his shoulders, move his body in different directions, but rarely just stand in one place, look you in the eye, and say something intelligible. Speaking to adults used to be one of the first lessons a child learned. Proper speech and posture and other signs of respect helped to bring him into the community of civilized human beings. No longer.

Young males, of course, have always been rough around the edges. But in the past, their edges were smoothed, in part, by being introduced into female company. Boys learned to behave properly first from their mothers and later around other women and girls. They held open doors, pulled out chairs, stood up when a woman entered a room, stood up in public places to offer their seats, took off their hats in the presence of women, and carefully guarded their language so as not to offend the fair sex. All that is gone. In no other aspect of their conduct is barbarism more apparent among a large number of young men these days than in their treatment of women.

Not only do they not show women any special regard. They go out of their way to bother them. A woman does not like to be yelled at by men in passing cars or from dormitory rooms. She does not like to walk by a group of imposing, leering young men only to hear them cutting up after she passes. She does not like to be the subject of jests and sexual innuendo. But this sort of thing goes on all the time. Young women who appear in public, whether in a dance club, at a pub, or in a shopping mall, are constantly accosted by packs of young males on the prowl who consider it their inalienable right to make crude, suggestive advances. These days young males curse with abandon in front of women, often in reference to sex. Nighttime finds barbarians reveling in the pick-up, hook-up culture of the bar scene. In short, the company of women no longer brings out the best in young men. Around the opposite sex, the adolescent and post-adolescent males of today are at their worst.

The problem of the modern barbarian is no academic or fastidious concern. Plato was right to regard the education and civilization of spirited males as the sine qua non of a decent political order. They are the natural watchdogs of society. When they are not properly trained, they become at best nuisances and at worst something much more dangerous.

Men Without Chests

At the other extreme from true manliness is the wimp. Wimps are in many ways the opposite of barbarians. We would be mistaken, however, to classify wimps as simply young men without muscle. Often enough they are the stereotypical 98-pound weaklings who get sand kicked in their faces at the beach. But slightness of build and want of talent in sports do not make one a wimp. The diminutive and sickly James Madison was a man, just as was the towering and vigorous George Washington.

If barbarians suffer from a misdirected manliness, wimps suffer from a want of manly spirit altogether. They lack what the ancient Greeks called thumos, the part of the soul that contains the assertive passions: pugnacity, enterprise, ambition, anger. Thumos compels a man to defend proximate goods: himself, his honor, his lady, his country; as well as universal goods: truth, beauty, goodness, justice. Without thumotic men to combat the cruel, the malevolent, and the unjust, goodness and honor hardly have a chance in our precarious world. But two conditions must be present for thumos to fulfill its mission. First, the soul must be properly ordered. Besides thumos, symbolized by the chest, the soul is composed of reason and appetites, symbolized by the head on the one hand and the stomach and loins on the other. Reason has the capacity to discern right from wrong, but it lacks the strength to act. Appetites, while necessary to keep the body healthy, pull the individual toward pleasures of a lower order. In the well-ordered soul, as C.S. Lewis put it, “the head rules the belly through the chest.” In the souls of today’s barbarians, clearly thumos has allied itself with the unbridled appetites, and reason has been thrown out the window.

The second condition that must be present is a sufficient level of thumos to enable the man to rise to the defense of honor or goodness when required. Modern education and culture, however, have conspired to turn modern males into what C. S. Lewis called “men without chests,” that is, wimps. The chest of the wimp has atrophied from want of early training. The wimp is therefore unable to live up to his duties as a man:

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

Wimps make worthless watchdogs. But their failure as watchdogs or guardians has nothing to do with size or physique. My father used to tell me when I was growing up, “It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog” that matters. Many of today’s young men seem to have no fight in them at all. Not for them to rescue damsels in distress from the barbarians. Furthermore, wimps vote. As Aristotle pointed out, to the cowardly, bravery will seem more like rashness and foolhardiness than what it really is. Hence political and social issues that require bravery for their solution elicit only hand-wringing and half-measures from the wimps. Wimps are always looking for the easy way out.

Like the barbarian, the wimp is easily recognized by his personality and preoccupations. His main passion is music. Music does not serve him as it does the Platonic guardian, to balance his soul. Nor is he usually a performer or student of music. He has no affinity for classical symphony or opera. Rather, he finds that certain types of music evoke a mood of listless self-infatuation. He may at times listen to music with friends. And he will probably try to express his interest in a girl by quoting a song lyric. Nonetheless, his absorption with music is essentially a private refuge from the challenges of the world.

In addition to music, the wimp may take an interest in the opposite sex. But his approach to dating and relationships is different from the barbarian. The barbarian has simple appetites. His ideal is the Playboy playmate or the winner of a hot legs contest at Daytona Beach, and his ultimate aim in any relationship or encounter, whatever he may say, is sex. As an athlete, the barbarian is a hero of sorts. He walks with an unmistakable air of confidence. The wimp, on the other hand, has more complex reasons for wanting women. Although sex is certainly one of his desires, more than sex he needs affirmation. He desperately needs a girlfriend to boost his self-confidence. Having someone else notice him will somehow show the world that he is not a total loser. The wimp also needs someone to hear his laments, to commiserate with him when he is feeling down, to discover his secret self. Since he has few qualities or achievements to recommend him, he seeks to appear “interesting” or mysterious. Initially, the wimp might seem amusing to an unsuspecting young lady and very different from the insensitive jocks and rowdies she has known. Ultimately, however, the wimp seeks to draw her into his web of melancholy and self-pity. The story always ends unhappily since romance cannot be based upon pity or the thin facade of personality. He might mope and whine his way into a woman’s bed but will find excuses to avoid “commitment.” The wimp will begin the relationship by saying, “You’re the only one who understands me” and end it by saying, “You don’t understand me at all.” The truth is that there is not much to understand.

The wimp is unmanly in other ways, especially when compared to young men in the past. Throughout history men have come of age by preparing for war, going to sea, felling forests, or even mastering Latin and Greek. Besides listening to music, however, how does the average wimp spend the most formative years of his life? Shopping. Andy Warhol was, in this respect, a paragon of wimpiness. Whenever he felt down and was tired of painting soup cans, he would go shopping to cheer himself up. After his death, bags upon bags of unused products were found in his New York apartment. The wimp is a perfect consumer. In the largest sense, he consumes the liberties and public treasures his forefathers have passed on to him through their “blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” without himself adding anything back to the common stock.

Needless to say, these sketches are not exhaustive. Barbarians and wimps come in many forms in a society that celebrates Diversity as we do. But all of them remind us that Plato’s quandary was a timeless one and is our quandary no less than his. Our civilization cannot be sustained by barbarians or wimps; it needs true men.

Brave New World

The world has always had its share of wimps and barbarians. Throughout history and literature they have appeared under the names of rogues, scoundrels, boors, ne’er-do-wells, namby-pambies, fops, and macaroni men, to name a few. What needs explaining is why these two obviously defective character types have become so common, at times seeming like the norm.

A close look at the culture in which boys are raised reveals not only that they are no longer encouraged to become vigorous and responsible men, but also that practically every factor affecting their development is profoundly hostile to the ideals and practices of traditional manhood and the painstaking steps necessary to attain it. The demanding regime of physical and moral instruction that used to turn boys into men and the larger cultural forces that supported that instruction have been systematically dismantled by a culture that ostensibly enables all individuals but in reality disables men. “It’s too easy!” complained John the Savage of the overly efficient, overly sexual, overly youthful, overly fun Brave New World. That dehumanizing tyranny of pleasure, described by Aldous Huxley, resembles the world of easy effort and easy virtue that entices adolescent males today to indulge in their appetites at the expense of their nobler longings and passions.

Above all, there is easy sex. The sexual revolution released the sexual urge from its domestic harness. A male need no longer be a man, in character or physique, to have sex. He may be a boy of 14. Unchaperoned girls are not hard to find. They can be lured over to one’s house under the pretense of listening to some new CDs. Avoiding dual-career parents’ supervision is as easy as walking home from school. Indeed, the school will provide the illusion of safe sex in its required sex education classes, and chances are the school nurse will supply the condoms. What more could a boy want? Not only is sex no longer subordinated to marriage, which was predicated on male responsibility, but the most sly and unsavory characters are now the most rewarded with sex. “Boys will be boys,” but they have little incentive to be responsible men.

Coupled with easy sex, easy divorce has also had devastating moral and psychological effects on boys. Half of American boys growing up do not live with their natural fathers. The sons of single mothers lack strong men to usher them into the world of responsible, adult manhood. Divorce, whether in reality or in the acrimonious rhetoric of the mother, impresses upon the boy an image of the father, and therefore of all men, as being irresponsible, deceitful, immature, and often hateful or abusive towards women. For sons, the divided loyalties occasioned by divorce actually create profound doubts about their own masculinity. As the boy approaches manhood, he is plagued by subconscious questions which have no immediate resolution: “Will I be like Dad?” “Do I want to be like Dad?” “What is a man supposed to do?”

Even when boys live with fathers, or when divorced mothers remarry, the erstwhile “man of the house” has diminished considerably in stature. The traditional father was the sole breadwinner, the chief disciplinarian, and the figure who sat at the head of the table and spoke with authority on matters of politics, economics, and religion. Loving his children, he did not spare the rod. A new breed of parent (fathers are hardly to be distinguished from mothers) has arrived on the scene. The new parent has invented a new way of disciplining sons, adhering firmly to the principles of “self-esteem.” The boy is never wrong, is never spanked, and is never made to feel ashamed. Postmodern parents believe, at least until it is too late, that raising children must be easy since the nature of children is basically good. I had no idea how entrenched these post-Spockian ideas were until I became a school principal and began hearing how parents talk about correcting their children. The word “punishment” no longer exists in the parental lexicon; it has been replaced by “consequences.” Boys are not made to feel ashamed for bad behavior; they must reconsider their “poor choices.” Least of all will parents spank their sons; if you suggest that they should, they look at you in horror, for after all, “violence only breeds violence.” Of course, this softer form of discipline does not really work. When “time-outs” and restricted use of the internet prove unavailing, then it is time for counseling and Ritalin.

The old form of discipline was quick, direct, clear-cut, and effective. The new non-punitive discipline is time-consuming, indirect, muddled, and ineffective. Every breaking of the rules requires a long discussion in which the boy gets to express his “feelings” and therefore make his case. This new form of easy discipline actually compromises the boy’s moral growth in several ways. First, he receives no real punishment for wrongdoing and is not made to feel shame. The absence of these traditional external and internal sanctions inhibits his development of self-control. Second, rather than truly learning to be responsible and to accept the real consequences of his actions, he learns to be litigious and whiny. Worst of all, to the extent his father is involved in all this nonsense, he sees the man who should be his master and mentor not as an authoritative figure who imposes order and dispenses justice but as a craven coddler who shudders to injure an errant boy’s self-esteem. On the surface, the boy is glad to skim by without getting into too much trouble. Deep down, he knows that his father is no man and so looks abroad for more energetic examples of thumotic manhood.

Schools for Sissies

No less than at home, at school the boy encounters a world that thwarts any natural drive to become a true man. As Christina Hoff Sommers has shown, some schools are actively trying to remove any vestiges of traditional culture that work to the benefit and inspiration of boys: older forms of academic competition such as math and spelling bees, the preponderance of male heroes who can no longer outnumber female heroines, even school playgrounds and games like dodge ball. Even when schools are not deliberately trying to emasculate young boys, the world of education can appear feminized and overly pampering to young males. In elementary school, over 90 percent of the teachers are women. Having no decent curriculum to guide them, as is the case in most schools, these female teachers will quite innocently and unimaginatively choose books and assignments that do not appeal to boys in the least. The boy student will have to suffer through Charlotte’s Web three or four times but never hear of Captains Courageous or Treasure Island or Sherlock Holmes.

When he gets into middle and high school he may begin to have male teachers. But these are the tired, ineffective, jaded clock-watchers and pension-seekers of Theodore Sizer’s Horace’s Compromise. Horace lets the half of the class he cannot control talk for the whole period while he passes out worksheets to the half of the class who still care about grades. Horace is a wimp. If the boy sees any energy on the part of men at the school it is among the coaching staff. Coaches know how to appeal to the thumotic element in boys in order to train them to win, and they actually work hard on the field. They appear far less energetic and in command, however, when they must teach a history class, for there are only so many health and P.E. courses a school can offer.

Beyond these decayed institutions, the broader cultural landscape inhibits the transformation of boys into good men. Radical feminism, to name one feature of this landscape, has in some ways undermined the relations between the sexes. Radical feminists have not directly changed the character of traditional men. There are still a number of gentlemen who will open doors for ladies at the risk of being told off by the occasional woman out to prove her equality and independence. What feminism has done, in conjunction with political correctness, is deprive overly non-offensive, modern parents of the language traditionally used to bring up young boys: “Be a man.” “Stick up for your sister.” “Quit throwing the ball like a sissy.” “Quit crying like a girl.” Instead, we have a lot of lukewarm, androgynous talk about “being a good person” and “showing respect to people.” A naturally rambunctious and irascible boy, though, is not too interested in being a good person. For if he achieves that status, what will distinguish him from his prim and proper sister? The parents have no language to answer their son’s deepest and most natural needs.

Rites of Passage

Finally, today’s boys mill about their adolescent and post-adolescent years lacking any formal, approved rite of passage that would turn them into men. The American frontier disappeared in 1890. The call of the sea did not survive much longer. All-male colleges, where young men used to compete against each other in the lecture halls and on the playing field, can now be counted on the fingers of one hand. President Eliot of Harvard told his student body on taking office in 1869, “The best way to put boyishness to shame is to foster scholarship and manliness.” Could a college president say that today to a student body in which males are the distinct minority? While the opening up of commerce and industry to women has increased their economic freedom and equality, men have lost one more arena in which to prove themselves, as George Gilder has elegantly shown. Moreover, most of the jobs offered in the new economy hardly appeal to the spiritedness in man. Certainly, the military still beckons many spirited boys coming out of high school, but the entire armed services constitute less than one percent of the American population and must make room for a fair number of women in their ranks. In short, modern America lacks what virtually every society in the past has established and governed with great effort and concern: a proving ground for male youth seeking some legitimate expression of their erratic and as yet undisciplined spiritedness.

The sum effect is an environment that demands virtually nothing special of boys as they grow into men. Many aspects of modern culture are debilitating for girls as well as boys, but the lack of dramatic challenge is not one of them. The recent statistics comparing girls’ to boys’ academic achievements worldwide demonstrate what any teacher in the country knows: that girls are achieving as never before and are outdistancing boys. Perhaps the kinder, gentler, nurturing, egalitarian, consultative, non-competitive approach to education and family has been a boon for girls. Yet what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. As Father Walter Ong expressed it, the male nature, in order to prove itself, in order to distinguish itself from the potentially emasculating feminine world into which the boy is born, longs for some “againstness” in the natural or moral world which the boy can overcome. But in our culture everything is too easy. Boys are not compelled, indeed not allowed, to fight anymore. They cannot fight on the playground. Nor can they fight for grades, for a girl, for God, or for country (though September 11 has altered this last). Even the saints of old would find the 21st century an inhospitable place, for how could they “fight the good fight” against their own fallen nature in a world supposedly without sin?

Little Avery

So how is Murphy Brown’s little Avery doing? He is 11 now. He has grown up under an overbearing mother who has occasionally brought men home, though none has stayed. While Murphy has pursued her successful career, Avery has been showered with material possessions to give him something to do during the long stretches of the day when he finds himself at home alone or left to an indifferent nanny, finished with his half hour of easy homework, which his mother will check over and often redo for him after they have eaten the pizza or take-out Chinese she picked up on the way home from work. Every time Avery has a problem at school or in the neighborhood, Murphy solves it for him with the same decisiveness she demonstrates at the network, thus proving to her son and to herself that she is a good mother.

Avery has posters on his wall of Eminem, Kobe Bryant, and Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit. He is becoming interested in girls but is still too shy to say much to them. Still, he has learned a lot about women on the internet, and his favorite rap songs tell him precisely how to relate to women and what women want. His mother, for her part, has told him a lot about the value of “respecting people.” Avery has never been hunting or fishing. True, Avery and his mother used to have fun times at the park and on trips when she could get away from work, but now he is beginning to pull away from her when she rubs his head in an affectionate way. They are not as close as they used to be.

The next few, crucial years of Avery’s life will determine what kind of man he will be. Will he rest in wretched contentment with the ease and luxury provided by his oft-absent, deep-voiced mother, or will he rebel with other boys his own age, raised much like him, by finding his own rites of passage in drugs and sex and acts of petty delinquency, or worse? Will he become a wimp or a barbarian?

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.

Barack Obama and the Politics of Can’t

The most unsettling aspect of the Obama campaign is not a capitulatory foreign policy; not a plan for massive redistributions of wealth; and not even the apparent success it has had in suppressing revelations about and scrutiny of the more unsavory aspects of his character and associates. The most dangerous quality of his campaign is his use and abuse of language. Only through an adeptly sophistic use of language can he manage to sell a one-trillion-dollar transfer of wealth (quite likely only the first such transfer) as “a tax cut for 95% of all Americans.” Yet Obama’s use of language is not about one policy nor all of his policies combined. Neither is it a matter of mere academic concern. As Thucydides and Machiavelli and Orwell knew, and as every successful demagogue has found in practice, the manipulation of language is the real source of power in a true revolution, that is, in the attempt to change existing social, political, and moral norms. Through language people come to understand themselves. Through language human beings express their hopes and dreams. Through language we pursue the good and the beautiful. And through language we come to correct ourselves when we have made mistakes. When the skillful demagogue has come to take our language from us, however, when he has actually changed the meaning of words, we find it hard to articulate what bothers us about him and his agenda. We find it nearly impossible to call him to task. Once that level of manipulation has been achieved, the demagogue prevails not only in his own day but for decades to come, and historians even find themselves at his mercy.

In some ways Obama is doing nothing new. He comes from a long line of Democrat politicians who have pulled off similar sleights of hand and tongue. Obaman CHANGE draws upon the eternal springs of the “New Deal” and the “Great Society” that gave us misnomers like social security. The fear is, though, that Obama may surpass his predecessors precisely because he lives in a media age and is a media star. In the media age, actual words, still necessary, may not be as convincing as images. And Obama is the master of image. He is, frankly, cool. And America is thinking right about now that it could use a cool president. The only force capable of defeating him seems to be an equally cool, and much more genuine, vice presidential candidate, who is not just cool but loveable. But we still have to pay attention to the words that Obama uses to understand exactly what he intends to do with this country, or perhaps, to this country.

Pick almost any word from the Obama lexicon and you will find a betrayal of meaning and language: service, middle-class, community, organization, hope. Even change, his mantra, which he certainly would bring, does not constitute truth in advertising because the change with which he lures the American people is not the same change he has in mind. Americans don’t like radicals, and Obama is a radical. Even staunch abortionists find his actual record on abortion (the things he voted for rather than the things he said he voted for) extreme. Obama’s effectiveness cannot stem from his radicalism, therefore, but must derive from his ability to worm his way into the very American psyche that he has hated for most of his life and probably (does anyone know the real Obama?) still hates. To understand Obama’s success and his limits with the American people, let’s look at a seemingly innocuous word, yet ultimately the word that separates him most from what most Americans actually believe. That word is can.

Can is a subtheme to Obama’s campaign. Change took a back seat to can in the “Yes We Can” speech after Obama’s Oprah-aided victory in South Carolina. One of the Black Eyed Peas even wrote a song about the New Hampshire version of “Yes We Can.” Can, more than any other word I can think of, epitomizes the American spirit. Can is the child of the marriage between hope and resolve. Can opens up the world to the energetic and enterprising. Can can do. Can is human, to be sure, but it is also quintessentially American. Benjamin Franklin, the architect and embodiment of the American spirit of can, once wrote a pamphlet to the people of Europe telling them what sort of folks should “remove to America.” He was emphatic in saying that those who expect to come to America and not work hard are misled. Particularly gentlemen’s sons, used to a life of leisure and prestige, would not find things easy in the new country. America, wrote Franklin, is a place “where people do not inquire concerning a stranger, What is he? but, What can he do?” Franklin believed that individuals prove themselves not through titles or birth but through what they could and were willing to put their effort towards, through their capacity for can-do. The most obvious difference between Obama and the current Democrat party on the one hand and Franklin on the other, is that the former means precisely to define you according to what you are: by your race and, to a lesser extent, by your class, which they take as indelibly fixed. What can you do? What does that matter?

The lessons of the American can come to us in childhood. I remember being told about can countless times by my mother, who had been raised by two Depression-era parents from rural East Texas. My maternal grandfather, a mechanic, turned an auto parts shop into a modest fortune. He never went to college. My mother taught me about can by deploring its nemesis, can’t (rhymes with ain’t, for those of you North of Mason-Dixon). Whenever as a child I gave up, with the words “I can’t” as a sign of my surrender, my mother returned with, “Can’t never could.” Sometimes the enemy of success and hard work was even personified: “Ol’ Can’t? He never could.” She would usually add something about “elbow grease.” Americans even have a fable about the age-old battle between Can and Can’t, the Little Engine Who Could: “I think I can, I think I can.” Finally, with a lot of huffing and puffing, the Little Engine does.

These reflections would be nothing more than amusing anecdotes of childhood were not something very important at stake in this election. The thing Obama does not want you to know, the thing he can’t let you know lest you reject him outright, is that he is very subtly replacing the Politics of Can with the Politics of Can’t. The former sort of politics is the one that inspired our individual ambitions and made our country great. There is a real danger, on the other hand, that the latter sort would set about weakening individual ambition and tearing down our nation’s greatness. You see, the trick in “Yes We Can!” lies in who the “We” are. At first, “We” sounds like the American people. But the “We” in Obama’s formulation cannot possibly be the American people because if he believes that the American people can, it is hard to see why they need so much government help all the time. Obama’s “American people” are not the rugged individualists Franklin and Lincoln and Reagan had in mind. Look more closely at Obama’s “We” and you think you see the Democrat party. A sharper view takes you to the liberal wing of the party. Yet in truth, the “We” in “Yes We Can!” are really no more than a select group of politicians, activists, and bureaucrats who do not care very much for this country as it now stands but have big ideas about what it might become once they are in charge. And for this transformation to take place, Obama’s “We” (which is really they) need millions of willing accomplices, the seeming subjects of the “We’s” pity and patronage, the source of the “We’s” power, millions who agree on but one thing: that they, without the help of “We,” can’t. They can’t fend for themselves. They can’t think for themselves. They can’t even vote by themselves without the “We” driving them there and showing them how. They can’t be expected to pay taxes or bills on their own. They can’t go to college without the “We’s” help, which in monetary terms means your help. The real “We” sit atop the Obaman social pyramid, even above the “top 5 percent,” and the “American people” are the millions of drones needed to take the We, or really HIM, that high.

The Politics of Can’t preached by Obama is the abdication of personal responsibility, the surrender of the human spirit, and the transfer of all hope from one’s own inner resources (to say nothing of a forgiving God) to a cadre of cynical and sanctimonious politicians who have figured out how to prosper when people give up hope of doing for themselves. The Politics of Can’t is the chemistry of community organizing, and Obama’s virtuosity in it, in what Burke called “the petty war of village vexation,” has taken him to the verge of the White House. And the really frightening part about the whole scheme is that in order to pull it off, in order to answer the hopeless and mindless can’t, Obama has to bring in another seemingly innocuous word that he manipulates at will, the imperative must. Along with his favorite adjective redistributive, must cries out from his now famous 2001 radio interview. Since the people can’t for themselves, the government must. Everything follows from that principle: redistribution of wealth, abortion, opposition to real school choice, government health care; the list goes on. The must is not explained. The must is not to be questioned. But it clearly serves as a call to action. The must must get done by whatever means necessary. If must is achieved via the Supreme Court, great, though that way takes too long. If it is through elections, don’t forget, “We” also need the court to secure the victory.

The only way to beat Obama, then, is by serving his own words back to him. Strip them of their cover—carefully concealed and disguised as they are—by exposing their true meaning. This requires a special sort of political parsing and exposition of language. Senator McCain and Governor Palin have been doing an increasingly better job of that since Obama’s Joe the Plumber slip-up. It is time for Obama, now, to answer some questions about what he believes the American people can do for themselves and, indeed, what they ought to do for themselves. And it is time for McCain and Palin to begin reminding the American people of the long list of items Obama and, it seems, the Democrat Party believe they “can’t” do without the assistance of the government. It is difficult to imagine that such a list, when presented without the flowery assurances of demagogic promises, would not grate against the natural pride of every American heart. It is one thing if I say I can’t… it’s quite another when you tell me I can’t.

Again, the most horrifying portent of an Obama presidency is not that he might wreck the economy, invite attacks from abroad due to his inexperience and lack of faith in this great country, or even that he would appoint activist judges who will not leave the bench for a long, long time—though he would, most assuredly, do all of these things. The Founding Fathers built a nation that could, and that has, survived all these disasters. Instead, the most frightening prospect offered by this charismatic leader is that his pie-in-the sky promises and pandering politics will extinguish, in those who need it most, one of the most valuable qualities in man: the truly audacious hope in one’s own abilities to attain happiness through hard work in a land of liberty responsibly exercised. It is not implausible to imagine a young child, after years of an Obama administration, complaining to his mother that he “can’t.” He can’t do, he can’t learn, he can’t make something of himself. Will this mother respond, as my mother did, that “can’t never could,” or will she purr as she strokes that child’s head, “Don’t worry, child. You don’t have to. Barack and the government must do it for you.”? Ultimately, this is the question the real “we” must answer on November 4.

Originally published at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, October 2008.

The President, Not the Nation’s CEO

One important lesson from our history to remember is that the office of “President of the United States” is not meant to be the only chief executive in the nation. Let us reduce the office down to the size the Founders meant it to be and remind other chief executives of their authority and responsibilities.

The Framers of the Constitution, after much worried conversation on the matter, created a truly new type of head of state: not a king or a ruler, but an “executive” called a “president.” Though granting certain enumerated powers to the president, most notably that of being commander-in-chief of the army and navy, the Framers clearly limited those powers by giving him relatively short terms in office and making him removable by impeachment and accountable to both the Congress and the Supreme Court. Article II pales in comparison to Article I not because the president would have license to do anything but because it was understood that Congress would be deciding upon laws within the scope of that body’s likewise limited powers, and the president would be executing them.

When the nation’s first Congress was deciding upon the all-important matters of protocol and image, some senators were not satisfied with the plain title given by the Constitution to the nation’s foremost office. Vice President Adams pointed out that even “fire companies” and “cricket clubs” have presidents and suggested titles such as “His Elective Majesty” or “His Mightiness” as more appropriate, eliciting the sharp comment that Adams himself should be known as “His Rotundity.” But Congress stayed with the plain appellation “President,” whose very etymology suggests that the office presides rather than rules or reigns. As we all know, George Washington as president abandoned one of the titles he had carried during the war, “His Excellency,” and replaced it with the more business-like and down-to-earth “Mr. President.”

It is hard to remember in this multi-media-driven age in which we blame our every misfortune on the most visible representative of the nation — from natural disasters to imprudent business decisions on the part of multitudes — that the presidential office, like all of government, is supposed to have limited duties. For the most part, Americans are supposed to do for themselves and can do for themselves.

One of the last presidents who understood the office, the now undeservedly dismissed Calvin Coolidge​, once gave a speech to a group of boy scouts that is almost unimaginable coming from the mouth of Obama. After praising “reverence for law” and the “town meetings” he attended as a boy (not the kind where the President of the United States talks about national and international policy but the old fashioned kind concerning stopsigns and saloon licenses), President Coolidge​ explained the American way of self-government:

There is something in every town meeting, in every election, that approaches very near the sublime. . . . . I never address boys without thinking, among them may be a boy who will sit in this White House. Somewhere there are boys who will be presidents of our railroads, presidents of colleges, of banks, owners of splendid farms and useful industries, members of Congress, representatives of our people in foreign lands. That is the heritage of the American boy. (emphasis added)

What is remarkable about this speech, completely absent in the rhetoric of Obama, is that Coolidge fully counted on the local people (town meetings) doing for themselves precisely because there are other presidents in the land, almost or fully on a par with the president of the nation. Coolidge’s ideas about business — “the chief business of the American people,” as he said elsewhere — are a far cry from Obama’s “making government service cool again,” with himself high atop the federal bureaucracy, firing CEOs and upbraiding “greedy” bankers.

While Obama commands celebrity status, the presidential bully pulpit, and the mainstream media’s injudicious adoration, it is not easy to see what can be done to bring his power back down to earth. Until, that is, Americans regain their private-sector cool with Coolidge and realize that Obama is not the only chief executive in the nation.

In fact, he is not the most experienced chief executive in the nation. Nor is he the most tested chief executive in the nation. He is certainly not the most productive chief executive in this nation. And he is not, thankfully, whatever may be written for him on his teleprompter, the most articulate chief executive in the nation.

Obama was elected by 66 million citizens. The leaders of America’s major corporations have been elected, too, not only by their boards of directors but also by a much greater electorate: the American consumer, whose population is over 250 million strong. Not every American voted for Obama, but practically every American has eaten fast food and shopped in a Wal-Mart. Should Obama therefore be the only president in the nation to hold press conferences and town hall meetings on the state of the economy? Does he know the most or have the most true and compelling things to say about the economy? Should there not be some healthy competition between the two views of getting us out of this crisis: one that looks to government to solve all our problems, the other that looks to the productive capacities of free men and women pursuing their own hopes and happiness? If those two cases were made — the one by the President and his team of authoritarian advisors, having little or no experience in business, the other by the leaders of the great companies of our nation — which side would win the argument?

Imagine this scenario: A team of competent, popular, articulate CEOs of many of the nation’s great companies begin to hold press conferences addressing the current health and future prospects of their businesses. Would these CEOs not be obliged to address unambiguously the biggest roadblocks to future prosperity: high taxes, ridiculous levels of government regulation, massive public debt and its effects on available capital, and widespread uncertainty in markets? They owe this frankness to their investors, their workers, their customers.

Could Obama, with all the aplomb of his administration, really be able to respond weekly, and at times daily, to successful, articulate corporate leaders telling the public how things really work in the world of business and high finance? In this new battle in the long war between, not capital vs. labor, but business big and small vs. big, overreaching government, the leaders of business cannot stand by as spectators, continuing only to pour millions into lobbying, hoping either to avoid regulation or to receive a few scraps from the public table. They must take their case to the people. “Trust the people,” Ronald Reagan​ used to say, and so should business.

If Obama has his way, America’s business will never be business again. It will be bureaucratic, redistributionist, intrusive government. It is high time for some of these other presidents to speak up, take back their companies, and, in so doing, help ordinary Americans take back their nation.

Originally published on HumanEvents.com April 29, 2009.

Share the Health

President Obama​ and the Democrats in Congress cannot give you health.  Health is a human good given to you by God; subject to the laws of nature and the strictures of your own constitution; improved or worsened by your own choices and behavior; and aided or preserved, when needed, by recourse to medical treatment.  The Democrats are not able to give you health because they have not yet figured out how to assume the more-than-human powers of God and nature.

President Obama and the Democrats in Congress cannot give you medical care.  They cannot do so because they are not doctors or nurses.  Neither are they pharmacists.  They are no more trained in medical science than you are.  They have no insights into treating chronic diseases such as cancer or even how to cure your child’s whooping cough.  Going to the federal government for medical care is akin to going to the zoo when you need to buy a suit.  You may be entertained, but you will not leave with a suit.

President Obama and the Democrats in Congress can try to give you health coverage, or insurance, or they can coerce insurance companies to do so.  But they can only do so by forcing us all into the same crummy health plan, the so-called “single payer option” with the government ostensibly picking up the tab.  To make this plan even remotely financially plausible and to make things appear “fair,” they must treat everyone the same (equally badly), regardless of differences in age, physical abilities, spirit, and need. 

“Share the health” should be their motto.  Share-the-health, though, can only result in poorer health coverage, poorer health care, and quite likely poorer health for you and for all Americans.

You are the only one who can be truly in charge of your own health.  No one knows your own body, your own physical fitness, your own aches and pains and strengths and abilities, better than you do.  You know what triggers your headaches, how much sleep you need, how much fatigue you can endure, when you can “fight” a sickness with over-the-counter medicine and rest and when you simply must see a doctor.  No one has more of an interest than you do in keeping fit.  No one has more reason to avoid excesses and to “eat your broccoli.”  In short, no one has a greater interest in your own health than you.

That reason alone should suggest that you should be the one in charge of your own health care.  When you are truly in charge of your own health care you pay for it, like you do everything else you are in charge of.  And when you pay for things, you are usually economical in their use.  Your paying for your own health care will mean fewer trips to the doctor and less stress on the “health-care system.”

Recently I was suffering from poison ivy.  Had you been helping me pay for my health care, you can bet I would have gone to the doctor for a cortisone shot and some prescription ointment rather than clearing it up (over two awful weeks) with Caladryl and cotton swabs.  The difference is between the $120 that “we” pay vs. $6.50 that I pay.  Multiply that same choice millions of times over and imagine what would happen in a share-the-health health care system: millions of people going to the doctor when they could take care of themselves, millions of other people needing to see the doctor waiting in lines behind every hypochondriac.  Economy results in more health care to go around.

As we all know, there are people who do not take care of themselves.  They smoke, they drink, they don’t eat right.  They are more prone to contract diabetes or have heart failure.  They may be good people otherwise, but they are health risks.

You should not have to pay for the health care of those people.  It sounds cold and heartless, even un-Christian (the looming taunt of the liberal when dealing with social issues), but it is true.  You may be willing to drive them to the doctor.  You may be the friend who risks their anger by telling them they need to eat less, exercise, or give up fast-living.  But you should not have to pay for their health care.

Why?  Maybe it is because you are selfish and, if the market allowed, as a regular exerciser who eats right could get a better deal on health insurance.  Or maybe, just maybe, you would like those people who do not take care of themselves, not to have cheaper health care but instead to be healthy

Health is the primary commodity, not health care.  And the only other thing that might prompt those who do not take care of themselves to become healthy, other than the greater happiness having good health would bring to them, is having to pay for their own self-destructive behavior.  In any case, you should not be forced into subsidizing their unhealthy habits and choices.  Rather than being “guilted” into paying for everyone else’s health care, we should all wish to bring more personal responsibility into the system, not less, just as the Safeway health-care plan we have been reading about has given employees incentives to quit smoking and to slim down.  Healthier people mean more access to doctors for all.

If you pursue your own health reasonably well, without even being a fanatic, and if you pay your own doctors’ bills, then you should only need health coverage for one basic reason: catastrophic disease or accident for you or your family.  Very few individuals can afford life-saving treatments costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  So it is to the bad, old insurance companies you have to go to get coverage for “catastrophic.”  That kind of need, by the way, cannot be optional or used promiscuously.

Admittedly, the relationship you have with insurance companies is a little weird.  They hire morbid mathematicians called actuaries whose job it is to figure out how many chances in twenty you have in coming down with a deadly disease and how much that treatment would cost.  And, yes, these insurance companies are in business to make a profit, just as you are in business to make a profit.

But here is the curious thing about insurance companies.  They are betting that you will be healthy.  You are the one betting that you will get sick.  That is why they are often willing to pay for “wellness” visits though you tell your wife one doctor’s appointment every seven years or so is enough.  If you stay well, they can keep the whole of what you send them every month, as is the case with your life and auto and home-owners’ policies.  Furthermore, if they do not offer you a good deal, then you can go to another insurance company—that is, if the federal and state governments had not already put massive restrictions on the health insurance business.  Rather than being pilloried by self-serving politicians, the insurance companies should be freed up to do what they do best: offer good catastrophic coverage at reasonable prices.

If you insist on being responsible only for your own health in this brave new era of responsibility, you shall, of course, be asked about the millions yet uninsured.  This exploitation of your humanity is starting to wear thin.  In remembering Medicaid and CHIP and the 1200 free clinics in the nation, you cannot help but ask, if the government cannot take care of those they have already promised to with billions of American taxpayers’ dollars, what makes them think they could take care of you who are quite capable of paying your own way without coercion, interference, or, worst of all, help.

If you are allowed — and who, exactly, should be telling you, you are not? — to pursue your own health, your own medical care, and your own health coverage by the lights of your own reason, self-knowledge, and love of life, you will end up with better results in all three.  So will everyone else.  To this end, the Founding Fathers of this country held that free and independent men and women would best be able to pursue and to achieve their own health, wealth, and happiness by looking after themselves, and such individual responsibility would achieve the common good.

Barack Obama​ and the Democrats claim that they can provide your health and happiness better than you can by forcing us all into sharing our separate healths together.  Fortunately, in a democracy, you get to decide.

Originally published on HumanEvents.com on October 17, 2009.

What the Republican Pledge Needs: A Few More First Principles

The Republican Party’s 2010 Agenda, “A Pledge to America,” is in many ways an impressive document.  It contains both principles and policies that answer the call for a more accountable government in Washington.  It is particularly strong on the health-care issue.  Should the Republicans succeed in repealing ObamaCare, it will be rightly regarded as one of the most crucial victories in stopping the growth of the progressive welfare state.

As I look over the Republican Pledge, however, I am not convinced that it has all the power and principle it needs to change the direction of politics in Washington and actually to return the federal government to the limited—though important—role envisioned by the Founding Fathers.  Is, for example, cutting “government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” a temporary tactic or a permanent goal?  The ultimate purpose of the Tea Party movement would appear to be not just a return to the status quo ante Obama, but actually a restoration of the first principles of government as understood by the Founding Fathers and as practiced in this nation for a century and a half.

While holding those elected in 2010 to their own Pledge, we should urge Republicans and concerned citizens to press beyond the necessary tactics for winning elections in 2010 and consider a more complete set of first principles that will return government to its more limited place in our lives.  To this end, I offer the following.

Human beings are individuals.  They are born not into a class or a race or a special interest but into the human community.  The American ideal has always been to treat individuals not as belonging to preferred classes or groups but as individuals.  Attempts to categorize and hyphenate individuals, particularly for political purposes, are far from being American.

Human beings are endowed with considerable capacities.  They have the capacity to think, to work, to provide for themselves, and to pursue their own happiness.  Therefore, they have the ability and the responsibility to govern themselves, both in the individual and the collective sense.  Policies that treat human beings as wards of the state rather than as human beings capable of taking care of and governing themselves are not American.

Human beings are endowed with inalienable rights.  These rights include life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the protection of private property.  These rights come from God, not from government.

The chief end of government is to protect individual, inalienable rights.  Rights are not to be confused with entitlements.  A person’s rights are derived from being human, from the individual’s effort and talents, and from the self-evident principle that a person might use or save or give away his property as he sees fit.  Entitlements are alleged benefits that government transfers from one class of people to another under the guise of “welfare” or “care” or “security” but usually for political gain.  Government possesses neither life nor liberty nor happiness nor health and therefore cannot grant rights, only protect them.  For the first century and a half of the American experiment, the government mostly protected citizens’ rights.  For almost the last century, there has been a deliberate conflation of and confusion between rights and entitlements.  The restoration of sound government in our time means a return of government to protecting rights rather than providing entitlements.

The protection of private property is particularly important in America.  The American Revolution resulted in large part from a distant government’s cavalier attitude to property rights.  James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, described the purpose of the government in protecting property as follows:

The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to an uniformity of interests.  The protection of these faculties, is the first object of government.

In light of Madison’s ideas of constitutional government, contemporary attacks upon “the rich” used to pass progressive (i.e. unequal and often confiscatory) tax and fiscal policies are particularly insidious.  The “diversity in the faculties of men” will unavoidably result in some amassing considerable wealth.  The laws of political economy tell us that a rising tide, however, lifts all boats.  The more opportunity “the rich” have in investing capital in productive enterprise, the higher those boats will rise.

The American Founding Fathers framed a government of enumerated powers.  Those powers are enumerated in the Constitution of the United States.  The Constitution is not an “optional” document or a set of suggestions.  It is the supreme law of the land.  When the Constitution is found to fail in some particular, there is a possibility for amendment.  For the better part of a century, lawmakers at the federal level have regularly neglected the Constitution in order to adopt policies they regarded as “necessary.”  It is time that all policies adopted during that time and that are still in place be re-examined to determine whether they are constitutional.  To do so is not an academic or historical exercise but the responsibility of everyone elected to federal office.

The American Constitution is based on the separation of powers.  In that separation the legislative branch of government is responsible for making the laws.  For much of the last century, the legislative branch has absolved itself of that responsibility by passing big pieces of legislation that are no more than wish lists and then allowing unelected experts in the executive branch to interpret and add to the law as they see fit.  Citizens must obey laws that they do not even know exist and for which their elected representatives did not vote.  The U. S. Congress must gain accountability over the executive departments lest we become the reverse of what the Founders intended: a government of men, not of laws.

The American Constitution is also based on the principle of federalism.  The Founders consistently stated that the national government would attend to national objects, foreign policy and defense being the most important, and that state and local governments would take care of smaller, domestic concerns.  Today there is virtually no activity the federal government does not regulate or fund.  This country needs a fresh discussion about which proper objects of government should be the province of the federal government and which powers should be left to the states or to the people.

One purpose of the federal government is to “promote the general welfare.”  General refers to the people as a whole, not to select groups or to specific geographic locations.  Whereas, for example, the national highway system promotes the general welfare and is an implied power found in Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, the practice of passing pieces of legislation that appropriate funds for local “infrastructure” projects and likewise conveniently serve as pork to get members of Congress reelected is clearly a violation of the Constitution and the public trust.  State and local projects should be paid for by state and local governments that are more accountable to smaller electorates.

Private enterprise is just that: private.  Success or failure in business is and should be the result of profits and losses in the free market.  Government entrance into the private sector distorts market incentives, shields some selected businesses or industries from the discipline of the market, disfavors other businesses and causes them to invest in politics rather than in products, flouts consumer choice, and often amounts to corporate welfare.  The last few decades have given rise to an incredible governmental intrusion into private markets.  The government should divest itself of its holdings in and influence on the auto, financial, and mortgage markets lest America become another failed state-run economy.  Further, the federal government should cease doling out incentives to certain companies or industries, a practice belonging to the age of mercantilism, not that of free enterprise.

Job creation is not a legitimate function of government.  Individual entrepreneurs and workers know their own talents, investors know their own interests, and consumers know their own tastes better than government ever will.  The task of government is to attend to functions only government could or should do.  Every time government attempts to create a job, it takes productive capital—and therefore jobs—from the more responsive private sector.  So-called stimulus bills stifle economy, invention, and necessary competition and thereby slow natural recovery from the troughs of the business cycle.  Elected officials in government should show restraint during downturns and trust markets—which is to say, human beings acting in their own interests—to overcome momentary economic setbacks.  Otherwise the government creates long-term debt, the greatest obstacle to real recovery.

The current tax code is the result not only of bad economics but a complete ignorance of basic arithmetic.  The captious claim that “the rich” do not pay “their fair share” is pure politics and pure fiction.  A simple word problem exposes the fallacy.  If the federal tax rate on incomes were 10%, the individual who made $250,000 per year would pay ten times more than the individual who made $25,000.  In fact, the first person would pay in taxes the same amount that the second person made in income.  Would, however, the first person receive more from the government in services?  Would he be ten times more protected from foreign enemies?  Would he drive on roads that were ten times smoother?  Would he get his mail ten times faster?  Obviously not.  Therefore, the person taxed less receives the same amount of government services as the person who pays ten times more in taxes.  By no stretch of the imagination can the wealthier person be said not to pay his fair share.  A flat tax, therefore, already redistributes “goods.”  Yet in America we do not have a flat or a fair tax system.  Our taxes punish the industrious.  In federal income taxes alone, the head of household making $250,000 will pay over $64,000 in income taxes, to say nothing of state and local taxes, social security, Medicare, and so on.  The head of household making $25,000 might pay $3152 in taxes, but could pay nothing because of deductions.  Even if the second person paid the stated amount of his tax bracket, the first person would pay twenty times more.  The reality is that half of the nation pays no federal income tax apart from social security and Medicare.  The greater the number of people put onto the roles of non-tax-payers, the further our politics will become one of class warfare: that is, the property of the few will be used as the bait of demagogic politics.  That is plainly not American.  America needs a flat tax that applies to taxpayers equally.

The primary institution for civilization, education, acculturation, and basic human care is the family.  The stronger the family, the more likely children will reach the full extent of their human capacities for thought, work, happiness, and love.  The stronger families are in America as a whole, the less government—at every level—becomes necessary to repair the damage of familial and social breakdown.  Any governmental policy therefore that leads to the further erosion of the family—to include the subsidizing of having and bringing up children out of wedlock—must be regarded as a long-term social disaster and therefore eliminated.

The Founding Fathers believed in limited government because they believed in the almost unlimited capacities—God willing—of free, self-governing individuals living under the rule of law.  The last hundred years of so-called progressive politics has led us astray by trying to hoodwink us into believing that human beings are less than they are and that government is more than it can ever be.  It is time for the true statesmen of this century to re-fit our government into the framework designed by the Founding Fathers and to remind those in that government the truth stated by President Ronald Reagan:

“We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around.”

Originally published on BigGovernment.com on October 2, 2010

Review: Men to Boys – The Making of Modern Immaturity

Men to Boys:
The Making of Modern Immaturity
Gary Cross
Columbia University Press, 2008; 316 pages, $29.50

About a year ago when all the world was learning the lurid details of Tiger Woods’s sexual history, a history marked by depravity that was surpassed only by its immaturity, a lesser-known sports figure was also having romantic troubles perhaps more indicative of the culture of today’s young men. The girlfriend of fourth-ranked tennis star Andy Murray of Scotland, Kim Sears, decided to call it quits. The reason? Apparently Murray spent upwards of seven hours a day on his Play Station, one of his favorite video games being the popular Modern Warfare 2. Murray’s coach defended the star by pointing out that the young man spends no more time on his console than most 22-year-olds. Other apologists held that seven-hour engagements with this particular game are hardly unusual. Later reports indicated that Mr. Murray was not terribly heartbroken over losing the beautiful Miss Sears. He was seen out with other women not long afterwards.

The phenomenon of chronically immature males refusing to grow up is the subject of Professor Gary Cross’s extremely readable, informative, and unsettling Boys to Men: The Making of Modern Immaturity. Cross is not the first to explore this theme. In a growing body of research and commentary, cultural critics have alarmed the nation with accounts of and diatribes against the disturbing trend of young men’s “failure to launch.” Indeed, Cross has consolidated and provided keen insight into this literature in his own analysis of what he calls the “boy-man.” He places the boy-men in their historical context: to show on the one hand how different they are from the two preceding generations of men—the Greatest Generation of the forties and the Baby-Boomers of the sixties—but on the other hand how the boy-men understandably grew out of the ambiguities surrounding the idea of manhood in the modern world, ambiguities that clearly troubled even the heroes who were our grandfathers. For Cross, these themes can be best perceived by an investigation into popular culture, including facets such as film and television, advertising, sex in certain instances, and amusements. In addition to offering the perspective of a historian, the author draws upon his own experiences as a campus radical throughout the sixties in order to reevaluate the assumptions and tally the results of that most celebrated, and often self-righteous, youth movement.

Cross’s achievement is his ability to weave various strands of popular culture produced over nearly a century into a convincing narrative of decline in the tradition of male maturity and responsibility. The greatest generation had the cultural script of Judge Hardy and his son Andy, played by the naïve and lovable Mickey Rooney. The benevolent patriarch allowed his son the freedom to make predictable mistakes in life and love, but the judge with sage advice always redirected Andy after a failed experiment. The goal of culture, as with Andy, was growing up. The judge knew and could tell his son how to get there. Today it is the reverse: “The critical difference today is that the joke is on the father and not on the son. Today, the father has the unsettled role.”

The decline of male maturity, Cross contends, was not at first openly revolutionary but rather latent in the culture of post-World War Two America. Men returned home to find a corporate structure far from hospitable to individual heroism, homes in which the mothers managed things most of the time, children whose primary role seemed to be to spend what their fathers earned, and a variety of experts touting “progressive” and “democratic” parenting techniques. The ubiquitous televised Westerns of those days, such as Gunsmoke, taught the virtues of courage and responsibility and cool-headedness (a view the sixties’ radical would not have shared) but also served as a vicarious escape from a world that resembled in no way the simple verities of the Old West. A father in fifties might glory in his garage workshop or in the Little League ballpark in order to teach his sons diligence, teamwork, and problem-solving, or he might use these activities as a vehicle for escaping from the house and perpetuating his own adolescence, an ambiguity brought to the screen recently in Clint Eastwood’s marvelous Gran Torino (albeit a film about a Korean War vet of the forgotten generation). The mixed messages sent by such fathers could plausibly lead to sons in the anti-heroic mold of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye (1951) or James Dean’s role in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

After rethinking the fifties, Cross battles his own sixties’ saints and demons, putting himself on the couch, as it were, by means of a compelling contrast of the initial moral earnestness of the sixties with its juvenile, Oedipal, and, ultimately pleasure-principled foundations. Like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, eager to see through the fatuousness of suburban society but not always so articulate in making sense of his own life, the men of the sixties (particularly those who were white and middle-class) never offered a positive agenda. Once black activists took back their own civil-rights movement, the “new men” only had things to be against: the war, patriarchy, and traditional authority. Therefore, the draft was the summum malum, and not always for high principles: “The thought of being lorded over by some hick sergeant who loved guns and tormenting dreamy college boys scared me more than the thought of killing and being killed.” (I should ask parenthetically as someone who has been a dreamy college boy tormented by hick sergeants, what other way is there to prepare men for battle? The new men, of course, had an answer. Wars are going to end, and why should men be the only ones to fight them in the first place? The Judge Hardies are free to smile—or wince.) The ultimate failure of the new man, Cross realizes, owed to his proximity to the old wimp or coward. The only smiling, self-assured alternative seemed to be that presented by the playboy. He could spend money on himself, allow women freedom (into his bed), and show all the marks of a successful bourgeois life without buying into the stultifying culture of the suburbs. If only he could be guaranteed of finding, in Hef’s words, an obliging “female for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.” Nor did the Boomers ever grow up. Enter Viagra.

Cross shows the almost predictable result of the fifties’ escapism, the sixties’ youth revolt, and the increasingly seductive siren of America’s culture of consumption, the real villain in this story. Having nothing to rebel against, having no inner drive towards hard work or Stoicism or even delayed gratification, the boy-men of Generation X made an art form of indulgence. Though having roots in fifties’ hot-rodding and sixties’ rock, thrill-seeking takes over. Not only is thrill-seeking mindless, not only is it an appalling waste of time, but there also seems to be no moment at which the boy-man puts away his gaming console or dons a coat and tie: Cross considers it “more troubling the possibility that many men don’t experience that ‘real thing’ of participating in a grown-up world and thus don’t put away the toys.” Further, “videos games [among other mindless pursuits, Cross reveals,] induce otherwise ‘mature’ men to forego relationships with women and family (as well as more subtle and cultivated forms of leisure) for the highly individualistic and largely isolated encounter with the ephemeral thrill.” Cross could have added that the boy-man, when confronted with the shallowness of a life based upon “the cool” or the thrill, simply does not care. Like the tennis star, he can have a job, get along in life, have a girlfriend (who secretly holds him in contempt) and still enjoy addictive gaming or some other thrill. He will even tell you, as my male students have told me as the women rolled their eyes, that gaming really is a “community,” though presumably not the kind that Tocqueville had in mind when he pointed to vibrant associations as the cornerstone of American and democratic freedom.

As engaging a story as Men to Boys offers, there is a great deal lacking, owing to the author’s venturing important social criticism while limiting himself to writing a history of mostly popular culture. His thesis works if it is true that the phenomenon of the boy-man is caused exclusively by adolescent-minded advertising and the purveyors of action films and video games. Although he mentions fatherlessness at a couple of important junctures in the book, the possibility that the great refusal of the Boomers’ men to stay married and rear their children has been far more destructive than “Reagan-era” action films such as First Blood, hardly gains a hearing. Instead, the closing chapters in which Cross has promised some solutions, or at least suggestions, turn into progressively tired, though accurate, restatements of the problem, further jabs at the culture of consumption, and complaints against the decline, since the seventies, in wages and opportunity, using statistics that seem contestable at best. (Don’t men make their own opportunity?) Finally, Cross eschews an “essentialist” definition of maturity, and even more, of manhood. He only tells us that the benevolent patriarch is not the answer, with an occasional slur against Promise Keepers or some other religious organization. He says much about his own experiences in the sixties but nothing about his own interactions with his son or male students. He seems not to know that a little old-fashioned “hick wisdom” could go a long way in this matter. Boys will become men when they have fathers who stay married to their mothers, fathers who are engaged with the world and can tell their sons how to make their way in it, fathers who burst into their sons’ rooms on a Saturday morning, say “turn off that crap,” and then go do something useful with them.