It is a self-evident but largely forgotten truth that the good of America depends upon the moral strength of its men.  We use the term deliberately rather than the androgynous “people” and “persons.”  The current crises this nation faces are in large part the result of a crisis in manhood and caused by the failure of too many men too much of the time to do the right thing.  Books and articles with titles such as The Decline of Males, “The End of Men,” Men to Boys, The War Against Boys, and Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys—written by cultural critics on both the political Right and the Left—signal what every employer, every voter, every young woman in college today knows all too well: It is increasingly hard to find good men.  That alarming fact should not surprise us since the entire culture seeks to undermine traditional manhood.  We only have to compare the males of this generation in their late teens and early twenties to their grandfathers’ generation to realize how far and how fast we have fallen.

The larger undertaking of national renewal—so desperately needed in this country right now—depends upon the restoration of traditional manhood.  That restoration must not be content with trying to teach a few lessons in manners or manliness to the twenty-year-old wimp or barbarian as we find him.  Instead we must return the entire regime of making men to the principles of old.  These first principles lead us to a deliberate course of action, including the following:

  • Returning to time-tested methods of bringing up boys;
  • Restoring schools to the teaching of traditional subjects by traditional methods;
  • Revivifying true liberal education in the nation’s high schools and colleges, liberal education being understood as the making of free, self-reliant, and principled men (and women, too);
  • Reestablishing a culture of gentlemanly competition among boys in sports and in school and among men in business;
  • Reversing the course of and eventually ending the welfare state, which has enervated the will and sense of responsibility in men to provide for themselves and their families—not just in the “inner cities,” but also in the suburbs and small towns throughout the nation;
  • Revamping our commitment to live according to the cardinal and American virtues: courage, temperance, justice, prudence, perseverance, self-reliance, industry, frankness, and fidelity—all directed by a sense of honor;
  • Reclaiming men’s sense of chivalry and gentlemanliness in relation to women;
  • Renewing a generous and informed love of family, of country, and of God—with the aim of serving and protecting these higher ends.

The purpose of the thoughts put forth on this site is to arrive at both the grand strategy and the discrete tactics by which victory in Remanning America might be achieved.

A Return to Chivalry?

“Is chivalry dead?” I ask my Western Civilization students. The responses are invariably electric. As attenuated its forms, as rare its observance may be, chivalry still retains a significant place in the modern memory. It might surprise us that a generation reared with a bare minimum of discipline should care about a rigorous system of morals and manners. In particular, we may wonder that young men and women would think much of an ethic that encouraged both sexual restraint and the service of men on behalf of women. Yet we must realize that today’s youth are hardly enamored with either the sexual revolution or the feminists’ struggles to create an androgynous world. Their deeper longings are for a world in which virtuous men both respect and protect modest women. Here is a typical response by today’s college woman to the exam question, “The system of manners known as chivalry was necessary in the Middle Ages but is irrelevant today.”

Chivalry has indeed seemed to become irrelevant today and that is a tragic loss for both men and women. Women refuse to hold men to the standards necessary to achieve the genteel honor that we have lost. Women are disrespected in today’s society, because we ask for nothing more. There is probably not a woman alive who, in some part of her heart, would not want to be carried off on horseback by a knight in shining armor, but we are not allowed to admit that anymore. We are taught to declare ourselves equal to men in all respects and in no need of superior treatment. If only women would realize that chivalry was a way of showing respect and devotion, not condescension, do we have any hope of ever regaining this lost system of virtue.

The question is how moral educators can bring young men and women to this conclusion and give them the courage to act upon it. For our deliverance from a vulgarized sexuality on the one hand and a forced androgyny on the other will begin only when young men and women begin to contemplate the creation of a new chivalry. In other words, men must begin again to act like men, women like women, and some standards of decency must govern their relations.

Students’ initial responses to the question of whether chivalry is dead will mostly concern whether men still open doors for women and whether they should. The teacher might suggest other courtesies that men used to perform which today’s adolescents have never seen or heard of, such as standing up for a lady when she walks into the room. This discussion can be of enormous value in teaching young men that the majority of women actually appreciate these vestiges of chivalry. The women, with one or two exceptions in every group, long for the days when men “acted like gentlemen.” Many young men, on the other hand, are under the impression that women resent having doors opened for them. “There are feminists out there who will tell you off,” they say. The testimony of their female peers to the contrary leaves them without excuse.

Once the discussion of whether chivalry still exists and in what forms it has been exhausted, the teacher should address the other side of the question particularly to the ladies. To what extent has positively unchivalrous behavior become the norm for young men? Personal anecdotes will abound. This might be the one chance women have to register their dissatisfaction with inveterate cursing, for example. They will never do so in company. When women are told that they could create a chivalrous environment by insisting that men stop cursing, if necessary by leaving their company, they show reluctance. Naturally pleasing, they do not want to spoil the conversation by correcting someone nor to be called a bad name on their leaving. The more restrained setting of the classroom, where comments are not directed at anyone personally, is the ideal forum for just complaints. Hopefully the young men will respond to this discussion by cleaning up their language. The young women should nevertheless be encouraged to make their objection to cursing more generally known. I use the example of my grandfather who deplored the modern man’s practice of wearing a hat at the table but held women responsible: “In my day a lady would not sit with a man who wore his hat.” Previous ages realized that women are the natural arbiters of manners, and our age must profit from their insights.

More than just cursing, women will have experienced more threatening forms of indecency. They do not like being whistled at, yelled at, or being made the subject of sexual innuendo. One thing every female runner will complain of is being yelled at by a carload of young men. Some of the young men in the classroom might have done some of the yelling. “So what’s the big deal?” they might ask. “It’s just a way of telling a girl that she’s hot.” “That’s why she’s running in the first place, isn’t it, to be noticed?” “Sometimes girls yell at guys, too.” Here the young women should be asked why being yelled at bothers them. What they will say is that a woman never knows when yelling might turn into something else, especially when running in a big city, or at night, or even on rural roads. Some of them might even remember an infamous rape case. Young men never have to worry about a group of girls surrounding them. The point needs to be made that from the perspective of a woman, a verbal assault, besides being very often degrading in itself (“show us your X”!) is always potentially translated into a physical assault. A woman knows that a carload of sixteen year-olds, whatever their intentions, could stop and overpower her without anyone coming to her rescue. A young man has no equivalent worry. Thus, there is a difference between the sexes, and that difference requires a gender-specific rather than a gender-neutral code of manners.

Once students become aware that the vulgarization of the relations between the sexes is taking place before their very eyes, they are ready to discuss the importance of chivalry in the history of Western civilization. Before exploring how chivalry worked in its heyday, students should know why this code of manners was developed in the first place. Chivalry took root, slowly, as the response to one of the gravest crises in the history of the West: the total collapse of civilization after the fall of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century A. D. and again after the collapse of the more precarious Carolingian Empire in the Ninth Century. True Hobbesians should spend some time with the early Middle Ages, for truly there has never been a period when life was as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” There was no government. There was no police force. Property and persons were utterly at the mercy of very bad men. These men might be called “young,” partly because of their age and partly because of their youthful energy and disrespect for any older, established order. Young men on horseback roamed the countryside in huge packs and pillaged whatever semblance of civilization they found: families, churches, farms, markets. Like all young men, they came around to the idea of finding young women. Having no respect for decency, their method was simple. They just took any women they might come across. They took widows, wives, daughters, and nuns, from any place they might find them. Young men had no notion of courtship. Their desire for the opposite sex expressed itself in venereal hooliganism. In short, the behavior of young men during the Dark Ages did not differ considerably from that found in the inner-city gangs of today.

The solution to this crisis came through a gradual change in the motives and manners of the armed horsemen. Established men, the Church, and young ladies themselves combined forces to tame the unruly passions of these violent predators. They did so by effecting a direct exchange of male freedom for duty. To become true knights, young men had to submit themselves to an elaborate set of regulations known as chivalry that brought them into the social order and established them in marriage to young, beautiful heiresses. To enter the ranks of knighthood, young men had to submit themselves to a thorough regime of ethical training that prepared them for a life of service. The element of danger and enterprise remained in their lives since they had to protect their land and their ladies. The idea of male honor came into being. It became dishonorable for a strong man to intimidate or injure someone physically weaker than himself. The ritual par excellence for the display of chivalry became the tournament. No other event allowed the young knight to shine in combat before the eyes of anxious maidens and discerning parents so much as this great pageant of courage and courtesy. The tournament was not simply a game or a sport. The virtues and martial skills developed in the lists prepared young men for encounters against enemies at home and abroad in these lawless times. The deference paid to ladies guaranteed that manly strength would never be employed against the fair sex but rather in its defense.

At this point in the discussion, the teacher should drive home his point. The women are still silently sympathetic to the plight of women in the Middle Ages and perhaps realize that modern manners are reverting to early medieval conditions. The men are wishing they could become knights. The teacher should ask the men, “In the course of your education have you ever been taught what it means to be a man?” The question will floor them. Immediately they sense the need for such an ethical education and its total absence in the schools, the culture, and too often in the home. The fact of the matter is that young males today do not have the slightest idea of what it means to be men. And yet the desire of young men to be something more than irresponsible boys or even “nice persons” remains as strong as ever, despite the efforts of radical feminists, androgynists, and hyper-egalitarians. The evidence comes from a most unlikely source. Christina Hoff Sommers in The War Against Boys aptly draws our attention to a wonderful collection of essays called Between Mothers and Sons. The authors are left-leaning, pacifistic, feminist, and very much children of the sixties. Yet these mothers discover in their sons something they did not inculcate: the male nature. One such mother, Janet Burroway, describes how she nervously came to terms with her son’s adventures in the military, conservative political ideas, and fascination with weaponry. She saw the sewing lessons she gave to her son in hopes of turning out a little feminist “put to use on cartridge belts and camouflage.” In short, even many of the feminist mothers of today are finding themselves in the position of Perceval’s mother who had never let her son see a knight since “if the knights told him of their way of life he would wish to be one also.” Yet on first seeing knights pass through the forest, Perceval knew he must become one. When his mother realized “her caresses availed no longer to keep him” she supported Perceval in his decision:

Fair son, I wish to teach you a lesson which you will do well to hear, and if it pleases you to remember it, great profit can come to you. You will soon become a knight, my son, if it please God, and I approve it. If, near or far, you find a lady who needs help, or a maiden in distress, do not withhold your aid if they ask for it; for in this all honor lies. He who does not yield honor to ladies, loses his own honor. Serve ladies and maidens, and you will receive honor everywhere. If you ask a favor of any, avoid offending her and do nothing to displease her. He who wins a kiss from a maiden receives much; if she permits you to kiss her, I forbid you to take more if, for my sake, you are willing to forego it. . . . Fair son, speak with noble men and go with them; a noble man never gives bad counsel to those who frequent his company. Above everything I beseech you to enter church and minster and pray Our Lord to give you honor in this world and grant you so to act that you may come to a good end.

Perceval’s mother learned that she could not deny her son’s nature. The attempts to deny the male nature today have proven harmful both to men and women. For the history of chivalry has taught us that the young male can become gentle, provided that he is allowed to do so on his own terms, provided that gentleness does not reflect pusillanimity but allies itself with strength and honor.

Once the male students realize that what is at stake in this discussion is nothing less than their own manhood, and once the females begin to see what men could become, this distant epoch from the past will become a source of living instruction. The moral teacher must throw down the gauntlet. Currently, there is a great cultural battle being waged on every street corner, and in every school, and in every family in this country. It is the battle for common decency. On many fronts, the battle is being lost, but the tide has perhaps turned. The fact that the children of the sixties generation could even be interested in a theme like chivalry is a great sign of hope. But more than being interested, they must act upon the moral principles of their nature. Just as Churchill said that World War II would be won by the unknown soldier, so the battle for common decency will not be won by one great thinker or statesman or teacher. It will be won by millions of ordinary men and women doing their duties as ordinary men and women. The return to chivalry requires that every young man exercise his courage in becoming a gentleman and that every young woman exercise her modesty in becoming a lady.

On Principle, v9n4,August 2001

The Laws of Nature Apply to Tigers, Too

There has been an eerie silence — even amidst all the lurid details making their way through the Blogosphere — on the moral significance of Tiger Woods​’s “transgressions.”  It has proven easier for those who want to discuss the issue instead to wonder how this event might affect his career, to track his approval ratings, and to speculate on whether he will lose untold millions in endorsement revenue, as sponsors are already pulling ads.  The Scarlet A, it appears, sits uncomfortably atop the Nike Swoosh.

Even among conservatives there seems to be a prevailing mum.  Quite likely pundits find it unnecessary to state the obvious: that the discipline Tiger Woods displays on the golf course has not transferred to his own personal life, that such a pattern of behavior in one of the most known figures in the world suggests a massive amount of hubris (or just arrogance), and that there are people — one being an epically lovely woman, the other two being children — whose lives have been wrecked far beyond any damage done to a black SUV.

We must realize, however, that “the obvious” is not always entirely obvious to the least wise and most impressionable members of our society: particularly teenagers whose own passions partake of the Tigeresque unruliness, who are capable of exercising the sexual freedom we have given them, and who can hardly keep from following this event as it unfolds in all its unseemliness.

By now most teenage males in America have seen the images of Mrs. Woods juxtaposed with the mistresses and weighed the case in their own minds.  We can surmise their responses.  More than half have determined, “Dude, they’re hot!  A man just can’t resist that.”  Most of the rest, more in touch with their moral and aesthetic senses, have, in looking at Mrs. Woods, marveled, “Dude, how can you cheat on that!”  The overwhelming minority have asked the question that would have been the norm in days gone by: “How can a man of honor do that to the mother of his children, and to his children?”  Young people, especially young men, do not pull ideas of the good and the beautiful out of thin air, nor off the Internet.  The vital question is how we adults direct young, unruly, and passionate people to the good, even at this moment and in this age.

The age of our nation’s founding had answers for young people.  The men who ran schools and colleges and churches, the women who reared up children at home, did not allow wayward youth to stew in their own juices.  When the young James Madison​ went to college in Princeton, he encountered a lecture like this:

In marriage we ought to observe … there is something peculiarly distinguished, dignified, and solemn in marriage among men.  This distinction is necessary and founded in reason and nature…
…[M]an is manifestly superior in dignity to the other animals, and it was intended that all his enjoyments, and even his indulgence of instinctive propensities [sex] should be of a more exalted and rational kind than theirs.  Therefore the propensity of the sexes to one another, is not only reined in by modesty, but is so ordered as to require that reason and friendship, and some of the noblest affections, should have place.
The particulars which reason and nature point out relating to the marriage contract are …
1.    That it be between one man and one woman…
2.    The fundamental and essential part of the contract is fidelity and chastity…
3.    The contract should be for life …
4.    If superiority and authority be given to the man, it should be used with so much gentleness and love as to make it a state of as great equality as possible…

There is infinitely more sense in this brief excerpt of a lecture given over two centuries ago than in all the claptrap that has been said in all the public schools and both public and private colleges about sex over the last fifty years.  What the lecturer (John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration), is trying to impart to young men in their late teens is the idea that human beings are not animals, that they must live by a higher law of thought and action, that they have both reason and noble affections that enable them to flourish in the world beyond their mere appetites, that they are capable of love.

The lesson that we must draw from the Tiger affair is that just as kings (or presidents) cannot live above the laws of the land and the laws of nature, so neither can the richest and most gifted among us live above the moral laws of nature with impunity.  Further, an entire culture cannot afford to shrug off the moral restraints and rule of reason that constitute the only path to lasting happiness.  The Tiger affair has not taken place in a cultural vacuum.  While Woods authored his own acts, these acts have been written according to a prepared script of moral relativism and sex-as-the-highest pursuit.

To the assault on the political constitution that began in the nineteen-thirties in this nation was added an assault in the nineteen-sixties on our  moral constitution.  Both constitutions are still under attack.  Both must be defended — with equal vigor.  We could begin reconstituting ourselves morally by giving our teenage boys — and girls — a proper lecture in sexual ethics.

Posted on HumanEvents.com on 12/10/2009.

Chivalry Now

A review of The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry, by Brad Miner

Edmund Burke’s famous pronouncement that “the age of chivalry is gone” was perhaps premature. Sure, ten thousand swords did not leap from the scabbards of the French nobility to defend Marie Antoinette, but such a betrayal did not mean that “the unbought grace of life, the cheap defence of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise” was forgotten in Britain, or America. More than two centuries later, the spirit of chivalry has not been entirely eradicated from the human heart, even in our pacifist, feminist, postmodern age.

While teaching both college and high school students, I have found nothing to electrify a classroom as much as the topic of chivalry, which I always introduce with the simple question, “Is chivalry dead?” The reasons for student interest are straightforward: young women are curious to see how men used to treat women in a more mannered and moral age, and young men, for their part, are painfully aware that in many respects they are less manly than their forefathers. These students have usually been given little instruction by their parents and teachers on what it means to be a man or a woman. Perhaps no other image, then, can appeal to them as much as the knight on horseback who will, for the sake of honor, fight any man, and still bow in deference to every lady.

And yet, the story of chivalry has not gotten out. Maurice Keen, Richard Barber, and Georges Duby have written excellent academic histories of chivalry, but these works are aimed at a scholarly audience and make no attempt to explore the relevance of chivalry for our own time. Medieval narratives, especially Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, are often tough reading and Hollywood blockbusters like last summer’s King Arthur or A Knight’s Tale from a few years ago are utter disappointments. But now Brad Miner, an executive editor at Bookspan and former literary editor for National Review, has given us The Compleat Gentleman, an attempt to trace the chivalric tradition from medieval times to our own and to return contemporary manhood to its moorings in this gentlemanly tradition.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, lawless young men on horseback roamed the countryside in search of a fight. They threatened any semblance of order, and especially threatened women. Gradually, these young men became less dangerous by accepting the code of knighthood. They promised to display certain virtues: loyauté, prouesse, largesse, courtoisie, and franchise. In return, they might gain property by marrying the daughter of a lord. Or they might make a considerable fortune and win glory by testing their mettle in frequent tournaments. Miner offers interesting snapshots of the knight’s training, the knighting ceremony, and tournaments. These last, in particular, were crucial to the development of chivalry, having “the dual virtues of providing both a means of testing a knight’s prowess and of expiating his violent energies.” And Miner reminds us that tournaments in the heyday of chivalry were not celebrated in the fashion of the confined jousts of either Scott’s Ivanhoe or cinematic lore, but rather in the form of a mêlée, a massive battle lasting all day and often engaging hundreds or even thousands of knights. Injuries were frequent, and death was not uncommon.

While Miner offers the basic outlines of medieval chivalry, he fails to recount certain facts and anecdotes that might do more to win our hearts. For example, as courtly philosophy began increasingly to shape the ideal of knighthood, a knight could be barred from tournaments for any unchivalrous behavior, including deserting his lord in battle, destroying vineyards and cornfields, or repeating gossip about a lady. Can we imagine a sporting event today in which players who had “talked trash” about a girl would not be allowed on the field? Who would be left to play? Miner makes excellent observations on William Marshal, “the flower of chivalry,” but most of his other character sketches amuse more than they impress. Other knights should have appeared in this book. Consider Maréchal Boucicaut who while in Genoa running the government of Charles VI, once bowed to two prostitutes, whom he did not know. His page said, “My lord, they are whores.” Boucicaut responded, “I would rather have saluted ten whores than to have omitted saluting one respectable woman.” Another good lesson for a culture that too often treats respectable women as “ho’s.”

* * *
Miner classifies the chivalrous man as part warrior, part lover, and part monk, and addresses each aspect of this ideal in separate chapters. A reformed pacifist who prefers his sons to be Galahads rather than Gandhis, Miner clearly sees that a post-September 11 America is no place for milquetoasts. We are living in a fallen world and bad men want to do bad things to us. We must be ready to respond in kind: “a gentleman really must face the reality of violence and not reject it, but like any warrior he will turn to violence only as a last resort.”

The chapter on the lover is not nearly as inspiring. Miner does a good job of explaining how troubadours and assertive ladies with questionable sexual histories, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, could establish the quasi-religion of courtly love. He is also forthright about the difficulty such love poses to all contemporary moralists who want to adopt chivalry as a model: knights and ladies were often adulterers, most famously Guinevere and Lancelot. But Miner never mentions Wolfram von Eschenbach, the 13th-century Bavarian knight who tried in his Parzival to reconcile courtly love with marriage. Nor does he say anything about the reforms of the 14th and 15th centuries, that sought to turn weak-willed knights into true gentlemen. And most curious of all, he ends a chapter about love with a discussion of women in combat. According to his rather strained logic, the true gentleman respects women and gives them what they want. If she is strong enough and willing, then today’s “woman warrior” should be allowed to fight alongside today’s chivalrous man.

Miner’s treatment of the gentleman is likewise far from “compleat.” He does relate the history of the gentleman, the successor to the knight, from the Renaissance onward, but unfortunately he sandwiches this chapter between his first chapter on the knight and his three chapters on the warrior, the lover, and the monk, which all return to medieval themes. As a result, he never shows any of the improvements or adjustments that the culture of the gentleman made on the original model, especially with regard to sexual mores. And too often he considers gentlemanly advice books as a true reflection of how actual men thought and acted. Such a selective use of sources is understandable for the Middle Ages, but the historical record is far richer in modern times. His handling of the 18th century is particularly lacking: he focuses on Lord Chesterfield’s letters to his illegitimate son, a work which Miner himself tells us was considered by Samuel Johnson to “teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.” Only by confusing the century of Washington and Hamilton and Burke with the letters of Chesterfield could one conclude that the “heroic aspect of the gentlemanly character would begin to be lost in the mystification of manners.” Miner actually gives no more than a passing mention to America’s greatest gentlemen, the Founding Fathers. And he seems to think little of manners generally. The muddled section on politesse hardly recommends good manners at all but instead insists, “nobody has better manners or finer suits or more skill in debate than the devil himself.”

Finally, Miner overlooks one vital aspect of modern manliness altogether. His tripartite knight roughly corresponds to the medieval conception of the three orders in society: oratores (those who pray), bellatores (those who fight), and laborares (those who work). Yet he substitutes lovers for workers, leaving no place in his scheme for what most gentlemen do in modern times: work hard to provide for their families. Calling for a return to the warrior ethic in these times is certainly warranted. But in practical terms, not all of us can serve in the military. And as Adam Smith knew and American history has shown, an industrialized power firm in its will and purpose will always prevail over a less developed enemy.

Despite its flaws, Brad Miner’s book is a good introduction to chivalry and one hopes it will inaugurate a rich discussion over the qualities of true manliness. For that, we owe him our courteous thanks.

Posted March 10, 2005. This article appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of the Claremont Review of Books

The Age of Chivalry Gives Way to the Age of the Pat-Down

Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers.  I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.

But the age of chivalry is gone. . .

—Edmund Burke

The growing resistance to the choice facing all airline passengers in America between a highly revealing body scan and an aggressive pat-down is another sign that Americans are rediscovering their natural, inalienable rights, for whose protection governments were instituted among men in the first place.  But there may be another issue at stake that is as essential to our humanity and our civilization.  Will today’s men allow women to be either photographed in the form of a nude negative (for now, until the technology adds color to the negative) or touched indecently by strangers?  More simply, will men allow women to be violated?

Let us consider the various scenarios.  A man takes his wife and three daughters ages ten, fourteen, and eighteen on vacation.  To get on their plane—any plane—he must allow them all to be scanned or fondled.  In either case, the TSA employees get to see or feel the stages of emerging and full womanhood.  The father’s only choice is not to go on vacation or to throw away his manhood, his role as protector, in the security line along with the bottle of water he could not finish.

Another man is going with his lovely bride on their honeymoon. Before the wedding night a bevy of TSA security personnel (who would never take an unchaste glance at the outline of a shapely twenty-something) have become far more intimate with her figure than her husband.  He has a choice: not go anywhere exotic for their honeymoon or get in a fight and be thrown in jail for creating a disturbance at an airport.  A third man, a little younger than the first and a little older than the second, is traveling with his wife the last time they can before the baby comes.  She has just begun her second trimester and is definitely starting to show.  This couple’s choice is between another ultrasound on the one hand or a probing of her lower abdomen on the other.  We will all feel safer knowing that the “bump” is not a weapons stash.

Finally, a fourth man, a veteran of World War II who landed at Iwo Jima, must watch his wife of sixty years be prodded by people who were not alive during that war, who have no idea how many men have fought and died to preserve freedom in this country, and who handle this old couple almost as roughly as slave traders used to grope their cargo when coming off those foul ships.  But this couple does have a choice!  They’re retired.  They could take a train if they wanted to get some place quickly.

There used to be a much simpler answer to questions of this sort.  Men did not allow women to be treated in a way that compromised their modesty.  Men used to fight duels over a woman’s honor.  Before the world was safe for inalienable rights, way back when people were emerging from the Dark Ages, the world had to be made safe for women to live, to be protected from rough handling, to have a safe place to bring up their children.  There is a very good reason to think (historians and anthropologists confirm this) that men’s protecting the women they love—the generous impulse known as chivalry—is the beginning of civilization, the beginning of some modicum of decency, the beginning of any chance at security in the world.

There is also good reason to believe that nations begin to fall when their men no longer think it worth the effort to protect the women they supposedly love and “would die for.”  Do men still live in America?

What am I suggesting?  Should husbands and fathers start dueling with TSA agents?  There is actually a much easier solution, other than requiring the new Congress to act on the principles for which they were elected.  When I first went through the indignity of a body scan, I resolved that my wife, as retrograde as it may sound, would never get on a plane until the scanners came down.  I wonder whether the airlines could last very long if a full half of their passengers stopped flying.  What pressure might those airlines exert on Washington to restore some decency, perhaps even some chivalry, to our all too public transportation?

Whither Goeth Chivalry?

Chivalry is dead, Edmund Burke famously declared. Perhaps the news of chivalry’s death was premature — in 1790, Burke was denouncing the arrest of Marie Antoinette in the French Revolution.

But gentlemanly courtesy and honor have become increasingly rare, says Brad Miner, and today the chivalrous man is “ex mille electus,” one in a thousand.

There “have never been many chivalrous men, but they are essential in the life of a society,” says Mr. Miner, author of “The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry.”

The archaic spelling of “compleat” suggests that traditional ideals are long gone. Mr. Miner contends that Americans now live “in a time in which the idea of a gentleman and of chivalry are in retreat.”

Mr. Miner says fathers are partly to blame for the decline of chivalry. Fathers “make clear what the virtues of a gentleman are by example,” he says.

“If you yourself don’t aspire to be a gentleman, you certainly won’t instill that aspiration in your sons,” Mr. Miner says. “It is always easier to take the easy way. That is why, both past and present, you don’t have many men aspiring to be chivalrous.”

Terrence O. Moore, principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colo., shares this concern over the loss of gentlemanly ideals. Young men today — the “sons of Murphy Brown,” he called them in a recent essay — tend to be either “wimps or barbarians,” rather than seeking a “golden mean” of manliness.

Many boys are “disappointed in the culture and sometimes in their parents, for not having taught them the basic ideas of courtesy, gentlemanliness and authentic manliness,” Mr. Moore says.

Mr. Miner says his book was inspired by a scene in the 1997 movie, “Titanic,” As the ship is sinking, philanthropist Benjamin Guggenheim and other male passengers go to the bar dressed in white tie and tails. When one of the ship’s crew urges him to don a life jacket, Guggenheim responds, “No, we are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down as gentlemen.”

That chivalrous gesture, Mr. Miner says, inspired only laughter in a group of young teenage boys sitting behind him in the theater where he saw “Titanic.” Baffled by their response, he says, he began to explore why gentlemanly ideals were no longer respected.

The “compleat gentleman,” Mr. Miner says, exhibits qualities of a lover, a monk and a warrior:

  • As a lover, a gentleman “gives his wife her own way. He respects her as a person, and respects therefore, her decisions as a woman.”
  • As a warrior, a gentleman fights for what is right and stands up for what he believes in. In the Middle Ages, the “warrior code that was emerging, was also the practice of courtly love,” Mr. Miner says.
  • As a monk, a gentleman must embrace learning and have a stoic attitude toward death. Monks live “in the presence of death all the time,” he says, “and so should a compleat gentleman, because it focuses his mind on why things are worth fighting for.”

At the heart of chivalry, Mr. Moore says, is the idea of noblesse oblige — an ethic of service: By placing others first, men learn how to be courteous and respectful.

This is more than a problem for boys, the Colorado educator says: Young women are looking for virtuous, chivalrous men and are discouraged by not finding them.

Feminists have “undermined the idea of traditional manhood” and it is for this reason women must “appeal to the heroic in men,” Mr. Moore says.

Charlotte Hays, senior editor at the Independent Women’s Forum, blames “this haglike feminism that has developed” for destroying chivalry by denying differences between men and women.

In order to recover gentlemanly ideals, she says, society must “reject what is generally called feminism — the kind that wants to send women into combat … and recognize that men and women are basically different, and that it is historically the role of the male species to put the lady first.”

Feminists disagree.

The decline in manners is not just about men, says feminist author Naomi Wolf, co-founder of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership.

“Young men and young women are not taught to be kind to elderly people, to give up their seat to a pregnant woman, to be as good as their word,” she said. “I don’t see this as feminism causing this decline. I see it as a set of social factors which are degrading the values of young men and young women.”

Ms. Wolf cites such influences as pornography, MTV, reality-TV shows and the fact that “the left insists that education be secular.”

Patricia Williams, feminist and columnist at the left-wing Nation magazine, says society is facing “a decline of manners among both men and women and has nothing to do with gender.”

She says a “kind of nostalgia for the man who believed in civic virtue and the woman who embodied … true womanhood disguises the extent of the many deplorable social problems we have now.”

However, Mr. Miner says, many men use feminist arguments as an excuse for behaving like cads.

“Some men take the claims of feminism in order to reject the idea that men ought to show deference to women. But to a compleat gentleman, none of that matters,” he says.

Chivalry and courtly love were really “a kind of proto-feminist idea that was a force for civilizing men,” says Mr. Miner, saying that medieval women taught men the virtues of civility. “Just as it was in the Middle Ages, so it is now, that men must learn the most important things of all from women.”

Mr. Moore agrees: “If men know they have to prove themselves and that they have to marry the women they have sex with, men will have to become marriageable and manly, rather than just cool and funny,” he says.

The Washington Times, Monday, April 19, 2004.

Were the Men of SEAL Team 6 Taught Not to ‘Bully Back’?


The Left’s Attack on Manhood

Barack Obama is a president at odds with himself.  On the one hand, he and his aides are carefully cultivating his new image as the gritty and decisive Commander-in-Chief, making the call to take out Osama bin Laden for the safety of untold Americans.  On the other hand, his health care, stimulus, and other social spending sprees have made him the most intrusive Nanny-in-Chief since LBJ, though he is giving the author of the Great Society a run for his money.  The incongruity is all the more telling when we cut through the rhetoric and bogus philosophy of the progressive state and actually figure out what the Left’s agenda is.  It is quite simply a campaign to eliminate manhood.

Although I have taught and written on the subject of manhood for years, this truth did not become obvious to me until I read the autobiography of a one-time angry black youth. Filled with the leftist dogma he had been saturated with at a leading college, he asked his grandfather why—even in the middle of the Depression—the older man had not gone on public assistance.  The grandfather, who could barely read and who would have been typecast by a sociologist as an upper-lower-class African American (and therefore the prime target of the Democrat party), offered one of the most profound comments ever made on the evils of the welfare state, deserving to be ranked among those of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.  “Because it takes away your manhood.”  That is, the man who gives up on himself—on his own industry, determination, intelligence, courage, and will—and lets the government take care of him in those matters government has no place, has simply lost the right to call himself a man.  A man is by definition the being who takes care of himself and his family: who is independent and free and therefore has honor.  The man who made that statement, by the way, was the grandfather of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

It is no accident that as we read statistics about the percentage of Americans on food stamps and accepting other transfer payments to be at an all-time high that mothers taking their children to the park on a weekday afternoon will find men in their twenties and thirties hanging around—sometimes with children, sometimes without—with no purpose or place to go.  It is no accident that the economic slump we are in has accurately been called a he-cession owing to the dramatic increase in government jobs such as teachers and various levels of “health-care workers” and “social services” employees, contrasting with the dearth of work in manufacturing and other traditionally male occupations.  To have a successful progressive state, you have to put men out of work and put them on the dole—or make them dependent on their wives and consorts.  To this end, Lionel Tiger in his book with the chilling title The Decline of Males coined the phrase “bureaugamy,” referring to the marriage between the welfare state and single women, with men loitering on the outskirts, either in jail, engaged in crime, or hoping to receive some scraps off the government table.

That the Left is deliberately attempting to undermine the self-reliant spirit of manhood may seem like a crazy conspiracy theory to the uninitiated.  But one need only consider the right arm of the progressive movement—public education—to realize the extent to which the least vestige of independent masculinity has been painstakingly eradicated from the lives of boys.  As Christina Hoff Sommers and others have shown, boys are constantly put on Ritalin at the behest of teachers and “health-care professionals” in an effort to drug them into not just obedience but lifelessness; any books in the curriculum that contain accounts of action and war are replaced with tame tales of “ordinary” (i.e. boring) boys and girls or, more often, P. C. stories about living with two mommies or boys playing with dolls; and playgrounds are aggressively policed and even games such as dodge-ball are eliminated with the sole motive of keeping boys from being themselves.

Just recall what President Obama was doing a few weeks ago—before he transformed himself into the war leader.  He was holding at the White House an anti-bullying summit.  Bullying, in case you didn’t know, has become the public schools’ principal target (as opposed to, say, illiteracy).  For some time schools have been conducting campaigns on bullying “awareness.”  School counselors, those meddlesome sub-ministers of the Nanny State, are trained to counsel both the “victims of bullying” and bullies themselves, who are not so much villains as victims of what progressive experts on boys such as William Pollack dismiss as the obsolete “Boy Code.”  The bad old “Boy Code pushes boys to feel they need to be tough, act strong, and lash out at another to defend their male honor.”  To eliminate the Boy Code, several public schools have adopted a one-word solution to how to respond when confronted by a bully with no teachers in sight: surrender.  That’s right, surrender, the mantra of emasculation.  To this end, the federal government has set up an absurd anti-bullying website: www.stopbullying.gov.  That such a site exists at all raises any number of questions.  Does anyone actually believe that the Web is the place to go to figure out how to deal with bullying?  How much money was taken out of the taxpayers’ pockets to put this together?  How many executive departments were involved in its construction? (Answer: Three.  The Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Justice.)  And what in the world do these bureaucrats think fathers are for?

But the theme of the entire anti-bullying project and the progressive state itself can be found in the careful manipulation of a single word.  Under the “advice for kids” section, to the question of what to do when confronted by a bully, the authoritative answer is given: “Don’t bully back.”  Now, if you are being bullied by a bully, your taking a swing at him is not bullying.  It is self-defense.  The word that fell out of the equation, you see, is simply “fight.”  The Boy Code taught boys who were being bullied to fight back.  I clearly remember my father’s advice about bullies.  First rule: When you see him coming, take the first swing (it may be the only one you get).  Second rule: Don’t ever let him get you on the ground.  Now this was practical advice!  But progressive school counselors do not want boys to fight back.  If boys did, the school counselors would be out of their job of counseling wimpy boys who feel bad about being bullied.  So counselors belittle the Boy Code.  Just so, the progressive bureaucrats belittle the Man Code, the code that tells men that going on the dole takes away their manhood.  Because if that spirit were alive and well, progressive bureaucrats would have to leave off administering the transfer of wealth that is the Nanny State and get real jobs; that is, they would have to become men.

Which brings us to the men of Seal Team 6.  Does any sensible person really imagine that these men when growing up as boys lived by the mealy-mouthed psycho-babble of the school counselor rather than by the honorable and clear dictates of the Boy Code?  Does anyone think that the men of Seal Team 6—or any sailor, soldier, or Marine, for that matter—would fail to see through the nonsense (if their input was sought) of “Don’t bully back”?  A page out of Twain will remind us what real boys are like and of the fight in men that made this country great.

Tom struck them [pennies] to the ground.  In an instant both boys were rolling and tumbling in the dirt, gripped together like cats; and for the space of a minute they tugged and tore at each other’s hair and clothes, punched and scratched each other’s noses, and covered themselves with dust and glory.

Originally posted on bigpeace.com May 18, 2011

Wanted In America: A Man Who Is What He Seems

One of the touchstone traits of manliness is that the true man is what he seems.  There is no deceit about him: no hidden agendas, no artificial props, no “image” or “cover” designed to suit the public’s imagined wants and hide the actual man’s real character.  It is undeniable that such an uncalculated manliness often offends: in its lack of political correctness and its plainspoken confidence.  “Why does he always think he is so right?  Hasn’t he read the latest opinion poll?”  We used to call this manly virtue integrity: literally, of being whole and undivided, of being the same throughout.  What you see is what you get.  Integrity enables another virtue: frankness or candor, that is, saying what you believe and is on your mind without dissimulation or contrivance.  For this reason one of the Founding Fathers’ most lauded virtues was candor.  After all, these great men proclaimed their Independence by submitting facts to a “candid world.”  This virtue of integrity, which now goes by the opaque moniker “transparency,” was better understood in the age of the Western hero.  The characters played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and, for that matter, Ronald Reagan, did not say much.  But what they said they meant, and they would back up what they said with their very lives.

But we do not live in the age of the Western.  Those of us in our thirties and forties grew up in the age of the action hero.  The action hero is the figure who does not do the merely human things well but performs superhuman deeds that defy the imagination.  He does not simply draw a gun faster than another man.  Instead, he races through explosions on a motorcycle and dives out of planes without a parachute and yet invariably emerges from the ruins unscathed.  Of course, the action hero has half a dozen stunt doubles and computer graphics and millions invested in the movie to pull it all off.  But it’s all worth it: for the illusion, for the moment of suspended disbelief.  When you meet the actual man who plays the part, though, you find him pretty underwhelming.

If Ronald Reagan is the political figure who stands for the age of the Western, of simple integrity, Arnold Schwarzenegger is most assuredly the political figure who reveals the lie behind the action hero: that he is not what he seems.  Arnold’s whole career has been built around lies.  The first lie is his body.  Yes, he lifted weights.  But what really gave him the absurd title of Mr. Universe were the steroids that changed him from a muscular man into a comic strip.  The second lie is the part he played—for there was really only one part, that of impossibly muscular kick-ass guy.  It was never human.  In his most famous film, Terminator, he did not even pretend to play a human.  Only in the later comedies did Arnold join the ranks of the human.  The problem with the action hero is that he is not really a hero.  A true hero must face death and failure.  He must fight for the good and be capable of losing it.  He must risk being hated for doing the right thing.  John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart played heroes.  The first Rocky movie was about a hero.  Conan and Terminator are essentially video games on screen.  The adolescent audiences do not think for a moment that Arnold will die; they just want to see the cool action scenes.  The third lie was Arnold’s political career.  He came into office as not just a conservative but with the rhetoric of a fiscal libertarian.  Yet when the very first unions stood up to him, he failed to use his fame and considerable political capital.  He caved.  Ronald Reagan, you will remember, stood up to the airline traffic controllers when they threatened a strike.  On the way out of office, Arnold gave silly exit interviews about how everyone expected him to be the “Governator” rather than just an ordinary governor.  The expectations were just too high, he complained.  But our memories aren’t that bad.  We know that the promise of a “Governator” was what got him into office in the first place.

And finally we come to the lie of his marriage.  For years we have had Arnold and Maria, with the help of the press, flaunt this impossible marriage before us: the staunch conservative who marries into the Kennedy clan and maintains his political views, but who just can’t do without the love of this woman.  There were rumors during the first campaign: about inappropriate comments and groping directed at almost any attractive woman he was around.  But he was an actor, after all, a sex symbol.  We should excuse him.  And now the truth be told: a love child with an employee of the house.

The just complaint of Maria Shriver is, interestingly enough, the complaint that countless women in this nation also have right now.  It is the complaint that the Tea Party is fueled by.  “Give us a man who is what he seems,” they say, whether referring to a husband or a political candidate.  “Give us a fellow who is in good shape but not hopped up on steroids.  Give us a political candidate who is not the creature of a slick campaign manager.  Give us a man we can trust.  Give us a man who won’t say one thing to get us to marry him (or to get into office) and do just the opposite when he has gotten what he wants.”  In short, give us a man.

Published on bighollywood.breitbart.com May 21, 2011

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.