The other day I was spying through the Internet when I came across an article by a certain person calling for the destruction of “traditional masculinity.” Being the fool that I am, and ignoring the Stoic’s advice to make the most of my time since life is short, I proceeded to read the article through, curious as to what traditional masculinity had done and why he must be destroyed for it.
As I read through the article, I came to this line: “The association of male value with aggression, dominance, and power is one of the most destructive forces in the world, and so it has to be destroyed.” I understood this was essentially the thesis of the article, that masculinity is equitable with violence, power, and domination, and these things are bad.
Such an argument was, of course, silly, and so I gave it no more thought, save to quickly search the Internet to see if anyone had made response to it. As I so searched, I came across several articles, to me interesting in what they all had in common. To put it simply, all sought to defend “traditional masculinity,” yet most did so by saying that true manliness is not dominant, violent, or powerful at all, but was something entirely different. What this “something” was specifically differed from article to article.
A Different Kind of Power
This I found strange, and somewhat lacking, for to be a man is, in fact, to be violent, dominant, and powerful. One may even be right in saying that there is nothing else to being a man than to possess these qualities. And this is entirely sweet and fitting, for there may be no forces in nature more constructive than these. Someone may say: “How can this be sweet and fitting? These are obvious evils.” But this is not so. Our “someone” has made a simple mistake. He has made believe that the object of these qualities is some other: other people, women perhaps. Not at all. The object of a man’s dominance, power, and violence is himself alone, for to be a man is to have subdued one’s self entirely; and to do so is not at all a peaceable thing, for the bestial passions of man, his lusts and fears and selfishness are all quite strong, and so die hard.
A girl simply grows into a woman, or so most believe, whereas a man is something that is made. He is made because his masculinity consists in the destruction of his own nature, not in the maturity of it. He is born subject to a slew of desires, some more despicable, such as an unbridled lust for sex and drink, and some more acceptable, such as a desire for fame and affirmation. Though some of these passions are perhaps less unbecoming than others, they all make the man a slave for as long as he is in thrall to them and acts according to them.
The act of being a man is realized when all such things are put under the rule of his will and are broken with a rod of iron; when he is no longer driven by his lusts as the Greeks would term it, or the flesh as it would be known among Christians, but rather commands them. Such is the dominance which is to be acquired by the power of his will and reason, and the acquisition of such dominance is called among us “virtue,” which is merely Latin for “manliness.” (If you do not believe me, note that the root of the word is the same as that of virile; vir, meaning “an adult male.”)
Death and Rebirth
The final result of such a domination is the realization of a man’s violence, for in denying everything about his nature which does not conform to his will, his reason, and what is good, he has put himself to death. What he was born as, a human, filled with needs and desires and lusts which he spends his days attempting to indulge, is murdered, and a new thing alone remains, that is, a man, one who despises this old self and daily mortifies it. Brave, unconcerned, mocking, violent—Thus wisdom wants us: she is a woman and always loves only a warrior. We call a man virtuous to the extent to which he has put himself to death, to the extent to which the citadel of his mind has been sacked and duty and love alone reside on the throne.
Such a thing is beautiful. I believe it was when the Gauls had laid siege to Rome that an anonymous soldier snuck out in the night to assassinate the enemy commander, hoping thereby to end the conflict. Being discovered, he was stood by a blazing fire and told to give information about the defenses of his city, lest he burn. Having been given this ultimatum, he thrust his arm into the flames and said solemnly: “See how little one cares for his body when he thinks of only honor.” And with these words, he threw himself into the fire. Such are the ways of men. They care nothing for themselves, for they have already died to themselves. Rather, as the soldier put it, they care for honor, that is, they care for doing that which is becoming.
So I have spoken on what I conceive to be masculinity, and the basis of true manliness throughout all history, that is, what could be called “traditional masculinity,” that masculinity that has been handed down to us. It has nothing to do with the dominance of others; quite to the contrary, those who are most beautiful to our minds and praised for their masculine virtues are those who serve; and the more their service becomes a loving slavery, the more our hearts are touched by their works. The knight is the pinnacle of the male ethos in the West, and yet he is by definition a slave to his lord, for among the Saxons, the knight would vow: “I will to my lord be faithful and true. I will love all that he loves, and shun all that he shuns.” And as Ramon Lull demands: “It is the office of the knight to uphold and defend his temporal lord.”
Yet his servitude is not singular, but several, for earlier he commands: “It is the office of the knight to uphold and defend the Holy Catholic faith, for which God the Father sent his Son to become flesh.” And of a knight’s subjection to women, Malory relates: “The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady.” The arms the knight bears also signify his subjection, for it is written that “the chapel-de-fer is given to signify the knight’s shame” and his “collar is given to signify his obedience.” I would speak at length of chivalric ways, so wonderful is their beauty to me, but let me not be distracted, let it rather be noted that it is not the king we praise and glorify, but his loyal servant.
The Science of Obedience
It is not among the Christians alone that such an association between servitude and masculinity is made, for in all places as far as I have seen, the mastery of the self is given to correlate with this same self’s service for others. When Agesilaus advised Xenophon to have his sons educated in Sparta, it was to learn, as he termed it, the most excellent science there is: that of obeying. Even those who are given command and authority are only determined to be virtuous if they employ their power in service of others, that is, even if in his exalted position, he still acts as a servant. So, a good king that cares for his people is praised, but the same man, if he serves himself, is called a tyrant.
Too much I have said already. Manliness is nothing else but virtue, strong and violent. It would be good for all men to try to attain it, or being unable to do so, at least admire it; and if they are of a most base sort and are unable even to admire, at least they should not attempt to “destroy” it. Perhaps no one can attain to virtue in these last days; it is a fearful and sublime thing, and most unsuitable to modern people. Perhaps we can only follow the example of the Cynic, who lit his lamp in broad daylight, and wandered about the marketplace, saying: “I am looking for a man.”