This is the text of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley’s speech on Oct. 31 at the National Conservatism conference, which is running in Florida this year from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.
Good evening. It is a pleasure to be with you tonight.
I had the honor to be at your inaugural conference two years ago. After that speech, the Left called me a racist, a fascist, and a Nazi.
So when Yoram invited me to speak again this year, I thought: What’s to lose?
I spoke two years ago of the Left’s ambition to create a world beyond belonging—a world where community and shared culture—our culture—count for little. It’s part of the Left’s effort to fundamentally remake America.
I want to talk with you tonight about another aspect of that ambition. I want to talk with you about the Left’s attempt to give us a world beyond men.
We meet at a time of reckoning. As we speak, the Left controls the commanding heights of American society. They have the White House, the House of Representatives, the Senate. Their voices predominate in the news media, in Hollywood, arguably sports, and of course, at our universities.
This is their hour. And they are determined to use it.
The Left know what they believe. They believe that America is a systemically racist, structurally oppressive, hopelessly patriarchal kind of place. It’s a dystopia, if only Americans would get woke enough to see it. It’s a nation that needs to be taught how unjust it truly is and after that, rebuilt from top to bottom.
That’s the Leftist project, and that’s their grand ambition: to deconstruct America.
This work of deconstruction is what unites today’s Left and binds together all their various preoccupations, from critical race theory to their economic socialism to their bizarre war on women’s sports.
But what I want you to notice, what I want to call out tonight, is this fact: that the deconstruction of America begins with and depends on the deconstruction of American men.
The Left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define the traditional masculine virtues—things like courage, and independence, and assertiveness—as a danger to society.
This is an effort the Left has been at for years now. And they have had // alarming success. American men are working less, getting married in fewer numbers; they’re fathering fewer children. They are suffering more anxiety and depression. They are engaging in more substance abuse.
Many men in this country are in crisis, and their ranks are swelling.
And that’s not just a crisis for men. It’s a crisis for the republic.
Because the problem with the Left’s assault on the masculine virtues is that those self-same qualities, the very ones the Left now vilify as dangerous and toxic, have long been regarded as vital to self-government.
Observers from the ancient Romans to our forefathers identified the manly virtues as indispensable for political liberty.
Now maybe they were wrong and today’s Left is right. Maybe virtue isn’t needed for liberty. Or maybe the only necessary virtues are the modern liberal ones of tolerance, and compliance, and I suppose, consumption. Maybe all you need to be a good citizen after all is to be a good consumer.
But it doesn’t look that way. It’s hard to argue that our democracy is in better shape now than it was thirty or forty years ago. It’s hard to believe that our liberty is now more secure.
It’s hard to accept that the pathologies gripping so many American men are good for American society. I’d contend just the opposite.
Now this is not to say that American women aren’t central to this story, far from it. American women have shaped our culture every bit as much as men, and their virtues are every bit as necessary to the success of our republic.
And indeed, the Left is carrying out its own assault on womanhood, and on the very idea of gender.
Many of my Democrat colleagues in the Senate won’t even say the word “mother” any more, for heaven’s sake. “Birthing people” is the term of choice, as if women don’t exist.
And leftwing advocates across the country are trying to destroy women’s sports, as if women and men are somehow interchangeable.
All that too is part of the deconstructionist agenda.
But I want to focus tonight on the deconstruction of men, not because men are more important, but because I believe the attack on men has been the tip of the spear of the Left’s broader attack on America. And because this attack on men is already far advanced.
But even as I describe the danger, there is cause for hope. For while the Left’s assault on manhood has been sharp and prolonged, it has not yet succeeded. And we must make it our aim as conservatives to see that it does not succeed.
More than that, we must seek a revival of strong and healthy manhood in America. We need men who will shoulder responsibility, men who will start and provide for families, men who will enter the covenant of marriage and then honor it.
We need men to raise up sons and daughters after them, to pass on the great truths of our culture and history, to defend liberty, to share in the work of self-government.
We need the kind of men who make republics possible.
And it is not too much to say that our ability to get that kind of men will determine the success of our long experiment in liberty.
Let me start by pressing home this point. The Left’s attack on America leads directly to an attack on manhood.
For years now, Democrats and other leftists have insisted that American society is systemically oppressive, systemically evil and unjust. They’ve said it so much and so often that to them, it’s become a truism. It’s become the very cornerstone of their worldview.
Just listen to the President of the United States. Joe Biden has, as president, repeatedly referred to America’s “systemic racism.” His Administration has loudly called for a new “gender equity” agenda to right the structural injustices of our society.
His nominees have advocated critical race theory and training in “equity” for federal workers.
This past week the Administration celebrated the introduction of an “X” gender marker on American passports. X means neither male nor female, if you’re keeping up.
All this points to how important the deconstructionist agenda is to Team Biden and to the Left. Inflation is rampant, store shelves are bare, but the Administration won’t be distracted from what truly matters, exposing just how bad America is.
Other prominent liberals have taken the next step and identified America’s many alleged woes with men in particular.
Take Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. “White supremacy and patriarchy are linked in a lot of ways,” she says. Meaning that America’s systemic racism is a systemic problem with men.
Author John Stoltenberg writes that “talking about ‘healthy masculinity’ is like talking about `healthy cancer.’”
Professor Suzanna Walters of Northeastern University says it “seems logical to hate men” unless they “pledge to vote for feminist women only” and “don’t run for office.”
Now this line of thinking is hardly new. The critical theory of deconstruction runs back to mid-century intellectuals like Jacques Derrida and Herbert Marcuse; and farther back to the Frankfurt School of the 1930s; and back farther still to Marx.
Nor is it new to blame men for society’s ills. Marcuse in particular is interesting in this regard. He was one of the leading lights of the 1960s counter-culture, and he thought Marx was right to call western society structurally oppressive, but wrong to see that oppression as principally economic.
No, the really oppressive thing about American society, he said, was culture.
And while Marx pinned his hopes on working class men, the proletariat, Marcuse saw those same men as the problem. They were too culturally conservative. Too hidebound. Too traditional.
Marcuse concluded the revolution would only come from the well-educated elite, who could see beyond mirages like manhood.
Which brings us back to today’s American Left. They’ve swallowed this theory whole and they are delivering this message from every platform where they have power. Which is most everywhere.
University curricula abound with seminars on masculinity and its defects. To take but one sample of what’s on offer, consider Professor David Cohen of Drexel Kline School of Law: “Traditional masculinity,” he says, “has oppressed girls and women and limited the identity construction of all boys and men.”
A seminar at Williams College, called “Performing Masculinity in Global Popular Culture,” asks “Why must masculinity be the purview of males at all?” Answering that question will cost you $75,000 a year.
Even our military academies are in on the act. West Point reportedly held mandatory events last year addressing “gender norms,” including “toxic masculinity.” One cadet said afterwards, “I’m being taught how not to be a man.”
Men are getting the message. They’re leaving higher education in record numbers. I suspect you’ve seen the recent Wall Street Journal reporting: Women now make up 60 percent of college students; men, 40 percent. Experts predict a 2:1 ratio soon, with the trend sped up by the pandemic.
But the message of toxic masculinity is not only in the academy. It’s in our grade schools, where boys are increasingly treated like an illness in search of a cure. If boys are too rambunctious, they’re diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder and medicated into submission.
Hollywood delivers the toxic masculinity theme ad nauseum in television and film.
And our expert class amplifies it. The American Psychological Association now advises that “conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development … and negatively influence mental health and physical health.” Manhood is a disease to be defeated.
The Left delivers the same message in the press, through the corporations, and through advertising. Gillette infamously ran an ad campaign for its razors in 2019 that included this voice-over: “Bullying … MeToo movement against sexual harassment … toxic masculinity … is this the best a man can get?”
And the Left is writing this same men-are-the-problem mantra into policy.
Working class men have been a particular target for this Administration. President Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate on private citizens puts millions of working class men squarely in the cross hairs. Shut up, get the jab, or get lost.
Nevermind these are the very people hailed as “essential workers” not twelve months ago. Not anymore. Now they’re expendable. Now they’re the problem.
But the Left has been pursuing its attack on men through policy for longer than the last year, and sometimes with the help of Republicans.
Over the last thirty years and more, government policy has helped destroy the kind of economy that gave meaning to generations of men.
Domestic manufacturing once supported millions of American men with good wages, who in turn started and supported families. Now that industry lies all but dead on the altar of globalism.
At the same time, advancing consolidation has made it almost impossible for family farmers to compete against multinational firms.
The result is fewer and fewer men working. And I don’t mean the elderly or disabled, I mean prime-aged, able-bodied men.
Since 1965, the number of adult men between the ages of twenty and sixty-four not working—not even looking for work, but completely and totally out of the labor force—has quintupled, soaring from 3 million in the 1960s to more than 16 million in 2015.
And the less men work, the less they marry.
Marriage rates are plummeting. And the age of first marriage continues to rise, as men push commitment off further and further into the future.
By 2010, a majority of men in this country between 25 and 34 had never married. And that trend has accelerated since.
Fewer marriages means fewer fathers in the home. By 2020, over 18 million American children lived without a father present. That’s more than a quarter of all children in America. And I probably don’t need to remind you that an absent father is strongly correlated with increased childhood poverty, childhood depression, and poor academic performance. …
I am not here tonight to tell you that men are victims. The last thing we need more of in this country is the victim mindset. And men who blame others for their problems and then slink away to do nothing, or worse, who embrace violence or cruelty, deserve rebuke.
Responsibility is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind, and men must be held responsible for their actions.
Still … can we be surprised that after years of being told they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness, and pornography, and video games.
I found the comment by one young man to the Wall Street Journal particularly evocative, and particularly heartbreaking. He said, “I’m sort of waiting for a light to come on so I can figure out what to do next.” I suspect he speaks for many.
And while the Left may celebrate this decline of men, I for one cannot join them. No one should.
The crisis of American men is a crisis for the American republic.
It’s not just that millions of men out of work slows our innovation and economic growth.
It’s not just the billions of dollars in welfare payments these idle men cost the federal fisc year on year.
It’s not only the depression and darkness that now shadow so many.
It’s that liberty requires virtue. And in particular, it requires the manly virtues.
America needs good men. …
The liberty of a republic is a demanding thing.
To keep a republic, you have to be willing to fight for it.
To share in self-government, you have to stand strong against those who would try to make you dependent on their wealth or influence.
To preserve liberty, you have to discipline your passions and sacrifice in the service of others.
For centuries, lovers of liberty have praised these qualities as the highest standard of manhood. That’s not to say that women don’t possess them. But it is to say that these virtues are the bright side of the aggression and competitiveness and independence that psychologists, no less than philosophers, have long observed in men.
Assertiveness and independence are strengths when used to protect and empower others.
Want an example? Look no further than those dads at Southwood High School in Shreveport, Louisiana. The ones who just by showing up, calmed the fighting and changed the atmosphere of an entire campus. As one student said to a reporter, “Dads have the power to do that.”
Every republic needs those kind of men.
The question is, how are we going to raise up good men today?
We can start by repudiating the lie that America is a systemically oppressive nation and that men are systemically responsible.
It is a fantasy, it is a folly, it is a falsehood and we should call it out for what it is.
America may be an imperfect place, but it is the most noble experiment in liberty the world has ever seen, for the poor and the rich alike, for men and for women, for black and for white.
And though we have struggled to live up to our ideals—and failed, and risen to struggle again—there is honor in the struggle, and we are still, even now, the last best, hope on earth.
And we must tell the men of this nation that their struggle, too, is noble and that they are needed.
To each man, I say: You can be a tremendous force for good. Your nation needs you. The world needs you.
Your strength can liberate others. Your power can serve those in need. Your creativity can light new paths. Your courage can defend the weak. Your faithfulness can raise up sons and daughters after you and make their way straight. You can make this a more perfect nation.
We must say this to men of our society from the time they are small, and teach it to them in our classrooms and in our homes and in our churches.
And we must do more.
We must rebuild an economy in this country in which men can thrive. And that means rebuilding those manufacturing and production sectors that so much of the chattering class has written off as relics of the past.
In this country, we are more than mere consumers. We have been the makers of great and mighty things, and we shall be again.
The DC experts will say it’s impossible; better to outsource our production to China or Mexico or other places where labor is cheap. But free labor and slave labor should never be put on an even plane. And it is free labor worthy of free men that we are after.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I am for business, but I am for manhood first, and business as an adjunct to manhood.” He was right then, and that sentiment should be our watchword today.
We must make every effort to restore a vibrant manufacturing sector in this country that can employ working men at living wages—wages that can feed a family, and support a community. And we can start by requiring that at least half of all goods and supplies critical for our national security be made in the United States.
Speaking of communities, those begin with the family, and we must make the family the center of political life.
We should be clear in the message we send about family and unapologetic: There is no higher calling, and no greater duty, than raising a family. And we should encourage all men to pursue it.
To that end, I believe the time has come for explicit rewards in our tax code for marriage. Forget the marriage penalty. There should be a marriage bonus. And we should allow the parents of young children to keep more of their own money as well. …
The Left is telling America and its men, you’re evil. You’re terrible. You must apologize and submit to your government masters to be reformed.
I suggest we offer a different theme, one that goes like this. … America is yet that city on a hill, and the eyes of the world are yet upon us, looking to us for hope.
American men are and can be an unrivaled force for good in the world—if we can strengthen them, if we can empower them, if we can unleash them to be who they are made to be.
Then they shall, in the words of Scripture, “build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former desolations; they shall repair the ruined cities, [and] the devastations of many generations.”
God bless you. Good night.