Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley is “selling a vision of masculinity to White America that has much more to do with prejudice than manliness,” declared Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart last year. CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger in 2021 accused Hawley of promoting a “conspiratorial vision” regarding America’s crisis of masculinity. Rolling Stone that same year published an article titled: “Josh Hawley’s Bizarre Obsession With Masculinity Is the Most Pathetic Front Yet in the GOP’s Culture War.”
All of this opprobrium is because Hawley wants to save men from a culture that encourages their self-destructive behaviors. At least, that’s what Hawley claims is his intent in his new book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs. Is there something prejudicial, conspiratorial, or obsessive about Hawley’s efforts? Hardly.
Men in Crisis
Hawley’s observations regarding the masculinity crisis are by no means new, nor particularly controversial. Men’s earnings are below levels from the 1970s and 1980s, and between 1973 and 2017, they fell about $3,200. There has been a significant increase in the number of men living at home into their 20s and 30s. Boys earn a far greater share of the Ds and Fs distributed in primary and secondary school than girls, and they are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Men now account for only 40 percent of college students in America.
The reasons for this are many. Offshoring and deindustrialization have served as a gut punch to the American working class — we’ve lost almost 4 million jobs to China since 2001. The opioid epidemic has ravaged working class communities, causing more than a million deaths. And smartphones, video games, and pornography have caused all manner of addictions among American men — almost 10 percent of American adolescent boys are addicted to video games, and about 10 percent of American males describe themselves as porn addicts.
The senator identifies another cause — liberal ideology: “In the power centers they control, places like the press, the academy, and politics, they blame masculinity for America’s woes.” Though liberal pundits claim Hawley’s language is irresponsibly hyperbolic and conspiratorial, he’s not wrong. Our establishment elites quite emphatically condemn “the patriarchy,” “toxic masculinity,” and “mansplaining,” as responsible for all manner of evils in America. Moreover, notes Hawley, modern liberalism celebrates individualism and libertinism at the expense of traditional family structures, communities, religion, and increasingly our very bodies.
In response to this worrisome crisis, Hawley advocates a resurgent understanding of masculinity informed by biblical principles. “God made Adam a guardian and charged him to watch the perimeter,” he notes. “Where Epicurean liberalism urges self-creation as the path away from pain, the Bible urges different qualities of character: self-renunciation and sacrifice.” That means that true masculinity is not found in dominating others, but in serving them, which Hawley labels “true power and true freedom.”
The senator identifies six roles he believes are central to how men must understand themselves if they are to find meaning and happiness in this world. These are the identities of husband, father, warrior, builder, priest, and king.
Marriage is necessary to curb man’s lustful, self-indulgent tendencies, by orienting his affections toward another, someone to whom he makes a solemn vow to love, serve, and support. “And having vowed, a husband must endure,” Hawley writes. Within marriage, men further learn to be consistent, to be people “who can be counted upon.” Fatherhood serves a similar role, since it entails prioritizing our children over ourselves, and surrendering our time and energy to them. It also makes men humble, because it exposes our limits and shortcomings. And fatherhood focuses men’s minds on their legacy, which means they labor for the long-term.
By “warrior,” Hawley does not necessarily suggest men must be physical fighters or competent with a long gun (though that certainly helps). Rather, it means that men willingly defend what is just and true. It also means encouraging, not discouraging, the natural, thumotic impulses of boys that arise from testosterone. That aggression simply needs to be properly directed to such things as physical labor and sports. But Hawley also has in mind fighting against the vices in our lives. “Choose an evil in your life and drive it back,” he exhorts his male readers.
To be a “builder” is to be someone who rejects dependency and labors, not only for his own survival and welfare, but for his family, community, and nation. To be a “priest” is to be a man who prays and worships, offering up his life to God rather than to himself or the materialistic gods of this world. “Worship is an acknowledgment that a man needs to be filled, that he needs something more than his own resources,” writes Hawley. Finally, to be a “king” is to exercise authority and aim for excellence. “Every man wants to reign,” by which Hawley does not mean lording over others, but possessing an expertise that engenders respect from others.
What’s Not to Like?
Given this vision for a restored American manhood, I’m not sure I understand liberal complaints. Perhaps those who are not religious or not Christian will find Hawley’s approach, which is very much guided by the biblical narrative and biblical principles, to be off-putting (though it’s worth noting that men who regularly attend church or pray are healthier and happier). But does anyone not want men to settle down into married life and take their wedding vows seriously? Does anyone not want men to lovingly sacrifice for their children? Does anyone not want boys to have their testosterone-driven impulses oriented to healthy, productive activities, or for men to humbly identify and fight the vices in their lives? Who doesn’t want men to be competent?
Apparently many people in America do, even if they’re unwilling (or unable) to admit it. Our society encourages men to break their vows for the flimsiest of reasons; to surrender their children’s minds to their smartphones and their bodies to experimental gender ideology; to prioritize their own materialistic and professional ambitions over everything else. Much of this pressure is coming from the left, and some of it from people on the right, many of whom have capitulated to the sexual revolution, consumerism, and entertainment. But regardless of who is to blame, the end result is the same — just look at any society with lots of young, aimless, frustrated men.
“A man is built for commitment,” writes Hawley. “He is built to open himself to others and to pursue life with them, to sacrifice to curb his own self-interest, to journey out from himself. This is what we call love.” Sure, liberals may not like Hawley’s politics or policy solutions to address the masculinity crisis. But as a practical guide to help males become responsible, productive, purpose-driven members of society, I’m not sure what’s not to like. Perhaps I’m still a bit too naive and hopeful. But hope, after all, is a virtue too.