The following essay is an excerpt adapted from Sen. Josh Hawley’s new book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, out now from Regnery.
All is not well with men in America. And that spells trouble for the American republic.
It has been a perennial question of political philosophy, since the first republics were formed, whether a free nation could survive without soundness of character in its people. The old-fashioned word for that is “virtue,” meaning not just moral uprightness but the personal fortitude and vision such uprightness produces—strength, in other words. Machiavelli called it virtù. Practically everywhere one looks in America now, male virtù is crumbling, and the consequences for the country are grave.
Crime is on the rise, overwhelmingly committed by men. Disinterest in work is becoming commonplace. And in perhaps the starkest example of male weakness, fatherlessness abounds. The percentage of children living with only their mother—no father present—has doubled since 1968. Today, the majority of children born to women under 30 are born into fatherless homes—a new, ignominious milestone in American history. The epidemic of absent fathers is a social solvent, dissolving the future. Boys raised in fatherless homes face increased odds that they will use drugs, commit crimes, perform poorly in school, live in poverty—and then become absent fathers themselves.
Much has been said in recent years of the divisions in American society, the dangers to our democracy, and our growing polarization. Surely it is no coincidence that these ills have proliferated while American men have struggled. As the anthropologist David Gilmore once wrote, “Manhood is the social barrier that societies must erect against entropy, human enemies, the forces of nature, time, and all the human weaknesses” that threaten social life. No menace to this nation is greater than the collapse of American manhood, the collapse of masculine strength.
To be frank, some welcome that collapse: namely, those on the American Left. In fact, they have helped drive it. In the power centers they control, places like the press, the academy, and politics, they blame masculinity for America’s woes. The tribunes of elite opinion long ago decided that male strength is dangerous—toxic, leading inevitably to oppression and a hateful patriarchy. To be admitted to polite society in America today, one is supposed to confess—and I say “confess” advisedly, for the Left it is a type of religious incantation—that masculinity is an arbitrary social construct that has made the world a much more terrible place. As one liberal author summed up the conventional wisdom, “talking about ‘healthy masculinity’ is like talking about ‘healthy cancer.'”
Not long ago I was sitting in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I am a member. The topic was women’s rights, but as I waited my turn to ask questions, I noticed that the other side’s star witness, a highly accomplished professor at an elite university, refused to use female-gendered terms, such as “mother.” Rather than take that apparently verboten word upon her lips, she kept saying, over and over again, “people with the capacity for pregnancy.” I started keeping count on my notepad of the number of times she said it. When my turn came, I couldn’t help but start by addressing this strange—yet revealing—verbal tic. What did she mean, I asked, by the phrase “people with the capacity for pregnancy?” Why wouldn’t she just say “mother?” The witness promptly instructed me, in an exasperated tone that perfectly reflected the Left’s condescending intolerance for anyone who disagrees with its dictates, that transgender “men”—meaning biological women who now identify as male—can get pregnant, too. When I suggested this answer was, not to put too fine a point on it, absurd, and erased the reality of biological sex—you know, men and women—the professor informed me I was “transphobic” and that views like mine led to violence. Violence. In other words, shut up and don’t question the official line. Finally, irritated with my queries, she demanded to know: “Do you believe men can get pregnant?”
The answer, of course, is obvious. Or should be. No, men cannot get pregnant, as every person in recorded human history from the dawn of time has understood, until now. That today’s Left not only finds this “question” urgent, but is determined to vilify and ultimately silence those who answer it truthfully, shows just how radical they have become. To leftists, manhood is fake. Womanhood, too. Both are merely social confections that society made up and can remake at will. And today’s Left is determined to remake American men.
The Left’s disdain for masculinity flows from what remains of modern liberalism, which isn’t much—an assortment of complaints about Western society being unequal, unjust, and corrupt to its foundations, masculinity being one of those foundations. Liberals historically claimed to prize liberty above all else. The members of today’s Left have pushed liberty into nihilism, defining it as the right to live free from biological sex, family, tradition, and God—free from reality. They paint every inherited structure, every moral duty and social obligation, as a shackle that must be smashed, by government if necessary, so the individual can be made “free.”
Men have been told this nonsense for decades now by the press and politicians. They have been taught it in schools: that to be a man is to be an oppressor; that to display the masculine traits of assertiveness, independence, and risk-taking is to make society unjust; that to work hard at a blue-collar job is a loser’s game for those who can’t learn to code. America’s policymakers have acted on this same ideology, medicating boys into submission in their school years, then shipping the manufacturing jobs many men once performed as adults off to foreign countries. In these circumstances, under the influence of this creed, is it any wonder that so many men now feel adrift, bereft, and—yes—ashamed to be men?
But the warning signs of trouble are becoming too glaring to ignore. Amid the suicides and drug abuse and epidemic of absent fathers, amid the collapse of work and explosion of crime, even some on the Left are now expressing alarm. Men feel it. Those with sons know it. We cannot go on like this.
Modern liberalism, however, offers no path forward. It is, in fact, the source of our present troubles. We must look elsewhere for renewal, farther back and deeper—to a more profound source of truth.
Josh Hawley, a Republican, is the senior U.S. senator from Missouri.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.