Law & Liberty’s Rachel Lu recently had some things to say about the worrisome state of manhood in Western society today. A couple of key excerpts, with my comments, follow; be sure to go read the whole thing. It’s worth your time.
Sax and Farrell are interesting both for their similarities and for their differences. As social scientists, they both present a lot of data, giving rise to shared concern about boys’ mediocre performances in school. Worldwide, boys are falling behind girls, especially in reading. Their test scores are lower, and they are less likely to enroll in universities. The structure of modern schools seems uncongenial to boys’ developmental needs.
Sax and Farrell agree as well that fatherlessness is a huge problem in our time, in general but especially for boys. The statistics on this subject are harrowing. Fatherless boys fare worse in virtually every measurable way. Of course, when that cycle of family breakdown is perpetuated, that means another generation of at-risk kids, as well as stressed-out single moms, and lower social productivity.
It’s impossible for me to understate the role my own father and my grandfathers had in my young life – and in the case of the Old Man, well into my middle-aged life. The Old Man was a rock, a good man, a great man, a man of iron integrity and enormous personal strength, to whom I will strive to live up to for the rest of my life. When he passed away a few years back, my brother and I were talking about him, sharing some memories, and I commented, “you know, we two, you and I, are the men we are today because of him.” My brother agreed. It’s been over four years now and I’m still struggling with the empty place in my life where a giant once strode.
Children – especially boys – need fathers. A nearby, engaged grandfather can fill the role; the Old Man in fact did this for my sister’s twins, whose father had abandoned the family before their birth. But many grandparents aren’t able to be full-time role models, and in most cases there can be no substitute for a full-time, fully engaged, responsible and yes, manly father.
Rachel Lu continues:
Finally, both Sax and Farrell have many interesting things to say about the masculine loss of purpose. They understand that many men today are suffering from a kind of existential crisis. Men aren’t sure what role they are meant to play within society at large. Once, able-bodied men were genuinely necessary to keep their families and communities alive. Today, robots do much of our heavy lifting, and our meat mostly comes from factories, not forests.
Well, in the Casa de Animal, much of our meat comes from the surrounding countryside, and always has. I’m looking forward to taking my grandsons afield after fish and game when they’re old enough. But the general point is a good one; modern society has made life pretty soft, and a soft life makes for weak people, and has been endlessly pointed out in these virtual pages and elsewhere, weak people make hard times.
Perhaps this is the real point, threading its way through all these authors. A man is truly a remarkable creature, with tremendous potential to do good. This is what I see, watching my sons from the back deck, and the implicit realization of that potential may explain why boys from their earliest years are thirsting for a quest, and spoiling for a noble fight. This desire is not toxic, or at least it need not be. But realizing that potential is much harder than the lightsaber-wielding preschooler can possibly understand. It takes the discipline of Sax and Peterson, the social savvy of Farrell, and the high-flown ideals of Esolen and Miner. When that potential is not achieved, bitterness and despair often follow.
Boys can break your heart. I have five. I’m not sorry, but I never let myself forget that the path to manhood is a hard one.
Just to add some egregious toxic masculinity, here’s some prose from an old dead white guy. “What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty. In form and moving how express and admirable. In action how like an Angel, In apprehension how like a god.” (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.)
I think it all boils down to purpose. There is nothing as detestable as a man with no purpose. And yet Western society today seems to be churning out young men with no sense of purpose, in great carload lots.
But consider this: As I’ve said repeatedly, I think we are entering the last phase of this cycle:
- Hard times make tough people.
- Tough people make good times.
- Good times make weak people.
- Weak people make hard times.
The manly man, the man with a purpose, may not be gone – just on hold. Because when we circle around to the first phase, we’ll need tough people. Indeed, the tough people may be the only ones that survive the final phase.