The dominant culture cannot dam up indefinitely the natural force of manly spiritedness. Lord knows we are trying: for years now we have witnessed the alienation of an entire generation of young men endlessly harangued about toxic masculinity. If, in the ostensible name of egalitarianism and democracy, we remain intent on denying males any permissible outlet for their natural boisterousness, then eventually that boisterousness is bound to burst forth in anti-democratic resentment or indifference, and Nietzschean obsession with the power of the uninhibited self. Alternately, some of it might—with luck—be channeled toward a more thoughtful and constructive end. Much depends on this outcome.
The first path has been that chosen by many on the so-called “dissident Right,” and its rationale was articulated recently by someone under the pseudonym “Uncompliant.” His essay argues that the American experiment is failing, and so
there is no need to explore philosophies and deeper issues…. There is no need for long-winded and many-worded debates about the nature of rights or the validity of political structures….
One option says: let us lift weights, become the best specimens of masculinity that we can become; let us encourage health, normality, and nobility; let us laugh and meme and have what fun we can have and speak realism at least among ourselves. If the West is going to burn and we cannot vote our way out of it, let us at least find a band of brothers and watch the spectacle together. The fires will keep us warm at least. That is not nihilism; that is realism.
I might be willing to join this bystander gym crowd, if I thought their plan could work. The problem is that your lifting partner can’t spot you if he is being hit in the head with a bicycle lock. Also, it will be hard to get protein powder when the chaos comes. Even if you live on supplements, or raw meat, you might still like books, and music…and antibiotics. The point is that even swole, bad-ass warriors need civilization. That’s why the noblest men caught the fire and tamed it and built something with it. Letting the barbarians win is easy. And on that point, are we going to let everyone who is weak suffer and die? Including the women and children and old people? That’s pretty…unmanly.
You can’t aspire to “become the best specimen of masculinity” and then declare that—in the fight of the century, over the very future of civilization—you would prefer to just sit this one out. At the risk of hurting someone’s feelings, I am tempted to say: Man up or shut up.
A Man for Our Season
But that isn’t helpful, or right.
What would be helpful is an inspirational writer who recognizes the same failures and absurdities that BAPsters find contemptible, but offers an account of manly virtue that is worthy of men with brains as well as hearts. Well, there is such a person: Harry V. Jaffa, who died in 2015, was more pugnacious, less politically correct, and more contemptuous of the conservative establishment than anyone you will meet; and he was kicking ass before most of us were born. His heroes, among others, were Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.
In a profound essay, “Can There Be Another Winston Churchill,” he captures, I think, the same sense of dilemma and frustration faced by young men today.
[The] scale of life in the modern world is too large for human virtue to control…. [T]he coincidence even of virtue and good fortune does not produce well-being; or perhaps one should say that it is one in which fortune, instead of being fickle, is constant in its hostility to virtue. It is a world in which human agency is so swallowed up by “mass effects” that courage and genius appear impotent and irrelevant. It is a world in which it seems senseless to do other than to march with the strongest legions, and in which vulgar success seems better than noble failure.
Does this not sound very much like clown world? But neither Churchill nor Jaffa believed that the “realistic” response was complacency and despair.
For Churchill, and Jaffa, it is precisely the difficulty of the challenge and the possibility of failure that “enforces upon human life the quest for its purpose.” And “without this quest for purpose…and the consciousness of such a purpose, life would be meaningless and unbearable.” In 1930, long before Hitler invaded Poland and Sir Winston returned to power, Churchill believed that his political career had ended, and he was done with the “toilsome” path. But, notes Jaffa, “What lay ahead of Churchill when he wrote those words would make a long lifetime, not for a lesser, but for another very great man. The mistakes he was to make, and the toilsomeness and dangerousness of the path he was to tread, would exceed by far anything that had gone before.”
Despair—Jaffa taught—is not only a sin, it is a philosophical error, because we can never know what chance holds in store. The examples of Lincoln and Churchill remind us that our predicament today is hardly unprecedented in scope, although it differs in kind. As I have argued elsewhere:
The brainwashing by the hard left is exasperatingly resilient. Yet to suggest that it is permanent or irrevocable would seem to deny human nature. During the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union scrambled to develop allies and client states, dividing the world into opposing camps. The Soviets—believing that communism was historically inevitable—operated on the maxim “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is negotiable.” Ronald Reagan flatly rejected this…and so should we. The West in general, and America in particular, has faced apparently insurmountable odds before. If we can recite from memory the patriotic story of Washington at Valley Forge, should we despair so easily at the power of CNN and Berkeley?
Jaffa was himself an exercise fanatic—a boxer at Yale and a lifelong competitive cyclist. But he thought a healthy body served its best purpose in support of a well-ordered soul. Part of that order includes spiritedness and righteous anger. When properly directed by reason, this can be a force of terrible power. Churchill’s monumental ambition and energy, Jaffa reminds us, “[were] harnessed to righteous anger: anger at Tory narrowness, or at the mean-spiritedness of Socialism; anger at Germany’s challenge to British naval power, and at the invasion of Belgium; above all, anger at the inhuman cruelty and tyranny of Bolshevism and Nazism. Churchill was always a man to take arms against the tides of trouble, never one to float passively upon them.”
If Jaffa were still alive today, he would surely urge us to take inspiration from Churchill’s bulldog stubbornness, and to follow his courageous, uncompromising example of true manliness: “Never, never, never give in.”