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Salvo 01.10.2023 10 minutes

What is a Man?

Bodybuilder flexing, car collision in background

Let's face the bigger question.

In December, Netflix released Alpha Males, a sarcastically titled show that sees four friends – Pedro, Luis, Raúl, and Santi – attempt to navigate a world dominated by empowered women. The four amigos feel lost, downtrodden, and disillusioned. Although the show is atrocious, the message is sound. It’s not easy being a man. Around the world, from Seoul to Sacramento, men are hurting. They are angry and aggrieved, living lives largely devoid of meaning. They’re told to “man up” and embrace manhood, but many lack the skills to do so. In truth, some of them aren’t even sure what being a man entails.

In 2022, Matt Walsh asked the question, what is a woman?

In 2023, I ask, what is a man?

This is a question that goes well beyond the biological. To be a man, a “real” man, requires much more than XY chromosomes and a semi-functioning penis. With so many competing theories out there, you could be forgiven for struggling to answer this deceivingly complex question. It’s difficult to answer because there are many high-profile men out there, all offering different prescriptions on how to live a life steeped in manly virtues. 

Take the Liver King, for example, a steroid-fueled mix of Tarzan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. When he’s not busy doing bicep curls outside of Buckingham Palace, the Liver King, real name Brian Johnson, enjoys attacking the modern Western lifestyle. It has, he suggests, made men weak, unable to cope with the harsh realities of life. This is why it’s important to return to our ancestral roots, stresses the 45-year-old, perpetually-shirtless influencer. This means shunning processed foods and electronic devices and living like our ancestors did. According to his website, by living “ancestrally,” humans can overcome “obstacles between ourselves and true health and happiness,” by rewriting “the mismatch between who we are and the environment in which we live.” We should aim for 10,000 steps a day – barefoot, if possible – and embrace an “ancestral diet,” which involves eating copious amounts of raw liver. 

Although the Liver King is right to criticize modern society, his prescription is all wrong. The idea of completely shunning digital devices, although appealing, is completely detached from reality (the Liver King could never have gained worldwide virality without the likes of YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok). Moreover, the call to consume raw meat on a daily basis is, at best, unwise. Unlike Johnson, most humans, men included, live in the real world, which means they require advice that is applicable to the world in which they live.

At the other end of the how-to-be-a-man-scale sits Josh Hawley, the junior United States senator from Missouri. Later this year, Mr. Hawley’s new book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, will drop. The book, we’re told, calls on American men “to stand up and embrace their God-given responsibility as husbands, fathers, and citizens”  By God-given, one assumes that Hawley, a devout Christian, is referencing a specific god (i.e. the god in the Bible). His call comes at a time when Christian belief is in decline across the country. How much, if anything, does being a man have to do with being a Christian? That is, perhaps, a question for another day. However, Hawley’s message, delivered through a prism of Christian nationalism, is sure to alienate plenty of men lacking faith. What about the men who have no interest in being husbands and fathers? Again, how much of being a man rests on getting married and producing offspring? With Hawley, it seems, quite a lot. Society certainly needs the family, perhaps more than ever before, but are unmarried men lacking offspring less manly than their wedded, child-rearing counterparts? 

Sitting somewhere between the Liver King and Senator Hawley is Andrew Tate. You are, by now, no doubt familiar with the brash businessman. The bald Adonis, who converted to Islam last year, preaches a gospel of money, muscles, and Maseratis. Arguably the most controversial man on the planet, Tate, 36, was recently arrested in Romania on suspicion of rape and human trafficking. Whether or not the allegations leveled against Tate are valid remains to be seen, but his message to men has certainly resonated. From fitness and finances to dating and divorce, there’s no topic that Tate isn’t willing to discuss. To be a man – again, a “real” man – he regularly tells his fans, is to know pain. One must suffer in order to grow and to appreciate the true meaning of life. Men, Tate suggests, contra Hawley, should be promiscuous. 

Accused of being anti-women by woke warriors, Tate is just as hard on men as he is on women. When it comes to “real talk,” Tate doesn’t discriminate. Like the Liver King, he believes men have become soft, totally emasculated by today’s feminine-oriented world. To transcend the mascara-soaked madness, a man must get himself in shape, get his finances in order, and have an actual purpose. In short, don’t chase women; instead, chase success. If you achieve success, the women will inevitably come. Money is not enough, though; a man must have a high level of social status. This is what really attracts the ladies. To achieve this level of social status requires a man to hustle, to take risks, and to die a million deaths in order to become an Alpha in a world of Betas. 

Yes, some will say, but none of this answers the essential question, What is a man?

Edward Louis Cole, the late American author, once said that being a male “is a matter of birth,” but being a man “is a matter of choice.” It’s true, Being a man involves overcoming stubborn, childish ways, looking life squarely in the eye, and doing your damnedest to overcome the obstacles that are put in your way. It involves becoming a remarkable person in this world of largely unremarkable people. Being a man—or to be more specific, a man of value—requires sacrifice for a greater goal and a desire for self-transcendence.

Of course, this could involve becoming a devoted husband and/or father, but it could just as easily mean working in a profession or trade that requires strength, virtue, mastery, and honor, all virtues associated with masculinity. Mastery is particularly important. Real men master a craft. They excel at doing something respectable, something of actual value. Being a man involves creating a legacy, doing your best to make sure that people remember your name when you leave this world (of course, some will say that mass murderers fit this bill perfectly. But let’s not be disingenuous here). People don’t have to necessarily like you, but they sure as hell should respect you.

Respect, though, must be earned. All three men mentioned above offer servings of good advice to help individuals start their journey to self-actualization. Although the Liver King is a baldfaced liar, his focus on exercise is certainly worth digesting, unlike the many gimmicky supplements he tries to hawk. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, respectable about being an obese slob. Get up, get moving, and stop poisoning yourself with garbage food. Josh Hawley’s focus on courage and the importance of family is commendable, as is Tate’s focus on getting one’s finances in order. One needn’t own a Bugatti (or 17 of them) to be a “real” man, but being financially fit, as well as physically and mentally, is a must. Under all Tate’s swagger and pomposity there is, at the core, a man of substance, someone who came from absolutely nothing and built an empire, albeit a rather seedy and at least marginally criminal one. There are valuable lessons to be learned from his life journey, from being raised on a council estate in London to becoming a major influencer. From an early age, he had a purpose, a hunger to escape the poverty trap.

For all the lost boys out there reading this, you must have a purpose, an ability to separate yourself from the sea of basement dwellers and social welfare guzzlers. Only then will you have any chance of not becoming just another victim of society.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

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