A group of my friends intends to discuss The Way of Men by Jack Donovan in a few days. This article will describe his salient points and offer my opinion on his ideas. While reading Donovan’s book, I felt really enthusiastic about his ideas, but my critical mind has weighed in since then. He starts with the understanding that modern men feel frustrated because the society around them devalues manliness and has not taught men to be men. If one tries to arrive at an answer for what manliness is, competing ideologies are apt to confuse the issue. (He himself gives examples of what might be termed aristocratic, spiritual, and commercial versions of masculinity, which are at odds with one another.) Donovan attempts to cut through the problem of competing ideologies by looking at man in a state of nature in order to understand what manliness really is. Yes, he owes Thomas Hobbes for his method of argument and quotes him several times.
What do we find in a state of nature? The most pressing goals are survival and protecting one’s community. In a primitive state of nature, there exist no weapons that completely make up for a lack of strength. So, strength and physical courage are the prime determinants for who will be in charge of defending the group. This job has paramount importance and naturally falls to men, with the strongest and most courageous receiving the greatest honor and respect. To use Adam Ferguson’s An Essay on the History of Civil Society, we are looking at a barbarian society, where manly virtues have the most scope. This state is unlike modern commercial society, where the intellectual virtues governing buying and selling hold primacy of place and fewer people are responsible for defending society.
Watching an anime called Seraph of the End, the latest installment of the Mad Max franchise, and reading several reviews of that film spawned this post. When I see phrases like “the dangers of manliness” or “manly excess,” I wonder why anyone should fear a good thing. Of course, Theodore Roosevelt is famous for dividing “manly” from “decent” virtues–saying that the former without the latter produces a villain, while the latter without the former makes for a man who does not count. Rather the case is that neither nicety which shudders from protecting the weak nor boldness which takes from the weak are virtues. After all, the whole point of virtue is right action, which in turn forms the good character of the one who acts rightly. Manliness is the name for good character in a man in the same way as femininity is the name for a woman’s good character. Manliness itself falls in between the extremes of effeminacy and brutality or cruelty. Those extremes are what society should fear rather than manliness, which stands as the bulwark of the civilized world against the barbarians who would destroy it. Post-moderns seem to have taken the violent extreme as synonymous with manliness. This makes them afraid of true men, imagining them to be monsters, and causes them to prefer men who fall into the effeminate extreme. Why should this be so? One must remember that the post-modern has divorced himself from the West’s tradition and past. Not standing by the wisdom of their ancestors forces them to create new philosophies, which hold less wisdom than tried and true schools of thought. In the same way, a young man’s conception of reality is perforce poorer than an old man’s. In particular, post-moderns lack particular examples of what a man should be. If someone asked me who were examples of good men, I should have no trouble rattling off dozens of names: Jesus Christ, George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Joshua L. Chamberlain, Marquis de Lafayette, Padre Pio, Captain Joseph Fry, Theodore Roosevelt, Capt. Richard O’Kane, Demosthenes, the Prophet Moses, etc. What joins these men together? Virtue, which derives from the Latin word for manliness or manly excellence.