Books by politicians are typically bad, and Senator Josh Hawley’s latest effort is no exception. In Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, out now from Regnery, the prose is stilted and the ideas dull. Men are suffering, Hawley says, and liberalism is to blame. As the nation moved away from God and toward the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure and freedom, it abandoned men to a malaise characterized by porn addiction, crime, and even death by suicide. Men are abdicating their responsibilities as warriors, husbands, and fathers with sweeping consequences for all.
The result is more akin to Christian self-help than a serious political treatise. “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,” he drones early on. There is much more to endure. “No menace to this nation is greater than the collapse of American manhood, the collapse of masculine strength,” he writes. Men have been taught that “to be a man is to be an oppressor.” Assertiveness, independence, and risk-taking are masculine traits, at least as Hawley would have it, and America needs more of each. God ordained manhood, Hawley claims, and endowed men with leadership qualities that He expects them to use.
To a reader who knows anything about Evangelical Christianity and its fraught relationship with masculinity, Hawley says nothing new. Nor is there anything particularly interesting about his spin on this old subject. Books like Manhood aren’t worth reading for pleasure, however. Ghostwritten as most may be, they can still provide insight into their authors. Who is the politician behind the book, and how would they like to be seen? In Hawley’s case, the answers offer a humiliating glimpse into his soul. He imagines himself a patriarch in a nation of patriarchs. In his America, Christianity is compulsory and so is the gender binary. Everyone is heterosexual. Women — like Eve and his wife, Erin — scarcely appear at all in Manhood. When they do, they are vessels to fill, the means by which a boy becomes a man. “Home—belonging, fulfillment—is found only with another,” he writes. “Home is a promise given to a husband, made possible only by a wife.” Women don’t exist as people independent of a man but as wish fulfillment.
Manhood is Hawley’s fantasy, and as such it is revealing. Remarkable for its chauvinist delusion and unparalleled in its sheer whininess, it is a study, too, in personal failure. Since the 43-year-old Hawley entered the U.S. Senate in 2019, he has earned a reputation for hyperconservative political views with a fixation on the nefarious influence of Big Tech. Hawley, though, is not the leader he tells other men to be. Any serious accounting of his record must conclude he is a coward. Before the attack on the Capitol, Hawley cheered on crowds; later that day, he ran away from them in the Senate. Manhood does not rescue his image. The book itself is a gutless wonder. Masculinity cannot fail but rather can only be failed by others. It is strong enough to save the nation, but too weak to protect itself from “Epicurean liberalism,” Hawley’s term for a mythical ideology focused on the pursuit of personal happiness above all else.
Hawley writes that an all-powerful liberalism is to blame for the decline in blue-collar work, for suicide rates among men, even for the supposed unwillingness of some men to work. “Consider this: in 2014, only 12 percent of nonworking but able-bodied men between the ages of twenty-five and fifty-four said they were even open to the prospect of working,” he insists, citing a report from Republican members of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. This stat is proof of a growing “culture of dependency,” he claims, which liberals cultivate in the nation’s men. Hawley believes in the potential of men, but with every sentence he reinforces their perpetual victimhood.
There is some evidence that American men are in trouble. Males accounted for 80 percent of all U.S. suicides in 2019, and girls and women are overtaking them in terms of academic performance. All is not well among women, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that teenage girls reported “persistent sadness” at double the rate of boys in 2021. Women remain underrepresented in politics, and women of color in particular face widespread discrimination and economic disadvantages. Hawley ignores the real power that men still wield in American society and ignores, too, materialist explanations for the social problems he identifies in Manhood. He fixates instead on culture, which allows him to rail against a class of ill-defined elites. “The tribunes of elite opinion long ago decided that male strength is dangerous—toxic, leading inevitably to oppression and a hateful patriarchy,” he complains. Elsewhere, he writes that “education is class,” and as a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School, perhaps he’d know. Yet he is not inclined toward self-reflection. By elites he means liberals, not conservatives like himself. An educated liberal class “now runs the giant corporations, staffs the news media, captains the entertainment industry, and, of course, steers the major universities,” he writes, and then whines, “They set the cultural tone. They hand out the accolades. They control who is favored and not.”
Hawley’s complaint is familiar, but it is not quite true. In March 2022 alone, Fortune 500 companies donated over $800,000 to House Republicans who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The New York Times reported the same year that over 700 companies and industry groups had donated $18 million to 143 seditious lawmakers. Businesses “that pledged to stop or pause their donations to those lawmakers have since given nearly $2.4 million directly to their campaigns or leadership political action committees,” the Times added. Bud Light and its parent company recently provoked right-wing ire by sending cans of beer to Dylan Mulvaney, a trans actress and influencer, but otherwise, there’s not much evidence that liberals control major corporations. The news media may tilt liberal, but that’s subject to corporate whims. At CNN, Chris Licht is determined to appease conservatives through stunts like May’s disastrous town hall with Donald Trump. Conservatives want to capture the “cultural tone,” as Hawley puts it, and often they succeed. Bud Light now sounds conciliatory; Target is removing some Pride-themed products after violent threats against employees.
Liberalism in 2023 looks weak, but Hawley needs it to be otherwise. He longs for a strongman, the ultimate patriarch, and a strongman needs an enemy to fight. In Manhood, he extols order. “Freedom is something more than following one’s momentary whims,” he writes. “A man who wants to be free must order himself and his soul, because only then will he have the capacity to do what liberty means to do: to rule.” That may not be fascism in a complete sense, but it is close. An authoritarian impulse animates the entirety of Manhood. Masculinity is driven to rule, which is to “subdue chaos and bring order,” he explains. “The power to rule is the power to act upon the world to change it, to improve it—to use our skill and art to bring forth its potential and make it more what it could be.”
Hawley’s supposed populism was always incoherent, and Manhood does not rectify the problem. His real problem with the elite class is that it is not populated wholly with men who think like him. He is uninterested in examining his own status. From his position in the Senate, he extols the value of blue-collar work for others. The decline of organized labor never factors into his analysis at all, nor was it likely to. His lifetime score from the AFL-CIO is a paltry 11 percent. To Hawley, pornography threatens men more than the rarefied economic interests he so diligently serves in the Senate. Challenging those interests requires courage that he lacks.
Manhood clarifies one point, if only by accident. Culture war is a smokescreen for authoritarianism in all manifestations, from Hawley’s quest to force women to give birth to his service on behalf of the wealthy who are winning the class war. His cowardice — by which I mean his failure to confront the mob he empowered, or the economic implications of his politics, or even the reality of male power in the 21st century — all serve authority. He admits as much. Epicurean liberals say manhood is toxic, he writes, and adds, “Genesis says unapologetically, by contrast, that God made men for good and he meant them to lead.” The tragedy for Hawley is that he is more of a tool for power than a leader in his own right. Manhood cannot supply the charisma that he lacks off the page.
Yet he can still damage the democracy he appears to despise so much. Conservatives who share his ideas about gender are forcing them down the public throat with legislation, litigation, boycotts, and even violence. What Hawley does not say is that women are as integral to this project as men. Though no one would know it from Manhood, Hawley’s wife, Erin, is a notable figure in the conservative legal movement: as an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, she is playing a key role in the fight to end access to mifepristone. This, too, is familiar. Hawley’s masculine world won’t exist without the assistance of women, even if Manhood is threatened by the admission.
“The Left is TRIGGERED by my new book, Manhood - get your copy now,” Hawley recently tweeted. I’m not triggered. I’m bored. Manhood can only regurgitate tired ideas about gender and wrap them in a Sunday-school lesson. The book will persuade no one who doesn’t already agree with him. Although the conservative movement can be a formidable enemy, fantasies like his are flimsy stuff. Take them in hand, and they will fall apart, much like Hawley himself.