Why Men Matter: Heralding the Need for Man and Woman
BOOK PICK: Anthony Esolen powerfully defends masculinity, femininity, virtue and the family.
WHY CIVILIZATION DEPENDS ON THE STRENGTH OF MEN
204 pages, $30
To order: ewtnrc.com
A generation of boys in America are being taught that masculinity is something to be embarrassed and ashamed about. Masculinity is “toxic,” they are told. Professor Anthony Esolen, one of the most proficient Catholic social commentators in America, has written a book to counter that nonsensical narrative. It is titled: No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men.
If you are unfamiliar with his writing, you should know that to read Esolen is to audit a course on the Western canon. In No Apologies, Esolen appeals to Homer, Cicero, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare and Dickens to illustrate his points. For instance, Esolen appeals to The Tempest for an insight into the necessity of hierarchy in society: “Shakespeare shows us as much in the first scene of The Tempest, a scene that most critics have ignored, considering it as just a vehicle to introduce a few of the main characters and to have them stranded on an unknown isle. But it is a deft analysis of what a well-governed society looks like, a society governed by interwoven hierarchies.”
Some may ask: Why proceed that way — with all these references to times and poets past? C.S. Lewis addressed that question in his Introduction to St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. Lewis observed that we are greatly influenced by our own time, even if we try not to be. In some measure, we are trapped in our moment, unable to completely avoid contemporary harmful influences. Worse, we may not even recognize them as harmful.
But Lewis offers us a therapy:
“The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
No Apologies follows Lewis’ prescription, for Esolen sifts through the Great Books to help us see and understand unchangeable truths about the nature of man and of society. For the topic at hand, that is particularly wise, especially in today’s world, where reality itself has grown unpopular — almost as unpopular as many of those whose minds conform to that reality.
It must be said that affirming the value of masculinity does not negate the worth of femininity — quite the contrary. Esolen establishes a foundation that runs throughout the book: “Men and women are made for one another. I believe it, because it is in front of my nose, and I will not let any ideology compel me to pretend that I do not see what is right there to see. But if that is so, then we cannot corrupt one sex without corrupting the other. Male and female stand and fall together.”
Of course, many of society’s decision-makers do not see it that way. They ignore obvious differences between male and female and indict any who disagree. Esolen points out the vast and immediate difference in athletic performance: “If we have anything for which to thank the utterly mad ‘transgender’ movement, it is that it has laid bare, for all to see, the relative weakness of the female body by comparison with the male. Rather mediocre male athletes enter the lists against the best of the girls and run away with the trophies.” To make this point is not to malign female athletes (for the record, two of my daughters have achieved college athletic scholarships), but reason and logic dictate that we recognize a profound athletic difference. And, as it turns out, the refusal to recognize that is terribly unjust to female athletes.
It is a common harangue that men, left to their own devices, simply war with each other. War is what men do, or so we are told. Esolen counters this notion, spending considerable space in his book detailing the achievements of men in history who have worked harmoniously and creatively as teams to better the world. He writes, “It is absurd to complain that men have not built cities exactly to one’s liking, when without the stubborn daring of men — a daring that can be underappreciated precisely because it is so matter-of-fact — there would be no cities in the first place.”
Even beyond that are man’s noble purposes in creativity and building. Writes Esolen, “The actions of virtuous and even half-decent men are for all the people, and most centrally for the women and the children. The women and the children are primary in the order of ends, and he is secondary and ancillary. They are indispensable, and he is indispensably dispensable: [I]t is his great virtue and honor to pour out his sweat and his blood for their sake.”
A great strength of Esolen’s book is examining how the anti-male movement is harming society and its basic unit: the family. He notes that an attack on “manhood itself” is “therefore on fatherhood.” It’s hard to believe that this attack is not by design — that fatherhood is not deemed the ultimate villain. Esolen observes that the rejection of fatherhood has led to widespread despair:
“Think of the hopelessness of the secular world, which has set its face in stubborn self-destruction against the figure of the father, and ultimately against the fatherhood of God. Where is the hope? No one believes any longer in the saving power of technological progress; we must have fewer people in the world, not more; we demand the so-called right to kill the unborn child, which is feared as a threat, not longed for as a promise; we demand the so-called right to divorce, which is itself a confession that we have nothing to hope for from marriage, but much to dread.”
Many of the troubles outlined above are the result of the American feminist movement largely led by Betty Friedan and those disciples who followed. Rather than offer an apology for masculinity, Esolen turns the tables on the leaders of this movement and asks: “If feminism has brought joy to the world, where is it? ... Where are the beautiful works of art and music they have produced? Where are the bold and confident people who can take on opponents with grace and kindly laughter? What have we as a civilization gotten from them, besides bumper stickers and T-shirts? ... If feminists are good for boys, where are the boy geniuses fostered by feminists?”
Fair questions, all. (And that is in contrast to the good of authentic femininity and the feminine genius.)
Today, not only are we told to reject masculinity, but the very nature of man — or more specifically, that there exists a human nature. That is a crucial point that some others have missed or ignored, but Esolen drives home. Throughout his book, he addresses and illustrates this theme. He writes,
“We do have a human nature. We accept it without question in all matters that are not politically controversial. It is in our nature to need friends. No one doubts that. … We have always needed friends, and we always will. The same goes for fresh air and good food. And, no less, men and women need what their peculiar sexual natures cry out for, whether or not it is politically correct at the moment, and whether or not they themselves are aware of that need.”
To achieve university tenure as a sociologist, to maintain any hope of a friendly interview on mainstream media, or to obtain a federal grant, one must reject almost everything in Esolen’s book. That fact, in itself, should be reason enough to read it. Esolen’s is an insightful, rational and brave discussion in a time and place that sorely lacks those qualities.
In these pages, Esolen powerfully defends masculinity, femininity, virtue and the family. Thus, the reader of this book will be better positioned to defend these as well.