Swedish translation here
A few Sundays ago I was spending the latter part of my evening in my favorite bar. My bar doesn’t play any loud music and the bartender shushes people if they get too boisterous. I usually sit right at the bar so that I can converse with the bartender, but I usually spend most of my time reading. On this particular occasion the book I had with me was The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay — which I would later review for Counter-Currents.
I really don’t know why I read at the bar, because inevitably someone horns in and wants to know what I’m reading. This particular evening was no exception. The crowd was not big, but it was mostly male. There was a good deal of laughter over the title of the book, and the bartender, a guy of 25 or so who moonlights as an actor, immediately decided to try and stir up a conversation by asking us all what we thought manliness consists in.
The question took me by surprise. Manliness is a topic that keenly interests me, but I had never thought to try and put what it is into a sentence. I fell silent for awhile, and the other male faces stared at me expectantly. Finally, I came out with: “Manliness is setting a high standard for oneself, and living up that standard.” Admittedly, this was no stroke of genius. What I was really trying to define was the noble man. But I think all attempts at understanding manliness understand it in terms of its excellences. And my words were chosen with a certain amount of care. For example, I didn’t say that manliness means living up to just any high standard — it must be a standard chosen by the man, not one he simply accepts automatically or uncritically.
I regretted my words almost as soon as I had uttered them, though. I actually try to avoid having conversations with people, because it depresses me to be reminded too frequently of how everyone’s headpiece today is filled with straw. The response I got on this occasion was predictable, and predictably depressing.
All of these guys were younger than me. I think the oldest couldn’t have been older than 32. One of them, a tall dark-haired guy pretty enough to be a girl, said “But who determines what a high standard is? I might set a standard for myself that I think is high, but you might not think it’s high.” I patiently explained to him that this was really not a serious problem. Sure, sometimes people set standards that they think are high, but they may be wrong. Sometimes they find this out by meeting people with higher standards.
This wasn’t good enough for him, however. He stared at me blankly and said, “But who decides?” (I found out later on that he had majored in philosophy at UCLA. I thought they weren’t doing any real philosophy there, and I was right.) “Do we need someone to decide for us?” I said. “I mean suppose someone thinks that a high standard means not having a drink before noon, and another person thinks it means not drinking at all. Is there any doubt here as to who has the higher standard?”
More of the blank look. Then he said: “But suppose that not having a drink before noon is a really high standard for them.”
“Then they’re pretty pathetic,” I said. I knew the game he was playing: the “it’s all relative game,” and I have little patience for it. I was relieved when someone else broke in at this point, but my hopes for a better interlocutor were soon dashed. The new guy was also young. Small and wispy, with a buzz cut head and what looked like a couple of day’s stubble which had very deliberately not been shaved off. “But don’t you think masculinity is changing?” he said.
“I think you’ve dated one too many feminists,” I said. This got a laugh.
No I don’t think that masculinity is changing, but men clearly are. C.S. Lewis published a little book many years ago titled The Abolition of Man. The best part of this book is a chapter called “Men Without Chests.” Now, by “men” Lewis clearly meant “men and women,” but what he argues is actually far more relevant to the male of the species. The Abolition of Man begins with a discussion of a book by two relativists in which they argue that judgments of value are merely expressions of one’s “feelings.” If, for example, I say that “The US is evil,” what that really means is “I’m having evil feelings about the US.”
Lewis easily dispenses with this contemptibly silly position. It’s not my feelings that are evil, in fact I may be having no “feelings” at all when I make a judgment. I am saying that something else is evil. Why would anyone put forth such a sophistical position? Lewis conjectures (quite reasonably) that they have a social agenda. Since most conflicts between men are due to conflicts of values, we can eliminate conflict (and war! Hallelujah!) if we teach people that their value judgments are really just expressions of subjective, personal feeling. Since no one’s subjective, personal feelings are anymore valid that anyone else’s, why fight?
It is this doctrine that produces “men without chests” — because if we all sincerely embraced it, we would lose our will to defend that which is really worth defending. Lewis could have said “men without balls,” but he was too polite for that. In speaking of our “chests” he is really drawing on the Platonic teaching about thymos. In The Republic Socrates teaches that thymos (which the Greeks located in the chest) is the part of the soul that responds to challenges to that which we value. Thymos is the essential quality in a soldier, and so Socrates dictates that the “guardians” in his ideal city will be those in whom thymos is the dominant soul component.
Thymos is a human trait and one finds it in both men and women. However, it is the core of masculinity, and is far more prominent in men than it is in women. Like it or not, the essence of manhood is a striving that often becomes fighting. To be a man is to strive for some value that transcends the values of Plato’s “appetitive” types, whose concerns never rise above comfort and security. To be a man, in fact, is to be willing to risk comfort and security for that higher value, whatever it may be.
Essentially, relativism is a thymosectomy. And relativism is the dominant “philosophy” of values in the modern world. Francis Fukuyama in his The End of History and the Last Man, argues that the “desire for recognition,” which is an aspect of thymos, has driven the worldwide movement toward liberal, democratic states. This is usually the only part of Fukuyama that anybody knows.
In the last part of his book, however, he argues that the liberal, democratic world actually results in the undermining of thymos. After all, in order to keep the liberal, democratic peace it is imperative that no one think he is better than anyone else. We must believe that all are equal, all opinions equally valuable, every gimp and retard “special.” Anybody who breaks these rules and starts acting like an Overman is a threat to the new world order. The result is a world of fat and happy appetitive types, and repressed, unsatisfied thymotic types.
If modernity really is, at root, all about the suppression of thymos, and if thymos is the essence of masculinity, it follows that modernity is built upon the suppression of masculinity. And this is what I saw in that bar last Sunday: a roomful of lifelike simulacra of men; men in whom the central male trait had been beaten down by years of miseducation at the hands of relativists.
I suppose someone might object to this by saying “All around us we see alpha male go-getters climbing the corporate mountain. Is there really anything ‘feminine’ about the modern world?” To which I answer: you bet your estrogen-producing soy latte there is! Women do have a thymotic aspect (some women more than others), but they are predominantly “appetitive,” in Plato’s sense: their focus is almost always on comfort and security. The nobility of women consists in the fact that it is the comfort and security of their children, not themselves, on which they are often primarily focused. But the focus is still comfort and security.
Women usually respond to the thymotic idealism of men by regarding it as just a wee bit silly. And this is the attitude of everyone today. Those who strive for something beyond material well-being are seen as deluded. Men have been duped into believing that working for the acquisition of more consumer goods than the next guy is “manly.”
One would think that women would just stay at home and let the goodies flow in thanks to hubby. But they’ve actually duped themselves into believing that living the life of a corporate drone is “liberation.” Well, at least everyone is taught to play nice. In the final analysis, the tyranny of political correctness — the foundation stone of which is relativism — is really like rule by a censorious (female) kindergarten teacher who can’t stand to hear a harsh word. Modernity is really a feminine paradise.
It bears repeating: Modernity is founded upon the suppression of masculinity. Therefore, the only answer to modernity — the only way to destroy the modern world — is the reassertion of masculinity: good, old-fashioned, hot-blooded, bone crushing, thymotic masculinity.
I didn’t see much potential for that in those guys in the bar. But I’m a bit of an optimist: I still think it is there. It has been suppressed and occluded, but it is still there. Here’s an analogy: Human beings are natural carnivores. Vegetarianism is not natural to us (and it’s also really girlie). Imagine a child raised all his life without ever eating meat. He would survive, but he would not thrive — and he probably would not even realize it. He would experience cravings for meat, without being able to understand the nature of those cravings. A natural part of his makeup would simply be suppressed , undeveloped, and unexplored. His first steak would be like a revelation.
Similarly, inside every “nice,” metrosexual, non-judgmental Nancy boy — yes, even inside Justin Bieber – is a real, hot-blooded thymotic he-man screaming to get out. This is the explanation for why Fight Club is such a phenomenon among males (the film, really — the film has eclipsed the book, but it is so closely based on the book that for anyone who has experienced both they are virtually inseparable). Mention Fight Club or “Tyler Durden” in a group of the most gelded of modern males and they will light up — and also “man up,” at least for a minute or two. Fight Club truly touches a chord (and this is certainly true of some of the perceptive gentlemen who have posted comments about my earlier essays). It is, quite simply, a story about the re-discovery of masculinity. It is not “pop culture.” It is a deep and serious modern myth that is so perfect for us (you know who you are) one has to believe that Chuck Palahniuk was divinely inspired (especially given that most of his other stuff sucks). In Fight Club masculinity is re-discovered, the opposition between masculinity and modernity is revealed, and masculinity is mobilized against modernity. This is our Iliad; our epic. (And again: you know who you are. “You’re Mr. Durden.”)
So what happened? What did I say to those kids in the bar? What did I do to try to awaken primal masculinity in them?
Actually, I did nothing. I’ve already told the whole story. The conversation turned to something else, and I was thankful for it. I drank another beer and went home. I suppose it could have turned out differently. I could have pressed the issue. I could have tried to undermine their relativism. But not only was I disgusted by them, I was overcome with a kind of suffocating weariness. They are so, so contemptibly, wrong — so defective. And there are so many of them. I have this feeling a lot, in the face of many “modern problems.” We all feel this. It’s one of the reasons why what we optimistically call “the movement” doesn’t seem to be in motion. It’s like we’ve reached a point in history where everything is winding down and we’re all out of wind. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” When I’m in my darkest of dark moods I begin to entertain the thought that perhaps we have just run our course.
But we can’t think that way, for to give in to that is to voluntarily offer oneself up for emasculation. How do we grow back our chests, then? Well, one reason I gave up talking to those guys is that I had already given them a decent answer to the question “what is manliness?” It means setting a high standard for oneself, and living up to that standard. I should also have added what I said above: it means being willing to risk comfort and security in order to defend that standard.
I wrote this essay under a pen name. When we stop hiding and openly proclaim our opposition to this world that degrades, corrupts, and humiliates us, then we will have gotten our chests back. But only then. It matters little if one or two people do this. They will simply be flattened by the great, modern Juggernaut, festooned with smiley faces and Mardi Gras beads. As old Friedrich Engels taught us, at a certain point a cumulative quantitative change effects a qualitative change. As more of us come together via sites like this, as more of us open up to our friends about our hatred for all the modern nonsense, as more of us buy books by thought-criminals, as more and more of us risk it all by committing thought crime, we will sense the ground begin to shift, the Zeitgeist begin to change shape. We will sense that our time has come.
This is how things work. And when our time has come, it will be surprisingly easy to take it all back. It will be easy because we are real, and the evil that we oppose merely a negation that sets itself against life. We have the life-force on our side. It is just a matter of connecting with it.
“Surely some revelation is at hand . . .”