Late last year I re-read Jack Donovan’s The Way of Men, written for identifying what it means to be a man, and what men need and want. Donovan argues that men are largely driven by the need for the respect of men who we are united to by a common purpose. The way of men is the way of the gang — small groups of men defining and protecting the tribe’s boundaries, driving away or destroying its enemies, joining together in larger parties to take down quarry or raid other tribes. This is what men were made for: it is the mandate expressed in our bones, and it guides the way we regard one another, consciously or no. The evolutionary orientation of men toward the gang and its mission — the hunt, the fight, the watch — establishes four virtues at the heart of man: Strength, Courage, Honour, and Mastery. These are not virtues possessed by men alone, but they define men, and are how we gauge one another. No woman is thought less of for not having bulging biceps, or from backing down from a fight; men would be. Girls mature into women simply by the dictates of genes, but men must work and fight for a place in the ranks, to be regarded as a man among men. After exploring each virtue in full, Donovan further argues that the modern world is incompatible with the expression of these traits — it no longer values men or our purpose — and urges men to form their own gangs and reject being a passive consumer. Instead, embrace the struggle of reality, and do it with men who you can respect and trust. It’s a bit as thought Tyler Durden wrote a book, with the same mix of insight and zeal.
Related: Art of Manliness interview with Jack Donovan on the book. My introduction to it.
A few quotes:
“While the job description for men undeniably changes according to time, place and culture, the primal gang virtue that unifies them all is ‘being able to carry your own weight'”.
Their version of a good man is isolated from his peers, emotional, effectively impotent, easy to manage, and tactically inept. A man who is more concerned with being a good man than being good at being a man makes a very well-behaved slave.
Men must have some work to do that’s worth doing, some sense of meaningful action. It is not enough to be busy. It is not enough to be fed and clothed given shelter and safety in exchange for self-determination. Men are not ants or bees or hamsters. You can’t just set up a plastic habitat and call it good enough. Men need to feel connected to a group of men, to have a sense of their place in it. They need a sense of identity that can’t be bought at the mall.
Forming gangs and potentially wrecking things is not exactly the constructive mandate and life-defining purpose a man would hope for. It’s Good to be A Man offers a Biblical argument that parallels Donovan’s to some degree, in effect sanctifying his thoughts and others by making them inform a Christian approach to masculinity rather than Donovan’s pagan* one. The authors here argue that man is made for Dominion, and that patriarchy is inevitable: men are compelled by their nature to compete for rule, so the only question is : what kind of men will prevail? The authors draw heavily on the Creation account in Genesis, and argue that men are mission-oriented — created for the purpose of dressing and keeping the garden. Women are a complement to the mission, and not the mission itself: living for romance, they write, is a fool’s game, one which will inevitably ruin the relationships initiated. To idolize a romantic partner is to miss their status as a Person, and to expect them to complete us or make us happy is to place the weight of the worlds onto the shoulders of a single individual. This is both unjust and unwise: the more a man relies on a woman to validate his masculinity, the needier he becomes, and the less attractive a partner. Hence the authors’ repeated advice: pursuit excellence, not women. We find completion through determining God’s mission for us, and living it out. The authors felt compelled to write because 21st century men are completely lost — not just in the religious sense, but lost as men. Family culture and the skills it once propagated have largely evaporated, making most men directionless and often incompetent — forced to rely on youtube for instructions on how to change a tire or knot their tie. They emphasize, too, the importance of male relationship, writing on the need for male mentors and brothers to support one’s growth. Jordan Peterson may be an excellent guide, but in-person accountability is necessary for lasting maturity. This book proved to draw from far more varied sources than I’d expected, quoting everything from The Church Impotent to No More Mr Nice Guy. Related titles would be Leaving Boyhood Behind (to be reviewed in May alongside Defending Boyhood), The Catholic Gentleman (Sam Guzman) and Be a Man! by Larry Richards. These are about Catholic masculinity as opposed to Foster and Tennant’s more protestant approach, but the underlying theology is compatible.
A few quotes:
We are the ones now living in burning Jerusalem, and we are the ones who must rebuild the walls. We are the ones who must overcome the evil patriarchs of our day, whether in the deep state or the media-industrial complex. We are the ones who must refuse to be turned aside to their will by deception and gaslighting, refuse to be numbed by their offers of cheap pleasure, and refuse to be cowed by their intimidation and oppression.
Whenever there is an unbalanced emphasis on one virtue, it can become a vice. This happens simply because each virtue must be applied in another. Wisdom without the strength to put it into action is worthless. Strength without wise application is destructive. Workmanship without wisdom is toil and futility, and so on.
Do not be harnessed, pacified, or destroyed; rather, build yourself up, and start working to exercise dominion over yourself and your world. Everything else will follow from that.
*I don’t mean “pagan” as in “secular”, I mean pagan as pagan. Donovan regards masculinity as essentially religious, and he has a particular devotion for Odin and Zeus. He’s a fascinating author, often disturbing but never boring.
Interesting… I do wonder about the much talked about issue of men not actually knowing how to be men. Obviously part of it is simply biological but, as with most things, there’s a significant cultural component. What was acceptable male behaviour in the 1820’s or 1520’s isn’t so much in the 2020’s – and that’s how it should be. Times change and all that. That’s one reason why I struggle with the idea of being a ‘real’ man. The question I always raise is: In what era/context? It’s an interesting area for discussion though. It’s probably affected me at some level but I’ve always just tried to be true to myself rather than any cultural stereotype. One reason why I’ve spent most of my life being considered ‘odd’. That and always having my “face in a book”… [lol]
Donovan commented that there are numerous lines of thought about being a ‘real’ man and they often serve the interests of those making the demands. His book focuses more on what men expect from each other — universally. Sometimes competing values will create different behaviors: one society expects and demands its men to be sober, another demands men prove their manliness by consuming copious amounts of alcohol and not passing out. There are still truisms, though: no society ever promotes weakness among men. Even today, when traditional masculinity is mocked and poo-pooed, people demand that men be stronger — albeit strong after their fashion, carrying the woke man’s burden and so on.
“Established men of wealth and power have always wanted men to believe that being a man was about duty and obedience, or that manhood could be proved by attaining wealth and power through established channels. Men of religion and ideology have always wanted men to believe that being a man was a spiritual or moral endeavor, and that manhood could be proved through various means of self-mastery, self-denial, self-sacrifice or evangelism. Men who have something to sell have always wanted men to believe that masculinity can be proved or improved by buying it.”