(The audio version of this essay can be found here.)
We know that we live in a declining civilization. Anyone with eyes to see understands that we are not the men that our forefathers were. Our ancestors built monuments, conquered kingdoms, and tamed the vast wilderness. They crossed the oceans in wooden ships and crossed the prairies in covered wagons. They were not afraid to risk everything and venture into the unknown. Their wars were great rather than petty, and their bravery was lauded rather than mocked. Our grandparents’ generation survived the Depression, won World War II, created the atomic bomb, the computer, and the jet engine, and set foot on the moon. Yet the comfortable lives they created for us have left us soft, coddled, and weak, a condition made even worse by the knowledge that we are made for something greater than this. Author Chuck Palahniuk spoke for the men of our generations when he wrote:
We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.
In Palahniuk’s story, Fight Club, the protagonist takes this longing for greatness to an extreme, by first fighting other men barehanded in an effort to regain the vitality of life, and then by committing terrorist acts in the hope of bringing down the system that has enslaved us. I think that desire to tear down the system is latent in a lot of men today. While I’m sure most of us don’t really want to watch our families and our friends go through hell, there is something in us that would secretly welcome the breakdown of society. Author H.L. Mencken summed up this feeling when he said:
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
I mentioned back in Episode 22 how every generation has a belief that they are the last generation on earth, and that something – climate change, Mayan prophecies, the Second Coming of Christ – is bound to happen any day now that will end everything. While some fear the apocalypse, others welcome it. While the decline of the United States is evident to most anyone at this point, there are many who are hoping for the fall to be dramatic rather than mundane. Young men throw around the word “boogaloo” to describe the hoped-for conflagration that will sweep away the remnants of our old decadent society and usher in a new era of masculine virtues. Some men buy a gun to protect their family but hope that they never have to use it; while others pray someone tries to break in that night. I think we all envy our ancestors in that they had opportunities to prove their bravery that are denied to most of us today. There are no more wild continents to win, kingdoms to conquer, or oceans to cross. “Born too late to explore the world,” the meme says, “born too early to explore the galaxy.”
I think this explains some of the reaction to the recent coronavirus outbreak this year. Some dismiss the whole thing as overblown, but many are prudently stocking up on food and medical supplies, just in case the worst happens. A few, however, secretly wish for this to be the apocalyptic event of our lifetimes. Is it any wonder than stories about the end of the world are so popular? We watch movies like Planet of the Apes, 28 Days Later, or the Matrix, vicariously living through an apocalyptic tale where the shackles of polite society are lifted, and we can hoist the black flag.
Rather than surviving the modern world by knowing the bus schedule and how to move data from one computer system to another, we would instead survive by our strength, our wits, and our courage. As boys, many of us grew up reading books like “Hatchet” and “My Side of the Mountain” and dreamt of having the chance to live off the land, untethered from our ordinary lives. Sure, Tom Hanks looked like he went through hell in the movie Castaway, but I think there is a little part of all men that wants a chance to test themselves against unforgiving nature. Trees and plants grow best when properly pruned, and forests need the occasional fire to clear out the deadwood and make room for new growth. Our founding fathers understood this well. Thomas Jefferson expected that each generation would have to fight its own revolution, saying:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
The post-World War II generations illustrate a decline from glory. The men who won the war came home looking for a quieter life. They invented the concept of the suburb, a neighborhood that was neither in the city nor the country, where families could gather together and raise children in peace and safety. The men who performed heroic deeds in the war rarely talked about them. They had nothing to prove, to themselves or to anyone else, and would rather focus on living a peaceful life and raising a happy family. Yet something went wrong. Masculine virtues began to be redefined by a media interested only in selling more junk. For the first time, television enabled images of war to be beamed directly into our living rooms. The carnage in Vietnam was surely no worse than in World War II, yet now we could see the things that our grandfathers had refused to speak of. The pointlessness of the war was the worst part. Unlike the clearly defined good and evil of World War II, we watched our young men killing and dying in the jungles of Indochina for no apparent reason. Our society took the wrong message from the failure of Vietnam, deciding that masculinity itself was barbaric and must be bred out of the human race.
In the 1970s, women began entering the workforce in greater numbers. Rather than being our partners in raising strong families, women became competitors for raises and promotions, and beneficiaries of government welfare. Media propaganda started convincing women that they should take on the most extreme characteristics of masculinity – aggression, assertiveness, and even violence. Our current cultural landscape promotes a view of women that strips away her femininity and leaves her consumed by traits that would be considered brutish in a man. More than one book has been written telling women that they need to interrupt more in business meetings. The newest Star Wars and Marvel movies feature female characters whose only flaws are that they are not assertive and violent enough. The feminine virtues such as empathy, kindness, caring, nurturing, and beauty are downplayed as relics of a sexist patriarchy. Women are told that they should not worry about how they look, as if there is no objective difference between a thin and lovely woman with long hair on one side and an obese tattoo-covered purple-haired grouch on the other. Feminists tell a young woman that it is wrong to do nice things for her husband or her children, and that she should put herself first.
On the other hand, the same propaganda teaches men to act like the most extreme versions of women. The modern man is supposed to be submissive and meek, quietly standing back while women run the show. He is told to be open about his feelings and to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Ambition is shunned while physical fitness is downplayed. “Real men,” they say, should not worry about how strong or fit they are or how much testosterone they have. They should be satisfied with their weak soy grip and their “dad bod” pot belly. While it was called a crisis when standardized test scores showed girls falling behind in math and science, boys falling behind in other subjects is considered right and normal. Society wants us to be mediocre, and since mediocrity is the path of least resistance, most men today settle for just that.
The modern American diet doesn’t help either. Our ancestors lived off of meat, but today meat is shunned as barbaric and out-of-date. Modern men are expected to eat soy, industrial seed oils, and ultra-processed meals that come out of a box. Modern men assume that it is normal to be fat and weak by the time they reach their 40s, and that heart disease and diabetes are simply things that inevitably happen when you get old. What can you do? The conspiracy theory would be that governments and corporations know that weak, sick men are easier to control than the kings we used to be. The reductive view is just as likely, however. Corporations create food that is cheap to make and addictive to the consumer in order to maximize profits. “Bet you can’t have just one,” the old potato chip commercial said. Health is a secondary consideration, and even then, only in so far as they can advertise according to the conventional wisdom of the day. The anti-meat crusades of the late 20th century enabled food manufacturers to replace healthy fat with poisonous sugar and carbohydrates and then market their products as “healthy”. Big Tobacco was broken in the 1990s because they used drugs and advertising to create a product that was addictive and attractive. Big Food has yet to meet their own reckoning, despite causing untold millions of early deaths with their own poisonous products.
The 1990s saw the first stirrings of awakening by American men to the spiritual quagmire they found themselves in. Fight Club was written in 1996 and adapted into a popular movie the following year. In the early 2000s, bloggers began writing about the struggles faced by modern men and sharing ideas on how to break out of our cultural ennui. Men woke up and realized that they had no power in American life. They had been taught that America was the land of the free, but they found themselves working mindless 9-5 jobs in order to pay for the mortgage, the car payment, and the numerous useless distractions that make up the modern life. The woman you married could, at any time, leave you, take away your children and your possessions, and use the force of government to confiscate all your money for the next twenty years. It was bad enough before, when the government took a third of your paycheck to fund foreign wars and welfare programs. Now you have to pay the rest to the woman who betrayed you and the children you are no longer allowed to see. The American man was once a king, and his home a castle, but today we are reduced to chattel. Is it any wonder that the male suicide rate has been ticking steadily upwards for decades now?
Some of the early blogs focused on men’s rights or social issues, but it was the pick-up blogs that really struck a nerve. While some men saw the state and direction of society and wanted to go back to the golden age of the past, the pick-up artists instead decided that since the world was burning anyway, they might as well have fun while they could. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die,” said the prophet Isaiah in the Bible. Or, as “Captain Capitalism” Aaron Clarey says, “Enjoy the decline.” The three most prominent pick-up bloggers were Rollo Tomassi, Roosh V, and Roissy, who later called himself Heartiste. Each of these initially used their platforms to teach young men how to meet and seduce women, and men flocked to their blogs and forums seeking this forbidden knowledge. These nascent communities began to realize that meeting women was not an end unto itself.
What these young men truly yearned for was an escape from the soul-sucking modern culture that tried its best to emasculate them. In bloggers such as Roissy and Roosh they found stark truths that were not being told in schools or in churches. Many Christian churches were still stuck in a post-World War II mindset, teaching young men that they must just be themselves, find a good girl to marry, and God would take care of the rest. They failed to see that modern society had turned against Christianity and masculine virtue, so disillusioned young men sought answers elsewhere. Author C.S. Lewis actually identified the problem more than half a century earlier, writing in The Abolition of Man:
In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
The Christianity of modern America has become feminized and trite, failing to provide an alternative to our lost culture and instead reinforcing its worst aspects. The masculine heroes of the modern church are not strong biblical leaders like Moses, David, or Jesus Christ Himself, nor bold men of history like Alfred the Great, Roger Williams, or Billy Graham. Today, the alpha male of the modern church is a skinny-jeans-wearing latte-sipping tattooed pierced worship nasally-voiced worship pastor.
These blogs eventually moved beyond simple pick-up tips, as their communities began to question what it meant to be a man. They came to the same conclusion as King Solomon who lamented that all the pleasures of the world had left him empty. Three thousand years ago he wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me… and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” The men of these online communities found that they wanted more than fleeting pleasures, but instead longed for what their fathers and grandfathers had: a family that loved and relied upon them, a society that supported these bonds, and a God worth believing in.
Roosh V is the most interesting story to come out of the so-called manosphere. He made his name in the 2000s writing books and blog posts teaching young men how to sleep with as many young women as possible. He traveled the world, exploring exotic locations and interacting with all manner of women, and then reported his results. He seemed to recognize early on that this was not the ultimate goal of life, however. He created a web forum called Return of Kings that invited those disillusioned young men to come and share stories of how they were triumphing over the malaise of modern culture. He tried to organize real-life meetups, but these were disrupted by feminists and soy-boys who could not tolerate free-thinking masculinity. When he lost his sister to cancer a few years ago, Roosh took the final step on his journey from libertinism back to tradition. He became a Christian, joining the Orthodox Church of his Armenian ancestors, and unpublished all of his books that taught men the art of fornication.
I believe that Roosh has taken the same journey that many thousands of anonymous men have made over the past two decades. We awoke to the realization that our culture is actively trying to stifle and harm us, and turned to hedonism – using women, movies, video games, or anything to try and retain some happiness in life. After a while, we realized that these were empty pursuits, and we wanted more. Rather than seeing the decline and fall of America as an excuse to live free of responsibility, we now see it as an imperative to build families and communities that will not only survive the fall, but thrive as we build the next phase of western civilization. There is no guarantee of success in this endeavor. The forces of malaise and mediocrity have grown powerful, and their boot is upon our necks. But our calling is a noble one. Each of us has only one life to live on this earth, and death awaits us all. What will you leave behind when you are gone? A collection of video games, or a growing family that honors your memory as a man who had a life worth living?
Thomas Babington Macaulay said it well in his Lays of Ancient Rome:
Then out spake brave Horatius,
The Captain of the Gate:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods?
We all know deep inside that something is not right in our society and that we were made for better things. The time has come to stop lamenting the loss of a past age of kings and start building a new one. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn claims the crown he was born to wear after proving his courage and bravery in defeating the armies of the Dark Lord. In Tolkien’s mythology, kings were a special breed of men. They were tall and strong, with unmatched wisdom and knowledge, and their very hands could heal the sick. Not just any man could take up the throne and declare himself king; Aragorn did so because he had the right bloodline and ancestry. He was not a usurper but was instead coming into his rightful inheritance. It was Tolkien’s view that enlightened monarchy was the best choice for human government, however he qualified that by explaining that there were no more men left that he would trust in such a position.
Unlike Aragorn, we do not have Elves or angels in our ancestry, but we are made in the image of God. Our mortal bodies were created to manifest, in a small way, the incomprehensible glory of God himself. As children of the Most High God, we are princes, we are kings of our own domains, accountable for our actions and our stewardship to the King of Kings Jesus Christ. Our kingdoms are bequeathed to us by our fathers and their fathers, who worked and fought and died in order to pass on their heritage to us. Do not let malaise, propaganda, and the path of least resistance steal that heritage from you. Our calling is not to grow fat and sick while simply counting the days until our inevitable death. We are heirs of three thousand years of western civilization, of Solomon and Alexander, Bach and Beethoven, Rembrandt and Raphael, Shakespeare and Cervantes, Augustine and Aquinas. Don’t be the one to drop the baton. Don’t let the flame of the west be extinguished forever. My fellow kings, the task of building the next civilization rests with you.