Thursday, January 23, 2014

Without a male culture - decline?

Nick Adams, though born in Australia, has made a living in America as an author and motivational speaker. He has hit the news in the U.S. for warning about the attacks there on male culture:
“All aspects of male culture have been called in to question,” Adams said. “Whether it’s gathering around on a Sunday afternoon to watch the football with a few friends, whether it is going to the range and shooting some guns, whether it is just being a male has now been really made suspect — and that is a very dangerous thing. We see it coming from all levels of society. We see it coming from the government; we see it coming from the feminists.”

He went on to argue that if a male culture doesn't survive then America will decline.

He's right, for reasons I want to draw out in this post (Adams himself is a neocon right-liberal rather than a traditionalist: he sees America as being a proposition nation and believes America has a mission to export itself to the world).

Let me say, that this issue is not one that is easily proved or disproved scientifically. It has to do more with what someone has discerned of the masculine over time. And what I have discerned is that there is a higher kind of masculine spirit through which virtue and a life of the spirit is most actively and self-consciously organised within a society.

This is not to say that all men are to be regarded as virtuous, or that masculinity doesn't have a potentially negative side, or that femininity is not, in its essence, the equal of masculinity. It's more that effeminate men are not likely to act together to animate a society in the same way that a group of men who combine masculinity with finer feeling are.

The view of the ancients was most certainly that there was a positive connection between masculinity and virtue.

St Paul

I was intrigued to read in a comment at Sunshine Mary the following Bible quote from St Paul:
"...Be not deceived: neither the whoremongers/promiscuous [pornoi], nor idolaters [eidOlolatrai], nor adulterers [moikhoi], nor sissies/effeminates [malakoi], nor male-bedders [arsenokoitai], nor thieves [kleptai], nor the covetous/envious/greedy [pleonektai], nor drunkards, nor revilers/trash talkers [loidoroi], nor extortioners [harpeges], shall inherit the kingdom of God."

St Paul is warning (the Corinthians I believe) that the malakoi (meaning the effeminate men or sissies) will not inherit the kingdom of God.

St Paul was drawing on an understanding in the ancient world in which softness, luxury and moral weakness were often associated.

As an aside, this might help to explain the sense of what Jesus meant when he said that it was hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. The sense that is most likely to occur to a modern reader is that a rich man is overly devoted to the material things of the world - and maybe that is exactly what is meant. But in the ancient world it was thought too that luxury and finery drew one to softness and effeminacy and to a lack of moral restraint. Perhaps it was not the having of money itself, but an unwillingness to rough it - a lack of "belly" - that made the prospects for the rich man so bleak.

This suggestion is supported by a quote from Albert Barnes, a Bible commentator, who wrote of a usage of the word "malakos" in Matthew (11:8) as follows:
“Clothed in soft raiment. The kind of raiment here denoted was the light, thin clothing worn by effeminate persons...This kind of clothing was an emblem of riches, splendour, effeminacy, feebleness of character."


There is some dispute amongst Bible scholars as to whether St Paul in using the term malakoi was referring to effeminate men or to men who were the passive recipients of homosexual sex. It's possible, though, that both were meant, as in ancient Nordic cultures there was a term, "ergi," which referred to both things.

Ergi meant unmanliness and cowardice and was considered a grave insult. Ergi (and the associated term nið) seem remarkably closely related to the Ancient Greek term malakia:
Malakia was a particular type of cowardice, associated with effeminacy in men, that was widely condemned in ancient Greek society.

...To the Greeks, men could be made either manly or effeminate. The Socrates character in Plato's The Republic observed that "too much music effeminizes the male," ...."when a man abandons himself to music to play upon him and pour into his soul as it were through the funnel of his ears those sweet, soft (malakos), and dirge-like airs of which we were just now speaking..." Music softens the high spirit of a man but too much 'melts and liquifies' that spirit making him into a feeble warrior. 
Aristotle writes that "Of the dispositions described above, the deliberate avoidance of pain is rather a kind of softness (malakia); the deliberate pursuit of pleasure is profligacy in the strict sense."; "One who is deficient in resistance to pains that most men withstand with success, is soft (malakos) or luxurious, for luxury is a kind of softness (malakia); such a man lets his cloak trail on the ground to escape the fatigue and trouble of lifting it, or feigns sickness, not seeing that to counterfeit misery is to be miserable." 
A writer of the peripatetic school (c. 1st century BC or AD) elaborated a little more on Aristotle by labeling effeminacy as a vice. He writes that "Cowardice is accompanied by softness (malakia), unmanliness, faint-heartedness." It was also a concomitant of uncontrol: "The concomitants of uncontrol are softness (malakia) and negligence." It had educational implications for the Greek paideia. Pericles in his famous Funeral Oration said that the Athenians "cultivate… knowledge without effeminacy (malakia)". This statement and idea of education without effeminacy was visible in the educational philosophies of Victorian England and 19th century America.

Plato did not want to melt the high spirit of a man - he associated a man's high spirit with his masculinity. In this the ancient world agreed.

What is more, it was understood that masculinity preserved a society from servility to foreign powers.
Effeminacy in Ancient Greece had political implications as well. The presence or absence of this character in man and his society determined if his society was free or slavish.

Herodotus recounted an incident that happened in Asia Minor. This was an appeal from King Croesus, the king of Lydia to the Persian King. The Persian king wanted to kill all the males to keep them from revolting and what the defeated king proposed was to inculturate softness in order to make the people docile and servile; effeminacy was seen as the mark of a slave. These men are to be softened.
But let the Lydians be pardoned; and lay on them this command, that they may not revolt or be dangerous to you; then, I say, and forbid them to possess weapons of war, and command them to wear tunics under their cloaks and buskins on their feet, and to teach their sons lyre-playing and song and dance and huckstering (the word "retail" in one translation). Then, O King, you will soon see them turned to women instead of men; and thus you need not fear lest they revolt.

Finally, consider the words of an early Church father:
"A true man must have no mark of effeminacy visible on his face, or any other part of his body. Let no blot on his manliness, then, ever be found either in his movements or habits." St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 195, E), 2.289.


The modern view is opposite to the ancient one: moderns are more likely to associate masculinity with vice (violence, oppression, privilege) and femininity with virtue (e.g. I once criticised Pope Benedict for suggesting that it is through the feminine that we arrive at human values).

It shows how careful we have to be in making these formulations. My own view is that there are virtues that are more closely associated with the feminine ideal (e.g. to be gentle and caring, graceful and beautiful, immediately present for others etc.); that these represent a softer side to the human personality in a very positive sense; and that the feminine ideal is powerful enough to draw the love and protection of men and to be at the centre of the emotional life of families and perhaps too the everyday life of local communities.

However, it is through the masculine that a society is brought in a more organised, self-aware and self-disciplined way to a moral order and that this requires a society to cultivate a masculine spirit in its men - or to be lost.

This post has not been a tightly argued one - I need to learn to express some of this better. The main point I want to make is that in the ancient world, including in the early Church, there was a tremendous emphasis on keeping men masculine and that this was associated with the pursuit of the good, both personal and communal.


  1. I would go instead with Aristotle's account of virtue - just as women and men have different functions, so the virtues that are proper to each sex are different, even if they share the same name. Though he does not discuss something like kindness in particular, I would carry his argument further and say that the kindness of a man is different from a kindness of a woman, even if we moderns typically associate kindness with women. (And the virtue of kindness is not the same as "niceness.")

    1. Papabear, that does solve the issue of giving both men and women a firm standing when it comes to virtue (rather than declaring one or the other the bearers of human values). However, it doesn't address the issue of how these virtues get to be organised within a society. Although I can certainly think of women who are willing to stand up for virtue, I have noticed that many women have a passive or "receptive" attitude to virtue in society, i.e. they see themselves as being acted on by what happens in society and they don't see themselves as having responsibility for the larger structures, only for what happens in their immediate domain. There are other women who seem to take a passive/aggressive attitude to the existence of such structures and the institutions designed to uphold them.

      I need to think this through and learn to express it better, but I do think that it is given to masculine men to carry through a special role when it comes to the defence of character, virtue and, in a larger sense, the spiritual values in life.

      If any women readers think I have this wrong, then by all means let me know - I won't be the least put out. What I am really angling at with all this, anyway, is not men vs women, but what kind of man a society produces and what kind of male culture. Most traditional cultures connected the good to the most spirited, masculine kind of men; our culture is suspicious of men acting together, connecting this to privilege and supremacy and this disrupts the creation of a masculine culture.

    2. Mr. Richardson, I'm not sure I quite grasp what you are asking with respect to how virtues are organized - perhaps I am too immersed in "patriarchal" thinking. In all seriousness... here is a rough sketch of what I would propose:

      While the Economics that is attributed to Aristotle may be of doubtful authenticity, I think it probably does reflect what his school thought about the relationship between husband and wife and the necessity of the husband to train the wife and so on.

      Clearly Aristotle argues that men must be trained to be subject to other men, even those who live in a republic. That is, before men can rule, they must first learn how to obey. But what of women? It would seem the Aristotelian view is that women receive their moral education primarily within the family, from fathers or husbands.
      While men must learn to obey other men before they can participate in governing the community, and the community as a whole (that is the men) have an interest in the education of the young, women, because their position is to be subordinate to men, learn to obey men. This is not so that they can rule over men, but for its own sake, so that they will behave properly as wives in the future. The moral education of women is in accordance with the roles that they serve. (And thus carried out primarily within the family?)

      Men, however, must learn how to function both as heads of families and also as members of the community, and so education within the family is incomplete. Education must be an affair of the community as well. I also think the distinction between public/private is not as useful as political/domestic - the 'political' is the cooperation of men for the good of the group, while the domestic is the cooperation of a man with his wife. While women of a community may work on a task working together (and perhaps this could be said to be 'political' by analogy), this interaction would seem to be more social in nature (often more co-laboring than collaborating) and more like supporting work for the benefit of their families (first) and other families (second). It does not cover the same sort of activities that men do qua 'political,' ruling, educating, organizing and collaborating for the sake of the community.

      I don't know if Aristotle explicitly mentions any other educators, institutions or individuals, of women. We could consider other historical examples, for example the models presented in the Old Testament. How much teaching authority do older women, for example, have over younger women? Is their role limited to advising/counseling/instructing (imparting of information) or does it extend to education (in the Aristotelian sense, which involves discipline/punishment).

      Aristotle would also remind us that there is a distinction between knowledge and true opinion and that for the many, true opinion, as opposed to knowledge of the good, suffices. A similar comparison could be made between habits based on true opinion and true virtue. He would not expect most people to acquire true virtue; true opinion and habits would suffice. (This would underscore the importance of obedience rather than knowledge with respect to moral action.)

  2. I like this post very much. I think in dealing with something that is outside our usual "guided" and rut-bound thinking, being evocative, getting at what you really mean, has to come before trying to make tight arguments.

  3. "This post has not been a tightly argued one - I need to learn to express some of this better."

    On the contrary Mark, you are light years ahead of anyone else I have seen argue on this issue. Very well presented! This is why I have an email sub to this blog. :)

    1. Simon, thanks. That's a good encouragement to persevere on this topic.

  4. Mark@ If we use the word virtue to denote a particular power or capacity, I think it is clear that there are many female virtues. That is to say good dispositions and behaviors that females are, by and large, good at. Likewise with males. When it comes to a concern with the maintenance of virtue as such, however, it's largely a male responsibility. The very virtues that we admire in females--compassion, kindness, empathy, conciliation-militate against the hard and judgmental outlook that is necessary to maintain standards as such. Applying this to your example, I think it is clear that a mother is far more likely to condone effeminate behavior in her son than a father would be; and of course if the father is being a brute about this, her actions are virtuous. But some boys who are tempted to be sissies can be broken of the habit by a father who, gently but firmly, reproves the habit. Feminists like to say that only men start wars. This is partly true, because only men will draw a line and say, beyond this line you shall not pass.

    1. The very virtues that we admire in females--compassion, kindness, empathy, conciliation-militate against the hard and judgmental outlook that is necessary to maintain standards as such.

      Excellent - that demonstrates the complementarity of the roles of men and women, rather than either one negating the other.

  5. "arsenokoitai"

    Best word ever. Sounds like a species of carp.

  6. Mr. Richardson

    I hope this is planned to be part of your really is good stuff!

    Mark Moncrieff
    Upon Hope Blog - A Traditional Conservative Future

    1. Mark, maybe the next one. The current one is a critique of liberalism. The next one is meant to be a setting forth of an alternative.

    2. Mr. Richardson

      How is this post not a critique of Liberalism?

      Mark Moncrieff