— Terence O. Moore is worried that manhood is ailing, and that our culture now produces only barbarians and wimps. While there is some truth to his complaints, my issue with this kind of conservative social criticism is its utter lack of imagination. The world has changed, and despite Moore’s loathing of whiners, all he seems to manage is a mannered, whining lament for classical “thumotic” masculinity. One hopes for more from social critics. Moore’s essay is a perfect example of the kind of rote conservative judgment that I complained about yesterday in a post about the films of Whit Stillman. He just can’t seem to accept that there are new conventions, for better or worse, and so cannot bring himself to think critically and usefully of what it means to live a life within those conventions, rather than bleat impotently about the lost world.
Conservatives tend to see the feminist movement and the so-called sexual revolution as perverse, willful repudiations of the sorts of regulative convention that make civilization possible. Yet here we are; civilization remains. And they fail to relate these cultural shifts to the ongoing development of capitalism, which, in other moods, they are only too eager praise. The increased economic autonomy of women, of which the feminist movement is as much a response as a cause, fundamentally alters the terms of sexual and marital relations, and thereby fundamentally alters the social meaning of man- and womanhood. What we need is a rethinking of what it is to be a man when women don’t need us economically, don’t require our paternalistic care, don’t conceive of themselves primarily as units for the production of babies, and thus look to relationships with men to meet human needs beyond economics, protection, and reproduction. We men haven’t quite figured this out yet, and so, yes, we are a bit adrift about how exactly to express our masculinity in today’s world. But it does no good to quote C.S. Lewis at us, and blame us for lacking sufficient martial virtue. Moore should make himself useful and think about what we men should be and do now given that our social role is irreversibly changed and women are never going back to the gilded cage.
[Cross-posted on Liberty & Power.]