I am not the author of the following. This article was the original inspiration for what ultimately became The Spiritual War-- Part Two on March 14 2020.
The Henry Adams quote comes from Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres.
I always have been very fond of women -- perhaps too much sometimes. I always have enjoyed their company greatly. I have really worshipped feminine beauty. I have admired and respected women when they have served their purpose in the life of our people, as much as I have admired and respected men who have served their purpose.
Having said this I must tell you now that I believe that a great part of the present pathology of our society can be ascribed properly to its feminization over the past century or two, to its loss of its former masculine spirit and masculine character.
This came to mind most recently when I saw and heard the reaction to Timothy McVeigh's statement to the court on August 14 1997, at the time he was sentenced to die. What McVeigh said was very relevant, very pertinent. He said that the government teaches its citizens by its example. When the government breaks the law, then its citizens will not respect the law.
But the spectators almost uniformly were disappointed by this statement. They complained that they wanted to hear him say that he was sorry for what he had done, that he was sorry for the innocent victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. They weren't even interested in hearing about the much larger issue of government lawlessness that Mr. McVeigh raised. They only wanted an apology for the suffering of individual victims. This is a feminine attitude, this focusing on personal and individual feelings rather than on the larger, impersonal context. It is a feminine attitude, despite the fact that it was expressed by grown men.
Many other people besides me have come to similar conclusions, although not all of them have wanted to come right and out and say so, because that would be the height of Political Incorrectness, the height of "insensitivity." As far back as the 1960s some perceptive commentators were remarking on the generally unmasculine character of the young men they encountered in our universities. Male university students even then tended to be too timid; too soft; too lacking in boldness, pride, and independence; too whiny in adversity; insufficiently willing to endure hardship or to challenge obstacles.
We have always had both soft, dependent men and hard, proud men in our society, but the commentators were comparing the relative numbers of masculine and non-masculine men they saw in our universities in the 1960s with what they had seen in the 1930s and 1940s. The 1960s, of course, were a time when the whinier men were making extraordinary efforts to remain in the universities in order to avoid military service, while many of the more masculine men were off in Vietnam, but this isn't enough to account for the change these commentators noticed.
Something written by the American historian Henry Adams back in 1913 was recently called to my attention. Adams wrote "Our age has lost much of its ear for poetry, as it has its eye for color and line and its taste for war and worship, wine and women." Now, Henry Adams was a man who had much more than a passing interest in such matters -- he was a lifelong student of these things and also was a professor of history at Harvard back in the days when the professors at that university were expected to know what they were talking about -- so we ought to pay some attention to his observation of the state of affairs in America in 1913. Incidentally, he was a member of one of America's most distinguished families. He was a great grandson of the founding father and second President of the country, John Adams, and a grandson of the sixth President, John Quincy Adams.
Henry's brother, Brooks Adams, had written a book 18 years earlier, in 1895, on the subject commented on by Henry. It was The Law of Civilization and Decay, and in it Brooks made an even more general observation than that stated later by Henry. Brooks saw two types of man: the type he described as spiritual man, typified by the farmer-warrior-poet-priest; and the type he called economic man, typified by the merchant and the bureaucrat. I believe that Brooks must have known a different breed of priests than those I am familiar with. He was thinking of Martin Luther and Giordano Bruno, not Billy Graham and John Paul II.
He saw spiritual man as having the leading role in the building of a civilization, with the economic men coming out of the woodwork and assuming the dominant role after the civilization had peaked and was in the process of decay. Spiritual men are those with vision and daring and a close connection to their roots, their spiritual sources. Economic men are those who know how to calculate the odds and evaluate an opportunity, but who have cut themselves loose from their spiritual roots and become cosmopolitans, to the extent that that offers an economic advantage. The spirit of adventure and the current of idealism run strong in spiritual men; economic men, on the other hand, are materialists.
Most of us are a mixture of the two types, and it's difficult to find examples of purely spiritual or purely economic men. Michelangelo and Charles Lindbergh tended toward the type of spiritual man. Pick almost any prominent politician today -- Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich, say -- and you have a good example of economic man. Which is not to say that all economic men are politicians, by any means: just that, since they are not likely to be distinguished in the arts, scholarship, or exploration, politics is where economic men are most likely to find fame.
So what does this have to do with the feminization of our society and the preponderance of whiny young men at our universities today? Actually, these things are very closely interrelated. They also are related to the things which caught the attention of Henry Adams: the loss of our aesthetic sense, our warrior spirit, and our feeling for what is divine, along with our masculinity.
When I say "loss," I am using this word only in its relative sense. Our society still has masculine elements, masculine characteristics; it's just that they are weaker now than they were 200 years ago. And 200 years ago there were some effeminate tendencies to be found; tendencies which today have become much more pronounced. It would be an error, I believe, to attribute this shift in balance solely to the machinations of feminists. They are responsible for the condition of our society today primarily in the sense that the pus in a ripe boil is to be blamed for the boil. The feminists characterize our society in large part today -- they are symptoms of the pathology afflicting our society -- but we must look deeper for the cause of our decay.
Let me repeat Henry Adams' observation. He wrote: "Our age has lost much of its ear for poetry, as it has its eye for color and line and its taste for war and worship, wine and women."
If he were writing today, he might note that the immortal lyrics of his contemporary, Tennyson, have given way in favor to the pretentious drivel of Maya Angelou; that the Western tradition in art, which had culminated in the 19th century in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and John Constable, has been shoved aside in the 20th century by the trash-art of Picasso, Chagall, and Pollock; that the profession of arms, which was still a more or less honorable profession in the 19th century, a profession in which gentlemen and even scholars still could be found, has become at the end of the 20th century a vocation for bureaucrats and lickspittles, for men without honor or spirit; that worship, once taken seriously even by many intelligent and sophisticated men, is now the business of Christian democrats, with their egalitarian social gospel, and of vulgarians of the Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker stripe, with their television congregations of superstitious, amen-shouting dimwits.
Can we properly describe this change noted by Henry Adams as the feminization of our society? Or should it be thought of as the replacement of aristocratic values by democratic values, a general vulgarization of standards and tastes? Actually, these two ways of looking at the change are related. But let me take Brooks Adams' position now and say that the change can be attributed most fundamentally to the growing materialism in our society, to the replacement of spiritual values by economic values. What does that have to do with feminism or with democracy?
Actually, a great deal. In a very broad sense, aristocratic values are masculine values, and democratic values -- egalitarian values -- are feminine values. It is also true that, in a very broad sense, materialism is a feminine way of looking at the world. It is a way which puts emphasis on safety, security, and comfort, and on tangible things at the expense of intangibles. It is not concerned with concepts such as honor, and very little with beauty, tradition, and roots. It is a way with a limited horizon, with the home and hearth very much in sight, but not distant frontiers. Reverence and awe for Nature's majesty are unknown to the materialist.
As spiritual man gives way to economic man, when one historical era merges into another -- as idealism gives way to materialism -- society gives a freer play to the feminine spirit while it restricts the masculine spirit. Words gain over deeds; action gives way to talk. Quantity is valued over quality. All of God's children are loved equally. Pickaninnies are considered "cute" or even "adorable." The role of the government shifts from that of a father, who maintains an orderly and lawful environment in which men are free to strive for success as little or as much as suits them, to that of a mother, who wants to insure that all of her children will be supplied with whatever they need.
It is not just society which changes, not just government, not just public policy; individual attitudes and behavior also change. The way in which children are raised changes. Girls no longer are raised to be mothers and homemakers but rather to be self-indulgent careerists. Boys no longer are raised to be strong-willed, independent, and resourceful. That requires hardness and self-denial; it requires masculine rule during the formative years. A disciplined environment gives way to a permissive one, and so the child does not learn self-discipline. The child is not punished for disobedience, nor is he given the opportunity to fail and to learn from this the penalties that the real world holds for those who are not strong enough to succeed. And so boys grow up to be whiny and ineffective young men, who believe that a plausible excuse is an acceptable substitute for performance and who never can understand why the gratification they seek eludes them.
The move from masculine idealism to feminine materialism leads inevitably to hedonism, egoism, and eventually narcissism. Henry Adams also claimed that we have lost our taste for wine and women. Well, certainly not in the sense that we have become less interested in alcohol or sex. What he meant is that we have lost the keen edge of our appreciation for civilization's refinements, for the finest and most subtle things in life: that our appetites have become grosser as they have become less disciplined. Our interest now is in alcohol for its ability to give us a momentary buzz, not in fine wine for its inherent artistry.
A similar consideration applies to the way in which our taste for women has changed. And is this not to be expected? It is the masculine spirit which appreciates woman, which appreciates feminine qualities, and as this spirit declines, our taste for women loses its edge and becomes coarser. We move from an age in which women were not only appreciated but also treasured and protected into an age in which homosexuality is open, tolerated, and increasingly common; Madonna is a celebrated symbol of American womanhood; and feminine beauty is a mere commodity, like soybeans or crude oil: an age in which parents dump their daughters into the cesspool that America's schools and cities have become to let them fend for themselves. In an age in which materialism and feminism are ascendant, this is the only way it can be. To attempt to make it otherwise -- to attempt to decommercialize sex, for example -- would be a blow against the economy, against the materialist spirit. And to elevate women again to the protected status they had in a more masculine era would be fought tooth and nail by the feminists as a limitation on women's freedom.
This subject is a little fuzzy, and I've been speaking qualitatively rather than quantitatively. For almost everything I've said, an opponent could produce a counterexample. And that's because I'm talking about very large-scale phenomena, involving many people, many institutions, and many types of interactions. Even during periods of history which I would characterize as masculine or as dominated by the masculine spirit, one can find examples of feminine tendencies and of institutions with a feminine spirit, just as one can find masculine tendencies in our society today. For example, while I claim that our society is becoming more effeminate today, someone can attempt to counter that by noting that masculinized women are more prominent today -- female lawyers, female executives, female military officers -- and one can attribute that to masculine influences in our society. I would counter that by saying that when men become less masculine, women become less feminine.
Likewise, when I relate materialism and feminism, or when I say that the rise of the economic spirit is associated with a decline in masculinity, someone else can find plenty of men with no shortage of testosterone -- strong, aggressive capitalists -- who are epitomes of what Brooks Adams called "economic man."
What it really amounts to is that the masculine character, like the feminine character, has many components. The component I have emphasized today is the spiritual component -- and there are other components. It is a complex subject. But I still believe that we can meaningfully describe what has happened to our society and our civilization during the past couple of centuries as a decline in masculinity. I believe that such a description sheds a useful light on one aspect of what has happened to us. And I believe that Henry Adams' comment on our society's loss of its artistic sense and of its sense of reverence, along with its warrior spirit, is a generally true statement which has value in helping us to understand our predicament. Adams, to be sure, was a scholar of considerable depth, and he wrote a great deal of carefully reasoned material to support the one-sentence summary which I quoted.
I apologize for being so abstract in my own comments today. But I believe that it's useful to back off every now and then and try to see the big picture, to try to develop an intuitive sort of understanding of our situation, even if it means talking about things which are by their nature somewhat fuzzy.