Books

Man Overboard

Josh Hawley’s long-threatened tome about American masculinity is here. Savor it with me.

Josh Hawley holds the tip of his pointer finger to the tip of his nose in contemplation.
Sen. Josh Hawley, in what a search of Getty Images reveals is his favorite pose. Tom Brenner/Getty Images

Josh Hawley calls influencer Andrew Tate onto the carpet in his new book, Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, the latest salvo in the Missouri senator’s campaign to make himself relevant to anyone—anyone at all. “Tate’s idea of success apparently involved sleeping with as many women as possible, berating them, abusing them, and celebrating it all as manly,” Hawley scolds. “There is no real strength, no discipline or self-command, there. No manhood.”

But to judge by this strange and ineffective book, Tate is, apparently, the only actually bad man in the world. Everyone else—every miserable man in America, of which there are plenty—just needs to read a book like this, full of dense Bible stories, sentimental tales about Hawley’s Midwestern childhood, and potted right-wing histories of the French Revolution, and he’ll be fine.

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Manhood builds on Hawley’s previous tries to become a figure of national relevance: a 2021 keynote on boyhood that the senator gave to the National Conservatism Conference; his boring Christian lifestyle podcast This is Living, which he co-hosted with his wife, Erin; and his last book, an argument against Big Tech. It also draws on his longtime interest in Teddy Roosevelt, the ultimate Man’s Man in politics, who might have done something other than raise a supportive fist and then jog away comically if the events of Jan. 6 had unfolded when he was alive.

And like almost everything Hawley does, the book is an epic disaster. Why did a man who is probably our leading national pipsqueak decide that promoting manliness was his ticket to political power? Maybe he saw one of Jordan Peterson’s crying videos and thought, “If he can do it, why not me?” Manhood is full of Peterson-esque “clean your room” prescriptions: ”You can be a provider and a protector, and you can start by producing something. Get a job. Keep it. Then pay your bills. Then save some money. These small steps go long distances toward making you the kind of man who can be a husband,” goes one such passage. Later on: “Are you going out every night? Stop. Are you sleeping in every morning? Get up.” And so on.

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The part of Manhood where Hawley dresses down Andrew Tate, calling him not a man but “a child pretending to be a man he thinks someone will like or respect,” turns out to be an outlier. The rest of Manhood imagines that men could change themselves, and the world, just by deciding to stop being “dependent,” get married, have kids, and “build something.” The pre-existing systems, culture, and structures that bind modern men and inform their choices are framed merely as excuses for not doing what’s right.

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Sometimes, people on the left—liberals, or their further-left discontents—will say some version of the following: It’s really weird that we have entire podcasts, college courses, historical subfields, and journalistic beats making good-faith efforts at analyzing the development of conservative thought, while they never, ever seem to return the favor. Reading Manhood has taught me that we are almost certainly better off without that. Hawley traces all of “liberalism” to the philosopher Epicurus, who, he says, counseled people to leave religious faith behind, and to “arrange one’s life, and society, in such a way as to allow maximum choice for pursuing pleasure and personal satisfaction.”

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Having introduced this idea, Hawley uses the term “Epicurean liberals” throughout the book to describe what he presents as a dominant monoculture: A world of non-conservatives, non-Godly people, who consume treats and watch porn and play video games and don’t like to work, and either are trans or support the right to trans self-determination. (If you thought Hawley wouldn’t mention the viral contretemps he got into with a Berkeley law professor over what “woman” means, in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last year, think again. It’s in the introduction! I think that may have been the best day of Josh Hawley’s life.)

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You will not be surprised to hear that Josh Hawley wants to claim true “manhood”—a state embodied, for him, by the Biblical archetypes of husband, father, warrior, builder, priest, and king, each of which get a chapter in the second part of this book—as the province only of the right wing. But the hoary chestnuts of advice in these sections would be nothing without the straw man of “Epicurean liberalism” to fight against. If men are going wrong, Hawley argues, it’s because they’re falling into a culture trap set by Epicurean liberals, just like Andrew Tate did. Hawley presents these same “liberals” as undisturbed by, or even welcoming, the mental health issues, persistent anomie, and rising suicide rates that plague American men in 2023. Liberals who also have worries about the effects of smartphones on their kids, or who get up early to lift weights, don’t exist—only self-satisfied elites informed by, hmm, ancient Greek philosophy.

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This culture-warrior perspective on manhood is so bizarre to read, knowing Hawley’s political indebtedness to the consumerist, gimme-gimme, consequences-be-damned MAGA vibe that currently dominates the Republican Party. In the chapter on being a “king,” Hawley briefly acknowledges the existence of men who “desperately want authority for all the wrong reasons.” Then, he basically describes Donald Trump, a person whose name does not appear in this book: “They preen, they abuse, they dominate. They see others as means to their own ends.” This kind of manhood, marked by a wrongful use of dominion, is actually—here comes the magic trick—a type of masculinity that’s produced by Epicurean liberalism. It creates people who live according to their own “moral truth,” but ”sooner or later, if you are not a megalomaniac, you grow up and realize you are part of a world with other people in it that you have no right to control.” Do you? Or do you bow down to, and serve such a man, because it’s to your political advantage?

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There was one part of this book that I liked. In the chapter about being a husband, Hawley describes taking his boys to get donuts on a Saturday morning, and seeing his older child walking with a limp. For a while, he and his wife thought his son Elijah might have a rare disease that would affect his joints and hinder his mobility for the rest of his life. The way he wrote about this—describing exactly what was happening in the moments before he saw the limp, laying out all of the fears they had about his future—resonated with me, a fellow parent and a noted sucker.

Josh Hawley: I’m glad it turned out not to be serious. I’m glad Elijah is back to soccer. I also wish schoolkids got more recess. And we like to explore creeks, too. Maybe your next book can be about that.

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