The Decline And Rise of Authentic Manhood

A friend of mine recently described a first — and last — date with a young woman he met online. Things went fine at first, but then he mentioned that he liked going to the gym and — worse still — that he felt that men should be physically strong. Although this would not offend anyone of any culture prior to the modern era, nor anyone of a non-Western culture today (masculinity is seen as normal and valuable in Middle Eastern and African cultures, for example), my friend found himself being lectured on why this was inherently evil and why he was on the wrong side of history.

Most women don’t think badly of a man if he works out or thinks that he, as a man, should be strong and muscular, of course. Most women are still attracted to strong — or, at a minimum, healthy-looking — men. Indeed, for all the lecturing that my friend was subjected to, his date was also attracted to his gym rat body when she saw him online. Her desires told her one thing and her politics told her another. She couldn’t live the way she felt she, as a member of the caste of the morally pure, should — which is probably why she overreacted.

But, it is true that masculinity is now regarded as something dirty and shameful by a section of Western society — male and female — and social media seems almost purpose-built to amplify the negative and the hateful and to elevate such voices over the creative and constructive. For this conglomeration, though, physical strength, attraction to women, male bonding, masculine imagery, etc., are all signs of evil. But feminity in women is also highly suspect.

I should perhaps restate that I do not regard myself as stereotypically masculine. I train physically. I practice martial arts. I like masculine aesthetics. But I also write, make art, have written poetry, and like feminine aesthetics as well. I am probably seen as too masculine by some and as too feminine by others, depending on how stereotypical they are. But I regard myself as a man in the classical mold — someone who develops the intellect, the physical body, and the spirit; creativity, courage, and compassion — and it’s that classical way of being that I encourage men (and women) to develop in themselves.

I have mentioned these two warriors before but as historical examples of that way of being, I would point to Miyamoto Musashi (the famed Japanese samurai, who was also a painter, calligrapher, and landscape gardener) and (although a more controversial and extreme example of this merging of the hard and soft arts) Egil Skallagrimsson, a Viking warrior greatly feared for his bloodthirsty nature and yet greatly revered as a poet.

But why is physical strength in men regarded as a bad thing by some people in Western (but probably not non-Western) society?

Perhaps like a Victorian Darwinist looking at an ape, for the morally pure of today, looking at a physically strong man is essentially looking at a throwback. He seems to embody everything that society has worked to rid itself of.

Western society has worked to elevate and exalt the mind over the body. Economists and social theorists tell us that it is good that technology has replaced most low skill work and that it will replace more blue collar jobs since this will enable the lowest of our society to avoid dirty, physical labor, and to somehow magically rise up the ladder to work on a nice clean computer in a nice clean office.

It isn’t solely the fault of intellectuals, though. A few decades ago, physical strength seemed to be inseparable from a low IQ. Today, a physically strong man can be sensitive, polite, and have a range of interests, but there is still the idea (in the universities, for example) that the intellectual cannot be physical, and even that the physical is a kind of social construct.

But the unthinking physical man of yesterday isn’t what’s behind today’s hatred of all things masculine or male. We have politicized society. And politics offers no experience of other people unlike ourselves but tells us exactly what we should think of them. My friend and his date probably had several things in common. They share the view that there is something wrong with contemporary society, and, had politics been set aside, and a sense of kinship established, presumably talk of strong men, strong women, vegetarianism, and so on could have led to a clarified and deeper understanding of what solutions could be found in their own lives. And perhaps they might even have found some common ground.

Politics pushes out the romance, not only between men and women but within the culture in general. Embodying Liberty in a statue, building monuments to great men and women, etc., this embodies a romantic spirit that sees greatness in us, in the landscape, in the human drama. Art, music, literature has always expressed the human drama, man’s connection to the spiritual or divine, our ability to transcend, the beauty of small interactions, etc. But politics gives voice to the coarse, the cliched, and the ugly. Its purpose is only to assert the status quo or to critique it. It offers option A or option B. Nothing more.

As with blaming other groups in general, suspicion of manhood comes also, I believe, from an inability to realize that evil lurks in the heart of us all, and that we have to go deep into our own souls, or psyche, to see — and to face — who we really are. Recently, I was out with some acquaintances — male and female — when their conversation turned to politics. Guns are evil and should be banned, they asserted. Ten minutes later they were still going at it, but now they were delighting in the prospect of those on the other political side being shot. So unreflective were they that they could not see the contradiction, and so convinced of their own moral goodness were they that they felt entitled to revel in the idea of people being murdered.

They are not bad people. When politics isn’t in their heads, they are decent, caring individuals. they are the kind of people who couldn’t bring themselves to squish a bug. But they are also the kind of people that find secret pleasure in imagining their political opponents being killed.

Politics is very much about reaction. Each side reacts against the other. But to react against or to feel the pressure to conform is merely to choose option A or option B. It is, in a sense, to fall into a life-sucking trap. Life is bigger than A or B, and we have the power and the individual creativity to forge our own way, create our own movements, and to shape ourselves and those around us for the better.

This takes persistence, and persistence requires belief, vision, a sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even though the passage may be winding.

The recovery of manhood cannot be the imitation of men from the 1980s or 1950s. Authentic manhood is not about owning the biggest car, laughing at intelligence, or catcalling women. If there will be a recovery or rise of authentic manhood in the West then it will require that those who are part of it not only train their bodies but train their minds and spirit.

Every warrior should be an artist:

Learn a creative art: Learn to write, learn to speak publicly, or learn to paint or to express yourself and your thoughts visually. If none of this appeals, learn to cook — make it an art; learn about diet, nutrition, ketosis, and so on. But persist with something so that you learn about yourself by going through periods of success and failure, despondency and elation, and learn to handle the ups with humility and learn to be able to talk yourself through the failures.

Every artist should be his own priest:

Read the ancient texts of cultures both East and West — Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, the Poetic and Prose Eddas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Tao Te Ching, and so on. Don’t try to imitate the style, but learn from and absorb the spirit of the best of the teachings, which will sustain and support you in life. Develop a regular meditation or spiritual practice. Learn to tame the thoughts so that they act in your service instead of dragging you around.

Every priest should be a warrior:

Train the body. Learn a martial art or some kind of self-defense. Learn to face your fears and to get back up when you’ve been knocked down. Train yourself to face and defeat your own petty emotions and self-deception. Learn that a life worth living is one you have to fight for.

Practitioner of esoteric spirituality, Dharma, and martial arts, Angel Millar is also an author of books on Freemasonry, the occult, and Islam. His writing has also been published by Quest magazine, New Dawn magazine, and Disinfo dot com, among others. You can find out more about him at

15 thoughts on “The Decline And Rise of Authentic Manhood

  1. Angel, a wonderful essay as always. As a musician living in the state of Montana, I have been constantly exposed to this supposed dichotomy. Living in Montana generally means guns and trucks. When I decided that my talents and interests lay outside of that limited sphere and became a musician I encountered hostility on both sides of the equation. Since I drive a small car (having little to no use for a 1 ton four wheel drive), play the saxophone, and write classical music, I am a fag. On the other hand, since I enjoy marksmanship, carry a pocket knife and know how to use an axe and other tools (drills, hammers, etc…) I am some kind of scary red-neck and probably a racist as well. I have met people who think that since I attended the local university I must think I am some special kind of smart and better than those who didn’t go to collage, and people at the university who degrade those who didn’t attend as ignorant simpletons who probably can’t recite the alphabet.

    I have always been baffled by this idea that seems to state that if you enjoy some activity, you shouldn’t be interested in some specific other one and that it is somehow a contradiction to like a sport and an artistic endeavor. To end this, I’ll relate an anecdote I read in a book on music theory. The author knew a couple of composers who needed to earn some money on the side so they started a moving company. They called it the “Light Moving Company” because as musicians it was considered un-cultured or something to lift heavy things such as sofas and beds.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I thoroughly enjoyed your last anecdote there about the Light Moving Company.
      I was left thinking that perhaps it’s counterintuitive for us to always be critical of the stereotype-creation when it seems to have it’s roots in the nastier, isolationist side of culturalism. I keep getting this thought that stereotypes are born out of culture. We may not like them, and we certainly don’t like having them used against us. In a healthy culture no one is put in a stereotype box. Everyone is seen as having potential. But in a healthy culture, we still see that outsiders are treated to stereotypes. I think the essence of stereotype rejection may not be rooted in a misunderstanding of history, culture, or even people, but rather in a reflex to create a safe zone. “If I reject this other stereotype I, [and my people], am safer.”. What’s the quickest way to prove to someone that you’re “safe”? Display evidence that you’re not one of those stereotypes.


  2. Another thoughtful essay. While my personal taste is for slender or more androgynous men, I don’t think muscular men should automatically be written off as “evil” (or what you’re more likely to hear these days, “toxic”)
    Though the trope of “toxic masculinity ” on paper, might be more in line with some of the stereotypes about men you’re criticizing- the idea of the tough physical man who does not cultivate his intellectual or creative sides, because that would somehow be “unmanly”.


  3. Wonderful. Every young man should read this. The question is, regarding the ones who would read and heed: What support would they find in their lives among the men around them? Where are the mentors? Few find the courage to walk a mostly solitary path — but I suppose it was ever thus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sad truth. I climb a steep uphill battle trying to teach my two pre-teen sons to grow these same strengths, especially when 1/2 of their waking day is spent around aimless, unmentored kids who seem to “have” more. I also can’t teach them the same way because they have very different personalities. One is an extrovert, the other an introvert. At least they both love reading and having conversation.


  4. “None of the above.”
    I had to finally face the truth that I just didn’t care about such things, simply because I am anti-social.


  5. I couldn’t agree more with this blog post. In the modern West, we’ve belittled everything that takes effort to understand, much less master. We’ve decided that you can only have physical OR intellectual prowess – and then only if fit in certain boxes. Never can we see the need for mind-body connection and integration.

    Further, our ideas about what constitutes prowess in these fields is, frankly, childish IMHO. Pointless gym-going gives you previous little – it’s now another lifestyle accessory for the shaved-ape Connor McGregor wannabes.

    Similarly, the intellectual middle classes don’t really want to do any serious thinking. They just want the right income, accoutrements and the moral high ground.

    There are better ways to live, to dispose of affectation and posturing, to engage authentically, sincerely and directly with our fellow humans. For one thing, that’s one of the most profound aspects of budo.

    Bravo – please keep it coming.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Masculinity is a social construct. It is therefore not surprising that the two models you mention above are from non-Western cultures (the Norse being on the fringe of European, Western culture).

    As I read this essay, the image of Brutus, the all-brawn-no-brain contender for Olive Oyl’s affection in the Popeye cartoons of my youth came to mind. Brutus never shied away from violent behavior, trying to annihilate Popeye or get his way, with all the sexual undertones it implied, with Olive by abducting her. Unfortunately, these stereotypes are still pervasive in today’s world. No wonder how, with the advent of feminism, women would also react poorly to the depiction of Olive as powerless to push back Brutus’s “advances.”

    I believe René Descartes is the one who introduced the body/mind dichotomy in Western thinking, in his _Metaphysical Meditations_, mainly through the very catchy “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am), which started the privileging of mind over body. Contrast this to Juvenal’s “Mens sana in corpore sano” (A healthy mind in a healthy body) of Antiquity, and you can see how perceptions of the body have been eroded in the West since Descartes, something that did not happen in the East. In India, Ayur Vedic medicine aims at treating the whole person, not just physical symptoms. Not so in Western medicine.

    This topic (masculinity) is a difficult one to tackle without offending many people, but it should stand to reason that when women redefined themselves through feminisms, they affected men as well, but we – men – have not been as good at redefining ourselves. It is a timely discussion, and one that I welcome. Thank you for providing the basis for it. Maybe Juvenal’s emphasis on health, favorably perceived today, is what can save masculinity from the stereotypes of violence and brainlessness attributed to the physical body. Body and mind are one, and the cultivation of the arts should not be at odds with the pursuit of a healthy body.


    1. Ah but I still support the additional cultivation of strength, not just health. I am a woman with thoroughly feminist views of herself, but I do not see the need relegate a man to a homogenous sex comparison with women. Man strives to be strong to vanquish his enemies and prove that he can protect.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, indeed, Elise. 😉 This is the problem with contemporary society: the insistence that we are all the same, indistinguishable, and interchangeable. Biology, and a look at all of the world’s cultures, suggests that this is untrue, of course.


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