No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men, by Anthony Esolen, (Regnery: May 2022), 204 pages.
My second grade teacher, Mrs. Heron, once called me a sexist. I had claimed that boys were better than girls at all the sports I knew: baseball, football, and kickball, dodgeball, basketball, and soccer. And that opinion, I was told in front of twenty-five fellow classmates, was verboten.
But even to an eight-year-old in 1991, wasn’t it undeniable? The boys were bigger and more aggressive. They ran faster. They threw harder and could kick the ball farther. I saw it everyday on the playground. What was wrong with stating the obvious? It wasn’t like I was saying all girls were worse at everything. I even knew some girls were more athletic than many boys. But any fool could see that if the best boys faced the best girls at any of those sports, it would be a rout.
Nevertheless, even then, with the Cold War winding down in the latter years of George H.W. Bush’s presidential term, an irrational gender ideology that told little boys and girls to ignore, if not deny, the realities of biology was seeping into American public schools. Little did I know it had already affected an entire generation of college graduates. Thirty years later, it now dominates all of America’s elite institutions. Indeed, questioning it could even get you fired. Millions of Americans are told, nay coerced, to refute the testimony of their eyes.
Anthony Esolen, author and writer-in-residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, wants America to regain its eyesight. He attempts this project in his No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men by means of setting scenes. He is, after all, a former English professor and a commended translator of Dante. Esolen sets scenes from The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and a wide swath of other literature that has informed the Western tradition and its conception of the sexes. Perhaps provoking our imagination is an effective if underemployed strategy for bringing us to our senses.
Not that Esolen’s treatise is short on reason, appealing in particular to our common sense. Rather than having me ham-handedly attempt to summarize his scenes, let us instead consider his arguments. “Look around you,” he exhorts us. “Every road you see was laid by men. Every house, church, every school, every factory, every public building was raised by the hands of men.” He cites simple biological realities: a man's heart is twice as big as a woman’s and fills his blood with more oxygen; that man sweats much more freely than a woman does. Or, put simply:
You can have your own politics or your own social theories—perhaps. But try as you may—and these days a lot of people are trying very hard—you cannot have your own biology. You cannot have your own physics. That block of stone does not care for democratic or egalitarian ideology.
Of course, to observe such things is to be labeled a perpetuator of toxic masculinity and the patriarchy. Esolen refers to these ideologically-motivated ad hominems as akin to “someone sprinkling a bit of strychnine in the soup—not enough to kill, but certainly enough to make the diner sick.” Boys are told they are bad if they are aggressive, if they exhibit the kinds of traits males have manifested for thousands of years. “Telling boys these things is poisonous, and I daresay it is intended to be so: those who speak this way want the boys to be weaklings, to despise their own sex, to doubt their natural and healthy inclinations.”
It’s also a recipe for societal disaster. The more males are castigated and punished for being themselves, the more we will descend into a nation of weaklings. Boys in particular are being overmedicated, a worrying trend in a society in which testosterone levels are in precipitous decline. And it’s not just the medication and conformist anti-male pressures placed upon boys in grade schools. It’s the fact that more than a quarter of children are raised in a home without a father. And porn addiction, which weakens male libidos and undermines healthy male-female relations, is still on the rise. “No such nation is long for this world,” Esolen warns.
In one sense, it’s self-defeating. The more feminist elites try to throw off the “shackle” of patriarchal norms, the worse things end up getting for women. Esolen explains:
Patriarchy—government by fathers—is a victory over the male domination and the male irresponsibility you inevitably get when women attempt to take over male executive roles. When the patriarchs are missing, what you get from the boys is either aggressive disobedience or underachievement and waste. And then you get unhappy girls who despise the boys they have helped to form. The girls, too, go bad, because the sexes are made for each other, and you cannot corrupt one without corrupting both.
Look at any contemporary or historical society that has broken down into violent chaos, and you will typically see a society with large numbers of young men from broken or unstable families, with few opportunities to divert their testosterone towards familial or productive vocational obligations: Somalia, Mexico, Yemen, El Salvador, Congo, Afghanistan.
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Critics of the patriarchy and the attendant sin of “toxic masculinity” are typically oblivious of this. For example, Esolen cites author Margaret Atwood, who imagines a patriarchal dystopia while writing from the safety of her own in Canada—a land carved out of the wilderness by the very men she despises. And he identifies an infantilizing woke culture that believes in magic: there is the “bad magic” of amorphous demons like sexism, patriarchy, and toxic masculinity that must be exorcized for societal “progress”; and there is the good magic of wishful thinking, assuming all modern amenities we enjoy will simply continue—electricity, running water, and the global shipment of goods via trucks and ships. What unites the two is a damning ignorance of the fact that it is precisely the kinds of men they censure for “toxic masculinity” who make this world run.
“Men and women are made for one another,” notes Esolen. “I believe it, because it is in front of my nose, and I will not let any ideology compel me to pretend that I do not see what is right there to see.” My second-grade self would have agreed. Boys and girls are different, but they also need each other, both for their own happiness, and their own propagation. As much as that is true, we must consequently recognize that the more we corrupt one sex, the more we will corrupt the other. “Male and female stand and fall together.”
Esolen’s book is then a sobering warning: the more women fail to see men as they truly are, the less they will be able to see themselves. Or, by extension, the less they will be able to preserve the gifts won for them by generations of patriarchy.