Opinion | The Right Is All Wrong About Masculinity

Last month, my friend Jonah Goldberg wrote an important piece cataloging the sheer pettiness of the young online right. “Everywhere I look these days,” he wrote, “I see young conservatives believing they should behave like jerks.” As Jonah noted, there are those who now believe it shows “courage and strength to be coarse or bigoted.”

No one should think that this hysteria is confined to online spaces or that it ultimately remains merely petty or cruel. Hysteria plus cruelty is a recipe for violence. And that brings us back to Mr. Hawley. For all of its faults when taken to excess, the traditional masculinity of which he claims to be a champion would demand that he stand firm against a howling mob. Rather, he saluted it with a raised fist — and then ran from it when it got too close and too unruly.

If the right is going to claim it defends traditional masculinity — through its books, its viral Jordan Peterson videos and its Tucker Carlson documentaries — should it not at least attempt to exhibit the best virtues of traditional masculinity? Yet rather than model the traits of Kipling’s “If—,” the right mimics the attitudes of the countercultural 1968 film “If…,” which offered a sardonic inversion of Kipling’s virtues in its tale of a violent, schoolboy-led insurrection at a British boarding school.

I share many of the right’s concerns about young men. As I argued in one of my first pieces for The Times, American men are in desperate need of virtuous purpose. I reject the idea that traditional masculinity, properly understood, is, “on the whole, harmful.” I recognize that it can be abused, but it is good to confront life with a sense of proportion, with calm courage and conviction.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received reflects that wisdom. Early in my legal career, a retired federal judge read a brief that I’d drafted and admonished me to “write with regret, not outrage.”