Skeptics Lampoon Hawley: Missouri senator’s manly virtues book delights jesters & satirists    

When Josh Hawley debated Sen. Claire McCaskill in the 2018 U.S. Senate contest, he unleashed the usual invective against the incumbent Democrat. He told a Missouri Press Association audience that she was a “radical leftist,” a hopeless “elitist” and a “Hollywood liberal.”

Such a pity that he hadn’t yet coined his most recent pejorative, “Epicurean liberal.” Surely it would have fit McCaskill. The term is the latest devilish arrow in Hawley’s political quiver. He uses it to excess in his exposé on the decline of the American male titled, “Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs,” released this May.

As Hawley’s book explains, the “Epicurean liberal” insult actually originates with an ancient Greek philosopher who died in 270 B.C. Epicurus is the inspiration behind modern liberalism, which is now responsible for all the aimless, unemployed young males watching porn and playing video games in their parents’ basements.

Who knew? In any case, Hawley makes sure that we know now.

According to Hawley, Epicurus believed the gods are indifferent to man’s fate ­– and god may not exist at all. Therefore, Epicurus declared that mankind should go crazy, put the god obsession aside, concentrate only “on pursuing pleasure and happiness.”

How unfortunate that the “pursuit of happiness” is actually enshrined in our U.S. Declaration of Independence. Even worse, we all know where the “pursuit of pleasure” leads ­– to your parents’ basement where the X-Box controllers are still intact and the laptop computer is bookmarked for Pornhub.

Go to the Index in Hawley’s “Manhood” and you find the term Epicureanism gets dozens of entries in his book. Only notables like God, Bible, Adam, and Eden get more attention. For Christ’s sake, Jesus only gets four mentions in the book index.

Given the carnage that Epicurus has caused in America, maybe it makes sense that Jesus takes a backseat in the index to “Manhood.” After all, Epicurean liberalism is destroying the very character of American men and, as Hawley emphasizes, it’s doubtful a free nation can “survive without soundness of character” in its men.

One hesitates to harp too much on Hawley’s new bogeyman of “Epicurean liberalism,” but it takes up so many of his text’s 214 pages, it’s obligatory to reveal a few examples of this perfidy:

– Epicurean liberals relish destroying biblical truth and sentencing man to meaninglessness. Only a return to the Garden of Eden story can restore meaning, because Genesis reveals that: “Your work matters. Your life matters. Your character matters. You can help the world become what it was meant to be. And that is no small thing.”

– Epicurean liberals flee from trial and pain. They like life to be easy and free of challenges. They just want to be “nice persons” who won’t stand in the way of anyone else pursuing self-gratification. They ignore and never condemn the vices of others.

– Epicurean liberals trash men and their biblical duty to have “dominion over every living thing that moves on earth.” They are like the apple-peddling evil serpent in the garden who “offered Adam something for nothing – self-promotion without duty, self-advancement without service or obedience.”

– Epicurean liberals disparage marriage and fatherhood as condemnation to a life of hardship and sacrifice. They prefer the “cheap sex” available on the internet. Hawley cites a sociologist who says: “Men can see more flesh in five minutes than their great-grandfathers could in a lifetime.” This is not an exaggeration, Hawley laments.

Elephants In The Room

Just as Jesus said there are many rooms in his father’s house, it can equally be said that there are many elephants in Sen. Hawley’s book of men’s knowledge. However, it’s no surprise that Hawley chooses to ignore all the elephants. He must, if his book is to have a shred of credibility.

Hawley spends a considerable amount of time praising the sanctity of marriage, loyalty to one’s wife, and to one’s vows of holy matrimony. The need for good men to avoid the temptation of “cheap sex” is a primary concern of Hawley’s.

And yet, Hawley has used his political career to champion Donald J. Trump, not exactly a paragon of marital fidelity or character. In his debate with Claire McCaskill, he pledged to wholeheartedly support the self-confessed sexual predator. Hawley has somehow overlooked Trump’s sexual dalliances, such as with porn star Stormy Daniels.

In Hawley’s defense, he has endorsed a man who avoids “cheap sex.” Trump’s “sexcapades” with women have cost him dearly. The hush money checks and cash paid out to try to keep his affairs under wraps from the American public have been anything but cheap.

Despite Hawley’s considerable fealty to Trump, the bloviating standard bearer for the Republican Party gets less notice in “Manhood” than Jesus. (Is Donald aware of this?) In fact, Trump is never mentioned in the book.

Instead, Hawley goes after a little-known, pop culture maven named Andrew Tate. Hawley damns the obscure “celebrity” for his boasts about bedding women. “Every man who has been in a locker room recognizes the type. The fake bravado, the endless boasting …”

Why does Hawley skewer a pitiful pawn like Tate when he could have lanced the king of locker-room bravado? By now, everyone in America has heard Trump’s pussy-grabbing brags on the “Access Hollywood” tape.   

Never mind. Another weighty elephant missing from Hawley’s book on manhood involves his salute to the manly men of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys. On Jan. 6, 2021, they were braying right-wing nonsense before storming Congress to interfere with the U.S. presidential election certification. Hawley stopped to give them all an earnest look and a fist pump of support.

Certainly Hawley could have referenced this symbolic support for manliness in his book, perhaps in Chapter Three, titled “A Man’s Battle.” Instead, Hawley uses that chapter to drone on about his leaving home in Lexington, Missouri, to bravely play prep football at Rockhurst Catholic High School in Kansas City.

More than a few reviewers of Hawley’s book on manliness have taken time to note the irony of his cowardly actions after the infamous fist pump to the insurrectionists. It’s another elephant in the room that Hawley refuses to acknowledge or to explain in “Manhood.”

Hawley’s critics call it the most famous act of his 47 years of life: running to escape the crowd of militants for Trump, whom he had saluted earlier in the day with a clenched fist. Some of his detractors note the humor in the many melodies that accompany his “wee scamper” as captured on the internet. They range from the dramatic “Chariots of Fire” to the desperate “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

“How can Hawley tell us that a man must be ‘willing to give his life for others, willing to act boldly, to face death,’ yet not say anything about his well-known Sprint of Self-Preservation?” asks Jon Schwarz writing for “The Intercept.”

“How can he at the same time condemn ‘liberals’ because they ‘flee from trial and pain?’” Schwarz queries.

Insult To Men’s Studies

In providing readers with examples of manly men, Hawley pretty much relies on biblical figures from the Old Testament, rather than more recent figures who may have feet of clay. Perhaps Hawley feels it’s safer to talk about Abraham, David and Joshua. These males of old are less vulnerable to exposés on social media.

Still, are these biblical figures the best examples of manly men? Abraham had a wandering eye and was still fathering children at 86. As an Epicurean sex fiend, Abraham shows an unleashed virility that might put Hollywood liberals Martin Scorsese or Al Pacino to shame.    

Regarding the other biblical manly men: David was guilty of murder and adultery and spent his entire life regretting it. Joshua did not build a wall, but he claimed to have brought one down at Jericho. Scholars argue this was false bravado ­– maybe locker-room talk. They say an earthquake likely caused the wall’s failure.

In any case, men’s studies scholars have been researching masculinity and male behavior in America for decades – long before Hawley took up his study. Why doesn’t Hawley reference other masculinities experts whose shoulders he could have stood upon? Some of those experts include Michael Kimmel, Susan Faludi, Herbert Goldberg, Gail Sheehy, Lionel Tiger, Susan Bordo, Warren Farrell, James Doyle, Francis Baumli, Ellis Cose, Harry Brod and Michael Messner.

Hawley’s book might have benefited enormously from the insights of these previous masculinities trailblazers. Hawley might be surprised to learn that some female scholars have been especially adept at explaining the male malaise, the loss of male identity in America, and the declining status of men – as women now ascend academic and corporate ladders.

Susan Faludi has provided empathetic character studies of distressed industrial workers, combat veterans, football fans, evangelical husbands, suburban and inner-city teenage boys. Her book, “Stiffed” uncovers the powerful social and economic forces that have hurt American manhood. 

Susan Bordo sheds light on the historic and traumatic paradigm shift from a utilitarian manliness – grounded in hard work, civic responsibility and communal service – to today’s ornamental masculinity. This superficial metrosexual masculinity is often shaped by entertainment, marketing, and shallow “performance” values.

Gail Sheehy studied men and their “crises” when hitting midlife. She examined work anxieties, concerns over sexual potency, marital and family stress, issues of declining power in the workplace. In “Understanding Men’s Passages,” Sheehy dealt with “manopause,” surviving job change, coping with post-nesting loss of male identity, defeating depression.  

In his 1997 work, “Politics of Masculinities: Men In Movements,” Michael Messner identified a variety of perspectives and men’s groups with different approaches to both defining and affirming masculinity. Some men’s groups created safe spaces for male identities unalterably at odds with what is offered by Hawley and today’s GOP male traditionalists.     

Messner examines such men’s groups, many of which got their starts last century, as the Promise Keepers, the Million Man March, Robert Bly’s Mythopoetic Men, various fathers’ rights groups and male liberationists. Instead of looking at valuable lessons offered by these male identity movements, Hawley gives us parables from the park, the woods and the playground experiences with his son, Elijah.

One of the men’s scholars who’ve taken issue with Hawley’s refusal to locate his study in a vast continuum of manhood research is Rob Okun. Okun is publisher of Voice Male magazine which he has edited for 30 years. Okun says Hawley is tone deaf to shifts in culture that have been going on for a half century or more.

“Like so many others working to protect white male supremacy (see Carlson, Tucker; McCarthy, Kevin), he’s driving a gas-guzzling Cadillac on a road increasingly filled with electric vehicles,” declares Okun. “Just as women are vigorously resisting returning to a pre-Roe v. Wade America, men aren’t going back either.”

Okun says there is a kernel of truth in Hawley’s assertion that some young men are floundering in school and in the workplace. However, Okun contends the real crisis concerns how many young men have become obsessed with the gun culture and been suckered into a social media echo chamber of vicious ethnic and religious prejudice and hate.

“To see how out of touch Hawley is, there’s nothing in his book about perpetrators of mass shooting massacres, primarily young men,” observes Okun. This omission is startling, but not surprising, given right-wing Sen. Hawley’s subservice to the American gun lobby.

Reviewers’ Ripostes

Most reviewers have not been kind to Hawley’s book and his version of “Manhood,” but in fairness to the senior senator from Missouri, it must be pointed out that most of the reviewers are likely to be the Epicurean liberals whom Hawley hates.

Many reviewers take aim at the final chapters of his book, where he outlines how men are physically and mentally designed by a higher power to be warriors, builders, priests and kings.

In his warrior chapter, Hawley advises men to be confrontational, strong, and ready to protect “the garden of civilization.” Why, then has Hawley become “among the most prominent voices undermining U.S. support for Ukraine against its brutal Russian invaders,” Kevin McDermott writes.

McDermott of the flagship newspaper of Hawley’s state, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, also argues that as the sole Senate vote cast against Finland and Sweden, Hawley seems all alone trying not to antagonize or confront the Russian KGB war criminal Vladimir Putin.

Slate’s Rebecca Onion also seems incredulous about Hawley’s warrior credentials: “Why did a man who is probably our leading national pipsqueak decide that promoting manliness was his ticket to political power?”

Onion also falls out of her reading chair when perusing Hawley’s king chapter, where he describes craven men who “desperately want authority for all the wrong reasons … They preen, they abuse, they dominate. They see others as means to their own ends.” Onion is utterly flabbergasted that the name of would-be king Donald Trump is nowhere in sight.

Monica Hesse of The Washington Post recalls Hawley confronting and  badgering Ketanji Brown at her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. He demanded that she define the word “woman.” He scolded her when she was not forthcoming with an answer to his insulting interrogation. Hawley later clarified things.

“Someone who can give birth to a child, a mother, is a woman,” he told Huffpost. “Someone who has a uterus is a woman. It doesn’t seem that complicated to me.”

Reviewer Hesse is flummoxed that Hawley never gets to these basics in his own book: “Unlike his anatomy word-cloud definition of women (‘uterus,’ ‘vagina’), there are no biological requirements offered up in ‘Manhood.’ Hawley never mentions that men must have testes, chest hair or Adam’s apples.”

In Lloyd Green’s “Manhood” review in The Guardian, he feels compelled to forward his commentary with a cautionary about the author: “Josh Hawley is a neo-Confederate at war with modernity. A Republican senator from Missouri, he opposed renaming military bases honoring rebel generals and was the sole vote against a bill to crack down on anti-Asian hate crime.”

Green finds it tiresome to learn over and over again in Hawley’s book that Epicurean liberals find life to be “meaningless” and “insignificant.”  Green notes that life is deemed pretty meaningless and inconsequential in Hawley’s Red State America.

“In Hawley’s Missouri, Covid mortality exceeded the national average,” observes Green, regarding the state’s handling of the pandemic. “The Missouri gun death rate is more than four times higher than that of New York.”

Considering all the jesters and satirists who find Hawley’s book to be full of blatant hypocrisy, pusillanimous patriarchy, manhood-obsessed nonsense and silly preaching from a pipsqueak, it might be easy to conclude that Missouri’s Hawley is ineffective and a national laughingstock.

However, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Jonathan Capehart finds Hawley dangerous precisely because the left finds him innocuous, while the right embraces his godly message: “He is selling a vision of masculinity to White America that has much more to do with prejudice than masculinity.”

(Don Corrigan has belonged to the Men’s Studies Division of the Popular Culture Association for three decades. His book, “Manhood: Icons, Movements, Manifestos” will be released in 2024.)

Share our journalism