He argues that modern society has lost sight of the primal virtues that define manhood. Instead of focusing on being “good men” according to societal standards, Donovan posits that men should aim to be “good at being men.”
What are masculine virtues?
The Way of Men provides a simple, straightforward answer, avoiding complexities in religion, morality, or politics, looking at historical roles of men and the challenges they currently face. It addresses the unspoken, intense frustration of men who struggle with the constraints of a highly regulated, overly civilised, politically correct modern society.
Men cannot truly embody masculinity or heroism unless their actions significantly impact those they deeply care about.
Strength emerges in the presence of a challenge, courage in the face of risk, mastery through diligent effort, and honour through accountability to other men. Without these elements, men are merely imitating adulthood. A genuine rite of passage must signify a real shift in status and responsibility to be more than mere performance. Any redefined concept of manhood lacks legitimacy as long as we inhabit a world that is also the resting place of our ancestors.
In other words, masculinity is:
- mastery, and
These virtues are not about morality but about capability and effectiveness.
They hark back to a time when men had to be strong, brave, skilled, and honourable to survive and protect their tribe. These are the traits that have been hardwired into men and should be embraced rather than suppressed.
Donovan criticises contemporary society for diluting these virtues in men, and says that modern norms push men towards a domesticated version of masculinity, which is more concerned with being a good provider and conforming to societal expectations. This, he believes, has led to a crisis in masculinity, where men are disconnected from their primal selves and are left feeling unfulfilled.
Strength is crucial to masculinity and marks a key biological difference between men and women. Without strength, society would not exist.
Our civilisation’s comforts are due to the physical strength of our predecessors. Their ability to use tools like axes, spears, or clubs to defend their territories was vital.
While inner strength is important, it is ineffective without physical strength. Developing physical strength is the best way to build inner strength.
Mark Rippetoe is one of my favourite strength trainers and argues the same point.
Without courage, strength is meaningless. The strength of thousands is futile without the bravery to utilise it. Courage is the key motivator in facing challenges; it has safeguarded civilisation for millennia.
Historically, courage meant confronting death. It involved charging into battle despite fear, overcoming enemies, and defending one’s family and tribe from formidable threats like wild beasts.
Such threats no longer exist due to the efforts of our ancestors.
Consequently, men’s courage has diminished.
Today, men fear basic stuff like socialising and looking for a job.
Mastery was vital for tribal survival. A man’s inability to master hunting or skillfully use a spear could jeopardise his loved ones’ survival.
Mastery comes in various forms, from hunting and combat to computer programming, car repair, or self-improvement.
The point is to take pride in one’s skills, and to strive for excellence in them.
Honour is the most elusive and variable of the four virtues, with its meaning differing across cultures and social standings.
Basically, honour involves caring about the opinions of other men and adhering to certain standards. It means keeping your word, living true to your values, and acting according to what you believe is right.
Historically, men sought respect from their peers, aiming to be seen as valuable contributors.
A society’s decline begins when it stops valuing honour.