With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Josh Hawley, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Republican Obsession with Manliness

Senator Josh Hawley is worried about men. In a recent speech at the National Conservatism Conference, he blamed the left for their mental health problems, joblessness, obsession with video games and hours spent watching pornography. “The crisis of American men,” he said, “is a crisis for the American republic.”

The liberal reaction was flippant. A CNN analysis mocked the speech, contrasting the “decline of masculinity” with real issues like the pandemic and inflation. The ReidOut Blog on MSNBC’s website declared, “Josh Hawley’s crusade against video games and porn is hilariously empty.” But the contempt and mockery his speech received was, at least in part, misplaced.


American politicians have long fanned popular flames of masculine panic to advance their own agendas, and Mr. Hawley is a scholar of this tradition. In 2008, two years after graduating from Yale Law School, he wrote a smart, compelling book about a historical figure who also worried about masculinity. In “Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness,” published by Yale University Press, Mr. Hawley described how Roosevelt sought to imbue men with the fortitude the country needed to drive big national projects like war and territorial expansion.

Foregrounding the iconic virility of the cowboy and the soldier, he set out to inspire civic virtue in a citizenry that, he believed, had lost traditional manly virtues when people moved from farms to cities. Conquest would allow American men to shed the temptations of the “slothful life” and become a “more manful race.” Mr. Hawley seeks to carry on this tradition.


Like Roosevelt, Mr. Hawley knows how to exploit the cultural anxieties of ordinary people to advance his brand of politics. But he hasn’t offered solutions to this “masculinity crisis” because neither he nor his party has any.

Men and boys need good jobs, affordable access to team sports, an education system sensitive to their social and emotional development, public parks, mental health support, access to substance abuse treatment and paternity leave. All of this requires public funding, which is far more likely to come from the left than the right. To thrive, many men also need the freedom not to be “men” at all, but rather to become sissies, scrawny historians or even women, a cultural evolution Mr. Hawley and his conservative ilk adamantly oppose.

In his book, Mr. Hawley rightly condemned Roosevelt’s racism and commitment to violent conquest, but he also wanted to salvage from Roosevelt’s legacy a vision of the common good, an insistence that we can live nobler and more meaningful lives. In his speech, Mr. Hawley tapped into this legacy: “To each man, I say: You can be a tremendous force for good. Your nation needs you. The world needs you.”

Read entire article at New York Times