Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, by Josh Hawley, Regnery Publishing, 256 pages
Decades of Decadence: How Our Spoiled Elites Blew America’s Inheritance of Liberty, Security, and Prosperity, by Marco Rubio, HarperCollins Publishing, 256 pages
When senators write books, they are typically writing for one or multiple of three reasons. They are running for president, they intend to run for president, or they are writing a book they can only sell because they are in elected office, and the perch of power gives them the reach to say what is actually on their mind.
No one would be surprised if either Senator Marco Rubio of Florida or Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri ran for president in the coming years. But for now, both Republicans are playing the long game and are more than happy to bide their time in the U.S. Senate, building a legacy for themselves powered by their idiosyncratic worldviews. If you squint, these two senators can easily be mistaken for well-represented archetypes in American life, and the Republican Party. Hawley is the traditional, socially conservative youth pastor, who rails against social ills in a familiar preacherly register. Rubio could be confused with the rising political ingenue of any decade in American life, an appealing innocent with a non-traditional background, ready to sweep aside the tumbleweeds of party tradition.
There are reasons to make these comparisons, but both these senators use their new books to repudiate the scripts to which establishment politics and convention would lead them. Hawley’s Manhood is conventional as a call to a morally turbulent nation to embrace social orthodoxy, but it is also a subversion of conventional elite evangelical politics when it consistently offers America’s men much more than admonition—the right to an entire nation. And Rubio’s Decades of Decadence is even more forthright: a searing critique of the American political establishment, from the GOP’s once and future golden boy, whose reformist cries have real substance undergirding them.
It is easy to forget how inevitable Washington thought Marco Rubio’s rise would be. In 2015 the institutional Republican Party, assuming that branding was the only thing keeping it from electoral landslides, was convinced that the Florida senator was their answer to the phenomenon of Barack Obama. A young, telegenic, ethnic freshman senator had easily brushed aside the opposing party’s aged standard-bearer eight years before, and innumerable very smart people were convinced that Senator Rubio’s contrast to Hillary Clinton was an electoral slam-dunk.
History had other plans, namely Donald J. Trump, but in being the readiest answer at hand, Rubio got to see the most rarified parts of American elite life up close. “I spent a great deal of time during the campaign flying to private dinners and cocktail parties, where the elite megadonors of the Republican Party stood in judgment of candidates vying for the nation’s highest office,” he writes in his book.
His vignettes of these masters of the universe are stereotypical. The hedge fund manager who “wishes I wouldn’t talk about abortion as much,” or the bank executive who is “really worried about Trump’s rhetoric on immigration” and wished Rubio had followed through on his Gang of Eight immigration proposal from years prior. Again and again, Rubio contrasts the priorities of the “hyper-wealthy financiers, journalists with the largest megaphones, celebrities who can sign the brightest spotlights and the public intellectuals paid enormous sums to speak at Aspen or Davos,” with the “majority of working-class people in this country,” who “did not feel like members of either political party had much to offer them.”
It is the experience of talking to those everyday voters and the startling contrast those conversations had with the priorities of America’s ruling class that animate Rubio’s work today. Elsewhere in his book, he narrativizes his childhood and explains how it influenced his worldview in the manner you might expect from a politician’s memoir. What is striking, however, is that Rubio talks about the act of running for the highest office in the land as similarly formative to his core worldview, six years later. Rubio chronicles his most dogged domestic policy obsessions throughout the rest of the book, excoriating the mainstream consensus on financialization, trade, China, technology, and immigration.
That last issue, immigration, gets notable reflection. Rubio recasts his infamous Gang of Eight proposal as a prophylactic against what he saw as an increasingly radical Democratic Party. In his mind “the window for securing our border was rapidly closing” and a grand bargain then would have saved America significant consequences in the ensuing decades. That process too seems to have disenchanted the Florida senator. His subsequent commentary underlines what he sees as the absurdity of the mass immigration agenda, and even distinguishes modern immigrants from their more easily assimilated predecessors in Rubio’s parents’ generation.
Today, patriots hawkish about immigration are understandable skeptics of Senator Rubio. That skepticism may be worth reconsidering, given his comprehensive criticism in Decades of Decadence of our total immigration numbers, border security, migrant culture, asylum laws, and the utter unfitness of the modern Democratic Party as a good-faith negotiator on this issue. Again, Rubio’s record is instructive here. Not a month passes without Rubio’s Senate colleagues proposing some new insane proposal to dispossess the American people of their economy, culture, and homeland through mass amnesty, and the senator has not signed onto any of the modern grand bargains, instead electing to focus his attention on his domestic interests.
That domestic focus may well have saved the entire global economy, as Senator Rubio’s economic heterodoxy was put to the test during the early days of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. What was originally a wonkish proposal to use the Small Business Administration for softening China-originated supply chain shocks eventually became the lifeline of small and medium-sized businesses across the United States by financially incentivizing suddenly revenue-starved businesses to keep their employees on the payroll. The Paycheck Protection Program was proof that Rubio could take his ideas out of the dusty basement where messaging bills and flowery speeches languish into the daylight of real policymaking, which may have prevented America from ending up with a dramatically more oligopolistic economy.
In foreign affairs, Rubio’s focus is China, and with his practical approach to economics, his overall policy agenda seems well suited to helping the U.S. decouple its economy from the Asian superpower. But Rubio makes it clear both in his book and his record that his foreign policy commitments are not singular. In his mind, “Russia will be a force that needs to be dealt with carefully on the world stage,” and he offers no explicit recognition of the trade-offs that our staggering commitment in Ukraine poses for any strategic competition with China.
Decades of Decadence is a book saturated with contrition, from a statesman who has learned much during his time in the U.S. Senate—the once heir apparent to a GOP he now understands better than ever. Perhaps the obviously reflective author of this book will even take a second look at our decadent elite foreign policy consensus when the dust settles on the conflict plaguing Eastern Europe.
If Senator Rubio’s book is a rage against the hollow establishment that offered him the world, Senator Hawley’s book is earnest recognition that he is among the luckiest men alive. In Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs, Hawley isn’t wagging his fingers at young men telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. He is reflecting on a life suffused with decent men who made him who he is, and trying to reconstruct a grand bargain for the countless boys who didn’t have it so easy.
Go through the grueling work of becoming a man—and the world is yours. Most masculinity commentators in the West come in two flavors. On one side you have the people who believe that being male as such is outdated, and try to remake men for a feminized modern world. On the other side, there is a thriving commercial industry built around modern “masculinity”. Buy some steaks, get on a beard oil subscription, and enjoy a glass of expensive whisky.
Going beyond the commercial grift, the 2010s featured the rise of men’s rights activists, who believe that men have been singularly exploited in Western life, from dating and marriage to economic life, education, and more. In the 2020s, the social media personality Andrew Tate has attained global stardom, a trend Hawley has little patience for: “Some men…embrace with glee the left’s claim that real masculinity is founded on exploitation. They revel in the idea.”
Hawley sees Tate as the other side of the coin of the “Epicurean Myth” that has beset American society. Surveying the works of the Greek philosopher, Hawley boils down his perspective on human behavior as “the trick was to arrange one’s life, and society, in such a way as to allow maximum choice for pursuing pleasure and personal satisfaction.”
Unlike his peers in the elite Christian life, Hawley doesn’t make the mistake of spending 200 pages telling men all the things they are doing wrong, as if social decay happens in a vacuum. He makes it clear that for every time an individual man may fall short, there is often a policymaker in a hall of power who certainly hasn’t made virtue easy. “To the experts safely ensconced in their think tanks, I would just say this: Is it really too much to ask that our economy work for men as they are, rather than as the left wants them to be? … There is more to life, and to a successful economy, than learning to code.”
Hawley calls the state of our modern economy and the loss of high-paying blue-collar work a “catastrophe” in a chapter titled “Builder”—one of the many roles he believes that men must embody in civilization to keep the darkness at bay. But Manhood is no pity parade. Hawley spends significant time laying out a cohesive vision for the responsibilities he believes men must take on if they are to be a full expression of the biblically informed vision of masculinity he prescribes.
Hawley likens a world without that responsibility to the choice in the Garden: “Adam’s Choice, like that of many men today, was less a form of initiative than the abandonment of it. The snake offered Adam something for nothing—self-promotion without duty, self-advancement without service or obedience—and Adam took it.” He believes that the world is chaos when men do not lead and that if there is chaos in the world, it is because a man has failed to prevent it.
Even the tectonic responsibilities of manhood can get commodified in the influencer age, however. For a certain corner of Twitter or X, as it’s now called, a kind of ornamental manhood is in vogue. Having children “own the libs” is frequently a topic of discourse online, and this Hawley addresses through the most personal of stories.
After he and his wife, Erin suffered a miscarriage during their first pregnancy, their doctors informed them that miscarriages tend to cause difficulties in conceiving in the future. Faced with the reality that a central expectation of his adult life was suddenly much less certain, he realized: “Fatherhood was not something I could control. And it was not an ornament to decorate my life. Not something to possess, but something that would possess me.”
Get weekly emails in your inbox
Hawley frequently returns to this. To him, masculinity is not a paint-by-the-numbers script that one goes through the motions to repeat. Masculinity is an entire way of being, without which humanity is rudderless. His book is structured around the eternal roles he believes men must play for civilization to endure: Husband, Father, Warrior, Builder, Priest, and King.
He demands much from the men he speaks to, but in return, he offers them the world. Yes, he spends significant time insisting men master themselves—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In his chapter titled “King,” he doesn’t make that mastery an idol to be admired for its own sake—he sees it as preparation to rule. “Dominion is something every man wants and is meant to exercise… The invitation to rule is, from the Bible’s perspective, the very heart of liberty.”
It makes sense that Hawley would write a book on manhood, of all things when you notice that he and Rubio are answering two aspects of the same question: How should we govern ourselves? The task of this century is to depose the decadent elite to which Rubio assigns the policy failures of the last half-century—and to replace them with leaders who have taken on the masculine responsibilities that Hawley lays out, so the West can be ruled with justice once more.