Address to the National Conservatism Conference II
[as prepared for delivery]
Good evening. It is a pleasure to be with you
I had the honor to be at your inaugural conference two years ago. After that
speech, the Left called me a racist, a fascist, and a Nazi.
So when Yoram invited me to speak again this year, I thought: What’s to lose?
I spoke two years ago of the Left’s ambition to create a world beyond
belonging—a world where community and shared culture—our culture—count for
little. It’s part of the Left’s effort to fundamentally remake America.
I want to talk with you tonight about another aspect of that ambition. I want to
talk with you about the Left’s attempt to give us a world beyond men.
We meet at a time of reckoning. As we speak, the Left controls the commanding
heights of American society. They have the White House, the House of
Representatives, the Senate. Their voices predominate in the news media, in
Hollywood, arguably sports, and of course, at our universities.
This is their hour. And they are determined to use it.
The Left know what they believe. They believe that America is a systemically
racist, structurally oppressive, hopelessly patriarchal kind of place. It’s a
dystopia, if only Americans would get woke enough to see it. It’s a nation that
needs to be taught how unjust it truly is and after that, rebuilt from top to
That’s the Leftist project, and that’s their grand ambition: to deconstruct
This work of deconstruction is what unites today’s Left and binds together all
their various preoccupations, from critical race theory to their economic
socialism to their bizarre war on women’s sports.
But what I want you to notice, what I want to call out tonight, is this fact:
that the deconstruction of America begins with and depends on the deconstruction
of American men.
The Left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define
the traditional masculine virtues—things like courage, and independence, and
assertiveness—as a danger to society.
This is an effort the Left has been at for years now. And they have had alarming
success. American men are working less, getting married in fewer numbers;
they’re fathering fewer children. They are suffering more anxiety and
depression. They are engaging in more substance abuse.
Many men in this country are in crisis, and their ranks are swelling.
And that’s not just a crisis for men. It’s a crisis for the republic.
Because the problem with the Left’s assault on the masculine virtues is that
those self-same qualities, the very ones the Left now vilify as dangerous and
toxic, have long been regarded as vital to self-government.
Observers from the ancient Romans to our forefathers identified the manly
virtues as indispensable for political liberty.
Now maybe they were wrong and today’s Left is right. Maybe virtue isn’t needed
for liberty. Or maybe the only necessary virtues are the modern liberal ones of
tolerance, and compliance, and I suppose, consumption. Maybe all you need to be
a good citizen after all is to be a good consumer.
But it doesn’t look that way. It’s hard to argue that our democracy is in better
shape now than it was thirty or forty years ago. It’s hard to believe that our
liberty is now more secure.
It’s hard to accept that the pathologies gripping so many American men are good
for American society. I’d contend just the opposite.
Now this is not to say that American women aren’t central to this story, far
from it. American women have shaped our culture every bit as much as men, and
their virtues are every bit as necessary to the success of our republic.
And indeed, the Left is carrying out its own assault on womanhood, and on the
very idea of gender.
Many of my Democrat colleagues in the Senate won’t even say the word “mother”
any more, for heaven’s sake. “Birthing people” is the term of choice, as if
women don’t exist.
And leftwing advocates across the country are trying to destroy women’s sports,
as if women and men are somehow interchangeable.
All that too is part of the deconstructionist agenda.
But I want to focus tonight on the deconstruction of men, not because men are
more important, but because I believe the attack on men has been the tip of the
spear of the Left’s broader attack on America. And because this attack on men is
already far advanced.
But even as I describe the danger, there is cause for hope. For while the Left’s
assault on manhood has been sharp and prolonged, it has not yet succeeded. And
we must make it our aim as conservatives to see that it does not succeed.
More than that, we must seek a revival of strong and healthy manhood in America.
We need men who will shoulder responsibility, men who will start and provide for
families, men who will enter the covenant of marriage and then honor it.
We need men to raise up sons and daughters after them, to pass on the great
truths of our culture and history, to defend liberty, to share in the work of
We need the kind of men who make republics possible.
And it is not too much to say that our ability to get that kind of men will
determine the success of our long experiment in liberty.
Let me start by pressing home this point. The Left’s attack on America leads
directly to an attack on manhood.
For years now, Democrats and other leftists have insisted that American society
is systemically oppressive, systemically evil and unjust. They’ve said it so
much and so often that to them, it’s become a truism. It’s become the very
cornerstone of their worldview.
Just listen to the President of the United States. Joe Biden has, as president,
repeatedly referred to America’s “systemic racism.” His Administration has
loudly called for a new “gender equity” agenda to right the structural
injustices of our society.
His nominees have advocated critical race theory and training in “equity” for
This past week the Administration celebrated the introduction of an “X” gender
marker on American passports. X means neither male nor female, if you’re keeping
All this points to how important the deconstructionist agenda is to Team Biden
and to the Left. Inflation is rampant, store shelves are bare, but the
Administration won’t be distracted from what truly matters, exposing just how
bad America is.
Other prominent liberals have taken the next step and identified America’s many
alleged woes with men in particular.
Take Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez. “White supremacy and patriarchy are linked in
a lot of ways,” she says. Meaning that America’s systemic racism is a systemic
problem with men.
Author John Stoltenberg writes that “talking about 'healthy masculinity' is like
talking about `healthy cancer.’”
Professor Suzanna Walters of Northeastern University says it “seems logical to
hate men” unless they “pledge to vote for feminist women only” and “don’t run
Now this line of thinking is hardly new. The critical theory of deconstruction
runs back to mid-century intellectuals like Jacques Derrida and Herbert Marcuse;
and farther back to the Frankfurt School of the 1930s; and back farther still to
Nor is it new to blame men for society’s ills. Marcuse in particular is
interesting in this regard. He was one of the leading lights of the 1960s
counter-culture, and he thought Marx was right to call western society
structurally oppressive, but wrong to see that oppression as principally
No, the really oppressive thing about American society, he said, was culture.
And while Marx pinned his hopes on working class men, the proletariat, Marcuse
saw those same men as the problem. They were too culturally conservative. Too
hidebound. Too traditional.
Marcuse concluded the revolution would only come from the well-educated elite,
who could see beyond mirages like manhood.
Which brings us back to today’s American Left. They’ve swallowed this theory
whole and they are delivering this message from every platform where they have
power. Which is most everywhere.
University curricula abound with seminars on masculinity and its defects. To
take but one sample of what’s on offer, consider Professor David Cohen of Drexel
Kline School of Law: “Traditional masculinity,” he says, “has oppressed girls
and women and limited the identity construction of all boys and men.”
A seminar at Williams College, called “Performing Masculinity in Global Popular
Culture,” asks “Why must masculinity be the purview of males at all?” Answering
that question will cost you $75,000 a year.
Even our military academies are in on the act. West Point reportedly held
mandatory events last year addressing “gender norms,” including “toxic
masculinity.” One cadet said afterwards, “I’m being taught how not to be a man.”
Men are getting the message. They’re leaving higher education in record numbers.
I suspect you’ve seen the recent Wall Street Journal reporting: Women now make
up 60 percent of college students; men, 40 percent. Experts predict a 2:1 ratio
soon, with the trend sped up by the pandemic.
But the message of toxic masculinity is not only in the academy. It’s in our
grade schools, where boys are increasingly treated like an illness in search of
a cure. If boys are too rambunctious, they’re diagnosed with hyperactivity
disorder and medicated into submission.
Hollywood delivers the toxic masculinity theme ad nauseum in television and
And our expert class amplifies it. The American Psychological Association now
advises that “conforming to traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to
limit males’ psychological development … and negatively influence mental health
and physical health.” Manhood is a disease to be defeated.
The Left delivers the same message in the press, through the corporations, and
through advertising. Gillette infamously ran an ad campaign for its razors in
2019 that included this voice-over: “Bullying … MeToo movement against sexual
harassment … toxic masculinity … is this the best a man can get?”
And the Left is writing this same men-are-the-problem mantra into policy.
Working class men have been a particular target for this Administration.
President Biden’s illegal vaccine mandate on private citizens puts millions of
working class men squarely in the cross hairs. Shut up, get the jab, or get
Nevermind these are the very people hailed as “essential workers” not twelve
months ago. Not anymore. Now they’re expendable. Now they’re the problem.
But the Left has been pursuing its attack on men through policy for longer than
the last year, and sometimes with the help of Republicans.
Over the last thirty years and more, government policy has helped destroy the
kind of economy that gave meaning to generations of men.
Domestic manufacturing once supported millions of American men with good wages,
who in turn started and supported families. Now that industry lies all but dead
on the altar of globalism.
At the same time, advancing consolidation has made it almost impossible for
family farmers to compete against multinational firms.
The result is fewer and fewer men working. And I don’t mean the elderly or
disabled, I mean prime-aged, able-bodied men.
Since 1965, the number of adult men between the ages of twenty and sixty-four
not working—not even looking for work, but completely and totally out of the
labor force—has quintupled, soaring from 3 million in the 1960s to more than 16
million in 2015.
And the less men work, the less they marry.
Marriage rates are plummeting. And the age of first marriage continues to rise,
as men push commitment off further and further into the future.
By 2010, a majority of men in this country between 25 and 34 had never married.
And that trend has accelerated since.
Fewer marriages means fewer fathers in the home. By 2020, over 18 million
American children lived without a father present. That’s more than a quarter of
all children in America. And I probably don’t need to remind you that an absent
father is strongly correlated with increased childhood poverty, childhood
depression, and poor academic performance. …
I am not here tonight to tell you that men are victims. The last thing we need
more of in this country is the victim mindset. And men who blame others for
their problems and then slink away to do nothing, or worse, who embrace violence
or cruelty, deserve rebuke.
Responsibility is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind, and men must be held
responsible for their actions.
Still … can we be surprised that after years of being told they are the problem,
that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the
enclave of idleness, and pornography, and video games.
I found the comment by one young man to the Wall Street Journal particularly
evocative, and particularly heartbreaking. He said, “I’m sort of waiting for a
light to come on so I can figure out what to do next.” I suspect he speaks for
And while the Left may celebrate this decline of men, I for one cannot join
them. No one should.
The crisis of American men is a crisis for the American republic.
It’s not just that millions of men out of work slows our innovation and economic
It’s not just the billions of dollars in welfare payments these idle men cost
the federal fisc year on year.
It’s not only the depression and darkness that now shadow so many.
It’s that liberty requires virtue. And in particular, it requires the manly
America needs good men.
The liberty of a republic is a demanding thing.
To keep a republic, you have to be willing to fight for it.
To share in self-government, you have to stand strong against those who would
try to make you dependent on their wealth or influence.
To preserve liberty, you have to discipline your passions and sacrifice in the
service of others.
For centuries, lovers of liberty have praised these qualities as the highest
standard of manhood. That’s not to say that women don’t possess them. But it is
to say that these virtues are the bright side of the aggression and
competitiveness and independence that psychologists, no less than philosophers,
have long observed in men.
Assertiveness and independence are strengths when used to protect and empower
Want an example? Look no further than those dads at Southwood High School in
Shreveport, Louisiana. The ones who just by showing up, calmed the fighting and
changed the atmosphere of an entire campus. As one student said to a reporter,
“Dads have the power to do that.”
Every republic needs those kind of men.
The question is, how are we going to raise up good men today?
We can start by repudiating the lie that America is a systemically oppressive
nation and that men are systemically responsible.
It is a fantasy, it is a folly, it is a falsehood and we should call it out for
what it is.
America may be an imperfect place, but it is the most noble experiment in
liberty the world has ever seen, for the poor and the rich alike, for men and
for women, for black and for white.
And though we have struggled to live up to our ideals—and failed, and risen to
struggle again—there is honor in the struggle, and we are still, even now, the
last best, hope on earth.
And we must tell the men of this nation that their struggle, too, is noble and
that they are needed.
To each man, I say: You can be a tremendous force for good. Your nation needs
you. The world needs you.
Your strength can liberate others. Your power can serve those in need. Your
creativity can light new paths. Your courage can defend the weak. Your
faithfulness can raise up sons and daughters after you and make their way
straight. You can make this a more perfect nation.
We must say this to men of our society from the time they are small, and teach
it to them in our classrooms and in our homes and in our churches.
And we must do more.
We must rebuild an economy in this country in which men can thrive. And that
means rebuilding those manufacturing and production sectors that so much of the
chattering class has written off as relics of the past.
In this country, we are more than mere consumers. We have been the makers of
great and mighty things, and we shall be again.
The DC experts will say it’s impossible; better to outsource our production to
China or Mexico or other places where labor is cheap. But free labor and slave
labor should never be put on an even plane. And it is free labor worthy of free
men that we are after.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I am for business, but I am for manhood first,
and business as an adjunct to manhood.” He was right then, and that sentiment
should be our watchword today.
We must make every effort to restore a vibrant manufacturing sector in this
country that can employ working men at living wages—wages that can feed a
family, and support a community. And we can start by requiring that at least
half of all goods and supplies critical for our national security be made in the
Speaking of communities, those begin with the family, and we must make the
family the center of political life.
We should be clear in the message we send about family and unapologetic: There
is no higher calling, and no greater duty, than raising a family. And we should
encourage all men to pursue it.
To that end, I believe the time has come for explicit rewards in our tax code
for marriage. Forget the marriage penalty. There should be a marriage bonus. And
we should allow the parents of young children to keep more of their own money as
The Left is telling America and its men, you’re evil. You’re terrible. You must
apologize and submit to your government masters to be reformed.
I suggest we offer a different theme, one that goes like this. … America is yet
that city on a hill, and the eyes of the world are yet upon us, looking to us
American men are and can be an unrivaled force for good in the world—if we can
strengthen them, if we can empower them, if we can unleash them to be who they
are made to be.
Then they shall, in the words of Scripture, “build up the ancient ruins; they
shall raise up the former desolations; they shall repair the ruined cities,
[and] the devastations of many generations.”