Manliness Was Once Our Greatest Virtue

There are three books next to me on my desk and all three are written by or about great, wise men. Reading through each, I notice a consistent referral to a virtue that’s no longer spoken of in our society, or at least not as openly or as freely as it has been throughout human history.

MotivationFlipping through the pages of the first, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, I’m surprised by the constant use of the term “manly” when used as a verb and a virtue. It’s clear what TR’s idea of manliness is, just look at who he became and what he accomplished. I was intrigued not because I disagree with this fine President, but because, not once in my schooling or work life has manliness been listed as a virtue that one should be proud to possess or try to attain. It was never a virtue that is taught in schools alongside kindness and self-reliance and goodness. In fact, it’s manliness that we’ve been pushed to run from in a schooling system and a society that benefits more from docile, timid souls who are easy to command.

Rugged adventurers like Theodore Roosevelt were far from the only men in history who saw manliness as one of society’s most important virtues. In reading Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, the second book on my desk, the term manliness pops up time and time again as a quality that every man should possess if he wants to live a purposeful, happy life. The same phrase is spread throughout Seneca’s, On the Shortness of Life, the third book. Men throughout history have seen the importance of this virtue and the necessity to not only teach is but praise it.

Goethe said, One cannot always be a hero. But one can always be a man.

He’s clearly not talking about the sex of the human, something we’re either born into or not. He’s talking about the being, the character of the being, the values, the toughness, the grit, the fortitude, and the self-reliance.

Orison Swett Marden wrote, This is the test of your manhood: How much is there left in you after you have lost everything outside of yourself? Further pushing this notion that manhood isn’t something you are innately, but that it must be something that is measured and earned. Actually, it was Norman Mailer who said, Masculinity is not something given to you, but something you gain. And you gain it by winning small battles with honor.

Whether it’s overtly masculine men like TR or Jack Donavon, or the Stoic philosophers Seneca and Aurelius, or writers like Mailer and Marden, or contrasting and opposing leaders like Churchill and Gandhi, manliness has always been a virtue with similar characteristics. Never has its meaning been up for much debate. No matter who is speaking of it, manliness has always been self-reliance. It always requires persistence and hard work and toughness and grit. It requires one to act with honor. It is everything good about humanity and men who possess it have developed our modern, free society. Yet now we turn our backs on our most prized virtue? (Read this: The 21 Laws of Manliness)

To use manliness as a virtue today would lead to claims that the author of such words is a sexist, a misogynist, an archaic ass hole who sees men as something that is in some way better than women. It’s these same humans who praise feminism as a virtue of softness and kindness and understanding, yet venomously attack anyone who opposes their views. It all seems so silly and irrational to attack someone for disagreeing with an opinion, yet that’s what is being done. To these few, manliness can’t be a virtue because it praises something that’s typically held by only one sex. It’s too exclusive and unfair to be real, so it isn’t.

It’s the same problem we run into when it’s said that men are typically stronger than women. It’s a fact. We’re born with a greater amount of muscle mass because of our vastly different hormonal make-up. What isn’t realized by the misplaced souls who oppose this truth is that stronger doesn’t mean better, it just means stronger. Somewhere along the line the wonderful thing that is feminine energy began to only exist in comparison with that uniquely wonderful thing that is masculine energy. While it helps in defining each by comparing the two opposing energies, they need both to be able to stand on their own without attacking the other or depending on the other as a means of measurement, for good or for bad. The feminine is something that this world needs, that humanity needs, as is the masculine. And we need both to be independently defined and equally praised and revered in their own way.

It’s here where we must leave the feminine behind because, as the title of the site states, we’re aiming to be legendary while bringing back manliness. Manliness is something that society needs in spades and men need to strive to possess and to develop it. If our world were to be filled with more manly men we would have many more protectors and far fewer dependents. Our world would be better on the whole and somehow this important virtue is never uttered in the conversations of men and women because of our increasing desire not to offend and not to disagree.

Therein lies a problem that will lead to many, many more problems. As manliness falls victim to a hyper sensitive society, so goes the open forum for debate that was the college campus, for where political correctness takes root we can no longer debate freely or disagree without fearing retribution. And where an open forum in university shrinks, society suffers. We’re unable to address our differences and we’re unable to grow. Where manliness was once at the heart of virtue itself, at the heart of faith and the success of a society, it’s no longer uttered even as we continually praise the men who held what it is to be manly in the highest regard.

Let us bring back this powerful virtue, not only in our modern men, but in our modern vernacular.

Manliness as Virtue

“[the difference between the old and the new education being] in a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda.” –C.S. Lewis

ConfuciusManliness has been a virtue to aspire to earn throughout the world and throughout history. The way of a superior man, Confucius said, is three-fold: virtuous, he is free from anxieties; wise, he is free from perplexities; bold, he is free from fear. The values that befit manliness, whether it’s in the west or the east, whether it’s in a small tribe in Africa or a bustling civilization in America, seem to be innately learned and taught, always possessing similar traits and rules; traits and rules that we now attempt to remove from the act of being manly.

Robert E. Lee even listed manliness as one of his “rules for private and public life” when he said, …truth and manliness are two qualities that will carry you through this world much better than policy or tact of expediency or other words that were devised to conceal a deviation from a straight line. Both Lee and Confucius, two men from very different parts of the world and living in uniquely difficult times, saw manliness as strength, boldness of action, and purpose.

The Holy Bible says, in Corinthians 1 16:33, Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. When manly action and strength are spoken in the same breath they don’t conjure up an image of a physically superior human, rather, a spiritually tougher individual who can persist with a clear mind while others lose theirs and quit.

From the Holy Bible to Gandhi manliness was about honor and courage. Gandhi said, Personally, I hold that a man, who deliberately and intelligently takes a pledge and then breaks it, forfeits his manhood. Manhood, to Gandhi, was never about brute force, but about forcefulness of the spirit. It was a matter of honor when weakness is far easier.

The themes of the manly virtue always seem to find a common ground and this isn’t by mistake. It’s clearly found not in weakness of the spirit, but in strength. You won’t find manliness in a quitter, but in that man who enters the arena, as Theodore Roosevelt called it, and fights until the battle is won, or at least finished. A man isn’t a bystander to life, nor a critic. He’s a man of action and of honor, of courage. Manliness isn’t timidness, but force of purpose.

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Manhood is not Being A Male

“There is a constantly reoccurring notion that real manhood is different from simple anatomical maleness, that it is not a natural condition that comes about spontaneously through biological maturation but rather is a precarious or artificial state that boys must win against powerful odds. This recurrent notion that manhood is problematic, a critical threshold that boys must pass through testing, is found at all levels of sociocultural development regardless of what other alternative roles are recognized.” David Gilmore

We know manliness when we come across it, yet we no longer speak of it. We know, innately, without having to explain it, what a real man is and how he acts without it being taught to us, but while the knowledge is innate, the possession of the virtue can only be earned. We know that a coward can’t be him, or a sissy or a liar or a man who bucks his responsibilities. A complainer can’t be called a man because it’s an attribute and action that is in opposition to what manly virtue is.

We know what it is to be manly, yet we’ve moved away from this pursuit because it’s no longer a politically correct thing to pursue. We’ve created an excuse that allows for ease and lying and cheating rather than grit and honor and steadfast persistence. We have a keen understanding that being manly doesn’t merely come with age, it’s something more than hair on the chest and an Adam’s apple.

Manliness is a virtue. It was the manliest of us that ran into battle in the Second World War or put his life in danger to protect his fellow soldiers. Yes, courage and bravery are manly traits. It was the manliest of us who first saw Hitler as the evil he was, and the opposite is true for those who appeased and denied his intentions, apologizing for his actions. It’s the manliest among us who said, Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. The manliest among us expect more from themselves, making complaining illogical, but also more from all of us. The manly among us realize that we are owed nothing in this life but we’re given the right to work hard and persist.


“The greatest thing a man can possibly do in this world is to make the most possible out of the stuff that has been given him. This is success, and there is no other. It is not a question of what someone else can do or become which every youth should ask himself, but what can I do? How can I develop myself into the grandest possible manhood?”~ Orison Swett Marden

A manly man can have others depend on him, but on some level he must be self-reliant, or this ability must be his, for the day when it is required of him will surely come.

MarcusMarcus Aurelius wrote that, A man must stand erect, not be kept erect by others. Our society is set up to apologize for the failures of others, to find reasons for the suffering of the masses, not to call them to action, nor to show everyone within a society how to stand erect on their own. We bail out the banks and the auto industry when they fail, but the same is done for the poor when they fail. We give without merit, without expecting more, without reason. We reward greed and weakness. We turn out backs on manliness. Not only is this counter-productive, but it rips from a man what he needs most in life, even if he’s unaware how much he needs it.

A man needs to know that he can stand on his own and not merely with the aid of others. Take this away from him and it becomes very hard to feel as though he is the manly man that he has the potential to become. It is weak to ask less of a man because he started lower than you. It’s pity. It isn’t weakness to help him, though. Nor is it weakness to show him how to help himself. Both the male who pity’s the other man’s state in life and the man who willfully receives this pity fall short of what it means to be a man because a male becomes a man online in hardship. It’s hardship that should not be avoided, but trudged through and conquered.

There is more opportunity to become a man when you begin in poverty or loss or failure, than if you being in wealth. The fire that makes a male a man is all around you if you are forced to struggle early and often. If you’re born into wealth, like TR, the struggle and the fire is something you’re going to have to hunt on your own.

Is this why we no longer use manliness as a virtue? Because it calls to action everyone within a society, be it the rich not to lie in sloth, or the poor not to feel sorry for their state? Has that wonderful feminine energy, the kindness, the love, the softness that women are so liberally filled with taken over, leaving no man responsible for his own fate, nor the care of his family, nor the raising of his child?

Why has manliness left us and why do we run from something that leaves every man with it filled with a sense of pride and community?

[Tweet “It is far more powerful to be apart of a clan of doers than it is a clan of losers.”]

The Earned Virtue

“When someone tells a man to be a man, they mean that there is a way to be a man. A man is not just a thing to be—it is also a way to be, a path to follow and a way to walk. Some try to make manhood mean everything. Others believe that it means nothing at all. Being good at being a man can’t mean everything, and it has always meant something.” – Jack Donovan

A male cannot become a man or become more manly without adversity. Manliness is bred and born in fire, in pain. It’s so closely linked to toughness and courage and bravery that it isn’t able to exist where ease thrives. Seneca said, No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself. (Read this: Things That Strengthen You, Toughen You)

The proving of one’s self may be partially external, to other men or women, but the proving of one’s self must primarily be internal. It’s vital, then, that a male gets adversity in his life and in every facet of his life. Be it the physical adversity that comes from trying to get physically stronger, or the adversity that comes in the midst of a fight when the rational part of your brain asks you to quit, when it reasons that this struggle isn’t worth the pain, but oh it is!

The struggle is where you find manliness, it’s where you create the manly virtue.

“It is of dangerous consequence to represent to man how near he is to the level of beasts, without showing him at the same time his greatness. It is likewise dangerous to let him see his greatness without his meanness. It is more dangerous yet to leave him ignorant of either; but very beneficial that he should be made sensible of both.” –Blaise Pascal

Thomas Carlyle was able to communicate the natural, internal desire that men have, guiding us to lead a purposeful life when he wrote, the courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently, but to live manfully. After reading often about the lives of history’s great men, be it TR or Napoleon, Christ or David or Samson, or more modern men like Churchill or Reagan, Chris Kyle or Marcus Luttrell, there has been a constant and persistent use of the term manly and the desire to both act with it or attain it. Gandhi acted with manliness, as did his foe, Winston Churchill. Marcus Aurelius spent a life developing this virtue, and so did Seneca. You and I need to grow, to struggle, and to fight our way into becoming manly men, not merely for the betterment of ourselves, but for the success of our families and our civilization.

Theodore Roosevelt sought out manliness in activity and adventure. Robert E. Lee in honor and courage. The constant is that it was a virtue that was revered, one that was difficult to attain, and one that served every great man well in life, for the manliest among us are always the best among us.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” –Marcus Aurelius