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The Failure of Men

By R. J. Rushdoony
May 01, 2014

The roots of every cultural crisis rest in personal crises. The failure of a culture is the failure of the men in it. A society cannot be vital and possessed of an on-going vigor if the men therein are marked by a loss of faith, a retreat from responsibility, and an unwillingness to cope with personal problems. A culture loses its will to live and to conquer if its members manifest a spirit of retreat and surrender.

In the cultural crisis of our time, the role of men is particularly significant. When we say “men” in this context we mean males, not humanity as a whole. How little true masculinity they in general possess is manifested in their predilection for role-playing. The macho image is cultivated in dress, speech, and behavior; the façade of a man replaces a man. Role-playing is basic to our times; people play a part, they act out a role, because the reality of their being is far less important than their public image. The roots of role-playing go deep into the modern mentality.

The foundations of modern philosophy are in Descartes. His thinking made the individual consciousness the world’s basic reality and the starting point of all philosophy. Man’s ego, the “I,” took precedence over God and the world. Not surprisingly, the logic of this led to Hume, who dispensed with God and the world as epiphenomena, and even the mind was eroded to the point that it was only momentary states of consciousness rather than a reality. Immanuel Kant went a step further; things in themselves, i.e., realities, are not knowable and only phenomena can be known. The real world is thus not a valid area of knowledge, because we can only know appearances. As Schopenhauer put it, the world is will and idea.

Philosophy thus set the stage for the substitution of role-playing, i.e., phenomena, for the real man, the thing in itself, reality. It could thus be said that clothes make the man (or woman), and that a good front is essential; appearances become everything.

Appearances began to replace reality in personal relations as well as in national policy, both domestic and foreign. The results have been devastating. Role-playing in theater ends commonly in a curtain call and a pay check. In real life, politics, role-playing leads instead to disaster.

The result is the failure of men, of males. Early in the modern era (only in the nineteenth century in the United States), men abandoned the family and its responsibilities to their wives, and religion was similarly relegated to women as their concern. Men chose irresponsibility, and the double standard became a way of life. Of course, men insisted on all the Biblical authority given to a man while denying its responsibilities, forgetting that all human authority in Scripture is conditional upon obedience to God. No absolute authority is given to man in any sphere, and all authority has service to God and man as its purpose, not self-promotion or aggrandizement.

The women’s liberation movement is simply the attempt by women to claim the responsibilities, which today constitute male rights, for themselves. The purpose of the children’s liberation movement is to claim like privileges of irresponsibility for children.

Logically, men who cannot govern themselves will not be able to govern successfully their families, vocations, or nations. The most famous American president of the twentieth century could not handle his money nor his own affairs, but he sought to rule the world. More than a few presidents have been like him. Of another man, twice a candidate for president, his ex-wife wrote a poem to the effect that men who cannot rule their nanny, wife, children, or nurse, are prone to seek to rule the universe! Not surprisingly, our worldwide cultural crisis is rooted in the failure of men. The remarkable fact of our era is not that we have had an at times aggressive women’s liberation movements but that the vast majority of women have patiently endured the willful immaturity of men.

As a high school student, I was interested in athletics and earned two or three “letters” on the team of one sport; as a university student, I had no time to watch a single game. Since then, I have had an occasional interest in some sports. What amazes me is that men who never played while in school, nor showed much or any interest in sports then, will now show a startling devotion to televised sports. It almost seems as though any refuge from maturity and reality is desired, and spectator sports are a good substitute for the real world and its problems.

The pleasures of maturity and reality are to be found in family and work, in worship and in growth in the faith. If maturity and reality are not desired and seen as fulfillment, then role-playing which stresses a public image and perpetual youth (or immaturity) will be basic to man’s way of life. (For the Chalcedon Reports since September, 1965, one of the ugliest and most hostile reactions I have received was to a one-sentence reference about the pathetic absurdity of a woman over eighty dressed in a bikini! I was told that it was evil for me to question her “right” to play the role of a teenager.)

Although role-playing is common to men, women, and children, it is the failure of men because of their role-playing which has the deepest roots and the most tragic consequences. The abdication of men from their responsibilities as husbands and fathers is having sad results in family life.

This abdication does not end in the family. Again and again, all over the country, I have heard men say that they welcome union rules which prevent or make difficult the firing of any man. The responsibility of telling a man that he lacks competency is something they do not want. Some have closed down a particular department and laid off two or three good men to get rid of one incompetent one. An engineer in a plant dealing with federal contracts said that hiring was on a wholesale basis with new contracts; it would quickly become apparent that many of the engineers were only paper shufflers, but nothing would be done, because the contract would terminate in a year! At the end of the year another plant with a new contract would hire the same unchallenged incompetents; no man ever had a bad record follow him. Whether in business, the academic community, or in civil government, nothing is done that is decisive. Presidential candidates promise cuts and clean-ups and as president do nothing. Being role-playing men, they are good candidates and very poor executives.

The Madison Avenue approach has triumphed; advertising an appearance and playing a role have replaced reality. Manhood is now a front, not a reality, to our culture in its popular manifestations. Manhood is popularly defined, not in terms of God, calling, and family, but in terms of money and status, i.e., in terms of ability to present the right public image.

The church has done much to further this trend. Instead of an unswerving insistence on the unity of faith and works, profession and action, it has been ready to stress pious gush and surface instead of the reality of faith. As a result, pulpit and pew are given to role-playing. Now role-playing by churchmen is first of all an attempt to con God, the supreme act of arrogance. It has long been known that “con” men are most readily victimized by other “con” men. This is no less true in the church. The old proverb is true, like priest, like people, and also, like people, like priest. The role-players find one another, or to site another good bit of proverbial wisdom, birds of a feather flock together.

Our Lord says, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt. 7:20), a sentence constantly evaded as excuse makers try to offer a profession of faith (role-playing) for the reality thereof. Labels replace reality. If a man labels himself Christian, we are told we must take him for one. If a man calls himself a Christian lawyer, or a Christian politician, we are told it is wrong to call attention to the discrepancy between his profession and his actions. To do so is “judgmental” and a sin, it is held; the practical consequence is that those who are judged are they who expose sin, not those who commit it!

The result is a strange religious climate of surface faith. The church is full of millions who profess this surface faith, whom Paul describes as “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5). We thus have people who want no tampering with their religion, while they refuse to allow their religion to tamper with them! One of the most obvious facts about God, however, is that He does more than tamper with us! He breaks us to remake us.

Our cultural crisis rests in the retreat of males from the responsibilities and duties of manhood. The faith has been sentimentalized, and a sentimental faith is unable to produce more than pious gush. The richness of life’s spheres and all the varieties of institutional responsibilities have been eroded. Men do not see themselves as priests, prophets, and kings under God. All men are to be elders, rulers, under God, rulers over families, vocations, and the institutions of which they are a part. Over ten families, there is to be an elder over ten, then over fifty, a hundred, thousands, and so on up. The hundreds were once a basic unit of law and court structures. All men had to be men or pay a price for their refusal. In Scripture, the man who chose to live by subsidy had to have his ears pierced as a public witness to his rejection of a man’s responsibility and freedom in favor of security.

The ironic fact is that when men cease to be men they commonly pretend to be men, the macho role, or more often they seek to play God. Man’s original sin is to try to be as God, every man his own god, knowing or determining for himself what is good and evil (Gen. 3:5). Some scientists have tried to use science to gain this goal. Dr. Joshua Lederberg holds that we shall enter a post-human age, one in which science will, through genetic engineering, create super-human men, man-gods, who will have none of the infirmities of present-day men. Science will be able to re-grow defective organs such as a liver or a heart, a uterus will be implanted in a male body to produce a child, and so on and on. Because of the respect for the status of such scientists, their fantasies are not subjected to the ridicule they deserve.

Let us assume for a moment that these mad dreams are possible. Will the human predicament be any better? Will man’s moral dereliction be solved, or will it not rather be enhanced to produce a demonic world order?

Moreover, will the men who do these things, and the men to whom they are done, be more responsible men? It is clear that our scientific community shows no advantage over the rest of the population in integrity, responsibility, and a capacity to function as a husband and father! The dreams of these scientists solve no problems; they evade them.

One reason for the uneasiness of many men at the feminist challenge is that the indictment strikes home. However, conceding to the feminists is no substitute for responsibility but a further abdication.

Margaret Wade Labarge, in her study of Henry V (b. 1387), comments on the state of things in that era. Religion had become a superstructure, taken for granted by all. Everyone was given to conventional religious practices with neither commitment nor much concern. The clergy was dedicated to a “decent formalism.” Henry V perhaps took his faith a bit more seriously than most, and, as an administrator, he sought to keep all things functioning in their proper order and place. One would have to say that he functioned better than most heads of state today and that society had a better focus on justice then than now.

There was, however, a silent and growing erosion, the erosion of faith and therefore of men. The crisis in English society was deferred, not resolved.

In our time, the crisis is past deferment. The time has come for men to ground themselves in the whole counsel of God, to be responsible, mature, and venturesome. There can be no resolution of our world crisis without a resolution of the crisis in male responsibility. To blame conspiracies, however real some may be, special problems, the past, and more, are all evasions if men do not assume their responsibilities today as a privilege and a duty under God. (January, 1983)

(Reprinted from Roots of Reconstruction [Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991], 168-172.)


Topics: Church, The, Culture , Theology

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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