In these columns he noted the decline of men in education, employment and the family. He believes this is due to a lack of good masculine role models for men.
Now, I'm a supporter of traditional masculinity, so I'm not opposed to this aspect of Bennett's argument. But his analysis is both inadequate and confused. He doesn't see anything wrong at all with the changes to society over the past 50 years - in fact he strongly supports them. Nor does he see anything wrong with the behaviour of women in society - in fact he thinks women have gone from strength to strength.
So in his mind there is nothing that might be discouraging men from committing to work and family life. He believes the larger trends of society are fine - it's just that men haven't been socialised properly into their roles. So he hasn't thought very deeply about what once connected men to work and family and what might be disconnecting them today.
Here is Bennett praising the "ascension" of women in society:
For the first time in history, women are better educated, more ambitious and arguably more successful than men.
Now, society has rightly celebrated the ascension of one sex. We said, "You go girl," and they went. We celebrate the ascension of women but what will we do about what appears to be the very real decline of the other sex?
Bennett assumes that female "ascension" is to be measured in terms of career ambition; nor does he consider how a supercharged careerism in 20-something women might affect relationships. Are women who are focused on independent careers going to commit to family formation at a young age? If not, how does that affect the type of men they select for? Might some of these career ambitious women appear less feminine in their personality to at least some men? And if these women rise quickly in their careers, won't there be fewer men in their peer group for them to hypergamously look up to as potential mates?
Bennett goes even further with his "she done no wrong" argument:
Many women told me the problems are much worse than I described. They explained to me how they have to lower their standards to find a man. Young women, in particular, complained that men are dragging them down and holding them back. As one woman told me, if 60 is the new 40 for men, then 25 is the new 13.
Most feminists are not celebrating the decline of men and shouting it from the rooftops. Certainly, the far-left feminist movement has sought to diminish the role of men, but a majority of women want able, competent men of their equal. Strong men make stronger women (and vice versa) and stronger families, and women want that. Many men today aren't sure what they want.
Bennett is 68-years-old and clearly never had to go through the modern relationships scene. If he had, he wouldn't accept with such naivety the claim that the average 25-year-old woman is a perfected creature waiting patiently to select wisely a traditional man to marry. In particular I would recommend to Bill Bennett that he google the term "ladette".
And what of his claim that "strong men make stronger women (and vice versa) and stronger families"? I'm not sure exactly what he means by this, but presumably he means that a self-sufficient, independent career woman will bring out the qualities of resilience, self-sufficiency and career ambition in men and vice versa and that this will create a strong family culture. I just don't think this is right - and the evidence would seem to be on my side. It's not that men want women to be entirely helpless or dependent, but the male protector instinct will only be triggered if there is something to protect. If a woman is entirely independent and self-sufficient - and if women allow their personality to become too aggressively harsh - then women are likely to leave many men feeling cold.
Which brings me to my last but most important point. Bill Bennett can't seem to decide between liberal and conservative values. In the end, he seems to want men to be traditional and conservative but women to be liberal - and this is not something that's going to work out in the long run. If men think they are being held to traditional responsibilities whilst women to get to choose any option they like, then increasing numbers of men will want what women are having - and will look for ways to get such options for themselves.
Bennett claims that liberal societies have delivered autonomy to men but that men haven't made good use of it:
In developed Western countries, man has unprecedented freedom to choose, to a degree heretofore unknown, a life of his own wanting and design. A mere hundred years ago, man couldn't afford to dawdle in limbo between adolescence and manhood; manhood was thrust upon him for survival. Today, more opportunity lies at his feet than ever. Yet with this increased opportunity comes increased confusion, and the response on the part of some men has not been encouraging.
That's good evidence that Bennett, in his underlying philosophy, is a liberal: he thinks of freedom in liberal terms as being a freedom to choose a life of one's own design, i.e. a freedom to self-determine or self-create.
There are two problems with this claim. First, it's not clear how a man today really has such a freedom compared to a man of 100 years ago. Like most men I want to have a respected place as a husband and father in a family; I want to take pride in and contribute to my larger ethno-national tradition; I want to live in a society in which personal morality is taken seriously and in which art and culture reflect higher spiritual values; and I want to have a sense of my tradition building on the past and growing into the future rather than disintegrating. Isn't it true that I would have had more chance of of living such a life 100 years ago than today? So how am I more "free" today in choosing a life of my own design?
The second problem is that Bennett contradicts himself in his advice to men. If progress means a freedom to choose a life of one's own design, then why does Bennett so much want men to choose the predetermined values of traditional masculinity? For instance, Bennett criticises the Occupy Wall Street movement in this way:
Take the Occupy Wall Street movement, for instance. While diverse and scattered, some of the mottos and slogans on display are in stark contrast to the traditional and time-tested ideas of manliness.
So he believes that men should select "traditional and time-tested ideas of manliness". I agree that they should, but the problem for Bennett is that this contradicts his liberal belief that society is rightly based on choosing a life of one's own design. If I'm a young man, and I've been brought up with the idea of choosing a life of my own design, then why shouldn't I choose to spend my 20s playing computer games? Or being a player? Or being effeminate? Surely, if the aim is to self-design, you wouldn't go for something because it is traditional.
The only way you can suggest that men should go for "traditional and time-tested ideas of manliness" is to assert that there are values that are more important than "self-design". But if you do this, you have to be consistent and admit that there are going to be similar values for women too. But I don't hear Bill Bennett talking of "traditional and time-tested ideas of womanliness". In fact, Bennett seems to believe that women have "ascended" by becoming non-traditional.
Bennett complains that modern society has given men confusing messages about what it means to be a man, but Bennett's own messages are also confusing: he gives extreme praise to women for being non-traditional self-designers, whereas men are to follow a traditional and time-tested masculinity.
Bennett makes a bald assertion that these different pathways don't conflict, but it's likely that they do and that men will pick up on the double standard anyway.
So is Bennett a conservative or a liberal? I think he's a right liberal who continues to hold in a confused way to some more traditional values. As such I don't think he's the ideal person to put the case for traditional masculinity to young men.