Friday, April 26, 2013

A moment of time, 1920

It was Anzac Day yesterday, a public holiday in Australia which began as a commemoration of the Australian and New Zealand troops who fought in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915.

The above photo shows an Australian soldier laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in London on Anzac Day in 1920.

I like the photo, perhaps because it offers such a contrast with the image of men in the media today. Perhaps the most common portrayal of men is that of the loveable but harmless doofus - a character that is given to most TV dads.

The men in the photo, in contrast, have a dignity and seriousness of purpose and a masculine bearing.

I don't think you can just blame Hollywood executives for the transformation. I think it has to do, in part, with the larger trends in society.

The larger trend is to reject unchosen qualities like our sex as authoritative when it comes to social roles and organisation. Instead, authority is shifted away from the ordinary person to a class of people who rule along the lines of more formal principles  (you can tell here I have been reading Jim Kalb) .

What that means is that the ordinary man no longer holds what you might call "social offices" (I'll expand on this in a moment). What is left to the ordinary man are personal relationships alone and this fits in well with dad as a loveable doofus.

What do I mean by social offices? Being a man once meant something in terms of the roles that were held in society. For instance, being a husband was not just about a personal relationship with a wife, but was an "office" with particular duties, responsibilities, status and authority. The same was true of being a father, which again came with responsibilities to provide for, to protect and to mentor, alongside the authority and the status to carry through with these tasks.

Increasingly these roles/offices are being socialised (shifted from individual men to the state) and androgynised (no longer connected specifically to men).

But there has been an even more significant change since that photo was taken in 1920. Even when I was growing up in the 1970s, there was still a sense of Australian men having a group ethos and existence. There was a positive pride in achievement, particularly as pioneers, soldiers and sportsmen.

When you have this kind of culture, then men also have a role as defenders of the tradition they belong to. Their role is to keep going the particular tradition they belong to, to be the sentinel on the wall allowing the tradition to be renewed within this protected sphere. It's a responsibility that brings men together in the public sphere and which requires a larger engagement with society. It again represents a kind of social office, which brings a particular purpose to the work that men do in society.

But this kind of role has been radically undermined in the larger society. First, by the constant attacks on men as oppressors rather than as defenders and then, second, by the shift toward open-bordered, internationalism in the West.

As things stand, therefore, it would be difficult for Western men to have the same seriousness of purpose as the men depicted in the photo in 1920.

It seems to me that the choice is either to accept the loss of social offices, and to make do with a lifestyle based on personal relationships alone combined with career and consumption (with authority and responsibility in society being shifted away from individuals and toward an administrative class) or else to seek to recreate more traditional communities, though most likely on a smaller scale than they once existed.

I don't think we experience what we are meant to experience as men if we accept the modern conditions of life. What is more, it is likely that men will continue to experience confusion and uncertainty about being a husband or a father or even a worker, when a large part of the meaning of such roles has been lost.

The more we can either hold onto, or recreate, the social offices I have tried to describe, the stronger we become.


  1. The "loveable but harmless doofus" such as Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin...?

    I understand that this ceremony is to remember those who have served in military conflicts, but is war actually a good thing?

    It can be necessary under some circumstances, but I do not believe that young men dying in huge numbers in the two world wars in the most horrific circumstances (e.g. the trenches of the first world war) was something that could be called good in any sense.

  2. Australia was granted independence between 1917-1919 on account of the Diggers' splendid achievements. Unfortunately, ever since then the Aussie "government" has been illegitemate, and desperate to conceal this. To see the knaves that rule us, and those that seek to, misappropriating the legacy and name of those fine men is disgusting. It is also shameful how we have squandered their sacrifice and felt good about it. Mea culpa.

  3. Anon,

    The solution to the loss of the social roles performed by men is not war.

    The solution is to reject the socialisation of these roles (handing them over to state experts); to reject the androgynisation of these roles (the idea that they are sex neutral); and to recreate the communities for which and in which men perform these roles.

  4. It is also important to understand that the social offices to which you refer have not been lost in the sense that they have passed out of existence.

    Like the rest of our tradition, they still exist, but have been buried and hidden by the liberals. They are still there for those who search for them.

    (Obviously there are practical considerations: males cannot function fully as they should until law and custom have been restored. But we must never make the mistake of thinking that traditional ways have been decisively destroyed. They have not.)

  5. Alan Roebuck,

    Good point. They might be passing out of mainstream culture but we can still promote them - or at least aspects of them - within our own families and communities.

  6. Attending the ANZAC parade here in Perth was very moving for me. My son was marching as a cadet and he and the other boys looked dignified and solemn, as did the veterans. Nobody says that war is a good thing in and of itself. But it can provide an opportunity for the very best of human nature to emerge - duty to one's nation, loyalty, friendship and self-sacrifice.


  7. The men at the time weren't exposed to oestrogenic bisphenol chemicals in plastic. So not only must we embrace masculine roles we must combat our exposure to such chemicals.

  8. So much of this is the result of necessity. People in the Army can't get by in a harmless doofus role and succeed. It is possible in a modern society where the requirements of masculinity are much less to get by without these traits being on display or emphasized.

    The moment people are in situations where these qualities are looked for, however, eg emergencies for instance (and that is only one situation of many), there is an immediate recognition of their lack.

    It is our responsibility as men to keep this purposeful masculine ethos alive, regardless of any other social trends, or temptations to let them slide.

  9. People in the Army can't get by in a harmless doofus role and succeed.

    Good point. So perhaps we need to put our sons in situations that bring out the more serious, masculine aspects of character. Challenge them in a productive way (say at the age of 16 or thereabouts). Something that requires teamwork, intelligence and endurance.

    BTW, Jesse, did you end up going to the Sydney Traditionalist Forum event? Did it prove interesting?

  10. Hi Mark,

    Sorry I meant to but didn't end up attending. I'll definitely make an effort in the future.

    The right wing of the Lib party here in NSW, also called hard right or "Tali", (short for Taliban), is actually quite traditionalist so I'm fairly familiar with their functions and I've met Corey Bernardi before. There was a famous split here between Traditionalists, based around Catholics under the leadership of NSW state politician David Clarke, and the more Libertarian market focused right here in the early 2000's, and conservative politics as opposed to Liberal politics is frequently talked about quite openly.

    So the right here is split into two groups with the left wing, or "moderate" group, under the effective leadership of Malcolm Turnbull, and heavily progressive.

  11. Dear Jessie,

    It’s a pity you didn’t attend our last event. We still haven’t drafted a report for our website but will do so, if time and resources permit, by the end of the week. We look forward to seeing you at the next function, which is presently being organised.

    Also, I feel it’s important to clarify: we have no formal association with the Liberal Party, or any other Party, or faction. It is true that the organisers of the Sydney Traditionalist Forum are former members of the conservative faction in the Liberal Party, but it was made abundantly clear that even the faction did not appreciate honest conservative activism – so we left. Since then, we have been campaigning outside of the party structure, and are pleased to say that we find this to be far more effective.

    The term “Tali” was a derisive name used to describe what was perceived as the far right within the party in the 1990s and early 2000s. This group no longer exists, and that is simply a fact. If the term is used today, it is used rarely and ironically by right-liberals.

    The split in the NSW “right” occurred many years ago, but was only officially recognised by David Clarke MLC when it became impossible to deny or ignore. He was of course the split’s main facilitator by (a) embracing, over a period of five or so years, hostile elements who were hardly motivated by traditionalist principal, and (b) rewarding branch-stackers and hacks at the expense of philosophically motivated members, who were largely ignored (and continue to be, if there are any left).

    The split (which you are referring to) between the Alex Hawke MP affiliated libertarian types on one hand and the predominantly Catholic Clarke loyalists on the other, is essentially a division between these two camps of opportunists within what is essentially a light-liberal milieu. “Millieu” and not “organisation”, because there is no recognisable “conservative” organisation within the party any longer – just a loosely co-affiliated rabble of individuals and local principalities across the division.

    Having said that, we are always supportive of conservative politicians, and those who have the courage to take a stand on “controversial” subjects (controversial in the eyes of the left, of course). Hence we were honoured to have Senator Bernardi at our event and wish him all the best in spearheading a bolder and more virile form of politics from the right within the party.

  12. Thanks SydneyTrads that was an interesting update.