0221-EFFEMINATECRUELTY_web
Image Credit: 

Detail from "The Cardsharps" by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, oil on canvas, c. 1594

View

Effeminate Cruelty

The tyrants of the modern era have limp wrists.
Many years ago, Samuel Francis, that keen critic of American politics and culture, coined the term “anarcho-tyranny” to describe a condition that would seem at least paradoxical, if not self-contradictory.
 
When we think of anarchy, we imagine rioters in the streets, looting, setting fires, and spraying the neighborhood with bullets; Chicago on steroids, beneath the law. When we think of tyranny, we imagine the tyrant: the autocrat above the law, whose diktat is law, and who keeps order below, as would Machiavelli’s ambitious, cold-eyed, Italy-uniting Prince. That we could have both at once seems inconceivable, but so it is, said Francis, in America.
 
Our betters not only break the law with impunity, they make the law outside of the legislature with impunity, either by judicial imagination or by the caprice of the bureaucrat. Then they apply it to whom they will, how they will, and when they will. When statutory law is a jungle of regulations whose smallest feature no man alive can master, when law is ever at you, crawling up your leg, catching in your hair, glaring at you from the thicket, it is as if there were no law at all; and you are subject to your masters, who hold the guns.
 
Yet my imagery above, I fear, is in one important respect all wrong. It is masculine. That does not fit our time. We are not talking about Machiavellian virtu, manhood. Machiavelli himself countenanced cruelty as a necessary evil for princes governing new states, which are always full of dangers, or for a general such as Hannibal, who kept order among his troops in an alien land only “by his inhuman cruelty, which along with his boundless manhood made him in the eyes of his soldiers most venerable and terrible.”
 
Cruelty for its own sake destroys the cruel, as it destroyed the Roman emperor Caracalla. Machiavelli recalled in The Prince that Caracalla on several occasions “put to death a great part of the people of Rome, and all of the people of Alexandria, so that he was loathed by all the world, and came to be feared by the men around him, and was at last assassinated by a centurion in the very midst of his army.” We do not suffer these. Cesare Borgia does not sit on a federal bench. Hannibal does not run your local Planned Parenthood. Caracalla is not the Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Protection University.
 
The masculine cruelty of past eras is direct, open, and brutish. We can find it in the demonic character of Milton’s Moloch, who was first to speak in the council of Pandemonium in Paradise Lost, longing for annihilation and therefore urging his fellow demons to wage open war:
 
Let us rather choose
Armed with Hell flames and fury all at once
O’er Heaven’s high towers to force resistless way,
Turning our tortures into horrid arms
Against the Torturer.
 
Effeminate cruelty is instead indirect, furtive, and humane. We find it in the timorous Belial, the counter to Moloch, given to the lewd and luxurious, as:
 
Witness the streets of Sodom, and that night
In Gibeah, when the hospitable door
Exposed a matron to avoid worse rape.
 
Belial is, by comparison with Moloch, “in act more graceful and humane”; his tongue:
 
Dropped manna, and could make the worse appear
The better reason, to perplex and dash
Maturest counsels, for his thoughts were low,
To vice industrious, but to nobler deeds
Timorous and slothful; yet he pleased the ear.
 
He recommends not that the devils repent and beg God for mercy, but that they lie low and make no stir, so that God may “not mind us not offending.” He, like the rioters he inspires, “flown with insolence and wine,” is a coward. In the battle in heaven, when Satan and his minions use gunpowder and cannon to gain the advantage of surprise over the loyal angels (they are no match for them hand to hand), this same effeminate and weakling Belial stands beside Satan, scoffing and laughing.
 
Milton was on to something about an effeminate side of evil that can be applied to Francis’s concept. The affective mode of anarcho-tyranny is effeminate cruelty.
 
In our time, this cruelty assumes three characteristic forms, which have been institutionalized. Indeed, we cannot understand our bureaucratic institutions, whether public or private, unless we address the cruelty that shapes them and gives them their power.
 
 
0221-EFFEMINATECRUELTY-3Hatred of the natural is the first form of effeminate cruelty. Permit me to illustrate by noting the shift from the nature-loving prose of the early Romantic writers to the courting of the unnatural among their successors closer to our own time. When Goethe wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), he assumed that his readers loved the homely beauty of hills and trees and streams, that they cherished the innocence of small children, and that they knew that lads and lasses are meant to fall in love with one another.
 
When the young painter Werther first meets Charlotte, she is in the midst of a large and cheerful family, with six siblings aged from two to twelve years old, whom she loves and cares for. The villagers have arranged for a big dance, and Werther is going along, when his coach full of young people stops at her house:
 
She was holding a loaf of black bread, and cut for each of her little ones around her a slice, according to their years and appetite, and she gave it with such friendliness that each one, artlessly, cried out, “Thanks!” with his little hands stretched high, even before the slice was cut, and, satisfied with his evening bread, jumped away or, with a quieter disposition, walked off to the gate to look at the coach and the strangers with whom ’Lotte was going away.
 
The holiness of childhood and home is for Werther an absolute value, and his own is associated in his mind not with the “old lady who penned up our childhood in the schoolhouse,” but with a pond where he and the other boys went to skip flat stones to see how far they would go. His love for ’Lotte finds its local habitation in her small house, and the fountain where he and she first sit together and speak about love. “I love best of all the author,” says ’Lotte, as they talk about Oliver Goldsmith’s novel The Vicar of Wakefield (1766) “in whom I find my world, for whom things go as they go for me, and yet whose story is as interesting and moving as is my own life at home. True, it is no paradise, but all in all it is a source of happiness beyond words.”
 
There would be no sorrows for Werther, except that ’Lotte is betrothed to a young man named Albert, a manly fellow who takes Werther up as a friend. Albert and ’Lotte marry, and Werther cannot or will not break away from his sorrow. There is, no doubt, a certain effeminacy in his tears, and his refusal to harden his heart against his feelings. His behavior toward ’Lotte in the end is treacherous; he betrays her into a moment of passionate kisses and a confession of love; then, hopeless, with no place in the world he can call his, he takes his own life. But his final letter is filled with wishes for the good of those he loves, and even to Albert he is kind:
 
I have repaid you ill, Albert, and you forgive me. I have troubled the peace of your house, I have brought mistrust between you. Be well! I want to end it. Oh, that you two might be happy by my death! Albert, Albert, make the angel happy! And let the blessing of God come to dwell above you.
 
0221-EFFEMINATECRUELTY-5Move forward to 1906, in the gray morning of our last and misbegotten century. In The Confusions of Young Törless, Robert Musil, a young Austrian novelist without religious faith, a son of the German Enlightenment with but a flickering hope in the same, takes a version of Goethe’s Werther to a military school and a whorehouse. The novel is praised for its prescience, as Musil turned a merciless glance toward the psychological diseases that would bloom forth in Nazism.
 
What we notice first in Musil’s anti-Goethe is what is missing. There are no dances, no small children, no family life, no fountains, no running streams, no nut trees; no faith in God, no love of the beautiful, no honest confession of a single genuine feeling. The only significant woman is a raddled old whore who sneers at the boys when they pay her for an hour of filth.
 
The action begins when two boys, Beineberg and Reiting, discover that a third boy, the effeminate Basini, has stolen some money to pay off a small debt. They reveal the discovery to the novel’s protagonist, Törless, along with their plan to torture him. Beineberg is already an intellectual of emptiness, having caught a touch of eastern mysticism from his father, a soldier in India. All things are vain, except as they press forward into the unknown and unthinkable:
 
All of the stuff we do all day long in school—what of it really has any purpose? Where can you really have something, I mean, to have it for yourself, understand? The evening comes, and you know that you’ve lived one more day, that you’ve learned thus and so, that you’ve done your homework, but the very thing leaves you empty still—empty inside, I mean, you have a wholly inward hunger.
 
How do you satisfy the hunger? Beineberg and his conspirator Reiting, whom he hates, accuse Basini and subject him to blackmail and humiliation. The site is not outdoors but indoors, a cubbyhole tucked behind a stairwell in the sprawling old school building, a place known only to Beineberg, Reiting, and Törless. There they plan to bring Basini. For punishment? Not exactly, says Beineberg:
 
You’re wrong if you believe that I’m so bent on punishment. I admit that in the end you might call it a punishment for him…but, not to waste words about it, I have something else in mind…I want…let’s say it for once…I want to torture him.
 
That they do. They strip him naked, and they whip him to a bloody mess. Törless watches. That is not all. They do, as Basini tells Törless, “things” with him, in a curious brew of cruelty and lust, to see how low he will stoop. Reiting has him read stories of cruelty, too, says Basini, “about Rome and the Caesars, about the Borgias, about Timur the Khan …you know, always such great bloody things. Then he’s even gentle with me. And most of the time he beats me up afterwards.” As for Beineberg, not the body but the soul arouses him to cruelty. “He talks a lot about fakirs,” says Basini, “who, once they have looked upon their souls, can be insensitive to all bodily pain.”
 
Finally, when the school is mostly empty for the holidays, Basini approaches the bed where Törless is sleeping, and lays his naked body beside him. “You’re not as rough as they are, you don’t make yourself a big shot…you’re gentle…I love you!” The beauty of his body stuns Törless arousing in him a “new, aimless hunger.” It has nothing to do with love.
 
Törless later became, says Musil in a brief and ironic flash-forward, “after he had overcome the experiences of his youth, a young man of a very fine and sensitive spirit,” who would say that a little poison was necessary to take away “the all too secure and placid health of the soul, and replace it with something finer and sharper and more knowledgeable.”
 
We have here a whiff of disease: Bertrand Russell and his coterie, lauding “the higher sodomy,” the seedy Mr. Eugenides in Eliot’s The Waste Land, inviting the speaker to a weekend at the Metropole, the effete Gustave von Aschenbach of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, falling in love with a pretty Polish boy with whom he does not dare to speak. It’s the notion either that culture has lapsed into the dreary and unnatural, or that the unnatural is what makes for culture to begin with.
 
Sodom alone is artistic, in this view. For, other than a residual sense of the picturesque, and an abstract and usually inhumane commitment to “the environment” or “the planet,” neither of which a man can actually experience, we subject ourselves rather tamely to the most unnatural violations of human nature and human longings. There is a consonance between homosexual sex advice columnist Dan Savage being invited to speak to schoolchildren, and the veneration on the left for abortion rights philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, who says that carrying a child to term is like being hooked up to a concert violinist against your will to provide life support.
Of course, no one would permit the hazing that occurs in Musil’s novel to go unpunished now. Hazing is not to our taste. It is still too straightforward. Instead, we trammel our children up in boxes, with greater harm to the boys than to the girls, and we look the other way as they waste their youth in the deserts of online fantasy and disease.
 
 
Ambiguity, the second form of effeminate cruelty thus springs from the first. It is a soft tyranny, the labyrinth of indirection, of bureaucratic padding, impenetrable layers of fat. Kafka’s The Trial comes to mind: you are guilty, but you do not know what you are guilty of. You cannot know, because you have violated no statute, no clear rule.
 
Men and boys do not “get” the indirectness of this cruelty. They are the great inventors of complex games, with boundaries setting apart fair or foul; goals—the home plate, the end zone; laws—no holding, no cheating; and penalties. No game is conceivable without these elements.
 
Masculine law works in the same way. This is the statute, that is your violation, here is the evidence, there are the attorneys and the judge and the jury to weigh the evidence according to such and such criteria, and these are the consequences. These clear rules are artificial, in the basic sense: they are man-made. But it is natural for men, as the clear expression of their sense of hierarchically organized brotherhood. Beavers build dams; men and boys build games.
 
What characterizes the dystopia of George Orwell’s novel 1984 is not so much its Soviet-style ugliness, dirt, and brutality, but the lawlessness of its law. There is no game with clear rules there. Syme, the malevolent linguist, grows enthusiastic as he describes to Winston Smith the cunning of Newspeak, which will make rebellion impossible by making it literally unthinkable. But he sees too much, and one day, as Smith expects, Syme does not show up for work and his coworkers know him no more. Smith himself will be caught, not for violating any law, but merely for being under suspicion of opposing the State and Big Brother.
 
There is no public auto-da-fé for him. No fires of faith, no clear doctrines to which he must assent, no Inquisitor Torquemada—nothing so human as that. His tormentor, O’Brien, is but a portly bespectacled fellow, whose silent glance of intelligence at the office has deceived Smith into believing that O’Brien sympathizes with him.
 
Alas, O’Brien does sympathize with him. He knows what Smith feels and can use it to subtly manipulate, domesticate, and destroy him. One can no more imagine O’Brien challenging Winston Smith with direct violations of law than one can imagine the Diversity and Inclusion Officer at your place of employment doing so. No, the attack is against attitude, tone, and “wrongthink.”
 
We rightly fear the social credit system that Red China has put in place, which will impoverish you if you have the wrong friends, or if you worship at a Christian church, or if you express opinions contrary to those of the great mother of us all, the State. China has merely made clear, organized, and efficient what in the post-Christian West is unclear, amorphous, and efficient in its sheer inefficiency.
 
China terrifies; the West smothers. The masculine terrorist with bombs and machine guns makes you afraid to leave your home because you never know when or where he may strike. The effeminate terrorist makes you afraid to speak your mind, or even, after a while, to have a mind to speak. Behind his smile, so humane and gentle, you never know when or how he or she (or “ze” or “per”) is going to move to ruin you.
 
Our universities, morphine for thought, give ample proof. Gone are the days when Anselm could write the Proslogion—his attempt to prove by logic alone the necessary existence of a being greater than which no being can be conceived—and maintain his composure when the monk Gaunilo responded with severe criticism. Neither Anselm nor Gaunilo descended into the murk of hurt feelings and bureaucratic sanctions; they merely focused on the merits of their arguments.
When Descartes wrote his first Discourse, he sent it to his friend, the polymath priest Marin Mersenne, and he and Descartes and others fought it out over a series of exchanges. Descartes was a shy man, a hypochondriac, but his behavior in the controversy was clearly masculine. Everyone assumed that personal feelings were not pertinent. Truth was the aim, and an honest quest for truth was sufficient defense.
 
That truth is no longer a sufficient defense within the university is only in part due to postmodern agnosticism. It is also due to the abandonment of the game by intellectual weaklings. They cannot win by the rules, so they turn to indirection and bureaucratic maneuvering. “Tell me what I have said that is wrong!” cried Luther, and Cardinal Cajetan took him up on it. No more. Right or wrong is not the point. Violating an etiquette, one without clear rules, which depends upon the vagaries of the people empowered to interpret it ad hoc, and to their advantage—that is the point.
 
When the truth hurts, weep. Which leads me to the third and final form of effeminate cruelty.
 
 
The cult of the victim is the most soul-sapping and vicious of the effeminate cruelties.
 
It is not natural for men to be proud of having lost the battle. Of course, if you fight your best in a true game and lose, you have nothing to be ashamed of. We boys were instructed by our Little League coaches to line up and shake hands with the other team after the game was over. They were better or luckier on that day, and that was the end of it. General William Sherman, who did not spare the South in his devastating march to Savannah, yet had no desire to humiliate his enemies. His generous treatment of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his men cost him politically in Washington, but earned from Forrest a warm and manly admiration and friendship. The loser is not to be reduced to a victim, merely. You are what you are by your courage and faith, not by your loss.
 
The cult of the victim is a perversion of Christian suffering, just as the pretense of bureaucracies to comfort victims is a perversion of Christian charity. “Let this cup pass from me,” Jesus prayed in the garden; he did not embrace suffering for its own sake. “Father, forgive them,” he said upon the cross, attaching no terms to the forgiveness. “Blessed are you,” he says to his disciples, “when men persecute you” for the sake of the truth, to which they would testify with their lives.
 
The smug and grumbling men of Corinth compelled Paul to recount what he suffered for Christ, being whipped, bludgeoned, stoned, shipwrecked; adrift at sea, ever on the road and exposed to danger; sleepless, hungry, thirsty, cold, exposed. He does not beg for pity. He is too much the fighter for that, as his favorite form of imagery—out of fashion in our Christian effeminocracy—reveals: 
 
Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having fastened the belt of truth about your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One.
 
Christian men are called to fight. Yet the most common hymnals in Roman Catholic churches in the United States contain no fighting hymns; no “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” no “Rise Up, O Men of God.” Similarly, the liberal Protestant denominations and their pastorellas have reduced truth in doctrine to having the right sentiments; if masculine men fall away from the faith as a result, so much the more comfortable the services will be.
 
Christians have been made to feel shame for their victories, even when such victories have extended learning, law, agriculture, technology, and other blessings of civilization to Stone Age tribes; think of the great Junípero Serra and his confreres in California.
 
You have no moral cachet, in our time, unless you can play the victim. Most of the time it is sheer fantasy. For example, because sodomites used to be punished under the law, they now get points as “victims,” even if the biggest risk they face is what they bring on themselves in a Seattle bathhouse.
 
Because the exigencies of human existence until recently made it nearly impossible for women to have a life outside of hearth and home, if you are a woman today you get points as a “victim,” even as you drive comfortably in man-made cars on man-made roads between man-made buildings. Why, if you are Margaret Atwood, the third-rate novelist of The Handmaid’s Tale, you go gauzy-eyed over a dreamed-up dystopia wherein women one day will be truly oppressed. Hope springs eternal.
 
Because blacks were enslaved 150 years ago, if your skin is dark now, even if you are not a descendant of those slaves, you get points as a “victim,” regardless of whether your own poor decisions drag on you like a ball and chain. John Calhoun didn’t push the cocaine your way. Jefferson Davis didn’t get your girlfriend pregnant. Robert E. Lee didn’t tempt you to play video games when you should have been reading books.
 
Cruelty it is, because of what it does to those who think they have nothing to offer the world that is finer than their victimhood. It makes them out to be patsies, filled with ressentiment at those who are not so.
 
It is bad for a happily married woman to meet the sneer of the feminist who scorns her for depending upon her husband. It is worse to be a woman so discouraged by the sneer that she acts against her own happiness. It is worst of all to be the feminist oneself.
 
It is bad to be a young black man reading and enjoying Shakespeare, meeting the sneers of his black classmates, who call him “white” inside. It is worse to be that fellow who could and should be in love with learning, having his heart cut out by the contempt, and courting indifference instead of interest, and failure instead of triumph. It is worst of all to be those who do this to him, confirming themselves in their own incapacity.
 
What we have is a self-perpetuating and self-destructive falsehood. Women, encouraged to look on all men as brutes eager to hurt them, fail to marry. Living alone, they are far more likely than their married mothers were to be victims of violent crime. Blacks, encouraged to look upon whites as inveterate enemies, begin to dress, talk, and act in antisocial ways. So they keep racism burning, even when interracial marriage is widely accepted without hesitation.
 
Meanwhile, as we stray farther from the natural and society-building bonds of love (husband and wife, brother and brother, mother and child), we concede to our governors the power to direct the most intimate matters of our lives, and we avoid all questions of truth, instead adopting the pose of victims, weak, effeminate, timorous, and vindictive, ruling by gossip, spying, innuendo, and fainting spells.
 
 
Men, we must come to our senses. We must  make no more apologies for being men. We pity those who suffer real wounds, and we have mercy on those who beg forgiveness for their wrongs and clemency in punishment. But we will not make nice with lies. We will not be servile. We will confirm the goodness of the natural relations of man and woman. We will, if need be, tell bureaucrats to their faces that they are cowards. We will be free men. We will seek the truth wherever it lies, and we will speak freely about what we see. Enough already.
 
Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen

Contributing Editor Anthony Esolen has published 24 books, including Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, an English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and most recently a book of poetry, The Hundredfold: Song of the Lord.

Add a Comment

 

Join the conversation...

You are currently using the BETA version of our article comments feature. You may notice some bugs in submission and user experience. Significant improvements are coming soon!

or

tiggrrr
-
Thank you for writing this article; while it wasn't an easy read, it was both insightful & accurate. For the past 15-20 years, I've been wondering what has happened to males in our society. It seems as if they willingly handed over their testicles in exchange for acceptance by the females who've taken over our society. Big mistake in my opinion. I certainly don't want to be viewed as chattel or less than competent because of my gender; I'd like to be shown the same amount of respect & have the same opportunities because I'm a human being, not because of my gender. However, I do understand biological differences & considerations have to be acknowledged. That doesn't make me a sellout to my gender, it makes me a realist, males & females are different - that's not a bad thing. I sincerely wish we could rid ourselves of the politically correct, gender-neutral, & morally corrupt society we created & now live in and allow men to be men - & women to be women.
 
 

or

PaigeMorgan
-
I think your explanation of Werther is shallow and intellectually dishonest. You write for an audience that knows nothing of the source material, and it shows.
 
 

or

DLaske
-
The current effeminacy of males commenced in the 1960s when the drug culture focused on "unisex" lifestyles. The feminization also occurred in Black communities where outlandish Super Fly clothing prevailed and sucked money out of the pockets of already impoverished slum residents. Whenever the loony Left preaches the "Oneness of Mankind" the seeds for sexual amalgamation starts. And it never ends well! Idiots like Biden, who preach "Follow the Science," completely ignore the science of genetics...throughout Nature there are x and y chromosomes. Mr. Esolen should have paid a wee bit more attention to critical history of Goethe's Werther as the great writer changed much of the ending of the story in his 1787 fix-up of the novel- curiously based on a pirated edition; surprisingly Goethe did not have his own first edition! Manhood will return when men consciously opt to be MEN! Such situations happen if and only if there is a crisis and real men step up.
 
 

or

X