On Tuesday evening, former TIME correspondent Michael Walsh spoke to a packed audience in Lane Hall where he presented a lecture titled “In Praise of Toxic Masculinity.”
Walsh, an author, screenwriter, and journalist, drew his talk from the first chapter of his forthcoming book, “Last Stand.” Throughout the book, he analyzes famous historical battles in which the losing side was completely annihilated to discover what it takes for a man to survive a non-survivable situation.
“I ended the book with the Korean War,” Walsh said. “I included the Battle of Chosin Reservoir because my father, who is still alive at 93, was there when it happened. A very small force of Marines was surrounded by more than 100,000 Chinese troops, and it was a miracle they escaped with their lives.”
According to Walsh, listening to his father’s first-hand account of the battle was not only moving but also tied all the threads of the book together. Walsh said that these threads can be traced back to a single idea that Immanuel Kant expressed in his essay “Perpetual Peace.”
“‘The state of peace among men living side by side is not the natural state,’” Walsh quoted from the essay. “‘The natural state is one of war.’”
According to Walsh, people refuse to accept this fact in the 21st-century because war is now so antiseptic and impersonal that we think about it in almost bloodless terms. In his opinion, we’re just lying to ourselves.
“War is not only in our blood, it is our familial birthright and burden,” he said. “No matter how much we may wish it away, erase our martial past or recast it in a more feminist light, war, or its constant threat, is always with us and will be until the day mankind vanishes.”
For Walsh, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“War, or the spectre of it, is the principal means of scientific advancement, territorial expansion, and the defense of the personal, social, and political elements that society holds dear,” he said. “Without the invention of guns, we wouldn’t have had clocks, typewriters, or anything that requires fine machine tooling.”
According to Walsh, masculinity and war are closely linked.
“At its root, war is a masculine engagement undertaken on behalf of women and children, in large measure to win the former and ensure the survival of the latter,” he said. “This is a truth not often told or acknowledged.”
Walsh said that the way the West approaches war today is largely responsible for the vacuum of masculinity and the societal confusion that it causes.
“In the post-industrial, feminized West, children — once seen as the future of society — are now seen as a burden, and women are believed to be indistinguishable from men,” he said. “Nature abhors a vacuum. Do I therefore come down in praise of war, in praise of death? To contemporary sensibilities, this seems barbaric.”
Walsh said that the modern West has a deep fear of both death and pain.
“Now that religion in the West is largely nugatory, the sole purpose of existence is to live as long and as painlessly as possible,” he said, describing the modern mindset. “There may be nothing worth living for, but there is surely nothing worth dying for.”
According to Walsh, this is a very limited way to live life.
“Human beings have a larger purpose than simply living out their threescore and ten,” he said. “Men are born to father children and to defend them, and their women, against other men that would kill them or otherwise take advantage of them.”
Although defending hearth and home is an essential part of a man’s life, his worth is determined by more than his skill in battle, Walsh said.
“The measure of a real man is what he has done in his life, how far he has sailed, how well he has loved, how he has raised his children, and how much, or little, they love him,” Walsh said.
Hillsdale senior Stephen Richmann, who attended the talk, said he thought Walsh danced around some deep truths without fully addressing them.
“He said that the natural state of things is men fighting other men, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true,” Richmann said. “The reason masculine aggression is good, at least in the Christian conception of things, is because we live in a world where evil has not been defeated. And the conflict isn’t just man versus man. It’s man versus evil, or man versus other men doing evil things. It almost seemed like he was romanticizing war.”
Ellen Hancock, a sophomore at Hillsdale, said that she agreed with many of Walsh’s points.
“The beginning of the talk made a lot of sense,” she said. “The most masculine thing I can think of is men fighting for their country and protecting women.”
According to Hancock, Walsh’s comments on the modern West were compelling.
“People today are obsessed with comfort,” she said. “Nothing is worth dying for because we worship ourselves.”
Walsh said that although we view war as a catastrophe, refusing to fight is not an option.
“The culture that doesn’t fight is bent on suicide,” he said. “Civilizations do not just dissolve from innovation, although that is certainly a factor; but their end is always punctuated by conquest. Just ask Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman emperor.”
For Walsh, continuing to fight even in the face of certain death is the epitome of masculine courage.
“They were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice,” he said. “They did it for themselves, for their brothers in arms, for their women and children. And above all, they did it for their country.”
Toward the end of his lecture, Walsh tied Immanuel Kant’s controversial statement to 21st-century issues.
“As much as it pains the West to admit it, war appears to be the natural state of mankind, and peace the aberration,” he said. “The time when civilians could opt out of global conflicts is long past. The best way to preserve the peace is to prepare for war and hope it never comes. But come again it will, and we must know its nature and history in order to cope with it when it does.”