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It’s D-Day for modern masculinity The online Right could learn from Eisenhower


June 6, 2024   6 mins

On 6 June 1944, nearly 160,000 soldiers from the Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy and commenced the reconquest of Western Europe from the Nazis. The man in charge of this massive operation, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, would go on to be elected president, ushering in an era of peace, stability, and mass affluence.

Yet by the end of the Fifties, Eisenhower was rejected by the nation’s tastemakers as dull, doddering and spent: Ike, they said, played golf for eight years. As the GIs were domesticated by middle-class life in the suburbs, there came a new hero to behold: JFK also fought in the war, but his distinguishing traits were youth, manly vigour and an irrepressible sense of hipness, which had special appeal for those born after the war — the “Baby Boomers”.

Responding to this air of expectation was Norman Mailer, the enfant terrible of the literary world, who in both his novels and his personal life exuded machismo: an angry undercurrent of male alienation that flowed just beneath the surface of the reigning suburban culture.

Weeks before the 1960 election, Mailer wrote his first political essay. Published in Esquire, his aim in “Superman Comes to the Supermarket” was not just to boost Kennedy as the hero Americans needed, but to attack and discredit everything the Eisenhower era represented: its deeply “square” ideas of manhood — arising from notions of duty, responsibility, self-control and an engrained respect for authority — sounded almost Victorian to Mailer’s ears. “A tasteless, sexless, odourless sanctity in architecture, manners, modes, styles has been the result” of Ike’s leadership, he claimed. In place of the conformist “organisation man” of the Fifties, Mailer envisioned a new and vital masculine archetype for the Sixties, someone who can “touch depths in American life which were uncharted”.

Holding up JFK as the vessel, Mailer hoped that politics could be fused with the “underground river” of the American psyche — the unconscious realms of myth, art, instinct and aesthetics — and thus turned into an arena for limitless self-expression. His vision was a potent expression of the Sixties ethos, predicated as it was on the individual’s restless spirit of rebellion against the institutions.

Though that decade saw the rise of feminism, a no less important but overlooked development was the change in the dominant models of masculinity. The old masculine archetypes — the GI, the pioneer, the sheriff, the crew-cutted astronaut — represented the austere vanguard of modernity which heralded the arrival of civilisation and progress. The new male archetype birthed by the post-Boomer pop culture — the long-haired rock star, the brooding beat poet, the hippie wildman, the Third World guerilla, Mailer’s own “White Negro” — were sensuous rebels against modernity, who sought to topple the structures of civilisation in the name of a heedless and undefined freedom.

This permissive cultural emancipation of the Sixties after Kennedy was then enlarged by the neoliberal economic emancipation of the Eighties under Reagan, which entrenched the new moral status quo, or what may be called “the Boomer consensus”, based on the formula of hedonism plus markets. This dispensation was embodied in equal part by the two dominant Boomer politicians of the Nineties, the liberal Bill Clinton and the conservative Newt Gingrich, who both expanded the reach of unregulated markets, shrank the size of the state and subjected US politics to their boundless egos and libidos.

Three decades later, the results of this social revolution for each of the genders are clear enough: women have made great economic and cultural strides — a welcome development — but the opposite sex appears to have faltered. On a host of metrics, from educational achievement to economic performance and career advancement to life expectancy and cultural prestige, men are shown to be either falling behind women or underperforming relative to previous generations of men. Yet structural explanations and conventional policy prescriptions have little resonance among today’s “angry young men”. They have, instead, turned to far more radical answers.

Enter the rise of a revanchist masculine identity politics on the online Right, where “vitalist” movements call for the overthrow not just of liberalism but of the pre-modern Christian foundations of Western civilisation. Inspired by Nietzschean thought, they seek the revival of a pagan morality that glorifies primal ideals of strength, beauty and sensuality. The most prominent expositor of this view is the pseudonymous “Bronze Age Pervert” (BAP), later unmasked as one Costin Alamariu. They are distinguished by their fondness for bodybuilding, eccentric natural lifestyles and garish aesthetics, conveyed through homoerotic imagery and classical art. Throw in racist and misogynist “shitposting” that playfully straddles the line between irony and sincerity, and one gets a fuller picture of their sensibility.

Among competing narratives around male decline, this has garnered the most widespread following among a certain class of ambitious, educated, intellectually inclined and highly online professional young men. Scouring the ranks of Congressional staff offices, Ivy League schools, conservative think tanks, as well as the worlds of tech and finance, may reveal sizeable cadres of “Bronze Age” followers, who will reveal themselves when they are “in front of the control panel”, as one such devotee put it to The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood — that is, when they are ready to seize power.

For all their frightening and exotic “reactionary” flairs, however, these currents are best understood as inversions of the Sixties countercultural Left, sharing its militant subversive and anti-institutional dispositions. All that’s really happened is that it has come full circle: this sensibility began on the far-Left but has now migrated to and metastasised on the far-Right. And just as the original counterculture was easily co-opted to serve neoliberalism (“woke capitalism”), so too is the online Right — with even less resistance — being made to prop up the same, with the emergence of “based capitalism”. This is shown by Alamariu’s rambling endorsement of Javier Millei and his attempt to sell an ideology of Aryanised Reaganism on steroids to impressionable followers: by dressing it up with edgy memes, he has essentially found an ingenious way to make neoliberal policy attractive to discontented youths, who would otherwise have turned away from the GOP’s free market dogmas. (He is thus revealed to be little more than a “red-pilled” Paul Ryan.) BAP and the online Right now amount to a Millennial mirror image of Mailer-ism and the Boomer counterculture. It matters less that Mailer was an idiosyncratic Marxist or that Alamariu is a would-be race warrior, for the result is the same: hedonism plus markets.

Indeed, as adjacent influencer “Zero HP Lovecraft” admitted, they aspire to “a precise mirror of the world in which we live today”, only with all the progressive slogans and aesthetics swapped for reactionary ones, but with presumably the same malfunctioning economy and decaying infrastructure left in place. Such statements reveal the inherent limitations of this movement, which deals in memetic forms of discourse that discard all programmatic content in favour of pure subjectivism and impulse: a “vibes-only politics”. Consider BAP’s fixation on looks as a political criterion; or more troublingly, his giddy glamorisation of violence; or his disdain for family life, which supposedly dilutes the male spirit (all things he happens to, in varying degrees, share with Mailer). Vapidity, nihilism, and cruelty are the whole point. And for all their apparent dislike of legacy conservatism, this is what allows these reactionaries to be repeatedly co-opted into some variant of neoliberalism.

“Vapidity, nihilism, and cruelty are the whole point.”

If today’s dissatisfied young men want to achieve greatness, they can do so not by trying to rehash the failed faux-radicalism of the Boomers, Mailer and Alamariu, with its degenerate libertinism and contempt for institutions, but rather by rediscovering the non-reactionary masculine ethos of the Eisenhower era. Far from being stale or parochially conservative, the Fifties were actually a time of great institutional creativity and innovation as embodied in post-war mixed-economy industrial capitalism (the antithesis of neoliberalism); this was, after all, the decade when the mass-middle class was forged, a status and standard of living which many Millennials and Gen Zs have been denied.

This will require rejecting romanticism and personal liberation in favour of a different value set for young men, one that: abides by the logic of institutions rather than that of aggressive individualism (even as they seek to reimagine and reform their institutions); realises the need for rational, long-term plans of mass coordination as a means of steering society at the level of both state and market; and accepts reasonable limits on personal autonomy in the name of these larger national goals and imperatives. This is, in other words, the same disciplined high modern ethos that made D-Day possible — that won the Second World War and built the greatest economy in all history — after the preceding era of institutional collapse in the Thirties necessitated renewal. For this generation, masculinity was forged within and through institutions rather than against them: the family, the army, the state, the corporation, the union, etc. The very things Mailer and his like have railed against as tyrannical and effeminising were in fact the bedrocks of American strength. To restore that order and dynamism that were Eisenhower’s legacies, young men must dam the “underground river” and re-establish boundaries between the mythic-aesthetic and material-political dimensions of civilisation, lest they be constantly seduced and intoxicated by the former, as they are now, while losing sight of the latter. For the true rebirth of vitality in the West will not come from a miserable narcissistic dictatorship of bohemians, dandies and aesthetes — of the kind that Mailer and BAP would revel in — but from practical feats. The matchless heroism of D-Day, when free men fought and triumphed against barbarism, stands as just such an example: one more encapsulation of what is missing in contemporary masculinity, and of what may yet be regained.


Michael Cuenco is a writer on policy and politics. He is Associate Editor at American Affairs.

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Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
13 days ago

What is it about a Cuenco word salad that makes me feel a headache coming on? Dude seriously, your history needs work, your comparisons are apples and oranges, and you spend way too much time in parts of the internet that not even 4chan would take seriously. During the 30’s and 40’s institutions across America were forced to enact reforms because of the recognition they had failed. Now institutions across the Western World are intrenched bureaucracies that refuse to admit any failings let alone subject themselves to reform. Also, most of America’s military leadership were not up to the task at the start of the war. Eisenhower was only a lieutenant colonel when it started. He rose rapidly through the ranks because of his genius logistical ability and excellent leadership skills. Then we get to the military itself. Despite whatever problems it may have had, the US Army at the time had actual accountability and leaders who took responsibility for their actions. Something that makes comparisons to the recent farce that was The War on Terror useless. The only person punished after the Afghanistan pull out debacle was a Marine officer who was foolish enough to publicly complain about the lack of accountability among senior leadership. You’re going to have to try a lot harder than simply name dropping a man of great character and accomplishments then comparing him to some nobody from the dark corner of the internet hardly anyone has ever heard of, let alone cares about.

Last edited 13 days ago by Matt Hindman
Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
13 days ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

I agree, and nothing encapsulates the point you make more than this, towards the end of the piece when he was being carried away by his verbosity:

“To restore that order and dynamism that were Eisenhower’s legacies, young men must dam the “underground river” and re-establish boundaries between the mythic-aesthetic and material-political dimensions of civilisation, lest they be constantly seduced and intoxicated by the former, as they are now, while losing sight of the latter.”

The use of must is entirely typical of the type of article that requires its readers to suspend judgment and nuance. It’s the language of dictators, seeking to mesmerise their followers. He’s picked the wrong crowd here.

Vesselina Zaitzeva
Vesselina Zaitzeva
12 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

I didn’t suspend judgement and nuance. I just stopped reading after the first couple of paragraphs- and this being an assiduous reader in principle.

Sadly, this has been happening more and more often with UnHerd. Fortunately, there are still good articles here. And, naturally, going directly to the comments section is always highly rewarding.

T Bone
T Bone
12 days ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Its like that quote attributed to Einstein about how the genius takes really complex things and makes them simple whereas the idiot takes really simple things and makes them complex.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
12 days ago

The interesting conclusion of this piece appears to be an advocacy of masculinity forged through ‘the family, the army, the state, the corporation, the union’. About the only thing missing off that list is The Party.
So on the one side of thing you’ve got people like Bronze Age Pervert allegedly rejecting institutions, even the family itself, in favour of some hedonistic quest for self-realisation, and on the other we have Mr Cuenco who sounds with that quote above an awful lot like an old-school fascist. Or CCP cadre.
Perhaps if institutions were not raddled and addled with DEI nonsense, empty virtue-signalling and quixotic dedication to net zero climate crisis/emergency nostrums, if in other words they did their jobs properly, young men would find it easier to strive and thrive within them.

T Bone
T Bone
12 days ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

I see Mr. Cuenco as more of an abstract word artist. Randomly placing large words onto a sequence and hoping for a pattern to appear.

B. Timothy S.
B. Timothy S.
12 days ago

While he was an idol of the baby boomers, JFK was of course a member of the greatest generation and himself a product of older values. It is impossible to think of someone in his position (or even one of his less charismatic descendants) risking their life fighting in the Pacific today. Those values dictated not only he but Teddy Roosevelt Jr, Henry Ford II, Ted Williams, and Clark Gable put it all on the line during the war. I think it was this generational experience that defined masculinity for the decades that followed, with doing one’s duty seen as the standard of what it meant to be a man.

The next generation embraced self expression and serving one self and that has continued. While an individual may choose to embrace facets of the values of the Eisenhower-era, is it really possible to fully embrace them in a prevailing culture in which duty and sacrifice are openly mocked?

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
7 days ago
Reply to  B. Timothy S.

I think what added to Kennedy’s ability was that he was captain of a gunboat. This meant he had responsibility for making life of death decisions, no matter how tired he was and getting it right. In WW2, captains of vessels who made mistakes either died or were court martialled.
It was like being a pilot, only the good and lucky survived. Now the incompetent and unlucky are promoted.

Saul D
Saul D
12 days ago

Very wordy way of saying men should emulate their great grandfathers which, if I remember correctly, is the type of thing Jordan Peterson was saying, but a bit more clearly.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
12 days ago

No one born in 1945 or later (i.e. a ‘baby boomer’) would have voted for JFK in 1960. JFK was voted in by the generation that actually stormed the Normandy beaches and survived.
As for Eisenhower, remember that this ‘dull, doddering and spent’ man warned the American people about the military-industrial complex despite himself being a military man – words that resonate stronger than ever over 60 years on. JFK on the other hand tried to be cool and speak German and only managed to call himself a donut.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
12 days ago

in that speech, Eisenhower also warned of something else that few people remember – the growing nexus between scientific research and govt funding of such research. Ike knew enough about human nature to understand that the person with the money may well have a desired conclusion in mind for any research project. We’ve seen this play out with the climate scare, with how the pandemic played out, etc.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
12 days ago

women have made great economic and cultural strides — a welcome development — but the opposite sex appears to have faltered.”…..indeed. Yin has become ascendent, hence the chaos which has ensued.

A J
A J
11 days ago
Reply to  Bernard Hill

I knew someone would pounce on that point, I expected it to be Morley, though.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
6 days ago
Reply to  A J

…yes, it is rather obvious isn’t it? But of course the path of compassion trumping justice at every turn, will eventually come to an end. Increasingly, in Europe and North America, this looks most likely to come from substantive Islamification.

Chipoko
Chipoko
12 days ago

What a soup of verbal diarrhoea!
It’s simple really: 21st Century Men are generally emasculated wusses compared with the real men who rescued Western democracy and civilisation in WW2 and who sought to build peace and prosperity in the 1950s. But the Cultural Marxists then set out to destroy that legacy from the 1960s onwards. The relentless March Through the Institutions has succeeded.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
10 days ago
Reply to  Chipoko

Gramsci further devloped the ideas of the Frankfurt School which was then modified by Herbert Marcuse and Post Modernists. Their success has been exatraordinary. Cultural Marxism appeals to middle left wing intellectuals who lack innovation, toughness, daring and fortitide and have spite and malice towards those who have these qualities.

Chipoko
Chipoko
8 days ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

I totally agree with your insight here!

David Morley
David Morley
12 days ago

hedonism plus markets
it’s a neat formula, but as a description of modern western life it leaves out some key things.

First, the hedonism is extremely tame, it’s hedonism as consumerism, risk apparent but really risk free. It’s the Disney version of hedonism, childish fun rather than adult pleasure.

Second the notable infantilism of our culture. There are many ways of growing up, settling down being only the most usual. But continuing to behave like teenagers isn’t one of them.

Third the extent to which our societies have become both child free, and child centred at the same time. When they have children adults fit into their children’s lives rather than children fitting into theirs.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
12 days ago

How ironic that these various navel-gazing efforts to redefine manhood and masculinity have resulted in a cohort of aimless young men and professionally successful but personally miserable young women.
Since the Norman Mailer period, we have seen the introduction of the pill, the sexual revolution, unfettered abortion, and no-fault divorce. More recent times have brought us abrosexuals, pansexuals, and women with penises. Meanwhile, every day brings some new story about the fragile state of mental health, often among women and usually in the younger age groups.
Either these self-styled social engineers are incredibly bad in their jobs or these results are the intentional consequences of their ideas. Perhaps both. None of the possibilities are encouraging.

Tom Condray
Tom Condray
12 days ago

After reading this article I was reminded of a scene in the film “Amadeus” where one character complains to another that Wolfgang’s revision of his associate Salieri’s melody contained “too many notes”.
Surely Mr. Cuenco must be paid by the word?
For decades I’ve seen all sorts of media present men as fools, bounders, rotters, cads, cowards, and all manner of venal and grand miscreants. Women, on the other hand, typically appeared empowered, forceful, and–most importantly–the characters who were always right. From commercials where the woman turns out to be smarter than the man, to any number of programs where we see Girl Power winning out against what turns out to be the more feeble sex, so it went.
We call that misandry.
Rather than try to delve into the cultural morass that is our civilization’s collective psyche, it’s all really quite simple: Between the sexes success is NOT a zero sum game.
Someday soon, I hope, the lightbulb will finally turn on, and we’ll all realize that genuine achievement comes from providing opportunity to everyone, rather than at the expense of some over others.
Then, perhaps, recognizing the terrible waste of human potential we’ve permitted, we’ll abjure favoritism in its guise of Affirmative Action, and its mutant cousin DEI.
Such a day will come, but, at the rate things are going I doubt I will live to see it.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
11 days ago
Reply to  Tom Condray

The glorification of all things female and the demonisation of all things male, which you correctly identify, is seen through by most intelligent, self-aware individuals (of both sexes). Aside from anything else, our simple experiences of everyday life expose this lie as the lie it is.

It has, however, created cadres of young men who are angry and dangerously alienated, and I don’t blame them.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
13 days ago

I agree with the sentiment.

David Morley
David Morley
12 days ago

There’s really just one problem with this recipe for a return to the good old days. It’s not the 50s any more. And that matters. And it matters what went before.

Like it or not, our society and culture are post 60s. They are post feminist. And the various male movements, most of them silly, are reactions to that. Young men feel lost because they live in a society which disparages them and thinks their highest achievement would be to become more like women.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
12 days ago

There was a moment early in this piece when I thought, wow, this man has finally achieved a serviceable level of cogency. And then this paragraph happened.

This permissive cultural emancipation of the Sixties after Kennedy was then enlarged by the neoliberal economic emancipation of the Eighties under Reagan, which entrenched the new moral status quo, or what may be called “the Boomer consensus”, based on the formula of hedonism plus markets. This dispensation was embodied in equal part by the two dominant Boomer politicians of the Nineties, the liberal Bill Clinton and the conservative Newt Gingrich, who both expanded the reach of unregulated markets, shrank the size of the state and subjected US politics to their boundless egos and libidos.

I’m not a writing instructor, I’m a music producer, but similar standards apply, I think. The momentum that you gain in the listener’s head through the intro-first verse-first chorus (if those are good) should be built upon in the second verse. The second verse is monumentally important, in my opinion. It’s where you either capture the listener or he abandons you. Most artists understand this intuitively, even if you have to occasionally say it out loud so they’ll be conscious of it. What you should never do as a composer and producer is change the key and start singing gibberish in the second verse. The listener might hang around until the second chorus just in case what appears to be insanity is actually cleverly concealed genius, but it never is. It’s just insanity.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
12 days ago

There are some interesting ideas in this pretty flawed piece. For a more thoughtful discussion and less clickbaity discussion of generational architypes chech out Howe and Strauss , latest book “the fourth turning is here” by just Howe.

Matt Masotti
Matt Masotti
12 days ago

Oh look, more divisive nonsense to make people angry online.

John H Abeles
John H Abeles
12 days ago

Could not simply the cancellation of the national service draft underly and explain the changes seen since, and not this morass of stretched analysis ?

Last edited 12 days ago by John H Abeles
Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
7 days ago
Reply to  John H Abeles

Decline in physically tough, dirty and dangerous jobs- mining, fishing, farming, construction, ship building,steel works, etc, etc. In the 1930s probably more men per capita in Britain died in mining and fishing accidents than in combat. Throw in rugby and boxing as sports and one produces tough competent men.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
11 days ago

“To restore that order and dynamism that were Eisenhower’s legacies, young men must dam the ‘underground river’ and re-establish boundaries between the mythic-aesthetic and material-political dimensions of civilisation.”

Is there anything less self-aware, or more naive, than an American intellectual?

karlheinz r
karlheinz r
12 days ago

Amen and thumbs up.
Romanticism lost Modernity. Somewhere in the 19th century. And then over and over again.

David Morley
David Morley
12 days ago

A Bronze Age male elite in waiting, carrying out its very own long March through the institutions and already starting to pull the strings of power behind the scenes. Well it’s news to me.

Sounds more like a paranoid fable of the return of the dreaded patriarchy. It’s just silly Internet stuff, silly.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
10 days ago

Today, why is it American writers appear to be incapable of understanding one can be cultured and tough or is it American Society ?The USA appears to believe one has to be crude and coarse to be tough;boasting and bragging are considered virtues and good manners a sign of weakness. Compare Motown of the 1960s with todays gangsta Rap. It appears The USA is incapble of producing Renaissance Men.
For example Dr Tiger Watson and Micky Burn
Jeremy Clarkson’s the Greatest Raid of All – the FULL documentary | North One (youtube.com)
Micky Burn – Wikipedia
Manners maketh man. A reason why so many people and countries have turned against the USA even though it defended freedom in WW2 and in the Cold war plus provided money and security is the brash manners of much USA policy and people.
Jeremy Clarkson’s The Victoria Cross: For Valour – the FULL documentary (youtube.com)
55 min
Cains VC never mentioned to his daughter that he had won a VC. Today gangsta rap is popular.
Is the problem that young men have not been tempered by adversity, had their mettle tested and passed; consequently their insecurity manifests itself as toxic maculinity ?

Evan Heneghan
Evan Heneghan
5 days ago

ChatGPT, write me a nonsensical essay comparing 1960s hippies with conservative young men today, but use the most verbose, pretentious language you have in your locker.