I heard about Jack Donovan not too long after joining the manosphere with Wolf & Iron. I also learned the term “manosphere” about that time as well and don’t particularly like using it, but I dislike backspacing more. I developed an interest in his book, The Way of Men, based on the title, plus I’m a sucker for good cover art. It was on my reading list for some time until a friend told me Jack Donovan was gay. Hold, up! What? I thought surely there was another Jack Donovan he was confused with, and while I had admittedly only read a few articles and a bit about this particular book, I had no idea. How did this whole gay-manly-anti-queer-right-wing thing work? And so, as I pondered my stance on this, other books on the list took preference. Yet, I still wanted to hear what he had to say. If nothing else, I would have some contentions with his take on what it means to be a man which could be fodder for writing, though I don’t know if that is a direction I want to take Wolf & Iron. Also, the title and cover art…I mean, come on!
I have written previously on how I believe homosexuality limits a man’s ability to be a man. That being said, and that being my mindset, I read the book as openly as I could, just trying to take it for what it was and not wrap my thoughts about the author around every sentence. After all, how many Greek and Roman philosophers do I quote? How many broken and imperfect men have helped me over the years?
The result, I believe, is that Donovan has written a very good book about some core aspects of being a man.
The Way of Men Book Review
It may be helpful to know what The Way of Men is not before diving in, else you may be left expecting there to be a Part 2. The Way of Men limits its scope of what manliness is in order to focus on the primal, core, innate characteristics of being a man that have been esteemed by other men throughout the ages. It is not a book on how to be more successful in your career, yet I think it could help with that. It is not a book on how to keep your marriage strong or being a better father, though I believe what Donovan points out may do more good than many other books in that department. It is insight into how men view and respect each other even through the peace and ease of modern society. Deep down we still need to know if this guy or that guy could handle himself\benefit my gang\pull his own weight should the shit hit the fan.
The Way of Men is The Gang
If there is a truth that has been lost in the society of men is that we need other men in our lives to feel like a man. Donovan describes this as The Gang and he’s absolutely right. The concept is easy enough; 10-15 men that you can frequently associate with and do things together. A hierarchical social order will develop naturally and the chiefs and Indians will be established. Where you stand as a man with that group depends on the following 4 virtues.
Strength, Courage, Mastery, & Honor: The Virtues of Men
“Strength, courage, mastery, and honor are the Alpha Virtues of men all over the world. They are the fundamental virtues of men, because without them no other higher virtues can be entertained. You need to be alive to philosophize.” – Jack Donovan, The Way of Men
Donovan does a good job boiling down the virtues by which men live and are judged to be considered good men. While women can be strong, for instance, a woman is not judged by her strength in the same way a man is. Keep in mind his line of thought comes from the judgments of men about other men and men about women in the us-vs.-them survival scenario. If a woman can lift an ox, great, but if she can only carry some baskets and bear children she will have plenty of men lined up to lift the heavy things and woo her to continue his namesake. But, if a man is weak, it’s a strike against his manhood and his only hope is to do well in the other virtues to make up for it.
If you are feeling the conscientious rub here, you’re not alone and a lot of the book is like this. These are the things men aren’t supposed to talk about any more, right? But this is precisely Donovan’s point: We’re hard-wired or a product of evolution and this is simply the way men work at their core. He goes on to say that these virtues are present in any gang of men, whether it is a terrorist group, Nazis, or Navy SEALs. The way men size each other up and fall into some social order is based on how these virtues play out and the particular ethical and moral beliefs by which they judge one another.
One virtue I would not have considered prior to reading this book is Mastery. By this, Donovan simply means the mastering of a particular skill that is useful to the gang of men. Perhaps this is fighting or fixing a radio. Depending on the circumstances the mastery of a particular skill is weighed based on the contribution to the gang, and a man’s perceived manliness (or honor) is awarded accordingly.
“Honor is a concern for one’s reputation for strength, courage, and mastery within the context of an honor group, comprised primarily of other men.” – Jack Donovan, The Way of Men
Without a doubt one of the best chapters in The Way of Men is Chapter 9 on Honor. I can’t do it justice with quotes and the subject is so broad that it is hard to boil down more than he has already done in the above quote. While there are a number of things in the book that I wouldn’t agree with, or perhaps, would add to, this chapter was really well done. Part of his thoughts on honor flow into men’s thoughts on effeminate men, of which he says the following:
“When men reject effeminate men, they are rejecting weakness, casting it out and cleansing themselves of its corrosive stigma.”
He continues to say that it isn’t effeminacy that is the issue, it is de-masculinity. It is a blatant rejection of concern with the four manly virtues, and particularly with honor.
A Society of Losers
Donovan moves into some of the issues we are seeing with men in our modern society which, at least from a main-stream point of view, embraces feminism and seeks to be gender-neutral. He has some strong words about porn and the pathetic men that are part of what he calls “The Noble Masturbation Society” — which is just hilarious! He goes on to talk about our constant attempts to get back to that way of men and the gang, through video games, sports, climbing the corporate ladder, etc. but how we also find it completely unfulfilling.
Here is a particular quote which I think is great. Years ago I would have associated this with the poor and generational recipients of welfare, but now I believe it applies to the middle-class as well:
“If you want to create a society of listless anti-social losers, convince the majority of your men that they are already losing and no matter what they do they will never be able to win. What is the point trying if you know the game is rigged? For the satisfaction of knowing you are contributing to the greater good? That is just the kind of stupid thing an intellectual would say.”
Things I Take Issue With
Thus far my review has been praise oriented, however, in nearly every chapter I found my self saying “Well, yes but…” and “Well, that is only partly correct…” In truth, there is a lot in the book I would disagree with and probably more that I would add to.
The Evolution and Animal Comparison
Donovan often references evolution and how man evolved to be the way we are through years of teaming up for survival and sparring with rival gangs. Add on to this the constant comparisons with chimpanzees and you have a very morally void idea of manliness. Donovan mentions that when he thinks of a “good man” he thinks of the man with essentially Christian virtues as well as strength, courage, mastery, and honor. However, he never hints that this should be the direction we should ultimately strive towards.
Masculinity Cannot be Separated from Violence
“It is through violence that we ultimately compete for status and wield power over other men.” – Jack Donovan, The Way of Men
I take issue with this. This hails back to his view of men as a group of animals, devoted to various ethics, but ultimately, just smarter chimps. I am fairly certain Donovan isn’t a Christian, actually I think he says as much in the book, but here again is the rub. Christ wielded power over his group of men and over millions of men, not through violence or even competition for status, but through love. In fact, there have been hundreds of well-known men, and certainly innumerable more unknown, throughout history who have led their gangs and influenced other men by their care, their Christ-like compassion, their example of self-sacrifice, their voice, and their words.
For what The Way of Men is, it is very good. There are a number of thought-provoking and true statements in the book. For me, someone who is grounded in Christian morals and has read a number of Christian books on manliness, Donovan’s book was a fresh take on what it means to be a man. At the same time, it really isn’t a fresh take at all, it’s just different from what I normally read. The Way of Men peels through so many layers of what a man really is — what a man is meant to be, the High Calling of men — that we are left with a very raw and sad view of humanity and masculinity. For Donovan, the only true way forward is to go back. When the world goes to hell, then men will be able to live as men and be respected as men.
I think this book will appeal to men who have more of an amoral view of the world yet still ascribe to certain natural truths which enable them to keep their machismo attitude. However, the world is not amoral and the world still needs men. The world needs men who love well and fight well. The world needs men who take tempering their own pride as seriously as they do tempering their sword. Mercy which restrains the sword, for example, is a virtue alongside justice. A man who only administers justice is nothing more than an executioner. A man who issues mercy and justice, is a king.
Did you read it?
If you read the book I would love to get your feedback! Respond in the comments below.