WASHINGTON ― Sen. Josh Hawley wants American men to stand up for themselves in the face of an all-out effort by “the left” to crush the very idea of masculinity.
The assault on manhood has resulted in more and more men “withdrawing into the enclave of idleness and pornography and video games,” the Missouri Republican said in a Halloween address to the National Conservatism Conference.
The speech was classic Hawley, fusing intellectual history with modern Republican culture wars, putting a fancy veneer on right-wing identity politics, and doing it all with provocative flair and a feigned obliviousness.
The decline of “manly virtues” like courage, independence and assertiveness has accompanied a rise in gaming and masturbation, according to Hawley, but more importantly, the decline of the republic.
“It’s hard to argue that our democracy is in better shape now than it was 30 or 40 years ago. It’s hard to believe that our liberty is now more secure,” Hawley said in his remarks.
This is the same senator who played a starring role in the Jan. 6 attempt to throw out the 2020 election, raising his fist to a crowd shortly before it stormed up the center steps of the U.S. Capitol’s east front. He has maintained since that day that he did nothing wrong and that he himself is the victim of woke mobs trying to cancel him, and his lamentation of male idleness seems like an extension of that effort.
Hawley didn’t just tell young men to get jobs, as a typical Republican senator might. He called on them to join his struggle against wealthy woke elitists. Exhortations on the necessity of civic virtue are basic Founding Fathers stuff, but in the context of American politics right now, in the wake of the attack on the Capitol, there is another connotation. Calling for men to stop playing with themselves and “fight” for the republic, discipline their passions and take responsibility for their lives kind of sounds like a Proud Boys credo.
When Gavin McInnes, the group’s founder, announced the name “Proud Boys” in 2016, he presented abstention from masturbation as an important part of the group’s ideals, right alongside some other manly virtues. (The radio show “This American Life” memorialized McInnes’ statement of the group’s beliefs in a 2017 episode.)
“We are called ― you ready for this? The Proud Boys,” McInnes declared, adding that the group’s members were unashamedly men, with no guilty feelings about being white or straight.
“We’re pro-gun. We want to end the drug war,” he continued. “We’re libertarians, except when it comes to immigration. We are pro-dude. We think most women would be happier at home. We don’t beat off. Well, we beat off once every 30 days. We watch porn once every 30 days. We are traditionalists. We’re sort of like the alt-right without the racism.”
The Proud Boys use the no-masturbation pledge (which they call “no wanks”) in the service of political violence, which stands as one of their foundational pillars. To reach the Fourth Degree and final rank of the Proud Boys, one must not only adhere to the no-wanks policy, but win “a major fight for the cause” or get arrested, McInnes has said.
Of course, Republicans have never been fans of pornography, declaring it a “public health threat” in their 2016 party platform. But it hasn’t been a major topic of discussion lately.
Hawley told HuffPost he doesn’t know anything about the ideology of the Proud Boys, even though they were key instigators of the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“That’s a group that sounds pretty crazy to me,” Hawley said. “I would say that I’m happy to be in the company of people like Benjamin Rush or John Adams ― our founders who have said the same thing ― or for that matter Cicero, Seneca. I’m happy to keep that company. They’ve said that for republics to exist we’ve got to have citizens who are willing to take responsibility.”
As for the connection between pornography and idleness, Hawley hasn’t cited any data, but there is some.
A 2017 paper by scholars at Princeton, the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago found that “younger men distinctly shifted their leisure to video gaming and other recreational computer activities,” with men in their 20s working 12% fewer hours annually by 2015 than they had in 2000.
“Younger men increased their recreational computer use and video gaming by nearly 50 percent over this short period,” Mark Aguiar, Mark Bils, Kerwin Kofi Charles and Erik Hurst wrote in their paper. “Non-employed young men now average 520 hours a year in recreational computer time, sixty percent of that spent playing video games.”
Better game technology essentially increased young mens’ “reservation wage” ― the lowest wage at which a worker is willing to accept a given job. In short, games made it easier for young men to sit out a crappy economy. And they were happier than older men, though not necessarily for long.
“There is some evidence that these young, lower-skilled men who are happy in their 20s become much less happy in their 30s and 40s,” the University of Chicago’s Hurst, a co-author of the paper, said in a 2016 speech.
Hawley is the second-youngest member of the Senate, at 41, and what makes him happy is jumping headfirst into whatever story is happening at the moment. When Hong Kong’s street protests captured the world’s attention, he traveled there to show solidarity with the protesters. When Black Lives Matter protests erupted amid coronavirus lockdowns, Hawley said Christians were being persecuted because they couldn’t go to church. When Donald Trump called the election rigged, Hawley was the first senator who said he would object to the results on Jan. 6.
After Glenn Youngkin beat Terry McAuliffe in the Virginia governor’s race, in which parental frustration with schools was a major focus, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he’d soon introduce a “Parents’ Bill of Rights.” One day later: the Hawley version.
In other words, Hawley pays close attention to what’s in the news. He might know more about the Proud Boys’ ideology than he lets on ― after all, Trump infamously told the group to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate last year. Still, he seemed genuinely unaware of the internet community that celebrates refraining from masturbation specifically during the month of November, even though several people tweeted at him about No Nut November after his speech made news on the first of the month.
“I don’t read anything on Twitter,” he said.
Andy Campbell contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: An earlier version called Hawley the youngest member of the Senate. He’s the second-youngest after Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.).