Former Education Secretary William J. Bennett, author of the famously bestselling The Book of Virtues, who gets up early as a morning-radio-show host, has a new book, The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood.
It’s another collection of the classics — of prayers and words we may take for granted, or which may be new to some of the younger among us. This anthology will give anyone a whole new appreciation for even the most familiar poems and prayers.
Secretary Bennett takes questions from National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez on men, women, and what can be done in our culture and in our lives to put men back on the path to manhood.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “The purpose of this book is to explore and explain what it means to be a man.” How can you pretend to do such a thing? It’s not like there is a mathematical formula. And we wouldn’t want one template, would we? Isn’t variety the spice of life?
WILLIAM J. BENNETT: Variety within a notion of human fulfillment and excellence. Aristotle says that we aim for the good, and that is our goal. Men can be very different, but we want them all to be excellent as men. I do believe that there are certain things that make men worthy.
LOPEZ: Is there something wrong with men today? Who’s to blame?
BENNETT: Yes, there is plenty wrong. We said “You go girl” 35 years ago, and the girls went. That’s fine, but men, particularly men in the working class and lower class, have fallen way behind in education, achievement, ambition, and — sadly — aspiration. We need to recover the proper sense of manhood and get men back on track. There is lots of blame to go around, but most of it doesn’t have to do with blaming anybody. The economy has changed, the nature of work has changed, and most importantly our notion of marriage and family has changed. People who have trashed marriage and the tradition do have something to answer for.
LOPEZ: You write that work, marriage, and religion are in decline. Who did that?
BENNETT: Modernity, secularism, Freud, Marx, and a lot of the intellectuals.
LOPEZ: “There was once a common understanding in our society among men that there are standards of action and behavior to which men should hold themselves,” you write. “Men, the code dictates, among other things, keep their word, whether in writing or not, men do not take advantage of women, men support their children, and men watch their language, especially around women and children. The code is fading.” What makes men so special that they were to keep to these things in the first place?
BENNETT: Because they were taught to. The universe in which men were raised was formerly a moral universe. Now, as many surveys have shown, many people in their twenties don’t know what things like “moral” and “immoral” mean. We have devalued and neglected the moral currency. As a result, there are fewer moral expectations of men, and they behave worse.
LOPEZ: Why would they watch their language if women don’t watch theirs? Aren’t women part of the trouble?
BENNETT: The devaluing has been general. It’s interesting that a lot of research shows that when you put men and women together in bars, colleges, or social settings, the women tend to behave down to the level of the men.
LOPEZ: Will there be a Book of Women?
BENNETT: No, maybe somebody should write it, but it won’t be me. I think I grasp and understand men. Women are a whole other question.
LOPEZ: “Men, some obsessed with sex, treat women as toys to be discarded when things get complicated.” Does the easy accessibility of pornography make this all the worse?
BENNETT: It’s part of the general lowering and devaluing and defining down of norms and expectations.