In Defense of Nostalgia

by Brett & Kate McKay on January 24, 2010 · 111 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

One criticism that is occasionally leveled at this site is that we are “overly nostalgic.” The critic will say that we are promoting the false idea that everything was better in the past.

Now you won’t find anywhere on the entire site where we argue that everything was better in the “good old days.” Anyone who’s not a fan of the plague, slavery, or World Wars understands the fallacy of such an argument. What we do argue is that the last few generations, eager to break away from what was wrong with the past, ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The mission of the Art of Manliness then is to let that which was wrong with the past remain in the past, while recovering the positive things that could benefit today’s men.

Still, there will be those that say even this sort of nostalgia is misplaced. They argue that every generation looks back on the past as a golden age, and that every era was really just as good and just as bad as every other, and if anything, we live in the best period in all history. Nostalgia seems to be taking a beating lately, so I’d like to mount a defense for it. I will argue that some ages were better than others, and that not only is nostalgia not misplaced, but that a healthy dose of it, even if you already think the world is a grand place, is the key to making things even better.

What Is Nostalgia?

When putting forth a thesis, it’s best to first define your terms. While I’m not a fan of citing Wikipedia as a source, it can be a good place to look for succinct definitions. Here’s the entry for nostalgia:

“The term nostalgia describes a longing for the past, often in idealized form. The word is a learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος, nóstos, “returning home,” a Homeric word, and ἄλγος, álgos, “pain” or “ache.”

So let’s say that nostalgia is an aching for the past, a longing to return “home,” to a place or time where we feel things were better. So now let’s proceed.

Nostalgia as the Catalyst for Progress: The Example of the Renaissance

Some would argue that looking back and idealizing the past is unproductive, but history has shown that the opposite is true. This can be clearly seen in the origins of the Renaissance period. We have to get through some history to understand how this is so, so bear with me; I promise I have a point.

The Crises of the 14th Century

At the dawn of the 15th century, Europe was in a foul mood. The 1300s had been a tumultuous and ghastly period.

The English invaded France in 1337, setting off the Hundred Years War. But it was only one of the long, protracted wars of the 14th century, each leaving corpses strewn across bloody battlefields.

In addition to the sword, people were being mowed down by disease. The Black Death wiped out a mind-boggling 1/3 to 1/2 of the population. The plague was not only disastrous to people’s health but also decimated the economy, leading to a depression that would last nearly a century (and you thought the current recession was bad!).

The final blow to the people of the 14th century was a schism that developed in the Catholic Church. Between 1378 and 1417 there were 2, and for a time 3 different popes, each claiming to be the legitimate head of the Church. The popes excommunicated all the people under the opposing pope’s control, thus cutting them off from salvation.

There is much to be said about each of these three crises, but suffice it to say that at the end of the 14th century, the people of Europe (if they weren’t dead) were bitterly disillusioned and greatly pessimistic about the future. People’s faith in government, in the church, and in their fellow man was badly shaken. Apocalyptic thinking reigned and many believed they were living in the last days.

At this point Europeans could have given in to the hopelessness, resigning themselves to the idea that the world was going to hell in a hand-basket.

But instead, they decided to proactively and courageously meet the challenges of this crisis of confidence; they sought a revival, a rebirth and renewal of society. They idealistically believed that they could build a new world.

There have been moments like this at other times in history, most recently the 1960′s where idealistic hippies believed they could form a new world where peace and love ruled the day. That project was largely unsuccessful and in many ways led to the cultural excess and stagnation we are currently experiencing. But the result of the European project was one of the greatest cultural flourishings in world history: the Renaissance period. The difference? While the movement of the 1960′s was built on the idea of starting with a clean slate, the Renaissance was founded on….yup, you guessed it, nostalgia.

Nostalgia and the Birth of the Renaissance

The intellectuals of the 15th century came to see the Middle Ages as universally a time of disaster, decay, and corruption. This was not actually true; despite what you heard in your history class, the Dark Ages were not a complete wash. Yet they knew that many aspects of their society had declined and regressed and that their culture had stagnated.

These intellectuals began to look back on Ancient Greece and Rome as the golden age of world history, a great period of culture, joy, and learning. Those were the “good old days!” they said. With this new historical vision, they began to work out a plan to revive their society, using the golden age of antiquity as their template and inspiration.

Italian scholars began to rediscover and pore over texts from ancient Greek and Roman authors. As they studied the ancient sophists, they digested the Greek idea that truth was relative when it came to rhetoric, that if someone is convinced by an argument , then it is true for that person. As they thought through the idea that there could be different truths for different people, they began to apply it to the subject of history and discarded the idea that all history could fit under one overarching plot and could be measured by the same rubric. They concluded instead that every era was unique and different, each with its own characteristics and circumstances.

This led them to understand that bringing back the classical period wholesale would be impossible,  that you couldn’t simply replicate an entire age. While they still saw antiquity as a golden age, these new humanists realized that the ancient era would not match up exactly with theirs and instead decided to resurrect antiquity in a modified version, taking what was best about the Greek and Roman societies and adapting them to their age and circumstances.

The humanists’ vision of this remade world was to be something both ancient and modern. They looked back to the past while moving forward into the future. It was both historical and progressive, and this brilliant combination led to a profound cultural flowering in art, architecture, music, and writing, the cultural outpouring that many still consider second to none in world history. The “Dark Ages” were left behind and a new world was born.

Applying the Lessons of the Renaissance to Our Modern Age

So anyone see where I’m going with this? By romanticizing a period as a “golden age” and yet being flexible enough to understand that not everything from the past should be brought back, the Renaissance was born.

These days we’re in need of a Menaissance. And we can bring one about with a healthy dose of nostalgia-idealizing a golden age while modifying it to fit the modern age.

Like the late 14th century, we’ve woken up from a bad period, and many are feeling pretty depressed about the state of things. Now I know some people think the world is in total decline and some think we’re getting better and better-but bright minds can disagree on this issue, and I’m not particularly interested in that debate.

What I don’t think can be argued against is that cultures do rise and fall-you either believe that cultures rise and fall while the world as a whole gets better, or as the world as a whole gets worse. And no matter whether you think we’re currently going uphill or downhill, I believe that the ability to look back in history and take lessons from the cultural peaks of the past is essential to the continued progress and health of our society. While our problems might be small compared to the plague, our age does struggle with serious issues and our confidence is pretty dang shaky these days.

We’ve been in this kind of place many times in history, and we can either sink into cynicism and despair, or we can courageously rise to the challenges of our age by looking to the past and resurrecting what was best about it.

Moving Forward by Looking Back to Another Golden Age

While it’s true that every generation romanticizes the past, it’s not true that every age is equally romanticized. Who gets very nostalgic for the 70s and 80s (the pang you feel in your heart when you hear Journey notwithstanding)? When’s the last time you heard someone wax poetic for the 1910s or 1890s? And surely no one in the future will look back on the “oughts” with longing in their heart.

And there’s a reason for this! While some things, maybe most things, get better with the progression of time, some things, even if only a few things, get worse and become utterly lost. And the period we get nostalgic for typically represents that which we feel is missing in our current culture. It’s not as if we wish to return wholesale to that period, but that we wish to bring back those characteristics which were most salient about that time and which seem absent in ours. The intellectuals of the 15th century longed for the intellectualism, the philosophical reasoning, the political participation, the elevation of the human form and the rhetoric of classical antiquity, the things which had largely gone missing during the Middle Ages.

These days we “ache” for our last “golden age,” the 1940s and 50s. Postwar prosperity created a tide that lifted nearly every boat, a man could make a middle-class living with a blue collar job, corporations looked out for their employees (back then the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker was 24:1, it is now 275:1!), and people still believed in the importance of dressing well, having manners, and respecting others. It was a classy time. And it was a stylish time. On TV, Father Knew Best and on the silver screen Cary Grant was suave manliness incarnate. Look at any old photo from the time, and the men look back with confidence and purpose.

It was not necessarily a more moral time-there was still crime, babies born out of wedlock, and adultery galore. But there was an enormous difference in the celebration of ideals, in the idea that being good and doing good was, if not totally attainable, still a worthy pursuit. This is in contrast to our age, the Age of Irony and Cynicism, the motto of which may be, “Why bother?” The corrosive effect that cynicism has had on our culture and on men is so important that we’ll be devoting a whole post to it in the future, but for now all I can say is thank you Conan, for saying cynicism is your least favorite quality. It’s mine too (even though I struggle with it myself).

Now again, the idea is not that 40s and 50′s were perfect; they weren’t. No the idea is to take inspiration from the period in order to create a revival of modern society. The idea is to admit that it doesn’t make sense to be relativistic about everything, to be willing to admit that some things, even if only a few things, really were better in the past.

Three years ago, Tulsa unearthed a 1957 Belvedere that had been buried as a time capsule 5 decades before. The unearthing of the car was news around the world and people were fairly giddy with excitement to see this beautiful automobile reemerge from the ground (unfortunately, water had gotten into the vault and rusted it out). Tulsa buried another car that year, this one to be unearthed in another five decades. What car? A Dodge Prowler. A Dodge Prowler! Who will give a crap in 2057, will have an aching, a longing to see the Prowler lifted from the ground? Very few. Why? Because the cars of the 1950s were beauties and we haven’t produced anything since then that inspires the love and devotion that those long lines and beautiful styling did.

All of which is to say again, that some things in the past really were better. And if we want to move forward, what we should do is embrace and resurrect those things. Not necessarily to bring back cars with fins, of course. But things with quality. Things that were made to last and that you wanted to take care of.

This sturdy, lasting quality was not simply present in products. It was an a by-product of a culture that meant something, a culture with rules. I think Matt Higgins explains this best in his article, “The Comeback of Construction“:

“Mad Men” never forgets to show us that this culture was socially and behaviorally homogenized, racist, sexist, and severely limited opportunity for many. But it was something. A shared something hanging over everything, inflecting life by its mere presence, inescapably shaping you by your relationship to it. It was constructed and agreed upon and provided a stable narrative and worldview based on shared mythologies, dreams, and values.

And in the midst of our aggressively egalitarian politically correct efforts to erase society as our grandparents knew it, people are finding that they miss something about the good old days. The sophistication of a man in a suit and top hat, the elegance of a lady in an evening gown, the chivalry of a traditional date. The cultural codes that shaped our world for so long have been replaced by a one-size fits all code of jeans and whatever-you-want. A deconstructed, post-modern, supply-your-own meaning culture.

And it works. To an extent. Because it offers people ample freedom to do their own thing. But people are finding that they miss some of the benefits of construction. We are living in an age of overwhelming and disorienting freedom. Freedom is a great thing, but like music without measures there comes a point when the absence of structure leads to the dissolution of meaning. Music becomes noise.

And as a society we’re getting tired of the noise. Young people shaping culture today are making important efforts to bring back rhythm and meter from the void. Costumes, customs, ways of standing and moving and speaking, a return of construction is in progress all around us.”

Conclusion

An unhealthy nostalgia thinks everything was better in the past, and impedes cultural progress with constant hand wringing about the modern age. Healthy nostalgia is grateful for the modern advances that have made life better, but misses some things from the past and works to bring them back.

For the last few decades, every generation has wanted to reinvent the wheel, wiping the slate clean to make society new from scratch. But just as dangerous as hyper-nostalgia is hyper-presentism. This postmodern world sees only the current moment with no sense of history and of what came before. We’ve thrown out all the old rules but failed to make any new ones.

Scrapping the project every decade in favor of building on the latest societal fads and winds of change only results in a ramshackle shell of a culture, one which shivers in the wind until the next generation knocks it down and gets to work on its own shaky edifice.

Ideally, what should happen is that each generation should take what was best from the generation before it and add it as a brick in the foundation of the culture, discarding the dross and ever stacking together the lessons we’ve learned, the things that have really worked best. This way the culture becomes stronger and stronger over time.

So I say that I unapologetically get nostalgic for the postwar period and that I believe it can be a source of inspiration for us today. And I humbly submit that when you’re seeking a revival, a renewal, a real renaissance, looking back is the best way to move forward.

{ 110 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Patrick January 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Fantastic article. really well rounded. Love Art of manliness… but i gave my book away… wish i hadn’t it was soo good. Where’s the best place to buy one?

2 Jay January 24, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Will read it completely tomorrow, but in general: “Our future lies in the past” – cultural/social reformism for reformism’s sake only leads to alienation – let’s stop all the hobbyists and experiments: don’t fix it if it isn’t broken…

3 Matt P January 24, 2010 at 9:24 pm

great… I love this site.

4 Jared Wise January 24, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Excellent article. It’s a fine line to walk between being overly nostalgic like Glen Beck who thinks everything about the past was better and failing to recognize the value of taking lessons from the past. I definitely think the world has gotten better. No way I want to go back to the days when we had to kick Nazi ass, but there some areas I think we could take some cues from the past. I guess that appreciation for quality you talked about. I feel like today we just accept crap. Crap mass produced food, crap mass produced clothing that lasts a year, and crap massed produced products that have to be replaced every year or so. Crap values, too. We’ve gotten so cynical and jaded that we laugh when people talk about honor, duty, and courage.

That’s one thing I enjoy about TAOM. You guys take what’s the best from the past and show men the lessons they can learn from it. Keep it up!

5 Tom Phillips January 24, 2010 at 10:52 pm

A lot of what ties us to the past is family and friends and the good times we had with them. I also believe a lot of it has to do with wanting to live a life like our parents or grandparents did. Who would not want to be able to leave work and eat dinner(lunch) at home? Or, have one job in their career? Not have to worry about too much crime? Know, not just the neighbors to the right and left, but the entire street?

6 Karl-Erik Bennion January 24, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Very good article. I wish I could wear a fedora out and about without getting strange looks from people.

7 Kevin Shinn January 24, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Have you been reading my journal? Your thoughts are deja vu. Outstanding insight. Thanks.

8 Luke January 24, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Brett, Kate, beautifully written! Praise upon both of you and this post. Something to make the heart swell and the soul to long for that Garden of old. A sort of longing for home, if you will. Blessings brothers and sisters.

9 Jason January 24, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Amen to that!

10 Matt Daugherty January 24, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Thank you, sir. My mother actually introduced me to AoM by giving me the book for Christmas this year, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it, but I’ve been a little skeptical as well. I believe in a healthy distrust of nostalgia, in that it’s often used as a rhetorical tool for those who would enact or support oppressive, regressive policies.

But this was a well-reasoned, well-researched, and well-articulated explanation that is balanced in its approach. I have signed up for the RSS feed and enjoyed every article that’s come through so far. I have much respect for your education and eloquence, Mr. and Mrs. McKay. Thanks for creating such a cool corner of the web.

11 Nick January 25, 2010 at 12:01 am

I think the nostalgic aspect of this site (from the photographs and the drawings to the lingo) adds a certain charm that is second to none. Then again, I could just be defending my favorite era of the 20s-40s ;) The style and atmosphere really fits the content! Don’t change a thing, please!

12 Steve January 25, 2010 at 12:38 am

This is THE preeminent article of the site so far Mr. and Mrs. McKay. I honnestly believe that this should be one of the links included on your “Start Here” page, as it perfectly sums up the entire purpose of AoM. Thanks for writing such a beautiful and elloquent essay on the need to look to the past to make the future a better place. My fedora off to you both!

13 Dene January 25, 2010 at 12:49 am

The alternative to citing Wikipedia directly is to look at the references at the bottom of the page then work from there. That way, you can better judge the source of information of validity.

14 Thorsten January 25, 2010 at 1:09 am

Hear, hear! A very good article describing the merits of considered nostalgia. Thank you.

15 Ron January 25, 2010 at 1:20 am

Bravo.

16 Rawb January 25, 2010 at 1:37 am

I agree with Steve; you may want to link this as a “start here” feature on the blog, as it basically present the entire rational for every other article. This is very well written and reasoned (your law school training is showing through Brett!) and stands out all the more for the current debates I’ve been reading in the Community Forum. I think you’ve responded very well to the arguments that were presented there.

A small note of contention, there is only ever one pope, though I admit it doesn’t really matter for the sake of this article and most nonCatholics don’t know what an anti-pope is anyway (and excommunication in our Church doesn’t exclude you from salvation). Brilliant to bring in the Renaissance at any rate. I’d never made the connection, but there is a very strong similarity.

17 Michael Daniels January 25, 2010 at 1:37 am

Well said, I am getting sick of all the cynicism, political correctness to the extreme and double standards. You just can not throw everything new out to replace it with the old and expect it to end up different, there has to be balance. So I heartily agree with what you are saying. Well said.

18 Harry January 25, 2010 at 1:38 am

From your lips (fingers?), to God’s ears. As an engineer, I realize new technology has its place, but in many cases we have made “progress” for progress’s sake, and in many cases the biggest “improvement” was to the profit statement of the manufacturer. People think I’m odd sometimes when I write a dead-tree handwritten note, or when they see I carry a fountain pen. It has taken a little getting used to, but now I love the way my pen writes and it forces me to take the time to sit properly, set the paper on a good surface, and be deliberate about it. It beats the ugly chicken scratch with a bic stick that nobody can read that most people my age put out.

Sometimes I’ll shave with one of those two-blade razors because of the pivoting head and the faster shave it gives, but if I have the time I make it a point to use the safety razor. It’s much cheaper and less wasteful of resources, and it gives a closer shave. The 3+ blade cartridges are just a complete waste that only serves to make more money for P&G.

Is there a way to link profiles in the Community you have set up to these comments, if for nothing else so we don’t all have the same user icon?

19 Brett McKay January 25, 2010 at 1:44 am

@Rawb-

Thanks for the added info on the popes-I figured Catholics would clarify things and I appreciate that.

@Harry-

To change your user icon, go to: http://en.gravatar.com/

Thanks for the kind words, folks.

20 Michael January 25, 2010 at 1:49 am

Sigh. This site’s been drifting toward whitewashing of the 40s and 50s for a while, especially the overt sexism which broke women and denied men access to their emotional lives. I suppose it was only a matter of time until this got so overt that the entire point of “Mad Men” — just how genuinely awful the racism, sexism, and classism of the time really was — was challenged.

Please stop confusing modern corporate consumerism with feminism and the Civil Rights Movement. They really did come about from very different people. It’s kind of ridiculous to blame the fact that most of our manufacturing when to China on . . . dating customs.

21 Mark January 25, 2010 at 1:52 am

Thoughtful article. I would have gone all the way back to our founding fathers for further inspiration. Sure, a tri-corned hat isn’t really in style, but the sense of integrity and pride in the society those men were creating appears all but lost on us today. In the same way those influential figures of Renaissance didn’t just look back a few decades, but hundreds of years, it might benefit us to do the same.

Really enjoying your website. Thanks

22 Brett McKay January 25, 2010 at 1:54 am

@Michael-

I admit that this is a bit of nuanced argument and unfortunately you have not understood it at all. I’m not challenging the awfulness of racism, sexism, and classism in the least. They were all awful and belong in the past. And I’m not linking outsourcing to dating customs-I’m not sure how you made that leap. All I am saying is that just because there are bad things in the past doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the good things.

23 Erick January 25, 2010 at 4:10 am

@Michael and Brett,
Um, first thing is first. That idiotic show “Mad Men” does not have one grain of truth to the actual culture and societal inner workings. Its T.V., its made to shock and entertain, not educate. Secondly, the biggest issue with people who claim to be “progressive” is that its a lie. We have not moved past racism, sexism, classism and we never ever will. People are tribal creatures by nature, and will always 100% find someone to exclude, or have a group/mindset/skin color/political/religious affiliation that they will favor over others. Sorry if this offends but this is how it is, and how it will always be. I have yet to meet a single human being who did not have some group of other people they would have nothing to do with. But at least in my grandparents day, they were honest about it. As far as movements go, Feminism is worthless to men, it has nothing to do with us. The civil rights movement wasnt about finally setting slaves free, or finally seeing blacks as equals, it was about giving the Black community the right to do for its own as whites had been doing for theirs since the beginning.

24 Richard | RichardShelmerdine.com January 25, 2010 at 4:15 am

A very interesting topic and post. I think to be honest we cannot hold onto the past too much but we can brings its ideals back into the present. That’s the basic argument isn’t it?

25 Playstead January 25, 2010 at 4:50 am

Man, some big opinions on this one. Brett is 100% right, it’s important to remember the good things of the past. There are good and bad things to any era, and it’s important to remember both. I love this site because it reinforces the fact that no matter how the world changes, there are some things that are in our DNA as men and will not change. That’s worth remembering.

Great line:
“The mission of the Art of Manliness then is to let that which was wrong with the past remain in the past, while recovering the positive things that could benefit today’s men.”

26 Shane January 25, 2010 at 5:36 am

Not bad.

I would add that there’s a reason we’ve been tossing out the past in recent generations. The present created by the Boomers is shit.

27 Shane January 25, 2010 at 5:56 am

@ Mark 21

The Founding Fathers lived at the tailing end of the Renaissance, and it has been argued that our republic could not have been created at any other time in history. The convergence of the Age of Enlightenment, gentlemen of leisure educated classically and a new country separated by such time and distance from it’s overlords set a powerful stage to engage in a great experiment.

Half a century before or after and this country could not have been founded the way it has.

28 Bill January 25, 2010 at 6:00 am

Wow, well done Brett and Kate, well done indeed. I wholeheartedly agree with Steve and Rawb about the “Start Here” page. I can also relate to Karl about the Fedora. I actually tried that when I was about 16 or so and people acted as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. I’ve been thinking recently however that I owe it to myself to give such practices another shot, (which of course also means manning up my woredrobe a bit; I mean how funny would a true fedora or Homburg look with jeans and a t-shirt?), and this article simply confirms that.

I also think that some that might object with the line of reasoning in this article haven’t the foggiest idea about bygone eras, to say nothing of the article itself. It most certainly is possible to bring back style and taste without racism, or simple manners without sexism, etc. Leave the bad, keep the good; simple as that. Thank you guys for this great article.

29 Tyler Logan January 25, 2010 at 7:28 am

Very well written. I’d definitely agree the best way is to integrate the best of the past into the future – the man way.

30 Ender W January 25, 2010 at 7:45 am

As well reasoned and thought out as this article is, I must disagree with several main points. First of all, I know of no car from the 50s that can compete aesthetically with a modern porsche, lambourghini or Ferrari, OR a mid 80s Corvette, at least for my personal taste. :P

Secondly, I -am- nostalgic for the 80s. As the time just before I was born, the period then up to the early 90s is a constant source of fascination for me, a period of raw disillusionment, when humanity at both its worst and best could be seen. The problem with idealizing the 40s and 50s is that in my mind it was a period of self denial, of a failure to really take in the atrocities that humanity was capable of, atrocities that should have been all too obvious after the revelation of what went on in Nazi Germany. But no, the generation sidelined such horrible deeds in favor of whitewashing humanity, everyone patting each other on the back for not being as bad as those nazis. The current generation is little better, ‘protecting’ the populace through whitewashing, censorship, and the gradual decay of children’s literature into sappy feel good tripe. (I could write a whole essay on that itself, but for the purpose of brevity I’ll skip to my main point)

The problem with a constructionist view like the one that you seem to advocate is that it necessarily requires a decrease in freedom of expression and action. In the 40s and 50s men seemed to have more manly traits than they do today, as you so often remind us. But why was that so? In a society where everyone is expected to be manly, manliness becomes the norm. Now, on the surface I think that no bad thing. But I think it should be a choice, not something foisted upon a person by the dictates of their culture. Give people the freedom to be immoral, cowards, liars, and thieves, should they choose, and you begin to see people for who they really are, no veil of societal approval or disapproval covering it. If a man helps his neighbour, it is not because his society expects him to help his neighbour, it is because he honestly wants to help his neighbour. If a man shows courage in the face of danger, helps an old lady across the street, it is because he is honestly courageous, honestly chivalrous, not because society has said that if you do not do so you will be looked down upon. I honestly do not have that high an opinion of humanity, and I would rather people be what they seem, that the raw good and evil facets of humanity not be disguised under a seemingly “moral” society, but be allowed to parade themselves for what they are.

Now, don’t get me wrong, for the most part I completely agree with the ideals of TAoM, and strive to be as manly as possible in my personal life. Should I have sons I will teach them courage, integrity, resilience, and honor as best I can. But that should be my choice, not foisted upon me by society.

31 Craig January 25, 2010 at 7:55 am

“What we do argue is that the last few generations, eager to break away from what was wrong with the past, ended up throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

YES! I could not agree more! Great article.

32 Inkster January 25, 2010 at 8:29 am

One thing I notice is that each successive generation seems to be lazier than the last. This bothers me more than anything. Take art for instance. We have gone from the foxtrot to dry humping in a night club. Why? You don’t have to learn any steps. We’ve gone from a lifelong dedication to mastery and understanding of every piece in an entire orchestra to a point where any idiot that can read tabs suddenly is in a “band”. Once painting took hours and hours of dedication and practice day in and day out to master the specific technique to create the effect you want, to our modern notion of painting where you splash paint haphazardly onto canvas and it’s “art”. I understand that there is still creativity involved, but I still cannot appreciate it because that creativity comes with no skill. The article you linked to from Houndstooth Kid got me to thinking. Do we wear jeans because we like the way they look? Because they’re comfortable? I dare say, that the reason we wear jeans is because they allow us to be lazy. Very little maintenance is involved. You don’t have to iron them or keep lint off of them. Shaving with a straight razor may take a lot of work and really doesn’t make much sense… unless you aspire to something more than just the easy way out.

*climbs down from soapbox*

33 Gregory D. January 25, 2010 at 8:39 am

I whole-heartedly agree with this article. Hurray for AOM!

34 Bruce Williamson January 25, 2010 at 8:55 am

The conclusion sums it up nicely. I remember a conversation that I had with one of the fellows on my dart team. He said that he wanted an old Mustang. I asked “Why? The new Mustang is faster, gets better gas mileage, uses lower octane fuel, handles better and stops quicker.” So, the past is really god at making you appreciate the advances made since then.

35 Adam Sell January 25, 2010 at 9:25 am

@Inkster

I understand that you are saying that modern conveniences lead to lazyness and that we should go back to the good ol’ days. But weren’t those things “modern conveniences” back then? Couldn’t someone from that time get on their soap box and complain about, “how easy these kids got it with their, (insert whatever)?”

That’s why I argue instead of looking at everything people had and used in our past, let’s look at the values they had and apply them today. I have no problem with taking away valuable lessons in philosophy and work ethic from my grandfather, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go and where the same pair of overalls that he made by hand. Just like Erasmus didn’t throw on a tunic when he went back to the Greek sources.

I don’t have a problem with people using things from the past simply because of aesthetic appeal or because they think it works better, but lets not put them on the same plane as morals. Using a fountain pen to write a paper doesn’t mean you have better morals then the guy who uses a bic.

36 Jason January 25, 2010 at 9:45 am

Great post! I love AOM!

I’m 26 years old and work as a Financial Analyst for a major computer company. I find that most of my peers have the “fully take advantage of casual Friday” mindset. Most twentysomethings I know act and dress very casually and remind me of my college days (which seem far in the past, but are actually only 5 years back). They party and drink with reckless abandon and have no plans for their future.

I’ve always been fond of the way I remember my grandpa carrying himself. Shaving with a safety razor, pumping gas for my grandma, opening her car door, carrying all the groceries, general chivalry. I always knew I wanted to emulate his ways and I’m grateful to have discovered The AOM.

Thanks for a great post and a great site. Keep up the good work.

Jason

37 Marshall January 25, 2010 at 9:58 am

Thank you, Kate and Brett for such a wonderful explanation of “Nostalgia” and for such a well-written article on the subject. I agree with @Steve that this is the preeminent AoM article and their perfect first-read for someone new to your site and ideas. I must disagree with @Ender that the purpose it to “idealize” the 40′s and 50′s as the real purpose is to examine and learn from our past, not idealize it. I live in Austin, TX and we are undergoing our own renaissance (in our downtown, especially) and we struggle daily with the marriage of ideals of the past with the needs of the future; but is this not exactly what this site is all about?

All I can say, at the age of 41, is a live and socialize in places where people call each other by their last names, hold doors open for one another, stand to greet a person when entering a room, remove their hat inside, etc, for a reason. I believe it is only in a polite, respectful society that we can then have honest debate about the important things in life such as cultural arts and global humanity.

38 Justin C January 25, 2010 at 10:34 am

Brett, I agree with your sentiments, but I’m not sure that this argument is a winning one.

Manliness is timeless. There’s no need to trade in our current “egalitarian conformity” for a narrowly and universally structured one. I believe that as soon as the word nostalgia is brought up, you have a self-defeating argument on your hands.

Culture always tips too far in one direction and will always need stabilizing forces to bring it back into focus. Let’s continue to focus on what is and isn’t working in today’s society. But, as soon as we take too-seriously the draping of values of manhood in the styles of another era, we alienate and insulate what is otherwise a powerful and meaningful message.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the olde-timey branding of the “Art of Manliness” webpage. It’s a beautiful kitsch softening the edges of a powerful message and making it fun. The past can be a great dressing, but at soon as it feels like the purpose, we’ll be turning off potential converts to a great cause.

If you ask me, it’s better not to get involved in an argument about nostalgia. The next time you get criticism from someone detracting your website as nostalgic, here’s a better argument: “It’s not about nostalgia. It’s about manliness”.

An occasional post that finds manliness in today’s news wouldn’t hurt either. The past is safe and has already been cherry-picked for greatness. To cite examples of manliness today would be taking a chance. Now *that’s* something a man can respect.

39 Shmikey January 25, 2010 at 10:40 am

Great article. We have to realize that the one thing that we have in common with the past civilization that we aspire to is that we have leisure, and leisure allows for reflection. We live in a society that has the time for leisure, but refuses to reflect, and instead is merely allowing itself to be indulged and not think for itself. We may think that we have come upon a new territory in history that has never been touched, but we are at a similar crossroads to those former Golden Ages of the Greeks and Romans who fell into this same pattern. When they had achieved the heights of their Golden Ages, they sat back on their laurels and indulged themselves with the pleasures of their day. There were similar attempts to attain those glories and there were periods of revival, but we are doomed to repeat the same cycle, not out of a lack of desire on the part of individuals like us, but on the part of society who believe that the best things that our society has produced is the progress we have in pleasure, and that impulse is too strong for the majority of people to reject, and so we are doomed to repeat ourselves, because this is the human condition that refuses to change. I am not pessimistic for those who are willing to make this courageous step, but for society as a whole, we may have seen the best.

40 Thomas January 25, 2010 at 10:40 am

Over the years I have driven many cars to accommodate my needs; mini-vans (the most unmanly car), SUVs, and sedans, and all have been disposable. None can compare to my 1970 cutlass that I keep to restore and maintain on a Saturday morning. I take it for spins to the admiration of both young and old car enthusiasts.
I wear a fedora and a variety of hats depending on my mood or occasion and don’t really care what others think. I do take it off indoors and tip my hat to the ladies because I believe it to be gentlemanly.
I am not embarrassed to dress up, open a door for a lady and stand up when she enters the room. Women appreciate me.
In this age of single parent families where does a young man learn to be a gentleman? Becoming a man, a gentleman, is a learned behavior and this site fills an indispensable void with or without the nostalgia.

41 Rachel January 25, 2010 at 10:47 am

Phenomenal article! I just put a post up on my blog asking my readers to check it out. It sums up my views on nostalgia perfectly.

42 Robert January 25, 2010 at 11:13 am

Though I agree with a lot of what you said, I do want to mention that a lot of the beneficial nostalgia you profess is very intertwined with the hatefulness of those time periods. Just, please, be careful, you guys are great and I dont want to see this ruined.

43 T.B. January 25, 2010 at 11:27 am

1965: photograph of a family barbecue. My grandfather is in a short-sleeve shirt, a tie, and a hat; my father is in a polo shirt; I’m only 5, so you know. But last year I went to a Thanksgiving dinner, and the hosts’ children were wearing clothes I wouldn’t deem appropriate for the gym. We used to put on Sunday school clothes for big dinners like that. And polished shoes, not sneakers. The parents didn’t care if we were “comfortable” at all. I honestly think that the major change from the sixties is clothes; the folks at “Mad Men” would be shocked to see what we wear in the office nowadays.

But I think that the economy has a large effect on the traits of each decade, sadly.

44 Richard Williams January 25, 2010 at 11:53 am

Excellent post Brett! More on the “historical” angle:

http://oldvirginiablog.blogspot.com/2008/09/celebratory-history.html

Best,
RW

45 Ron D'Angelo January 25, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Brilliant.

46 Matt January 25, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Around my area the term used for this phenomenon is called “good old days syndrome”. In summary, it’s where everything was better way back when. I think the major fallacy in arguing against being nostalgic is to counter with “just because it’s new doesn’t mean it’s correct either”. Equal pay for equal work? Makes perfect sense. Not allowing men to have their “manly” space or activities or quirks just because of the wrongs in the past? Not so fast. I think too often what we do is attempt to make up for past wrongs instead of just trying to do things the right way. We seem to want to swing the pendulum the other way and adjust the scales instead of just asking what is balanced and correct. Part of what makes this site appealing is the fact it tries to point out that (newsflash) men are different than women. Sometimes I think we try to make the sexes identical and ignore those differences instead of appreciating and acknowledging them. I think our past is partly to blame in the way we DID treat the sexes as different. Sadly we seem to pushing to either make them the same or push the pendulum the other way to balance the final tally as if we’re keeping score.

47 Brucifer January 25, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I’m a professional Futurist by trade. I frankly ridicule those who wail and moan about the loss of a supposed “traditional” culture. All cultures are artificial human artifacts. They were evolved and mutated over time. At what point in the continuum did their supposed “traditional” culture become stuck in cement? The trick therefore in dealing with nostalgia on an organizational or on a personal level, is to separate what is worthwhile and viable to then bring into the future, and leave the rest behind. Not as easy a task as one might surmise, precisely because of nostalgia. That said, much of the currently supposed “progressive” movements in this country are, in actuality, conservative movements. That is to say that even say, the ecological movement, is focused upon preserving or else creating a “sustainable” (static) ecosystem. An ecosystem that is largely built of nostalgia for a supposed pristine and balanced mother-earth world.– itself a human mind construction.

48 Jaymz January 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm

A well considered lesson on a significant turning point in history. I think anyone with a clear mind can see that things have gotten both, better and worse, over the last couple of generations. Advances in technology have helped us along. However, we’ve lost a lot of values and context to our lives that give it meaning. Manliness was one of those, and we so desperately need it back.

Here! Here!

49 Hugo Stiglitz January 25, 2010 at 1:10 pm

@T.B. — I agree with you wholeheartedly. You use a great personal example of a 1965 photograph to contrast the difference between appearance today compared to the better days of yesteryear. And yes, I honestly do mean “better days,” although I realize that is certainly a matter of opinion. In any case, the photographs I like to use as a benchmark of the classier days of old are ones of baseball games and Las Vegas. You look at pictures of a Vegas Casino or a Cubs game from the 50s and you’ll see people dressed in suits regardless of social status. Heck, even bums back then dressed better than the average consumer grazing about Wal Mart on any given day.

50 Finnian January 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

You have captured wonderfully what so many that shun nostalgia fail to grasp: Some things were better in the past. Not everything. Maybe not many things. But some things.

People today are rude, lazy, sloppy, self-centered, and immature. At least, they are here in L.A. I guess some of us are looking for models for how to not to be these things. Where else would we look but to past times when people dressed well, when people demonstrated better manners, when people were less self-centered, and when people treated life and themselves as something noble and serious.

Thank you for a wonderful article. The value of this site just rose tremendously in my esteem.

51 Shauna January 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Well said. I appreciate the thoughtfulness with which you write. I am glad to know there are modern men with a sensibility to know that all things of the past are not completely good, nor completely bad. A healthy moderation with room for growth and reconsideration is a wonderufl thought. Thanks for an outstanding article.

52 Troy January 25, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Loved the article Brett. I would like to point out though that we have produced some beautiful and affordable cars since the 50′s. Were Tulsa to have buried a 2007 Ford Mustang instead of Dodge Prowler people in 2057 I feel would have the same feeling they did in 2007 for the 1957 Belvedere. While, to some the Prowler is a beautiful car there is no accessibility. In 1957 you likely knew someone who’s Dad drove a Belvedere. In 2007, I don’t know anyone who has even sat in a Prowler much less owned one so I have no envy or desire for that car. The newest generation of Mustangs are gorgeous and accessible. In 50 years someone would be saying to themselves, “I remember that car. I drove my dad’s to my Sr. Prom.” That’s what creates nostalgia. That’s probably the only point in the article where I would disagree with you. It’s not that there are no beautiful/accessible cars nowadays, Tulsa just made a poor choice.

53 Scott January 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

This article, as do many on this site, evoked mixed emotions for me. I definitely agree with the mission of recovering positive things from the past that could benefit today’s men. I feel a personal connection to some of the great men of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries such as Teddy Roosevelt and Wiliam James.

However, in your article and in one of the comments, there were some criticisms of the 60′s and the Boomers. I turned 14 in 1968 so I am at the tail end of the 60′s, but let me share my perspective.

The “Greatest Generation” accomplished extraordinary things; they also seem to have been quite traumatized in the process. The levels of alcohol use among men at that time was extraordinary, and the emotionally-absent or unavailable father was certainly not uncommon. I believe that the explosion of the 60′s was, in part, a reflection of the absence of good fathers during the Post-War period. I know that many of my friends felt that they had to raise ourselves.

Many of the great things you post about heroic manliness were completely lacking in the 50′s; my generation never received those teachings.

I saw the movie, The Debaters, recently. There is a very intense lynching scene. This is America before the 1960′s and it would still be going on without the Civil Rights movement.

The media sometimes portrays the 60′s as a happy time. I always thought it was a difficult time. The Vietnam War was terrible and we could not seem to get it to end. It seemed like the fathers were sacrificing their sons.

I believe that it is fair to say that virtually every woman who grows up in America today is the beneficiary of the Women’s Movement — even if they do not define themselves as Feminists. All things being equal, there is a sense of freedom and possiblity that resides in the cells of their being. This would not be the case without the 60′s.

You say that the Post-War era was idealistic. It strikes me more as a time of conformity; the 60′s were the time of idealism — perhaps starting with President Kennedy, the Space Program, and the Peace Corps.

In terms of culture, the 60′s was an amazing time — as the music of the time will attest. Periods of great light may cast dark shadows and certainly the scourge of drug addiction and related damage is a nightmarish legacy of that time.

It was a very difficult time. America had to change. I think that those young people need to be respected for trying to heal and transform the world.

Would it have been better if we had known some of the things from the past that get posted on this website? Yes, but we didn’t.

54 Jason January 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm

To put it simply, I Concur completely. Well written and well put. There is at the very least an appreciation one should have about the quality that the past has hung there hat on. Even in this age I find myself picking my LPs over my iTune’s MP3s for relaxation. It could be a mindset or a calming crackle of the needle on the record, but Sinatra just sounds better on a record player.

55 OkieRover January 25, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I mentioned just yesterday, after listening to a young man describe the problems his junior high age friend was encountering at home, how much I wish it was 1953 again. I wasn’t alive in 1953. But I can tell you from what I have seen and read about “the good old days”, I’m sure I would like them better than the convoluted mess of political correctness, lack of manners, absence of customer service and civil rights everyone thinks they have that didn’t exist 50 years ago.

56 Alan January 25, 2010 at 3:17 pm

There really was a Golden Age and here is the proof: Every generation has its older folks who say that things were better in the olden days. And the generation previous to that said the same. Projecting backward, things get better and better. Thus, there really was a Golden Age.

57 Kenneth Payne January 25, 2010 at 3:39 pm

A superb post, Brett and Kate!
Being born in 1950, I am an eye-witness to much of what you cite as being worthy of nostalgia, and to the results of the “baby/bathwater” syndrome you’ve identified so clearly. Unlike many men of my generation, I grew up very close to my father. He raised me almost as a peer, including me in much of his life and teaching me along the way. He came of age in that Golden Era to which you refer and instilled in me many of those values and standards. He taught me how to dress, how to shave and groom myself, how to treat women and conduct myself in society, how to work and take responsibility. He was my mentor and my guide to manhood.
As the oldest child and grandchild in my family, I also had close relationships with both of my grandfathers. These were men who matured well before WWII and were paragons of the virtues of that period. I idolized them both and grew up wanting to be like them. I even knew and remember well one of my great-grandfathers, a thoroughly Victorian gentleman who grew up in the 1800′s. Before he died when I was eleven, he deliberately took me in hand to teach me how to be “a gentleman and a scholar,” as he put it. There are still things I do to this day because of his example and teaching. Together these men left me the blessing of a great heritage, one which I have tried to pass along to my four sons.
The point of all this is simply to endorse what you’ve said about the worthiness of looking back to find a way forward. As a member of the “Boomer Generation” (demographically at least), I am well aware of the “bathwater” elements of which you speak. The men who raised me were definitely of their own generations with all the prejudices and biases that came with them. And that’s why your post is so important; we can take what is best, reject what was bad, and enrich our lives now as men to make a difference in the world in which we live. Would I want to go without computer, the internet, my BlackBerry, antibiotics, air conditioning, big-screen TV with instant replay? Of course not. Nor should any thinking man want to revert to such narrow sexism as is grotesquely caricatured in Mad Men. But you’ve hit it exactly, Brett, and, speaking as one from within memory of those days of manly men, I say: Save that “baby” and let’s help save the world.

58 Jonas January 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

Taken for what it is, this is a great article on loving (and embracing) the good of the past while not missing your present and future in the process. At 26, this is exactly where I find myself with respect to nostalgia. Since junior high, I have wished for the good of the post-war period to the point that my mother would say “You must have been born in the wrong decade”.

Thanks and keep up the good writing.

59 Scott January 25, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Great article. I’ve been keeping up with your website for about six months now. It’s all good. It seems to me that you are mainly addressing younger men, maybe in their 20′s. That is great, but I was born in 1960, and I thoroughly enjoy this site. Although I was young, I was around when men were still men. The main thing we gain from looking into the past is wisdom. A smart man learns from his mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. There is no shortcut to wisdom. Only time and experiences produce it. We can gain wisdom the easy way, which is by looking to the past, incorporating the things that were done right and learning from the mistakes that were made, or we can gain wisdom the hard way, which is by making our own mistakes.
Besides all that, some things were just cool in the 50s and 60s. Cars, clothes, and social norms, which you point out on a daily basis.
Keep up the good work.

60 Caleb Gardner January 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm

“These days we’re in need of a Menaissance.” Well said.

61 Natasha January 25, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Great article, Brett & Kate! Definitely going to share this on my Facebook. Keep up the good work. I love this site!

62 Joe January 25, 2010 at 5:59 pm

“Who gets very nostalgic for the 70s and 80s (the pang you feel in your heart when you hear Journey notwithstanding)?”

I grew up in the 60s and 70s. For all the turmoil and chaos of the 60s and the nonsense of the 70s, I will say we had one thing that we lack now; grown ups. It seemed like men my age (I’m 49) acted their age. Today, you see guys my age still trying to be teenagers. It’s like they don’t want to grow up. Consequently, the kids growing up today have no role models (male or female).

63 Tom Harbold January 25, 2010 at 6:10 pm

As someone who is unabashedly nostalgic, and appreciative of things classic, traditional, and/or old-fashioned (while appreciating the genuine advances which have taken place over the years), all I can say to this is a rousing “Amen!” Here are some thoughts that may be relevant:

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive. ~ C. S. Lewis”

“The future must be built from the best material of past and present, and on the grave of those elements of both which were/are adverse to human life and living.” ~ Allen Greenfield

Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next. ~ William Ralph Inge

“What is past is prologue.” ~ graven in stone above the National Archives

By the way, it was shocking but yet somehow not really surprising to learn that during the 1940s-50s, the ratio of CEO pay to the average worker was 24:1, it is now 275:1! Y’don’t suppose that has something to do with why so many of us who aren’t CEOs are struggling to make ends meet, these days…? Yes, some things really were better in the “olden days” – unless you’re a CEO, of course. But most of us aren’t.

64 Jeff Kraykovic January 25, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Wow! Great article! Thanks!

65 Bill January 25, 2010 at 8:26 pm

I think what we’re missing from our past is the way men presented themselves. No man from the 20′s-40′s would have gone to dinner without a coat, tie and most likely a hat. Today men go out in basketball shorts,sweats or jeans that should be in the rag bag. It shows the decay of manhood; that men are no longer in charge. There is no sense of dignity. On football Sundays many men in my church go as far as to wear football jerseys. Sometimes they may even wear shorts. I’m all for casual dress when it’s appropriate but a man should present himself in a respectful image no matter the social situation. I find the men who care the least about how they dress are usually the ones with teenage daughters who wear the least. How many late teen men have you known lose a family member and his parents have to rush to get him fitted for a suit and a decent pair of shoes while dealing with funeral arrangements? And forget about job interviews. I weed out about 40% of applicants because of the way they’re dressed. I believe that when real men decide to come together and dictate the rules of society like the good old days it will carry over to our wives, sons and daughters.

66 Terry Tommey January 25, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Thank you Brett. Well said. I new there was some reason I wanted to be associated with this site. Glad to be here,

Terry

67 Dave January 26, 2010 at 1:24 am

That was a great read. Inspiring, informative and packed with common sense. Thanks for doing the research and taking what I’m sure was several hours to craft such a fine post.

68 Captain G January 26, 2010 at 8:16 am

A very minor observation on what someone posted above about not wanting to live without big screen HD, Blackberry etc. I love my TiVo and iphone too, but it sure would be nice to be able to buy something made here once in a while. More to the point, it would be nice if our citizens could get decent paying manufacturing jobs again, like they could when tv;s had 3 channels and telephones were screwed into the kitchen wall.

69 T.B. January 26, 2010 at 8:51 am

Scott, Joe, I’m 49 also. Ever notice how a coworker in his or her twenties . . . how should I put this . . . doesn’t talk to you like an elder worthy or respect? In 1983, did you EVER call someone twice your age “dude”? I think because of rock and roll we’re “cooler” than our parents were at this age, and therefore more approachable, but still. “Way back in my day, we didn’t have computers. All we did was give the world Elvis and the Beatles, you snotty-nosed little brat. Now go text your BFF, squirt.”

70 mark January 26, 2010 at 10:25 am

The philosopher George Santayana famously wrote “Those Who Forget History Are Doomed to Repeat It”, whilist true in many ways, I disagree with this notion.
Human nature is Human nature, and it appears a part of this is stubbornly refusing to learn the lessons of the past, even though they know of them.
Nevertheless I mostly agree with this post, and this is why this site is thought provoking and entertaining.

71 Shmikey January 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

After seeing a couple of comments from younger readers of this blog, I went back and visited the “Mentor” post in http://artofmanliness.com/2009/02/15/mentors-for-men/ . Many of us come to AoM to seek that sense of mentoring that we struggle to find in our lives, because we have lost a generation that passed on the lessons of the past.
I find that we live in a society that idolizes youthfulness to the point that we have men who look to young people for advice on how to be hip. I see this mentality in Christian youth groups and find it very discouraging. How can we inspire the youth to mature if we are showing by our actions that we want to imitate them. I find that boys want to imitate older men and have an innate desire to get beyond adolescence, but have no one to show them the way.

72 Julia January 26, 2010 at 11:06 am

Great, great article and amazing discussion. As usual, I disagree with most of it and here are my two pennies if you care for this lady’s thoughts.

Men in the fifties were manlier that’s true, but forcedly manly gay men were, let’s say it politely, a bit unhappy. Sexual education was a taboo and ignorance was the norm, and boy is that dangerous. Former soldiers often made traumatized fathers, violent, alcoholic and emotionally absent. Despise for safety (both in design and in demure) made roads a slaughter and if there weren’t more accidents it was because there were less people. Women with career ambitions and talent had to tolerate the unthinkable in their jobs, and often were forced to choose family or career – so all that politeness to women was actually hypocritical crap. Women who needed to work to support their families enjoyed no respect from society whatsoever. The fifties were the onset of today consumerism, of the neurotic picture perfect family with the big car, bigger house and the fur-coated wife (and mortgages, credit and overspending to support that when the means weren’t enough).

No picture of AoM contains men with dark skin or native facial features, and my guess is because those men didn’t live that life and were systematically excluded if they wanted to do it. The picture’s selection is the only one thing I find hard to stomach in this website.

If the values AoM tries to recover faded, I believe, it’s because society has become more plural. These days men come in lots of shapes, colors and walks of life; some are rude, some prefer men to women, some present themselves to the world with a grooming you’d wouldn’t wear as a 14 year old on Halloween, some have the craziest means of living. But they are all men, and today’s flexibility has allowed to everyone to choose. I think that’s the keyword, CHOICES.

However my disagreements, I read AoM everyday and I’m a great fan of it. I share it in my google reader account and sometimes I email some articles. I do it because I believe the values AoM promotes are valid, are good, and should be timeless. Regardless of everything that was bad in the past.

73 Dennard January 26, 2010 at 11:55 am

One of the best articles on the site! Thanks, Brett and Kate.

74 Brett McKay January 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm

@Julia-

“No picture of AoM contains men with dark skin or native facial features, and my guess is because those men didn’t live that life and were systematically excluded if they wanted to do it. The picture’s selection is the only one thing I find hard to stomach in this website.”

Methinks that you are not a regular reader of the site or have selective memory. While it is a lot more difficult to find vintage pictures of non-Caucasian men (for every 50 pics of a white guy, we’ll find one of a non-white guy), we do try hard to include them whenever we can:

http://artofmanliness.com/2008/09/14/the-bushido-code-the-eight-virtues-of-the-samurai/
http://artofmanliness.com/2008/04/13/the-virtuous-life-sincerity/
http://artofmanliness.com/2008/11/09/coming-of-age-the-importance-of-male-rites-of-passage/
http://artofmanliness.com/2009/10/13/lessons-in-manliness-matthew-henson/
http://artofmanliness.com/2008/12/28/self-made-men/
http://artofmanliness.com/2009/07/11/manvotional-self-made-men-by-frederick-douglass
http://artofmanliness.com/2008/11/30/the-case-for-marriage/
http://artofmanliness.com/2008/09/27/manvotional-4-spend-some-time-with-nature/
http://artofmanliness.com/2008/08/01/the-35-greatest-speeches-in-history/
http://artofmanliness.com/2009/08/18/how-to-pick-a-barber/
http://artofmanliness.com/2009/04/19/how-to-break-in-a-baseball-glove/
http://artofmanliness.com/2009/02/03/three-phrases-men-should-say/

…and those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head….

75 Dr. Rod Berger January 26, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Great post! Nostalgia is often a tricky thing when it messes with our minds ;)
Dr. Rod

76 Bill January 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I have to just say BRAVO! Nicely done.

77 Daniel January 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm

My father raised me to feel the nostalgia of the post war era and i will teach my kids the same. I watch all the classics and wish that the world had some of the quailities that one sees in those movie. The men wearing suites and the women wearing their dresses with the big hats. I believe that the women of that day and age were more beautiful than any super model that lives today. People then had a different kind of class. One of my favorite examples is from the Andy Hardy movies. When Andy had a problem he went straight to his dad and had a true “man to man” conversation. You just don’t see this today. Now i am only 26 years old but I believe I have more nostalgia for the “good ol’ days” than most people in the older years. I was raised to look at the good of every era but more specifically the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s. When i found this site i was extremely excited to see people had the same views as me. My father, being the wise man that he is, has taught me a lot of things, and one of the most important things that he has taught me was just written in this article.

78 Neil January 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Frankly, I find the argument against nostaglia extremely narrow-minded. Hegel hit it squarely on the head. Look at fashion, music, pop-culture, politics, social trends – we’re continually experiencing the result of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis model. It is nearly impossible to push forward in any endeavour without using the past as an influence, whether nostalgically or as a warning. Great post!

79 miss Jo January 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

What a great article.
Excactly what our club (Club Interbellum) is saying.
We call our lifestyle Neo Traditionalism, just like the Neo Traditionalist architecture; combining the best of the past and the present.
Moving forward by looking back.
I’ll mention your article on our forum, thank you!

80 Stormbringer January 26, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Well stated, especially the items in bold print. We’re in a great position to take a smorgasbord approach to what we want to keep from the past. Morally? Just because we’ve progressed technologically does not mean that we are progressing morally. The material advancements do not equate with social or spiritual advancements.

81 Julian January 26, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Brilliant article. I think this summed up the reason why the Art of Manliness is so popular; this longing for revival is happening everywhere, and with more people, it will turn into a beautiful thing.

82 Christopher H January 26, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Great article. I’ll take a gander you won’t get to this comment to read, but in spite of being a great post, I’ll have to disagree that the Black Death led to economic instability. It did just the opposite, actually. It worked to stabilize the economy by cutting back on the overpopulation. There might have, in the short run of the plague (the 1450′s) been a decrease in labor output, but the total toll of the plague worked to stabilize the economy, and prepare it for the future expansion.

83 Joseph January 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I believe that you have thrown out the baby with the bathwater with regards to modernism. Your understanding and selective use of history is also intriguing.

I also find it interesting that you have split the line down into a binary option. Why would anybody be a reader of this blog if they did not agree with at least some of the things mentioned? If it were for personal amusement, then the joke would soon wear off – as is the case in this abuse of logic.

There are important lessons to learn from every age, from every culture, and at any time. However, there is also the human trait of idolisation which appears to sadly be the case, in many instances on this, and other, blogs. AOM is a good blog in many respects, but still fails at this hurdle. However, if you are going to then attempt to answer some ‘sceptics’ questions, please at least do so in an intellectually honest way.

I understand that you are/were a law student, hence are likely to be aware, perhaps well versed in the principles of Rhetoric, and of the Sophisists. It is perhaps because of this that your blogs more murky assertions are still rather engaging, seem straight-forward, and elicit the many ‘Hi Five’ responses based on a sketchy interpretation of Masculinity. However, when you try to logically counter arguments using the politicians technique, then you may be found out.

Regardless, I do enjoy most of your blog, keep up the good work, but do not play us for fools.

84 Zac January 27, 2010 at 1:04 am

There’s a difference between carrying on traditions and longing for the “good ol’ days”. Especially since there really isn’t such thing. Such staunch nostalgiasm is just people afraid of change or unable to deal with the cognitive dissonance that people think differently from their own perceived traditional values.

John Oliver of the Daily Show did great piece on this misperception of how great everything was in the past.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-january-5-2010/even-better-than-the-real-thing

85 Taylor January 27, 2010 at 4:11 am

@Brett,

I’ve been a follower of your site since close to the beginning and I have to say that I really enjoy much of the material posted, as it provokes thought and awareness to certain traits, actions, and mentalities that allow men (including myself) to continue the path towards becoming a better man. This along with “The Hard Way” and “7 Lessons in Manliness from the Greatest Generation” are my favorites because of the way they reflect upon the qualities and foundations that respectable men are built upon, as in this article – the respect and recognition of positives from the past to improve our situation today.

Although some of the articles are entertaining to read and are more focused on a specific object/clothing/activity that is connotative to ‘manliness’, I really do think that it’s the philosophically oriented articles, such as this and the ones stated above, that really allow readers to grasp a better understand of ourselves, as well as discuss values and inner workings of what makes a respectable man. Any guy can splash on some Old Bay aftershave, or carry a handkerchief, but at the end of the day you are only as much of a man as what you have cultivated within. In other words are your actions reflective upon the man within, or are they an image that help give off an impression of ‘manliness’. I will admit that as a young man myself, I have struggle discerning this difference, as I’m sure have many other men.

In all I think what you are doing is an excellent service to all of the men reading along with your work. It has absolutely been helpful at not only inspiring a better consciousness of our manhood, but to also better ourselves as people in general (especially the articles that discuss morals/ethics/mindset). I hope you continue to provide more excellent articles that readers can dissect and discuss, for it helps guys like me to work towards being the best man I can be.

86 Finnian January 27, 2010 at 8:51 am

Am I the only one who thinks Joseph is way off base in his implication that Brett is purposely manipulating the facts of history, twisting and misusing logic, and playing his readers like fools?
And calling a man intellectually dishonest? Well, them’s fightin’ words.

87 Jim January 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Fantastic article, and summation of what AoM means to me. Thank you!

and to Bill re: wearing a fedora.

If you like how a nice hat looks on you, don’t worry about the strange looks others give you. Find yourself a good hat, and wear it with pride.

88 Brett McKay January 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

@Taylor-

Thanks for the feedback and kind words about the site. We’ll definitely keep working to provide articles that help men become better.

@Finnian-

Fighting words, indeed! I was going to respond to Joseph but I’ve read his comment 5 times and still have no idea what he’s arguing. He threw around a lot of strong accusations, but didn’t back up a single one of them. So I find it’s best to ignore the crazy trolls.

89 Warren January 27, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I, for what it’s worth, would much rather have been born long before I actually was. I would like to have experienced the twentieth century, particularly the 1910-1950s time. Of course, no era in history was ever perfect but I really do think America was better then. The only way we are markedly better then in the past is in the area of race relations, but that’s it. So you don’t have to sell me on the merits of nostalgia.

By the way, I wear a fedora too. Currently saving up for an Akubra Federation IV.

90 Max January 27, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I read your blog all the time and find a great deal of useful advice on how to address the various shortfalls in life that result from the decline of ‘manliness’ in our society, notably how to stand out in a crowd (not very hard given how low the bar has been set). Your posts inspired me to start a blog of my own called artofmarriage (http://artofmarriage.wordpress.com) The goal is to provide articles that highlight the positive sides of marriage in response to the normal cycnical beliefs that are out there as well as advice on how you can keep your marriage fresh and happy. I’d be very grateful if you would take the time to view my blog; I think you’ll find a lot of the posts align very closely with the ideals and values that underlie most of your posts.

91 Joseph January 27, 2010 at 6:54 pm

After reading my own post, I would have to admit it seemed rather unclear (apologies it is late when I have time to read or post on your site). What I was hinting at was that whilst I am generally a fan of your site – hence my frequenting it. You do have the common habit of using divide and conquer tactics to solidify your own ground, and adopt a rather materialistic and sometimes superficial approach to manliness.

A previous poster said that it best that any fool can fold a handkerchief and make bay rum – a man that makes not. It is the actual philosophical discussions on the subject which, personally for myself, carry most clout and in many instances you have been spot on esp. on the subject of procrastination, self-determination, and such. However, when you actually touch on the subject of Manliness itself, that is when things get murky, since you take a rather narrow and shady approach.

My case being that you have seldom actually touched upon a definition nor on what masculinity means in isolation. You have certainly listed traits, and your community board – which is excellent – have some very interesting traits listed as well. I just think that you are lacking a sense of preciseness, and instead are going for a rote list of various traits we would be happy to see in anybody, then the more questionable ones especially when it comes to matters sartorial.

Back to the divide and conquer strategy: you have done rather well, you have a loyal audience, of which I am happy to be amongst. However, there always has to be an enemy with you, if it is not materialism – in which case why all the adverts and waxing lyrical about vintage dress – then it is the current imagined infantile state of man, this is something you have approached several times in fact most of your posts clearly place some snide remark about grown men dressed as kids within the first 2 paragraphs. Fair enough, that is your particular prejudice, however you are also throwing out the baby with the bath water to deride all the things which are against what you advocate, which tend to be rather conservative.

There is a point for marriage amongst some, and more people ought to be more direct, however we need to approach this with a level of maturity as well. By simply dismissing whatever you disagree with as unmanly or trollish, this is hindering any point you advocate about maturity.

Which leads me to the point that not everybody is with you or against you, which is why I do not appreciate not only your claim that I am a troll – if that were so wouldn’t my message be curt, unfriendly, and unhelpful?

Likewise, not everybody who does not wish to wear a hat, pocket handkerchief, or parade with one of those Leather bags, is infantile, unrefined, or emasculated. There is no need to paint the enemy where it does not exist. If you were to look into what I hope could be a more accurate conclusion from your latest piece then it would be to take the best from a variety of sources and look towards advancement.

The Renaissance may have had elements of inspiration from the classics however, you ought to know that their movement was not founded on nostalgia. Nostalgia and selective inspiration are completely different things, and from this point a counter-argument could be made by stating the French revolution.

I am glad when you use history however, since this is a valuable tool which too many people abuse. Which is why I felt compelled to write in this instance as too many people opt for a twisted version of it to suit their own prejudices. When history is approached critically, one can derive important lessons to advance their lives. However, if one does not understand, or refuses to understand, how to properly approach the subject then unfortunate consequences can result. Which is where I fear you too often stray with a Hegalianistic approach based strongly upon nostalgia.

New Websters states that nostalgia is: ‘a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.’ This often comes from ones frustrations, whether correct or misplaced, at their place in a particular society at a given time. It is a rejection of a particular situation in favour for an idealised state. I do not beleive that the participants of the Renaisance could honestly be placed wholey in this category, as they were neither longing for the past nor sentimental, but decided to rebel against the sentiment of the day.

If anything defines the Renaissance it was a break with the past and a longing for a better future. The same can be said of America and the War of Independence. The same can also be said of France and the revolution. Inspiration is not nostalgia.

Now if you wish to look towards the best aspects of the past, then you really ought to look beyond the 40′s and 50′s. It was an interesting time, and you certainly do have an appreciation for the fashion. This is all well, however it is not the only way. There are great blogs out there which go to show that people still do dress with deliberation, and the joy of fashion is that it too reinvents itself, taking cues from the past – nostalgic, I think not. For an example of this search for the Sartorialist the blogger has recently released a book and is very well respected by tailors the world over, including those on our very own Saville Row.

Thus it would seem that your absolutist advocations concerning fashions were incorrectly analysed. If the lessons from the 40′s and 50′s were to be learn, sartorially, it would be that to look ones best is something which transcends the ages. If it is the proper function and protocol, that also gets you going then take a more deliberate look at the prevailing attitudes of your nation, esp. around the late 19th Century – the age of uncertainty, and the question of breaking with the old fashioned norms, these points are covered in several great books, I would recommend ‘The Age of Innocence’ by Edith Wharton.

So in short, don’t paint everything in black and white, attack the subject not the individual, and if you are lost then open it as a discussion point – one part of maturity bar resisting calling others names is accepting that you might not have the answers to everything and that certain solutions are best found collaboratively. You are doing some great stuff, keep it coming!

92 Brett McKay January 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm

@Joseph-

Whew. A lot to digest here. Let’s take it segment by segment.

“You do have the common habit of using divide and conquer tactics to solidify your own ground.”

You seem to be confusing having a point of view with “dividing and conquering.” I have opinions on things and I write posts arguing my position, and citing evidence for that position. This is an age old tradition. Some people will agree, some people will disagree. The idea of manliness and culture is never going to be something everyone is going to agree on and it can be a divisive issue. I could take a very relativistic approach and fill my articles with “on the one hand,” “on the other hand,” but I don’t think being wishy washy is very manly. What is a man without passionate convictions and the desire to defend those convictions? I realize that having strong convictions is unpopular these days, but then I guess that’s why I’m nostalgic.

“adopt a rather materialistic and sometimes superficial approach to manliness.”

Many people get too hung up on the name of this blog. It’s designed to be a men’s interest website-not everything we write has to do with manliness itself-we simply cover topics of interest to men. Just as the New York Times doesn’t always write about New York, and jeans don’t have anything to do with “Men’s Health.” I never designed the website to be all about philosophical manliness. We do some serious stuff and some just fun man stuff.

“However, when you actually touch on the subject of Manliness itself, that is when things get murky, since you take a rather narrow and shady approach. My case being that you have seldom actually touched upon a definition nor on what masculinity means in isolation.”

Narrow and shady? Do you say shady because you think I am hiding what I truly think manliness means? And if anything my definition of manliness is overly broad, not narrow. Here it is: “Manliness means being the best man you can be.” That’s it. It’s quite simple. It means being virtuous, using your talents to your fullest, being a good husband, father, brother, friend. I’m really not that philosophical of a person, and I see no need to write navel gazing posts on what manliness abstractly means. Which is why we simply focus on writing posts about how to live the virtues more fully, how to live a full life, and how to be the best you can be. And yes, fun stuff too. Because a man can have fun sometimes.

“However, there always has to be an enemy with you, if it is not materialism – in which case why all the adverts and waxing lyrical about vintage dress – then it is the current imagined infantile state of man.”

I don’t see anyone as an enemy. I’m not sure where you’re getting that. Yes, I do talk about the infantile state of some men, because that’s the whole inspiration behind the site. I saw the men around me being immature and struggling to be adults, and I started this site. That’s the problem at hand, and that’s what I’m going to address. If you don’t think today’s men have any problems, than there’s no point in this site, and there’s no point in visiting it.

“I do not appreciate not only your claim that I am a troll – if that were so wouldn’t my message be curt, unfriendly, and unhelpful?”

I couldn’t think of three words that would better describe your message. You made sweeping accusations without any specific details or evidence. It didn’t make a shred of sense. And if saying that I’m intellectually dishonest and playing my readers for fools isn’t curt and unfriendly, than you, sir, are in serious need of a reality check.

“I do not beleive that the participants of the Renaisance could honestly be placed wholey in this category, as they were neither longing for the past nor sentimental, but decided to rebel against the sentiment of the day.”

People can disagree on historical interpretations-that’s fine. But to claim that I’m being a “politician” and am intellectually dishonest is preposterous. I have studied this period extensively and the people of the Renaissance did indeed long for the past and did indeed believe antiquity was a golden age. They were nostalgic. That’s what I found in all my research. That’s what my professors taught me in college. I’m not sure what else to say, accept that the claim that I’m deliberately twisting history is insulting and reflects poorly on your understanding of history.

I don’t know what else to say about the rest of your comment as you begin to lose me. You seem really hung up on fashion, which hardly is mentioned in this post, and is hardly a large preoccupation of this blog. I honestly don’t know much about fashion-all of our fashion articles are written by guest writers who want to contribute to the site. I simply advocate dressing well for the occasion as part of a larger issue of self-respect and respect for others.

All in all, you seem to projecting an awful lot of things into this site that simply aren’t there. In this article, I make it clear that you can be someone who thinks the world is getting better or worse and still embrace nostalgia. And I say absolutely nothing about the side who think nostalgia is misplaced. I don’t address them at all-I don’t call them names or call them unmanly. If you disagree, then that’s fine. I was simply making an argument for the legitimacy of this position.

I do see truth as black and white, and that may offend people and divide them, but I won’t apologize for that. And I won’t water things down to be more inclusive. These are the things that I believe. If you like them, great. If you don’t, you’re still welcome on the site and welcome to leave civil comments defending the other side. Your time would perhaps be better spent actually making a case for why you disagree with articles rather than attacking me or the site as a whole.

When a blog is called the Art of Manliness, people get easily offended by things. Because if I write about something here, and they don’t do that thing or believe in that position, then they feel like their manliness is personally under attack. They would rather have me write in such an all encompassing way that no one is insulted and everyone is included. But to me that’s not interesting and it’s not honest. I write about my idea of what men should be striving for and the things I think are best. I can’t possibly speak for the world’s billions of men. So if you disagree, grow a thicker skin, and don’t get your knickers in such a knot.

93 Finnian January 27, 2010 at 8:19 pm

@Brett-

Well put! Very well put, indeed. If I had any beer in the house, I’d raise a toast to you. Since I do not, I’ll have to toast you with a whisky and soda.

Huzzah! my friend. Huzzah!

94 Brett McKay January 27, 2010 at 8:29 pm

@Finnian-

Thank you, sir! I tried to resist responding, but I could not let such accusations go unanswered.

95 Anthony January 27, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Ah, I can picture Joseph in my mind so well, the defensive pseudo-intellectual who throws around words like binary and Hegelian, while really saying nothing of substance at all.

Listen, I don’t agree with a lot on this site. I do think it’s too nostalgic, too rooted in Judeo-Christian values, and too, and this is a big one, too heterosexual.

I’m a gay man, imagine that! And so a lot of this stuff really seems to leave me out. I really believe that gay men can be manly, but this site has never really addressed that issue. But a lot of it is good. Really good. I don’t expect it to be all my cup of tea, why would it be?

Anyway, long story short, don’t change the blog Brett. I like that it has a strong point of view, even if that point of view makes me want to bang the keyboard sometimes! Not only do readers like Joseph need to grow a thicker skin, they need to grow a pair and quit the whining.

96 Neil January 28, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I enjoyed the clip from the Daily Show posted above-very clever. But I disagree with John Oliver’s conclusion that people are simply nostalgic for the time they were kids, because of course that was a great time for them. I wasn’t a kid in the 1940′s-I was a kid 50 years later, but I still get nostalgic for that time.

97 Joseph January 28, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Hmm, perhaps you have a point…

98 Kenneth Payne January 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Brett,
Teddy would be proud of you!

99 T.B. January 29, 2010 at 9:55 am

“Listen, I don’t agree with a lot on this site. I do think it’s too nostalgic, too rooted in Judeo-Christian values, and too, and this is a big one, too heterosexual.”

What does sharpening a knife have to do with your sexuality. Just sayin’.

100 Hannah February 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I couldn’t agree more with this article, but I would apply it for women as well. I think it is a shame that women today can’t pull out from that time and even earlier (I myself would harken back to the 1920s for women) and admire the style, grace and culture of women then. But if you discuss that time you are automatically against the plight of the female… I love this site and wish that something similar would be created for women, but fear that very few women would be brave enough to follow it!

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