Welcome back to the Art of Manliness podcast! In this week’s episode we talk to Robert Davis about his book, Understanding Manhood in America: Freemasonry’s Enduring Path to the Mature Masculine. Our conversation focuses on the history of American masculinity and Freemasonry’s influence in shaping manliness in the United States. We end the podcast discussing whether Freemasonry is still relevant to men in the 21st century.
Robert is a Freemason himself and the Executive Secretary of the Guthrie Oklahoma Scottish Rite. Besides writing Understanding Manhood in America, Robert has also authored two other books on the subject of Freemasonry.
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Read the Transcript
Brett: Brett McKay here and welcome to another episode of the Art of Manliness Podcast. Now Masculine America has a complex history, biggest oracle events and social movements like wars and the civil rights movement all had an effect on shaping manliness in the United States, but it often overlooks social movement that had a profound effect on masculinity in America, was the free mason and the social club movement. Our social groups like free masonry and the art fields still relevant today in helping men become better men, well our guest today has written a book on this subject, his name is Robert Davis and he is the author of the book Understanding manhood in America, free masonries enduring path to the mature masculine. Robert is a free mason and also the Executive Secretary of the Guthrie Oklahoma Scottish Rite, and in addition to understanding and writing Understanding manhood in America, Robert has authored two other books on the subject of free masonry. Robert welcome to the show.
Robert: Hey it’s great to be here Brett thank you for inviting me.
Brett: So Robert tell us about this book what inspired you to write Understanding Manhood in America?
Robert: Well I think first of all as a free mason, the rituals and private ceremonies of this old, old fraternal society reflect the journey of man’s life from childhood to mature masculinity, and I have been a mason a long time, and I became increasingly concerned that with the growth of the fraternity we have gotten so bogged down and the words of the rituals, but sometimes we don’t integrate the meanings behind the words. This journey of course relates to the psychology of being, and I wanted to investigate how man have looked at the ideals of masculinity over the 300-year period of the American landscape, and then how the fraternal movements have sort of moved in and out of the center of defining ideals of masculinity for American males over this period of time, and I think just as importantly you are the man and I am becoming increasingly concerned with how our male gender is being sort of down played and overlooked as relevant in today’s culture, and I think there is in fact a growing crisis and mature masculinity, and our own time because of high mobility for man, high divorce rates, the lack of adequate models of mature men, there is really no cohesive institutional structure for actualizing the process of becoming and being men, at least I know of no other organization outside of free masonry itself, that it is focused on this very process.
And its pretty much we live in a culture that pretty much every man for himself, most men just kind of fall by the wayside with no clear idea of the broad and important goals of manly development, so I think that was my motivation for focusing on this journey of being a man.
Brett: Well in your book you kind of do a I guess a 300-year summary of American masculinity and one of the things you mentioned, you kind of mentioned throughout the book are these three archetypes of American masculinity, what are these archetypes and can you describe them to us?
Robert: Well there is of course there are several types of archetypes which are related to the male gender, and depth psychologists like Floyd and Yun have made us aware that deep within every man of course are genetic blueprints, which kind of represent the hard wiring of the material masculine, so and these are sort of a map, which identify the foundational characteristics of our nature, and generally when we read books about this kind of archetypes we are talking about, hidden energies, and these are often categorized and a general way is the King warrior, now magician and lover kinds of archetypes, and I focus on those kinds of archetypes to a degree, that I was more interested in looking at the possibility that there had been broader culture of societal archetypes, where the social behavior of man can kind of be loved into several broad categories or groups, and I discovered that the foundational archetypes of the American colonial era, these were the archetypes that we actually inherited from our European forefathers were usually listed as The Genteel Patriarch and the heroic artisan, and the self-made man, and so I made a decision in my book to try and discover if these cultural archetypes of our founding fathers are still valid today and prevalent.
The Genteel Patriarch is kind of comprised of the classical European definition of Man. He was the dignified aristocrat, I am sorry a man with an upper class code of honor and a character of exquisite taste, and refined sensibilities, he understood the nature of class, he was instructed as a young man into all of the protocols and the etiquettes of becoming a gentleman, and so to the genteel patriarch manhood to him is property ownership or the accumulation of wealth, and at the same time sort of a benevolent patriarchal authority at home, he was responsible for providing for the moral instruction of his sons, whereas his wife is responsible for taking care of the moral instructions of the daughters, and he was very definitely the patriarch of his tribe, and at the same time his world encompassed compassion, kindness, duty and this was represented in this type of man through public philanthropy and usefulness, and probably in the American founding era of the Genteel Patriarchs are best represented by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison you know many of the signers of the Declaration Independence, and the constitutional authors, and these were probably the best known models for the Genteel patriarch, and then the second archetype that we inherited from Europe was the heroic artisan.
Heroic artisan is can trace his lineage to the craft skills at the middle age, I was interested in the heroic artisan because most scholars believe that free masonry itself evolved from the craft skills at the middle ages. The idea about this individual and his character is that he was highly a dependent, he was virtuous and honest, and are very formal in his relationships with women, extraordinary loyal to his male comrades, and whether he was the Master of his family farm or, the proprietor of his urban shop, he was always the honest toiler who had a very strong work ethic, proud of his craftsmanship and self-reliance, and in our colonial period I think Paul revealed the Silver Smith probably represents you know the ideal of the heroic artisan, and I think the third and the trio of these male archetypes certainly at the end of the 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century was a self-made man, and this fellow derived his identity from his activities in the public sphere. It was measured by his own accumulation of wealth and status, but also by his geographic and social mobility, as far as the great movement in west from the Eastern seaboard, you know we definitely became a land of immigrants with democratic ideals, and so the self-made man would be the kind of guy that we would mostly affectionately believe seem to be born with America, he was constantly on the girl, he was competitive, he was restless, he was aggressive, he was chronically insecure, he was a man desperate to achieve some form of stability in masculine identity, and he very rarely stuck around long enough to set a founding of cultural routes, and so I think the best ideals of the self-made man were the pioneers, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, guys like the explorers like Lewis & Clark, and you know all of these men moved to West and there were all kinds of them, the farmers, the trappers, the adventures, the outlaws, the ministers and the skilled teachers, the soldiers and the miners, and the man who kind of became the national hero, the cultural icon that would have been himself from the masculine mind, I think was the frontiersman, and so the self-made man probably is the most enduring of those three archetypes, and I was just curious if those archetypes are still around and what’s going on with them so…
Brett: And are they still around?
Robert: Yes they are, but a very, very difficult, a lot more difficult to define today, and yet some of the characteristics are still there. The old icons of masculinity had become so clouted in our own culture that you have to really dig through a lot of murky stuff to identify those archetypes.
Brett: So Robert you in his book, you kind of talk about it, some of the cultural history and masculinity through in America, and kind of who and I got from in talking to you is just kind of, it kind of reinforces that conclusion, that when you feel that men are kind of lost in the wilderness when it comes to defining or achieving a mature masculinity, why how did that happen, how did men become lost in this path to the mature masculine?
Robert: Well it, I think its largely is a 20th century phenomenon I could make an argument that in the 19th century the civil war created some problems of loss of identity, but really the 20th century is where I think man became lost, and this happened for because of several societal things that really we want to know about is control, and probably the first and most significant event that changed man’s understanding of who he was, was the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Prior to the Depression of the 1930’s we still pretty much lived in a patriarchal society, it was not unusual at all for there to be in each household 3 or 4 generations of males, and so the connection that the young man had with the elders within their own homes, gave them a sense of connectedness to manhood, to maleness, and to the lessons that could be passed down from elder to son and such there were multiple generations in these households, it pretty much was clear that we lived in a patriarchal society, and the depression of course moved everyone out of at least the family home, you know something like, you know 1 out of 4 men found themselves without jobs, a person could no longer especially in the Midwest make any money or sustain his family at farming, and so we saw this huge out migration that basically broke up the 3 or 4 generations of male household, and when the men left the traditions of their childhood, they never returned, they moved to the urban centers they became you know that they became a part of an entirely different culture, and they had to literally reinvent themselves.
And then a couple of other things happened at the same time, the depression had such an enormous social impact on families that we actually became to some extent a welfare state. Men no longer felt like they could control their own livelihood or their own stability or preserve the, you know the condition of their own family, and they started feeling more and more helpless, and the more helpless they felt, the more connected to governmental relief agencies they became, so it kind of took away I think the old model of strength, and being able to work through all problems on your own as a man, and it happened to the entire culture at the same time, and that it immediately following the depression era, World War II came along and the result of that of course was that men joined the military by the 10s of 1000s, and they went overseas, they were away from home for a long enough period of time, that their women started taking over traditional male jobs back in the domestic side of things, so when the men returned after the war they found a new competition for jobs, and the competition for jobs was worth a wise and the women in their communities and in their cities, and so they sort of started feeling that this loss of Patriarch either again at the first the depression, and man just seemed to sort of vanish during the recovery period after World War II, and then of course in order to employ America after man came back from the war, the government created all kinds of programs to keep people in working positions, and that’s where a lot of our government agencies were established, and the large bureaucracies and so men found themselves just moving into salaried positions in large employer pools, where they had absolutely no control or authority over what happened with their lives.
Brett: It’s kind of like it’s the man in the grey final suit type of thing?
Robert: Exactly yeah.
Robert: And so I think those two or that particular era was an era that changed the landscape of American males forever.
Brett: And what about the Vietnam era, the baby boomers, I mean what happened with masculinity there, it seems like a lot of change happened in that time period as well?
Robert: Yes it was actually the first generation of man who did not follow their fathers and to the American institutions that their fathers believed in, the Vietnam era created of course a very strong counter culture just because the Vietnam war itself did not follow the traditional icons of a warrior energy for the first time in the history of wars, we were no longer engaged in the process of war like we had been in World War I and World War II, it seemed to be more of a political war than a war of military strategy, it was hard to know if it was, you know truly a world conflict, and it created a lot of conflicting thoughts as to you know what we were doing and why we were doing it, and it damaged a lot of men, of course you know the war took place at the same time that the drug culture grew by leaps and bounds during that era, again we sort of created a generation of men who chose to isolate themselves from the icons of masculinity of their fathers and their grandfathers, and it has especially affected free masonry. It was the first generation where man did not follows their fathers into the paternity; it was the first time in the history of the fraternity that free masons had to look outside their own families for sustaining membership and I am not trying to bash the Vietnam era males I am just saying that the media became so prominent in reflecting the events of our lives day in and day out, that we quit paying attention to ourselves, and what we should be doing as our own gender to sort of get back on the right track of manly development, it just didn’t happen.
Brett: Well you talked a lot about, so far about some of the I guess negative aspects that you know the kind of negative cultural changes that happened in regards to masculinity, were there any positive changes that happened in masculinity in America from you know the 19th century to today?
Robert: Well yes as a matter of fact there is a lot of positive things going on today primarily where the millennial generation, these young men are just coming out of college and getting into the workforce, but there is also some good things that came out of the latter part of the 20th century, you know consciousness movements became real popular, and a growing kind of thing, spirituality movements became very prominent and while this may have impacted somewhat negatively the church’s role, in providing spiritual instruction for the male society, it has had the effect of men actually stepping back and trying to decide for themselves you know who they are. They are trying to attach themselves more to meaningful adult male role models in their lives, you know they are now I have connected digitally, globally and so information and knowledge is readily available to them, and so, for the first time I think that men are starting to recognize that they have a lot of work to do to bring their gender to the feminist culture in America, and we need to achieve that balance again, and so I think that’s a positive thing and I think we are headed in that direction.
Brett: Well then in your book Bob, you talk a lot about free masonry, I think it’s called The freemasonry’s Enduring Path to the Mature Masculine, can you describe give some examples of how free masonry has influenced American masculinity throughout history?
Robert: The surprising thing about free masonry, and the thing that is the most misunderstood about the fraternity, is it never claims to take on a particular cause and become the champion of that cause, so that we can say, you know the free masons did this and the free masons did that, and as a result of that things changed for the better, and the reason for that is, is that our goal in free masonry is the improvement of the individual himself, the purpose of free masonry is to create a set of a socio-cultural and moral icons that literally can take a man on a journey into himself, so that he can become aware of the things that his life that have worked for him, that have proven useful to him, along with the experiences of his life that have damaged him, and have created problems for him, and to develop an understanding within himself that he in fact has to overcome himself, in order to make real improvement to those around it, he has to come to grips with his own father in all of this is his experiences, and when he does this, then he discovers who he is, he discovers that it is not always about striving to be the sports hero or building muscular bodies, or buying into achieving status, nor feeling emotional conflict, or over achieving in jobs, all of these things that you would think of the, are the icons of masculinity actually lead men to vulnerability, and feelings of tirelessness rather than fulfillment and contentment.
And so what he has to do he has to balance himself around all of these things that are important to his manly development, and in the process of doing it he becomes a lot of the double standards, which define men in our culture, and in the process of doing this, he takes on reliable mentorship. He decides that there are people out there that he can trust, he can define role models in a more realistic and fulfilling way. He can attach himself to meaningful leadership models without taking on the political or religious baggage that’s so often accompany them.
So once he does that and makes that turnaround it’s at that point, that I believe he takes on an understanding of mature masculinity, and that’s when he improves his role with his family, he becomes a true mentor to younger men, and he gets involved in positive ways, in various community outlooks and outlets, and he improves society in the process, and so what you have to do is you have to look at well okay you know, order some things that free masons then have gone to improve the world, and in the 18th century, free masonry more than any other social group that I have studied, basically established the models for the civil society, but they broke down the class system. They created a new way of thinking where people could be equal and beloved, and so free masonry I think probably more than any other institution played out the experiments of how one creates and lives in a democratic society, and he did it through the rubric of his laches, because the laches were governed as democratic societies, and so the experiment took place in lache and was brought out of the lache, into the society itself, such probably the foundational greatness that free masonry had.
The organization itself I have observed has adapted itself around the popular needs of man in every generation up until the Cold War era after World War II, you can go back and you can just see how free masonry helps shape man’s needs in almost all of these, the 19th century was a great period of philosophical development, that’s what man enjoyed doing and man enjoyed reading and thinking, and having these philosophical dialogues and that’s when a lot of the great philosophical lectures came into this fraternal movement again within the private associations of the laches. After the, during the period when theatre became a very, very important or popular thing, the rituals of free mason were moved onto the stage, and actually the branches of the fraternity I work and the Scottish Rite we created the community theatre approach to teaching morals and ethics, because theatre was such a popular form of entertainment for man, and then at the same time fear of eroding masculinity hit the cultural man, primarily as a result of women suffrage movement and these kinds of things, and you know baseball and boxing and all of these kinds of very masculine manly sports were established, and what did the fraternity do, the fraternity created boxing leagues and baseball leagues in order to accommodate the enjoyment of man, and during the depression years the fraternity created these world release societies to try to take care of the families of man within the fraternity, so it’s been always a fraternity first, but a fraternity that responded to the interest of man, and that has been its fundamental strength in almost every generation, and then overlying all of that of course is that all of these activities and the strategies occur in private conclaves of man where 3 and 4 generations are participating in the dialogue, in lache at the same time. So we are one of the few organizations left in the world that focuses on this old icon of stability in the male gender through connectedness and communications, and conversations with multiple generations of men.
Brett: So Robert how do you respond to people who say that well okay so free masonry had an important role in the lives of men for my grandfather, for the founding fathers but its no longer relevant. What they teach is no longer relevant, the ritual is just old fashioned, they are not responding to men’s needs today, how do you respond to that, is free masonry still relevant to men today?
Robert: Oh absolutely I think its, this is relevant as ever, you know first of all again we live in a culture that so much clouds the icons of masculinity, that there’s hardly any place where men can focus on those kinds of things in a private and safe environment, we are never going to overcome the media bashing, yeah the political correctness things, the consumerism and all of that sort of stuff that’s very much feminized in our culture without you know staying together as man to try to grow ourselves to achieve balance and become positive male role models for families and for communities, free masonry is always about doing that, and so from that point of view it is important as it’s ever been. We also live in a culture that no longer trusts the old traditions of religion that are so attached to you know dogma and the doctrines of faith, and yet we so clearly understand how important to do for man to connect with their spiritual side, and embrace the aspects of our nature that make them good men.
So free masonry offers a way, where all of these kinds of moral and virtuous characteristics can be looked at in a non-doctrinal way. So it gives a person a chance to develop an understanding of the nature of God and man and man’s relationship to God in an environment that is not tied to dogma doctrine.
We have always felt like that we are kind of a partner with religion in the sense that we deal almost totally with helping man understand the nature of the spirit within him and how that plays out of his life to take on characteristics of compassion and love and nurturing and all of the feminine kinds of things that balance his more natural aggressive nature, all of that is necessary for him to feel balanced in his life, and then live a balanced life. So I can’t think of anything more relevant to the human condition, than an organization that focuses on these kinds of things, because I know that if a man can heal himself he can heal the world.
Brett: And Robert if a man wants to get involved in free masonry how would he go about it?
Robert: Well it’s interesting that our fraternity has never been an organization that has been membership driven in the sense that we don’t advertise or broadly asking people to join and we always want that to happen sort of in a one on one way. We want man to learn about the fraternity become acquainted with men in the fraternity, and sort of check ourselves through his own independent conversations with masons he knows before he decides to take on the duties and obligations of the fraternity, so the best way to become a free mason is to know a friend who is one and then express your interest and curiosity to him about the fraternity. If you don’t know any free masons you know every state organization of the fraternity essentially has a website, there is contact information, you can call the grand secretary of a state organization of masons, you can tell them how you live and that you are interested in learning about the fraternity, and talking with some masons and they will refer your name to a man in your community who will get in touch with you.
Brett: I will, probably before we leave last question you talked about how men are kind of lost off the path of the mature masculine, what are you know three things that a man can do, to reclaim that path that is the mature masculine?
Robert: The first thing he has to do is learn, there is nothing more important than the educated mind, because the thing that hurts anybody more than anything else in the world is ignorance. To make a commitment to become a man of knowledge is to me fundamental to understanding the role of the mature masculine, so and secondly at some point in time, every man has to go deep inside himself and figure out who he really is, and who he wants to become, and if he does not make that journey he will tend to live his entire life and being totally unaware of who he is and what his real gifts cane do and so I think the second most important thing is as man has to make the search inside himself. It is all important that the facilitated process, but it’s essential to taking on the mature masculine soul and then thirdly that he needs to live in a world that connects him on a regular basis with other man who he cannot understand who the mature masculine himself unless we experience a lot man in their life. We cannot do it by ourselves, we cannot be isolated and alone and find out for ourselves what the value of men are in our cultures, so I think that are communication, conversation or association on a regular basis with man of different generations and even today in different cultures I think it’s essential to man’s self development, so I think those are the things self knowledge, inner development, and communication with other man.
Brett: Robert, Thank you for your time, It’s been a pleasure. Our guest today was Robert Davis. Robert is the Executive Secretary of the Guthrie Oklahoma Scottish Rite, and author of the book Understanding manhood in America, The freemasonry’s Enduring Path to the Mature Masculine and you can pickup Robert’s book on amazon.com. That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast for more manly tips and advice make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com, and until next week stay manly.