Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Sometime in 2023, a local chapter meeting of the Society for American Civic Renewal (SACR) closed amid laughter, toasts, and handshakes between future business partners. Earlier in the evening, over a meal, three members had exchanged information on an important urban development hearing that hadn’t been covered in the local press. One member gained a godfather for his newborn son; another secured a valuable internship for his teenage son; yet another obtained a second opinion on an institutional matter from an expert in the subject. Such fruitful evenings are common among the members of the fraternal organization we helped found, proving the worthiness of its ongoing mission.

SACR’s thesis is that the flowering of deep fraternal bonds, informed by a traditional spiritual vision, is necessary for the renewal of civil society and the preservation of the common good. This is apparently quite the radical proposition.

Upon discovering the existence of SACR, the leftist press predictably fired a salvo of hit pieces. The idea of an exclusively male, explicitly Christian civic organization—of the sort common throughout American history—confuses and terrifies them. In their imaginations, confidentiality becomes “conspiracy.” Maintaining standards of conduct and belief is “exclusionary.” Promoting republican civic order is to seek the overthrow of the U.S. government in favor of an “authoritarian” regime. Praying for the revival of Christendom is tantamount to wishing for “genocide.”

Such histrionics reflect ignorance of how the West rose to civilizational excellence, or perhaps a judgment against the pursuit of excellence itself. Either way, these writers reinforce the spiritual enervation, isolation, and domestication of men demanded by our neoliberal regime.

As SACR’s website reads, “A man is no longer encouraged to fly to the stars, to tame the wilderness, to plant the seeds that his children will inherit.” Tom Wolfe’s classic account of the Greatest Generation in The Right Stuff (1979) is almost inconceivable today. 

That civilizational dynamism was made possible by men’s formation within exclusively male groups that look to an ideal of excellence while sharing enough in common to engender mutual loyalty and a culture of honor. From the crews manning the intrepid ships of the Age of Exploration to the frontiersmen who charted continents, to the priests and missionaries who spread the gospel in the wilderness, to the Mercury Seven, the spirit of male excellence drove great civilizational accomplishments. 

Today, we no longer prepare men for deep mutual coordination in pursuit of higher ends. Churches do support male camaraderie, but Christian husbands are often taught that their only true loyalty is to their wives and children, leaving little or no emphasis on public life and deep loyalty to other men. Proverbs 31 celebrates the dynamic of a virtuous and productive wife whose husband is “known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land.” But today the Christian household has been reconceived as a place of retreat from the world.

The result has been the Great Domestication of America’s men.

Men are isolated and adrift in a simultaneously chaotic and artificially anodyne liquid modernity. A few decades ago a majority of men had six close friends; today this is true of only one-quarter of men. What’s worse, nearly as many men say they have no close friends at all. A record number of men under forty are single and outside the labor force. Deaths of despair have multiplied, especially among men without college degrees.

Some liberal elites such as Richard Reeves recognize the dire state of men and tentatively endorse the idea of male-only spaces to encourage fraternity. “Fears of the Old Boys’ Club,” Reeves writes, “are now doing more harm than good.” 

Men still participate in exclusively male activities and teams, but usually in the context of sports or Bible studies (if household duties permit). While these certainly can be salutary, they nevertheless comport with the Great Domestication, as they don’t direct energies toward building up civil society.

In short, the cure to male loneliness is neither pickleball and IPAs, nor disappearing into family and household duties, however good those things may be in themselves. 

In contrast, we propose the development of male spaces, groups, and institutions as scaffolding for loyalty, accomplishment, and civic engagement across American communities. From innovative new schools to fraternal societies, the great American tradition of freedom of association allows us to pursue excellence together in myriad forms—that is, to create opportunities for noble collaborative projects only made possible through true companionship, itself a precondition for the development of true friendships. 

Deep friendship and loyalty require shared belief and identity to succeed. If men cannot trust their compatriots to hold themselves to the same broad standards of belief and practice, camaraderie crumbles. This is why our group imposes standards. The Society requires Christian Trinitarian orthodoxy, a commitment to traditional marriage, and a cultural identity grounded in the traditions of both Christendom and America. We are ecumenical in our approach to Christian faith and believe in promoting fruitful fellowship across confessional lines. As Americans, we aim to balance exclusivity and openness, alongside loyalty to classical Natural Law and republican civic order. 

The Society is a fraternal organization according to the traditional definition (and under tax law), and as such our primary activities are fraternal and social in nature—dinners, lectures, roundtable discussions, and everything in between—and serve to encourage camaraderie and mutual support among our members in their personal, family, and public lives. We’ve held events on topics as varied as ethical investing, the importance of aesthetics and long-term thinking in urban and suburban development, and the elements of style for men who wish to dress intentionally. Our gatherings have catalyzed not only shifts in thinking and behavior, but also the formation of new businesses and non-profits. We want to equip our members to be better men in all aspects of their lives and to take radical ownership of their spheres of authority and influence, starting with themselves.

As we limp through the third decade of the twenty-first century, it is clear that ours is an exhausted civilization. While America shows promise of renewal, its continued vitality is far from certain. Our hope is that other fraternal groups and institutions continue to form, according to their own standards but committed to the same American ideals. Only with such scaffolding can American communities and institutions withstand and reverse the dissolving force of the liquid modern regime. 

Scott Yenor sits on the SACR board and is a professor of political science at Boise State University. 

Skyler Kressin is a small business owner, family man, and board member of SACR.

First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

Click here to make a donation.

Click here to subscribe to First Things.

Image by Lizzy Hunter via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles