Hypermasculinity in Turn-of-the-Century America

By Tiusanen, Otto | The Journal of Psychohistory, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Hypermasculinity in Turn-of-the-Century America


Tiusanen, Otto, The Journal of Psychohistory


Hypermasculinity in Turn-of-the-Century America Evan Thomas, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2010.

In his famous speech, Theodore Roosevelt claimed that "all the great masterful races have been fighting races", "and the minute that a race loses its hard fighting virtues, then ... it has lost its proud right to stand as the equal of the best", "no triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumphs of war. ... Cowardice in a race, as in an individual, is the unpardonable sin", "it is through strife, or the readiness for strife, that a nation must win greatness", and "no national life is worth having if the nation is not willing ...to stake everything on the supreme arbitrament of war, and to pour out its own blood . . . rather than submit to the loss of honor and renown."1

From the writings and speeches of Roosevelt, we can find also other analogous remarks. Interestingly, this attitude is exactly the same as that of the German National Socialists in the 1930's.2 However, the actual policies of Roosevelt did not remind of those of the fascists. As a president, for instance, he did not lead a particularly aggressive foreign policy. Nevertheless, this kind of rhetoric provides interesting evidence of the fantasy world of Roosevelt. It tells also something about his era, since Roosevelt was not secretive about the opinions listed above, and many of his contemporaries shared the same sentiments.

In this review essay, I endeavor to examine Roosevelt and his era mainly from the point of view of weak father relationships as outlined in my anterior writing. My basic claim is that the child-raising methods of the generation of Roosevelt produced a penchant for "phallic politics", which was in full blossom at the turn of the century, when the generation reached middle age.3 We shall also see that some of the features of turn-orthe-century "hypermasculine" mentality still exist in present-day America.

In the analysis of Roosevelt and his epoch, I use as an incentive Evan Thomas's novel contribution, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. In spite of being a popular psychohistorical work written in the form of a narrative, it serves as a well-informed depiction of Roosevelt and his era, focusing particularly on their affinities towards war.4

THE DILEMMA OF THE GENERATION OF ROOSEVELT5

In the course of his childhood, Theodore was passed from one caretaker to another, so he didn't develop a strong, affectionate mother relationship. The lack of decent mothering was customary to the generation of Roosevelt, since in their upbringing maternal love was typically something conditional. That is, if the child behaved badly, then the punishment could be a total emotional absence from the part of the mother, a terrifying absence that could last a long time. It was also usual that children were inculcated the "terrible" possible consequences of them behaving badly. For instance, they could be instructed that misconduct from their part could easily lead to the death of other people, and in this case they would be to blame. This has been labeled as the psychic control method of child-rearing. Intuitively, it caused grave feelings of guilt, fear and insecurity in the children.6

Father relationships were also problematic in the childhood of the contemporaries of Roosevelt. The men of the house were routinely distant characters, and the intimate day-to-day care of the children was left to the mothers. Sometimes children developed ingenious means for getting the attention of their fathers, one example of which was the psychosomatic asthma of Roosevelt which afforded him true intimacy from his father as the father would walk around and hold his sick boy trying to alleviate the sickness. Altogether, despite of the distant character of fathers, they still used to contribute somewhat to the care of the children and they could use the methods of psychic control as well. …

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