If you wish to have a good idea of the direction that any culture is taking, spend some time observing its prevailing role models. It should not surprise us that questioning youth directly about their role models yields anything from a bored shrug to a shallowly-reasoned endorsement of Mandela or Martin Luther King. A practical way to find out for one's self is to pass by the local drug store and check out the magazine rack. Would you ever expect to see an edition of Macaulay's Horatius at the Bridge or Butler's Lives of the Saints? Or, for that matter, Edmondo de Amicis? And why not? For the Ancients, their 'drug store magazines' were filled of the heroes in the Iliad, Aeneid, the life of Scipio, perhaps Alexander. So what changed?
We have a serious anthropological crisis on our hands. Most recently, with ideological slogans such as toxic masculinity and self-identification abounding among the young, the diagnosis is surprisingly easy to explain. Since the 18th century, the progressive philosophical trend has been to apply Hegelian principles to many areas of study. With politics and economics, one results in Marxism. With biology, one results in evolution. And with anthropology, one is left with feminism, transgenderism, and Lords knows what else. The difficulty, you see, is that the crisis in identity is first and foremost a crisis in philosophy- or rather a forgetfulness, a self-loathing anti-intellectualism that cripples one of the foundations of Latin civilization: the concept of the human person.
The heroes of our past modeled one specific virtue that today has been utterly lost. That virtue was honor, but especially honor towards others as well as one's own self.
The Italian author Edmondo de Amicis mentioned above, in a chapter from his book Cuore (Heart), describes the story of an group of boys throwing snowballs in a city street when one of them unfortunately hits an older man in the face, crushing the man's glasses and injuring his eye. The book, written from the boy Enrico's point of view, sees Garoffi (the boy of throwing the snowball) unsure of what to do. Soon enough, with a crowd of people demanding to know which boy had done it, Enrico encourages Garoffi to confess, who falls at the old man's knees and, crying, apologizes. De Amicis concludes Enrico's story as follows:
"And my father drew me out of the crowd, and said to me as we passed along the street, “Enrico, would you have had the courage, under similar circumstances, to do your duty,—to go and confess your fault?”
I told him that I should. And he said, “Give me your word, as a lad of heart and honor, that you would do it.” “I give thee my word, my father!”"
The Romans would have applauded the story for modelling the virtues of pietas (dutifulness towards higher principles, country, and others) as well as severitas (tenacity of sticking to doing the right thing even if it is supremely uncomfortable. Think of Brutus who allied himself with Pompey against Caesar, despite Pompey having killed Brutus' father).
The philosophical key to being a man of honor is that the human person can never be used as means, but always as an end in themselves. What is to be added is that the final end of all human beings is God, which, if I may add, anyone of good will can come to recognize by the very sound argument from contingency by Aquinas, supplemented by Leibniz's principle of sufficient reason.
This is precisely the philosophical foundation for the Theology of the Body promulgated by John Paul II- that the opposite of love is not hate, but use, or rather, objectify.
Authentic manhood must begin with this principle of honor, and especially in the terms of humility and gratitude. Why? Because the beginning of all authentic manhood is the internal consciousness that one has been given more than one could ever repay and consequently must honor (or reverence) the good which he has inherited: beginning with parents, to whom one owes birth and upbringing; to self, as a worthy subject endowed with human dignity; to homeland, to whom one owes material goods and security; to culture and civilization, which has passed on thousands of years of knowledge, social refinement, and wisdom; and lastly to God, who has tied this all together by shed his own blood for me on the cross. It is in light of this knowledge that the authentic manhood must germinate, living in humility and gratitude as to the great heritage that has been passed on, honoring elders, land and country, and ultimately, God.