Saturday, May 28, 2016

Trying to make sense of the Benedict Option

Benedict Option
Seeking the Benedict Option

While no one will really know the dimensions, forms, content, limits, or anything else about the Benedict Option until Rod Dreher publishes his book detailing such defining aspects of his invention in the spring of 2017, dedicated fans of his personality and prose nonetheless gather even now in pursuit of their salvation in his words.

UPDATE (as they say): A close friend and very highly placed bishop in one of the world's major orthodox religions who wishes to remain anonymous just emailed me to point out that the image above is not in fact one of devotees of the Benedict Option congregating a year in advance of finding out what it actually is in hopes of snaring a deep spiritual discount prior to its hard launch, but rather a flock of Welsh sheep who had gotten into a patch of cannabis. My apologies for the mistake. Further updates on both groups as they become available.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

What could possibly explain Alasdair MacIntyre's regret?

One of our faithful Anonymous commenters deserves recognition (although he/she obviously doesn't want any) for linking to an interview between a liberal protestant theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, and someone from Bruderhof a quasi-commune of sorts. My main interest is the exchange right at the beginning:

Peter Mommsen: You’ve written extensively about how the church should respond to the “end of Christendom” – the fact that we no longer live in a culture whose ground rules stem from Christianity. What about the “Benedict Option” proposed by the writer Rod Dreher? He argues that Christians should respond to secularization by following the example of the early monastics, withdrawing from a heathen civilization to build alternative communities where Christian virtues can be nourished and passed on. Is he right?

Standley Hauerwas: This Benedict Option idea comes from the last line of Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue, in which he observes that the barbarians have been ruling us for some time and that our future is “no doubt to have a Benedict, no doubt a very different Benedict.” Here’s the problem: Alasdair once told me that this is the line he most regrets ever having written! He wasn’t advocating some kind of withdrawal strategy – he was only pointing out that we can’t be compromised by the world in which we find ourselves. I don’t think your community, the Bruderhof, takes a withdrawal strategy, for instance.

I think it is appropriate to underscore MacIntyre's entire disapproval of the Benedict Option as well as his recognition for what it is, in the words of his theologian friend Stanley Hauerwas, "some kind of withdrawal strategy." Everybody using common English parlance recognizes two things: one, the intention of Alasdair MacIntyre's quip in After Virtue was not a fugit mundi and two, Rod Dreher's Benedict Option—if it is anything more than hashtag Christianity or fodder for a grad school mint julep fueled bull session—is most definitely a flight from the world, albeit with a few oddments crammed into one's pockets. Examples of the oddments would seem to include Diamond Dogs by David Bowie, Bitch by the Rolling Stones, a bottle of trendy French wine and a cell-phone photo of a one-legged stripper. Among other things.

Somewhere on the internets there is an article by a Benedict Option devotee wondering in print if MacIntyre was ever going to "break his silence" on the whole Benedict Option concept. I think the silence spoke loudly enough that, in the words of T. S. Eliot, it had the equivalence to a "That is not what I meant at all; that is not it, at all", and the development of the quasi-monastic lifestyle choice called the Benedict Option was based on a misperception of his original words. To put it mildly.

....What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognising fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict. (Source.)

Each Christian man or woman of good will must ultimately judge whether this paragraph has anything to do with the upcoming book about craft beer, communes, trips to Italy, photos of restaurant tables and thick glasses lying on stacks of books, etc. Personally I think MacIntyre would join the chorus of other thinkers we've noted—Bruce Frohnen, Joseph Shaw, John Zmirak (several times actually), Brendan Eich, Austin Ruse, William Briggs and Father Richard Heilman—and shout in unison: "BATS AREN'T BUGS!"

Well, if he were a shouting type of guy. By the way, yYou can add my voice to the mix as well if you'd like. That's my original thought on why we don't need the Benedict Option, or already have it and just don't use it enough.

It is worthy to note that the Bruderhof community is exactly the kind of group that cracks me up as much as Rod Dreher's silliness does. At one and the same time, they publish left-wing condemnations of private property as evil in and of itself and boast of the prime real-estate they own on their web-site. It's a cushy life-style; it reminds me one of my favorite scenes ever.

"You don't care about money because you have it."

I agree with the man: it should be about ideas

I advise everyone to sign up for Speaker Paul Ryan's updates. He is one of the most sensible people in the top levels of government in our country right now. It is very refreshing to read the things he communicates each day.

Reminds me of a quote: "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." True. Often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, this proverb is probably much older.

Monday, May 23, 2016

O Muse! O Seuss!

It's possible that no one on the GOP side of the political divide will ever receive a phone call asking for financial support ever again, now that a gracious billionaire like Trump is running things. But just in case we do get a fund-raising call, we now have the words to give to the script-reader in this brand new political world:

I filed my papers about a week ago. Everybody is amazed at the numbers. I'm very liquid. To finance a billion dollars I would have to sell a building, have to do something like that. Will I do that? I could. I have the option of doing it. I have a lot of cash and cash flow. Would I do that? I don't know. I have the option of doing it.

Will I do that? I could. I have the option of doing it. This is AWESOME. It is just what we'd been looking for. We finally have the words to use. It's entirely open-ended — it has the sound of a yuuuge promise to those praising the new emperor's wardrobe, but it's really just a tiny little shoulder shrug to the real people who actually have to hand cash money to other real people to buy groceries, light bulbs, etc. Plus it has that great Dr. Seuss ring to it:

Will I do that?
I could!
Would I do that?
I don't know.

The Cat in the Hat couldn't have phrased it any more poetically. Or convincingly.

So the tele-fund-raisers will start off their scripts by asking for $200.00 and I'll say "Will I give you $200.00? I don't know. I could. I have the option of doing that." And I'll wait t see if they offer me anything. This is all about the art of the deal. I've been giving too much away, you see, for signed photos of Bush and Romney. Now I want something real, something great.

So they'll ask if I can give the "minimum" of $45.00 and I'll say, "Would I do that? I don't know. I'm very liquid. I have the option of doing that. Who knows," and other short sentences, again waiting to see if the person can actually close the deal. I'm thinking that instead of a signed photo maybe they could get me a signed contract with my business and I'll make it $122.50.*

I'm hopeful that Mr. Trump has figured out how to Make Fund-raising Scripts Great Again since he has no doubt gotten his share of them in his lifetime from people making more that $11.00/hour. We'll have to wait and see.

* - Yes, I know that sounds like quid pro quo, but this is a brand new political era. Get with it, people.

Monday, May 9, 2016

From the lips of the presumptive Republican nominee for President ....

Over the weekend, Donald Trump said perhaps one of the stupidest things ever uttered by a major party nominee for President of the United States:

[T]he presumptive Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, suggested that he might reduce the national debt by persuading creditors to accept something less than full payment.

Asked on Thursday whether the United States needed to pay its debts in full, or whether he could negotiate a partial repayment, Mr. Trump told the cable network CNBC, "I would borrow, knowing that if the economy crashed, you could make a deal."

He added, "And if the economy was good, it was good. So, therefore, you can't lose."

Such remarks by a major presidential candidate have no modern precedent. The United States government is able to borrow money at very low interest rates because Treasury securities are regarded as a safe investment, and any cracks in investor confidence have a long history of costing American taxpayers a lot of money....

... Pressed to elaborate on his remarks, Mr. Trump did appear to step back. He said that he was not suggesting a default, but instead that the government could seek to repurchase debt for less than the face value of the securities. The government, in other words, would seek to repay less money than it borrowed. ... 

For someone whose main alleged qualification for the office is "making deals", talking down the Nation's creditworthiness, and thus talking up the interest rate, is insanity.

Yup, it's empty.

As opposed to most of Trump's ridiculous statements, though, this one can actually matter. Let's say Trump gains on Hillary in the polls -- mightn't this add some downward pressure on bond prices and drive up interest rates up for new Treasuries?  IOW, this could actually affect debt service costs even if he is not elected.  Sure, he'll talk it back - but the message has been sent that banana republic haircut-financing is in the mind of a potential president, and it will be noticed.  

Worse yet, I am having trouble why Trump would say such a thing, even if he did believe it? How does this benefit his campaign in any way, and how would it draw additional voters his direction? Does he think some voters are so stupid that this will impress them?  Or is screwing creditors just how he does business? 

I can't imagine even a Democrat saying such a thing.

More here.  And here.

Friday, May 6, 2016

I'm with Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan put it best in describing where I am right now with regard to Donald Trump.

Ryan's position makes him the highest-level GOP official to reject Trump since the real estate mogul became the last candidate standing in the party's nominating contest. His move gives down-ballot Republicans cover to hold off on supporting Trump. It could also keep his agenda in the House from being overtaken by Trump's policy positions.

Ryan said he hopes to eventually back Trump and "to be a part of this unifying process." The first moves, though, must come from Trump, he said.

Ryan said he wants Trump to unify "all wings of the Republican Party and the conservative movement" and then run a campaign that will allow Americans to "have something that they're proud to support and proud to be a part of."

"And we've got a ways to go from here to there," Ryan said.

I have felt recently like I might be in the #NeverTrump camp. But the key word is felt. When I actually think about it, I'm more like #NotYetTrump. I think he has some work he still needs to do in order to prove that I would be voting for a grown-up in November and not a spoiled brat. Like, for example, he could have started off better by not telling me that he doesn't want my vote and the votes of those like me.

Now I know that we've started having heated discussions over here about this topic. And that is fine. Let's just continue to be respectful. Let me just say now that a decision not to vote for anyone is just that—a vote for not anyone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Election Regret

It's hard to admit when you were wrong. Or so I've heard. (That's a joke, son.)

Grant Stinchfield regrets voting for Donald Trump, and in this article he details in a pretty comprehensive way the reasons he voted for him, and he demonstrates how to express your failings with humility. Excerpt:

I fell victim to my own hatred. Donald Trump offered me a vehicle to stick it to the bloviating bureaucrats I despise. I dedicated my life to exposing self-promoting career politicians and their love of big government programs. Trump was the guy who was going to scare the hell out of the “establishment,” the guy who was going to turn Washington on its head. So I voted with anger in my heart. I gave my vote to Trump with expectation he would find his way by putting smart constitutional conservatives by his side. Trump didn’t find his way; he got lost.

Sadly, I did exactly what my mother always warned me not to do. I made an important decision while in an emotionally fragile state of anger and despair. My vote for Trump amounted to a vendetta against the ruling class of DC career politicians. I made a mistake.

It’s why I am publicly apologizing to governors Rick Perry and Scott Walker. I abandoned them way too early. I now realize their level-headed grasp on conservative values and principles would have made them the perfect candidates to carry a torch of limited government straight into the White House.

Hatred, anger, despair.... These things characterize every Trump voter I know personally. This is a brief, honest article by someone who came to their senses although too late. They "gave in to the dark side." Where's Yoda when you need him?

Stinchfield ends by acknowledging that he will vote for whoever gets the GOP nomination in the general election, including Trump. I will do the same. It's just a shame to be forced to vote for someone so woefully unprepared for running in a general Presidential election, let alone actually being President. But we will never have to suffer through that tragedy. He will never win.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The best Benedict Option comment ever

I lifted this comment wholesale from Rod's blog. You know, like Rod himself frequently does.* It really doesn't get more concise than this.

yan says:
April 26, 2016 at 3:35 pm

I don’t understand what the Benedict Option entails on a day to day basis. I don’t really understand what it is at all, except for a mental rejection of whatever is “wrong.” And I don’t understand how that can be a movement or a culture. And if it can’t be a movement or a culture, I don’t see any relevance in discussing it as any kind of an “option.” Seems to me it is just as well to say, “keep praying every day and go to Church every Sunday and avoid morally pernicious influences as best as you can on yourself and your family.” And to me, that is synonymous with leading a religious life. So, what is new or different about the “Benedict Option,” compared to just trying to lead a religious life, if it does not entail some kind of co-ordinated, communitarian effort?

But, if it does require the latter, then, didn’t Monaghan the pizza guy attempt to set up some Catholic community in Florida at one point, and didn’t the federal gov’t say that they way he wanted to run things violated the Constitution?

If that is the case then the issue is not just culture/community, because you aren’t going to be able to create mini-cultures. The law won’t allow it.

Any kind of Benedict Option that involves community won’t be outside the reach of the law. And that’s the real problem. A real Benedict Option would mean illegal communities.

Like the days of the catacombs. If that’s what you mean by a Benedict Option, then please let us know. I’m just trying to get some clarity here.

Benedict Option

What can I say, yan? The Benedict Option is bogus. A placebo. A will-o'-the-wisp. There is no there there that wasn't there already. The only thing new is a catchy new marketing phrase.

Like the chains that bound the might wolf Fenris, the Benedict Option is forged of impossible things: the sound of a cat's footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish, the spittle of a bird. Oh, and for good measure, a smokin' hot cover of Kiss.

One of the perennial characteristics of the defrauded is that, deep down they know they're being had as the process is occurring, but the psychological desire to believe that they're getting greater value (relief from all that bad culture stuff) at a very good price (an easy to acquire sugar pill called the Benedict Option that doesn't even make you larger) is strong enough to push any doubts out of mind long enough for them to be had. Afterwards, of course, they are victims, but at the time, they are actually eager co-conspirators. Fortunately, it sounds as if yan here may end up walking away with his wallet intact.


In the main post itself, Rod whips out his kid gloves and slaps conservative Christians with derision - slap!, slap! - for not signing up for his mystery meat from the bed of his pickup truck,

Anyway, Ross’s last bit — reaction as an artistic and religious stance, but not a political one — seems to be more or less where the Benedict Option is. You have to be fairly alienated from liberal democratic culture to find the Ben Op appealing. In fact, I think that’s why so many conservative Christians resist it. They know that things are bad, and getting worse for us, and they know that the center is not holding, and cannot hold. But if it’s true, then they would have to do things that are really difficult. It seems easier to live with the cognitive dissonance. Many of us are like the conservative Episcopalians who say, “One more thing and I’m out the door!” — but then the one more thing comes, and we redraw the red line.

finally ending this interminable scarf quilted from the thinking of others with this ultimatum:

Sooner or later, religious conservatives will have to take the Benedict Option, or be assimilated. I know of no feasible alternative. The longer you put off the decision to start thinking and moving in the Ben Op direction, the harder it’s going to be.

Well. Winter Is Coming, you bloody fools, and if you don't purchase the Emperor's New Clothes right now, your willies and boobies will promptly freeze to a crisp and fall right off. This is a limited time offer, folks. Act now.

But wait. Let's examine just how fraudulent Dreher's Offer You Can't Refuse actually is: no one yet knows even what the Benedict Option IS, least of all Dreher, who's still in the process of inventing it.

How do we know this? Dreher himself explains just how the sausage is being made earlier in the same post:

As part of my Ben Op research, I’m reading now a dense book by social anthropologist Paul Connerton, whose 1989 book How Societies Remember I blogged about here.

Having had no urgency himself with respect to the Benedict Option for decades until a book contract materialized - not to form any sort of coherent thought simply for his own understanding of his own to-be wares, not to save his own family, not for any reason which might have displaced the other pleasures in life he chose to pursue instead - Rod nonetheless wants you to know now he's doing the heavy mental lifting you probably can't by tackling this "dense" book.

But, exactly as with the invention of Obamacare, Christians will have to first buy Rod's not-as-of-this-moment even coherently understood account of the Benedict Option to find out what's in it. Shouldn't commitment this far in advance of delivery carry at least some sort of deep discount?

In addition to the typical Dreher thoughts-of-others-quilting and tacit narcissistic apple polishing, the main thrust of the post is a put-down of liberal democracy. You know, the sort of liberal democracy Christians across the lands of Christ's birth were sneering at themselves - ptui! - even as ISIS was cutting them and their children down like wheat. Well, weren't they sneering? No? You mean they wanted more than anything else a space of liberty to worship as they pleased? Huh.

When one puts any effort at all into examining what turns out to be this layer cake of fraud, one finds that the foundational layers are self-delusion: arrested adolescent rebellion against the very sort of spaces and processes supplied by older, wiser others enabling the adolescent's rebellion to even become possible. The aging, bearded teen, fuming, liberal democracy-enabled belly full in his warm, safe liberal democracy-protected bedroom, with latent Daddy issues about how uncool and decadent the bubble within which he exists is.

And so, like those un-self-aware jellyfish marooned in a lake in Micronesia, Rod will write his Benedict Option book and sell it to fellow Christians of similar oblivious bent, greater fools eager to co-conspire in the self-congratulatory exercise of thinking Benedict Option-flavored thoughts.

Will the book offer anything of practical value to anyone? At this point, the word from the author's mouth seems to be no:

Q: Not sure if you’re there yet in your book, but I’ll be interested to hear your thought on how the concepts of liberal democracy come into play in the self-governing structures of the BenOp.

I understand you’re not talking about setting up some sort of weird shadow government. However, the community would need some sort of rules for who’s in, who’s out, who should be eldered/discipled, what behaviors are unacceptable, etc. There will be real questions in any community about how those rules are set and those decisions are made. Since we’re pretty much talking about Westerners here, there will be a strong bias towards a more or less democratic process as people’s default approach to self-organization.

A: [NFR: I don’t want to mislead you about the book. I’m not going to get that granular about it. — RD]

Probably the smartest move, Rod. The less detail you offer, the easier it is to sell a lie.


But, Keith, you ask (I know you ask this because I get literally thousands of anonymous emails daily, each beginning "But, Keith..."), what sort of person is likely to buy the hot mess of thinking you just described above?

Well, people like this guy:

Hector_St_Clare says: April 27, 2016 at 12:09 am

Here’s where I think neo-reaction’s critiques of democracy are serving a useful purpose (amidst a bunch of noise and provocation). Neo-reactionaries say they would prefer a form of government where Hobbes’s Leviathan is not required to constantly persuade those it guards of its legitimacy through a system of voting that fixates on short time horizons.

Oh my goodness. This is the heart of why I dislike liberal democracy, and it says more pithily what I would just love to say but couldn’t express so neatly. Well, that and then there’s the fact that liberal democracy is ultimately a morally hollow form of governments: it grounds its authority on the will of the people, whether that will be for good or evil. And then of course there’s the fact that setting adults free to compete for political power ends up in the same place as unrestricted economic freedom. Most adults, like most children, don’t really have a good sense what’s good for them, and allowing them to govern themselves is just going to end up with the bullies and smooth talking sociopaths in power.

Here’s a decent example of why liberal democracy doesn’t make a lot of sense when you carefully examine its premises. We know that the popular will is just flatly wrong about a great many questions, we can see that from looking at questions which actually do have a scientifically correct answer. If 60% of the population can be wrong about a basic scientific question of fact, why would we expect them to be right about questions which are harder to answer, like "what sort of society would be optimal"?

And we wonder why ISIS is so attractive to so many effete young people world wide.

*If Rod or yan has any copyright problem with me lifting this comment wholesale, simply let me know in writing care of Est Quod Est and I'll be happy to remove this post. As I mentioned, Rod frequently uses reader comments - intellectual work created by others - as the mainstay, even the entire content of posts that pad out his contractual obligation to The American Conservative and from which he earns his salary and the medical and other benefits his family enjoys. So I don't see why I'm not entitled to the same liberty to take yan's comment that he enjoys, particularly since I'm not earning a dime from doing so. If it is the case that either Rod himself or the commenter yan believes one or the other owns the copyright to yan's comment, however, let's see that claim presented in writing. I'll be happy to participate in any such defining moment.

(Astute readers may detect a certain pattern of parasitic repurposing for profit common to both Rod's frequent lifting of his blog readers' comments to then become his own bylined blog posts and the re-branding effort which exhaustively defines his Benedict Option.)