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Benedict & the Omnibus of Options

Since people began talking about the Benedict Option, a number of apparently competing “options” have arisen.

Last summer, my TAC colleague Samuel Goldman wrote an essay on what he calls the Jeremiah Option [1], in which he calls on Christians to be engaged in public life even in a condition of exile, as the Hebrew captives in Babylon did.

Along the same lines, Catholic University’s Chad Pecknold posits the Dominican Option [2], which he characterizes (it seems to me) as like the Benedict Option, but much more evangelically engaged. I don’t see that the Benedict Option means one ceases to be evangelical, I should clarify, but only that it calls for a shoring up of Christian community, and a (one hopes) temporary shift in priorities toward building institutions and modes of resistance, and resilience. After all, you cannot out-evangelize Evangelicals, but even they are losing many of their youth to the broader culture.

Austin Ruse has mentioned the Escriva Option [3], after the saint who founded Opus Dei; he characterizes is as communal but robustly laity-focused. On Ruse’s account, the Opus Dei community he and his family are part of does what I envision the Benedict Option doing, and I’m thrilled that he has found it. But this proliferation of options, many of which I find myself nodding along with, and saying, “That’s helpful,” raises an obvious question: if these various options are a sensible response to the current crisis, why call my project the “Benedict” Option? What’s so special about it?

I realized yesterday in a long talk with Caleb Bernacchio (more on which later) that the term “Benedict Option,” which I’ve been using for years, refers less to the early medieval saint and more to contemporary philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s use of him in that famous last paragraph of After Virtue:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead…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, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point…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 quite different — St. Benedict.

The argument I will make in my Benedict Option book is that there are specific resources in Benedictine spirituality that all of us Christians (even non-Catholics like me) can draw on to craft a “doubtless quite different” response to the cultural crisis of our quite different time. More than anything, though, the phrase “Benedict Option” is a catch-all term for those who accept MacIntyre’s critique.

And what is that critique? Broadly speaking, MacIntyre says that moral discourse is incoherent today, because the Enlightenment project of grounding moral discourse in Reason acceptable to all has failed. “Reason” is often deployed as a concept that masks will to power. We cannot have a moral community without a shared conception of the Good, one that precedes individual choice. And that is our problem today: in our time, we cannot say in any rational or binding way what is Good, because we do not share the same story. The Good devolves necessarily from what is chosen to the act of choosing itself. But how does one know what to choose? In late modernity, what the self desires is what is right — an incoherent philosophy, and an inconsistent one, but the one that dominates discourse. Modernity has degenerated into this familiar passage from Justice Anthony Kennedy:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Of course Kennedy doesn’t really believe this, because to accept this position fully would require moral anarchy. You may be confident that the kind of people who endorse this view do not extend it, for example, to Christian bakers and florists who wish to withhold their labor from a gay marriage ceremony. But as a general stance toward public and private morality, it perfectly expresses how many contemporary Americans think. If this is true — and more than a few Christians, especially the desperately non-judgmental Millennials — then Christianity cannot help but become Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (a shallow, self-centered form of the faith), which is its last stage before dissolving entirely.

MacIntyre’s argument is vastly more complex than what I’ve presented here, and I don’t believe one needs to comprehend it fully to grasp its thrust for the believing Christian: that Enlightenment liberalism, for all its virtues, has come to a dead end. Its principles are destroying, and have destroyed, the religious, social, and economic bases for a society in which the Christian concept of the Good can be realized. The Enlightenment conception of liberty atomizes everything, and posits as the Good the economically, sexually, and morally autonomous Self.

MacIntyre, on my reading, doesn’t have a real answer to this problem. In the last paragraph of After Virtue, the philosopher suggests that the only way to recover the moral life is to form island communities within the chaotic mainstream, communities where people who believe in the older virtues can live together and practice them. MacIntyre does not specify what these communities should look like, and he certainly doesn’t prescribe monasticism as the cure. After all, we need a “doubtless very different” Benedict. His St. Benedict reference should be read as a call for people of our time to recognize the severity of our condition, and the hopelessness of living virtuously over time while accepting the rules of modernity’s game. There is reason for hope, says MacIntyre, but it is to be found among those who recognize that the contemporary order is opposed to what they believe to be Good, and that maintaining the Good requires them both to quit seeing the Good as the perpetuation of that order, and to construct alternative forms of community that will enable their people to withstand long-term chaos and the inevitable breakdown of the broader order.

St. Benedict, for MacIntyre, is only cited as a symbol of a visionary personality who responded creatively to the crisis of his own time, and without really knowing what he was doing, constructed a form of community that ended up not only surviving the so-called Dark Ages, but ended up serving the greater good over the centuries. It should be pointed out that Benedict did not set out saying, “I’m going to build a monastic order with the goal of saving Christianity from the social and political chaos coming after Rome’s collapse in the West.” He just went out to the woods with the goal of serving God, and gathered around him a like-minded community that wanted to do the same thing. His famous Rule was a guidebook to helping others within his community, and those who would follow him, build the institutions and structures that would help them achieve that goal together.

Again, I believe — and will write — that there are profound lessons that we lay Christians can draw on in our quite different historical circumstances. But that is a secondary meaning of the term “Benedict Option.” (A tertiary meaning is a reference to Pope Benedict XVI, whose diagnosis of our condition is acute, and whose call for Christians to be a “creative minority” within post-Christian civilization is one I endorse). The main meaning of “Benedict Option” has to do with accepting MacIntyre’s critique, and believing that our hope, as Christians living in the post-Christian West, depends on accepting the radical implications of MacIntyre’s diagnosis, and engaging ourselves in the project of building the practices and institutions that will enable ourselves and our descendants to endure and to flourish.

Under the “Benedict Option” concept, then, I can see people like the Catholic agrarians of Clear Creek, Oklahoma, making a decision to live rurally. I can also see people like the Catholics of St. Jerome school in Hyattsville, Maryland, making the decision to reinvigorate a dying parish school, making it into a rigorously and joyfully Catholic community institution. What Opus Dei’s communities do makes sense to me under the Benedict Option, as I conceive of it. The point is not to physically withdraw from the public square — we will more likely find, as Jake Meador points out [4], that we are pushed out of it as the price of fidelity to the truth — but to focus inwardly on building thicker bonds among our communities, and (again) the habits, customs, practices, and institutions that are capable of withstanding secular liberalism.

A critically important point for American religious conservatives: in MacIntyre’s view, liberalism is not simply what people on the Left espouse, but also what the mainstream Right espouses. Religious conservatives who take the Benedict Option are those who have come to understand that core principles of the GOP, as with the Democratic Party, are incompatible with, and even opposed to, what traditional Christians conceive as the Good. Voting Republican may be a prudent necessity (e.g., to protect religious liberty) but it is only that. Twenty years from now, on the issues that matter most to religious conservatives, the Republican Party will be indistinguishable from today’s Democratic Party. Why? Because the culture is liberal and fast liberalizing.

As Caleb Bernacchio put it to me in conversation yesterday, had the Supreme Court ruled the other way in Obergefell, and said there is not a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, it would not have changed much. There would still be a strong movement for same-sex marriage, and we would eventually have it nationally through legislative means, as opposed to judicial fiat. The principles necessary to believe in SSM would still be powerfully active in our culture, continuing the ongoing dissolution of the Christian meaning of sex, marriage, and gender. This is why I think Marvin Olasky’s concept of the Daniel Option [5] may be necessary, but it’s insufficient. Religious conservatives absolutely have to fight for our right to be left alone, but we cannot keep doing what we’ve been doing for 30 or 40 years, and thinking it’s going to work. We won the politics from 1980 until 2008 (Clinton would not have been possible without a dramatic conservative political shift), but we lost the culture. And so we will keep losing the politics, at least on the issues that concern religious conservatives like Marvin and me.

So, keep voting Republican if you like — I think it’s going to be necessary to have a ghost of a chance at protecting religious liberty — but do not be fooled into believing that all will be well if only we have more Republicans in office. The Republicans may be able to protect religious liberty, but they also promote policies (e.g., economic globalization) that undermine strong communities and stable families.

One more thing, then I’ve got to work on something else. As we were finishing our conversation yesterday, I told Caleb that a well-known professor I’m friends with said that in thinking our way through the Benedict Option, we shouldn’t feel so bound to MacIntyre, because he has not offered any detailed prescription for how to cure what he diagnoses. But his diagnosis is acute and accurate. Caleb, who is a student of MacIntyre’s thought, more or less agreed, and said at this early stage in working out what the Benedict Option can mean to small-o orthodox Christians within our own communities, the great value of MacIntyre is not that he gives us the right answers, but that he makes us ask the right questions — questions that the liberal order, in both its left and right wing versions, dissuades us from asking.

So, we are going to see a proliferation of “options,” and that’s okay by me. Just remember that even though I’m going to make in my book a specifically Benedictine case for the Benedict Option, the term itself is a catch-all for responses based on accepting MacIntyre’s judgment on the dead end of modern moral discourse, and on a determination to act radically to build social and other structures capable of sheltering, preserving, and growing the Christian faith as the broader culture grows more hostile to orthodox Christianity. Call it what you want, but that’s what we share.

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50 Comments To "Benedict & the Omnibus of Options"

#1 Comment By Scott On July 29, 2015 @ 11:18 am

I don’t know if you’ve read it, but you should add *Addiction & Virtue: Beyond the Models of Disease and Choice* by Kent Dunnington to your Benedict Option reading list.

Dunnington picks up on some of MacIntyre’s themes regarding the disparate understandings of the good life and talks about how addicts operate as “unwitting prophets of modernity.”

“Addiction,” then, “is the definitive habit of our time exactly because it offers the most powerful available response to this peculiarly modern lack.” (101)

You really should check it out. There was some stuff that resonated with me that you’ve been pursuing here the last several months.

#2 Comment By TA On July 29, 2015 @ 12:01 pm

Two comments, though for different audiences.

For those who are already compelled by the BenOp concept:
You say, “Reason” is often deployed as a concept that masks will to power. This is true, but it is also true for “Christianity”. All to frequently it is the most powerful person who yells the loudest that sets the terms for “what God says” people should do in a given community. Particularly, when revelation and personal experience can be taken as de facto proof. (e.g. “God told me you should do this.”, “God told me to buy a jet.”, etc.) Any BenOp community that doesn’t build in strong protections against that will provide strong temptations to our fallen natures.

For those not compelled by the BenOp. (Though, I realize this isn’t really your audience.)

You say, In late modernity, what the self desires is what is right — an incoherent philosophy.

This is already true for everyone here. Not to pick on Rod, but since he is the common thread here, his story makes a good example since it is the one that we all know at least partially. Religiously, Rod decided to leave the church of his birth and became Catholic. Until he decided to leave Catholicism and become Orthodox. Geographically, he decided to leave his home community for the big city. Until he decided not to.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing any of these decisions. However, he is unmistakably the one deciding. He may be deciding based on external criteria, but in a worldview where the self is dis-empowered, Rod would have never left his hometown or the church of his birth.

There is a movie (which, if I remember correctly was not very good overall and I don’t remember the name) that did have an interesting scene in about this. A young woman who is having a crisis of faith and works at a TV station is interviewing a local pastor. He tells his story about how when he converted he realized he needed to no longer serve the self, so he sold his possessions and broke up with his live-in girlfriend so he could become a pastor. The woman asks him about the implications of this decision on his life and specifically how it impacted his girlfriend. There was an interesting and uncomfortable back and forth as she probed to understand how these decisions were “giving up the self” since he himself was the one who decided to do it. The decision may have been based on an external code of behavior, but even so he was the one deciding to follow that particular code.

The interview ended in more or less a stalemate, but it highlighted the idea that we can’t escape the enlightenment realization that it is still we ourselves who choose.

#3 Comment By Charles Cosimano On July 29, 2015 @ 12:10 pm

“You may be confident that the kind of people who endorse this view do not extend it, for example, to Christian bakers and florists who wish to withhold their labor from a gay marriage ceremony.”

Now that is a generalization that is wrong. You have met people who would do exactly that. Where others would draw the line would be burning their neighbors for witchcraft and exorcising imaginary demons out of their children.

One may very well endorse moral anarchy as general principal but have a point where they sort of say, “Well, maybe not that.” We all have that line, even those of us who do endorse moral anarchy, think it a generally desirable thing, and work to promote it.

Absolutism can be comforting but it is not how humans work.

#4 Comment By Jones On July 29, 2015 @ 12:11 pm

“Enlightenment liberalism, for all its virtues, has come to a dead end. Its principles are destroying, and have destroyed, the religious, social, and economic bases for a society in which the Christian concept of the Good can be realized. The Enlightenment conception of liberty atomizes everything, and posits as the Good the economically, sexually, and morally autonomous Self.”

I was recently reading an article on Jessica Valenti’s disgusting, horrific take on the validity of abortion. It occurred to me that this is the inevitable result of women really taking seriously the nub of Enlightenment philosophy, and its radical centering on the individual ego. Anything that interferes with the individual will to power should simply be spit out. Nietzsche got here before us all, of course — as MacIntyre recognized.

Pretty soon you will hear about the affirmative, state-funded right to procreate of homosexual men. The next few rounds of the Permanent Sexual Revolution are already teed up.

One thing that needs more attention is that our very forms of discourse and politics are enmeshed in Enlightenment ideas, as your gloss on St. Benedict’s actual goals reminds me. The entire idea of Big Ideas, the expectation that certain moral and political knowledge can and should precede action, and that the best thing to do is debate moral ideas until everyone agrees on their correctness, thus proving their validity.

I only got closure in my own entanglements with moral philosophy when I realized there were no purely intellectual solutions to the seemingly intractable problems I was dealing with. For some questions, the only answers are those we live out in the real world.

That’s why I think this professor’s point is wrong-headed:

“a well-known professor I’m friends with said that in thinking our way through the Benedict Option, we shouldn’t feel so bound to MacIntyre, because he has not offered any detailed prescription for how to cure what he diagnoses.”

#5 Comment By Charles Lewis On July 29, 2015 @ 12:20 pm

You might be right about Republicans doing a better job of protecting religious liberty. But sometimes I wonder how much they say the “right thing” to attract certain voters. In 2008, during the primary season, Republicans debating on TV. All of them talked about Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Forgive me for being cynical, but many of them looked as if they were trying to keep a straight face or they had a gun to their heads. Even John McCain, who never spoke about religion, suddenly mused about becoming a Baptist. I’m afraid that politics may not hold the answer. Which is why I’m so intrigued by the Benedict option. We are going to have to become that creative minority PBXVI mentioned. We don’t know what that looks like but I have we all figure it out. And don’t be surprised if it includes civil disobedience. Martin Luther King was right to break the law because the law was unjust. We may want to study up on what he did. Thanks for keeping this issue alive.

#6 Comment By Charles Lewis On July 29, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

Any idea when your book will be out? Not to put pressure on you, even though I was a newspaper editor for many years and loved putting pressure on reporters. I know you’re a thorough writer so I know it can’t be rushed. But even here in the hinterlands of Toronto I’m finding more people who know about the Benedict Option.

[NFR: I haven’t finished the proposal yet! — RD]

#7 Comment By Aaron Vavreck On July 29, 2015 @ 12:23 pm

In pondering through all these options, I’m unclear how many of them want to freeze their conceptions of Christian doctrine in the present, and how many want to roll them further back to an unspecified era. Is it just opposition to SSM that unites them? Allegedly not, but to prove that entails a larger critique of not just contemporary culture but liberalizing Christianity that has already accepted SSM . . . and such critiques will have to grapple with how previous notions of orthodoxy themselves have evolved into modern orthodoxy. How does doctrine change for the orthodox, and how do we now know that future “orthodox” Christian won’t hold substantially different doctrinal beliefs? Rod often references cosmology as the bulwark of faith, but having read Charles Taylor, he knows that both modern Protestant and Catholic theologies have abandoned a cosmology that justified the divine right of kings. Church condoned slavery, torture, and the burning of witches and heretics have all been rejected by modern Church authorities. So when Maggie Gallagher blogged during the Synod of Bishops last year that she might be “losing my religion” after erroneous (or just premature?) reports emerged of liberal bishops pushing for an acceptance of SSM, she and other distraught Catholic conservatives revealed that they thought it was entirely possible that the Church could further evolve; that, as Ross Douthat wrote, there was the real possibility of schism. Christian doctrine has changed over political matters of life and death — as evidenced by the tens of thousands of soldiers who futilely died fighting for temporal power of the Pope over the Papal States — so how does the contemporary orthodox believer in any one of these options successfully argue for freezing doctrine in the present without sliding into the past? The larger issue MacIntyre subtly poses must by addressed by each option: is their version of orthodoxy compatible with democracy?

#8 Comment By Chris 1 On July 29, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

As critical as …the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life is the concept that no-one should be a victim.

And what we’ve developed since the 1960s is a politics of competing victimhood. (This, I’d suggest, arose from the success of the Civil Rights era, when people took the lesson that if they could get enough sympathy at their treatment by their opponents they’d get their way.)

I’d suggest a Benedict Option begin by abandoning the politics of victimization, abandoning the SJW approach of screaming “I’m being oppressed! He’s oppressing me!” whenever anyone or anything steps on our toes.

One reason monasteries “work” is that the process of how human beings live determines the content by which we live.

If we live focused always on what someone else is about to do wrongly to us, we’re doomed. And yet our politics and media are nearly entirely driven by this negative vision of the world.

We can opt to live, as monastics do, from a different orientation. We can opt to focus our energies on seeking what is good rather than on banishing what is bad. When we think of spiritual warfare what we’re fighting is everything that distracts us from God, the vices of food and drink and sex no less than the vice of self-satisfaction and pride. We can opt to ignore the slights sent our way, or (as the martyrs did) to welcome them as a blessing. “Bless my enemies, Lord…”

Our culture, having rejected God, believes that human action arises only from unease, and seeks only an ease that is marked by satiation. Those who have not rejected God know that truly human action arises from the joy of love, and seeks what is good for their beloved more than for themselves.

This is, truly, the fundamental difference between liberalism which is oriented about banishing unease by more sex or stuff, and a conservatism which is oriented about preserving what is good and sacrificing our wants (and sometimes even our needs) for the least of our neighbors.

A Benedict Option (like those darned Jesuits) needs to be in the world but not of the world, needs to be focused on the joy of love rather than the dis-eases of modernity, and needs to be about conserving what is good rather than chasing the latest novelty in hope it will fill the void in our lives.

Tall order…

#9 Comment By Stephen M. Bauer On July 29, 2015 @ 12:29 pm

The Benedict option is nothing more than than a return to the original elements of Christianity, especially of conversion and witness, which is precisely how the Benedict movement transformed Europe. The fact that we are talking about a Benedict option shows how far we have strayed from authentic Christianity. The mistake that we make is in thinking that a solution to perceived problems is to be found in various projects, schemes, and goals that point to problems external to ourselves rather than focusing on the Presence and our own conversion. Quoting from the above article: “It should be pointed out that Benedict did not set out saying, ‘I’m going to build a monastic order with the goal of saving Christianity from the social and political chaos coming after Rome’s collapse in the West.’ He just went out to the woods with the goal of serving God, and gathered around him a like-minded community that wanted to do the same thing.”

#10 Comment By CharleyCarp On July 29, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

What’s the option where you simultaneously fight to be left alone, and fight to impose the power of the state on other people (e.g., women seeking to terminate a pregnancy)?

#11 Comment By Philly guy On July 29, 2015 @ 12:47 pm

“The hopelessness of living virtuously while accepting the rules of modernity’s game”. I thought that was the point of life. So what, the game is “rigged”against you? Wrong. The game is longer “rigged” in your favor anymore.You will have to compete fairly in the marketplace and you want to change the whole methodology and concept of yourself to go counterculture. Coming back once is resurrection,more than once, vampirism.

#12 Comment By DKE On July 29, 2015 @ 1:05 pm

Political liberal new to the blog, curious to read intelligent conservative Christian takes on latest developments in law and culture. I like to think that reasonable people can agree to disagree without mutual contempt and mental meltdown.

Anyway…I’ve seen this before in some posts, and doubt I’m the first to point this out, but the political liberal draws a sharp distinction between the right and the good. So to my eye, this post repeatedly conflates the two.

Yes, liberalism posits the economic, sexual, morally autonomous Self as the basis of *right*. This is due to the autonomous nature of rationality. But this Self isn’t the basis of *the good*.

That’s for people to work out in civil society, for themselves and with others who they’re sympatico with. Not an easy task, and one that relies in part on aspects of the self that are particular and non-rational, owing to sensibility, language, culture, sub-culture. Which is why there’s no common and substantive conception of the Good that can justifiably serve as the basis for law (rules enforced by force).

This is the tradition that goes back to Kant, and further worked out by Rawls. Probably familiar to most readers here, but seems worth saying, given the recurrence of the Right/Good conflation that pops up in these posts.

The counter-move is to argue that no, no, despite best efforts the two can’t be prized apart. But I find that hard to square with the capacity for reflective self-governance.

Apologies if this is well-trodden ground here. Like I said, I’m new in these parts.

#13 Comment By Rob On July 29, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

MacIntyre’s critique of the Enlightenment project fails because it does not engage seriously with the towering figure of Enlightenment ethics, Kant. As I’ve explained in these comboxes before, MacIntyre dismisses Kant far too quickly, on the basis of a serious misinterpretation.

#14 Comment By Rick On July 29, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

While there are a lot of “Benedictine Options”, especially for Catholics, it seems like it is difficult to attract new members and to build a solid sense of community. Many lay communities are facing similar problems to communities of religious sisters and brothers. The average age of the professed is increasing, new vocations are not coming in, and the community life a bit cliquish.

The formation in lay groups I’ve attempted to join seemed to be targeted toward women–especially older women. That’s not bad but it did not interest me or encourage me to continue past the initial stage of formation. Everything was just a little too touchy feely for me. The little theology discussed came out of the late 1970s and early 1980s–lots of I’m okay, you’re okay, don’t judge and Jesus loves you.

#15 Comment By Kathleen On July 29, 2015 @ 1:50 pm

Hi Rod,

Can you post this instead? Trying to refine the hyperlinks.

Alasdair MacIntyre is a Catholic philosopher and the Benedictines are a Catholic order but I am not sure how many Catholics can pursue the Benedict Option when the [6] are the ones [7] the faithful.

If the Catholic church was not so hell-bent on destroying itself, Father Rutler, the persecuted priest of the story, would be a cardinal, not headed toward a [8].

You can read for yourself about what kind of man Father Rutler is [9].

#16 Comment By Turmarion On July 29, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

TA: The interview ended in more or less a stalemate, but it highlighted the idea that we can’t escape the enlightenment realization that it is still we ourselves who choose.

It’s just like once you’ve lost your virginity, you can’t get it back even if you’re celibate for the rest of your life. We can’t make a do-over and cease being children of the Enlightenment. A choice to reject the Enlightenment is a personal choice nonetheless, and an autonomous decision of the exact type said Enlightenment valorized.

It may be that some members of extremely isolated, insular communities (e.g. some–but not all–Amish, certain quasi-cultic groups, etc.) may actually function in a pre-Enlightenment mode of thinking, but they’re few and far between. More to the point, as much as some may rail about the fruits of the Enlightenment, I seriously doubt that the vast majority of commenters here really, truly, in the bottom of their hearts would be happy living a life in which, as in pre-Enlightenment societies, they had no choice of job, religion, locale, etc. I also doubt most of them would want to raise their children in such a way as to foreclose such options for them–i.e. to “police the boundaries”, as Sam M. always says.

It has been pointed out here that even among social conservatives who strongly reject divorce, very, very few put their money where their mouth is and enter “covenant” marriages in the states where those are offered. No matter how strongly you are against divorce, no matter how sure you are that you’ll never get divorced, you don’t want to put an extra burden on yourself if your spouse did abandon you, become an addict, etc. (yes, those are grounds for divorce from covenant marriages, too, but the process is still lengthy and difficult).

Likewise, even the harshest critics of atomized autonomous Enlightenment societies don’t want to toss the key to their own choices against the Enlightenment–because you never know, right? This, to me, is the paradox at the heart of the whole BenOp project.

#17 Comment By Michael Guarino On July 29, 2015 @ 2:08 pm

Yes, liberalism posits the economic, sexual, morally autonomous Self as the basis of *right*. This is due to the autonomous nature of rationality. But this Self isn’t the basis of *the good*.

You mention that it might be impossible to distinguish between right and good. There is also another less acknowledged problem: rationality is never as autonomous as these theories suggest. It is usually determined in the context of social traditions that must be carefully cultivated. It is also formed through temporary imitation, viz. trends. This goes all the way down to language and meaning, which is resident in the various ways people use speech and writing.

Fully grasping the implications of this will go a long way to understanding where more traditionally minded conservatives are coming from.

#18 Comment By JonF On July 29, 2015 @ 2:14 pm

Re: the Enlightenment project of grounding moral discourse in Reason acceptable to all has failed.

Not really. What has happened is the discovery that reason can yield more than one correct answer. This is seen very simply in mathematics in the equation X = √4. There are two correct answer, +2 and -2. More complicated equations may have many answers– even infinite answers (which does not mean every and any answer is correct: the set of all even numbers is infinite, but still includes no odd numbers). When this is applied to political and moral questions the result is a conflict among “goods”, and even oracular vision into the future would not solve it. The Enlightenment philosophes may not have realized this was a possibility, but it’s not like making major choices randomly or irrationally, whether in public or private matters is something to recommend.

Re: Voting Republican may be a prudent necessity (e.g., to protect religious liberty) but it is only that. Twenty years from now, on the issues that matter most to religious conservatives, the Republican Party will be indistinguishable from today’s Democratic Party.

You seem not to realize that your second sentence belies the first.

Re: Pretty soon you will hear about the affirmative, state-funded right to procreate of homosexual men.

Male gay guys already have a “right to procreate”, at least as much as anyone else does. However Mother Nature, whose dictats no court can overrule, has decreed that a fertile human woman must be involved in some fashion in the process.

#19 Comment By Irenist On July 29, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

Benedict did not set out saying, “I’m going to build a monastic order with the goal of saving Christianity from the social and political chaos coming after Rome’s collapse in the West.” He just went out to the woods with the goal of serving God, and gathered around him a like-minded community that wanted to do the same thing. His famous Rule was a guidebook to helping others within his community, and those who would follow him, build the institutions and structures that would help them achieve that goal together.

They say you don’t find happiness by pursuing happiness; you find it by loving others, doing meaningful work, etc. Likewise, although religion is upstream of culture, and culture of politics, I think the quoted passage above is vital to keep in mind. If we set out to build our varied BenOps with anything other than better serving Jesus Christ in mind, we will not only fail as Christians, but fail to have some great downstream political influence as well, because our foundations, built on sand, will fall.


Welcome! A fine comment. I hope you stick around.


What’s the option where you simultaneously fight for women seeking to terminate a pregnancy to be left alone, and fight to impose the power of the state on other people (e.g., the unborn)?

Ugh. Look, even the most standoffish, laissez faire libertarian and libertine night watchman state, built on the purest Lockean, Nozickian, Hayekian, or anarcho-capitalist principles, could still make an exception for laws against *murder.* Thus, whether wanting to be let alone is or is not consistent with pro-life politics necessarily implicates the personhood question at the root of the whole debate: you can’t simply beg that question and expect to be taken seriously. But, honestly, as written above, the political stuff is mostly a sideshow compared to the real spiritual work of any BenOp, which should probably start on my part with not letting myself get drawn into this kind of thing. Make me chaste, Lord….

#20 Comment By Franklin Evans On July 29, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

DKE: welcome! I believe that you will find much of value here. I have, and there are few around here more socially liberal than I am.

Knowing how annoyed Rod has become from certain commentary themes, allow me to point out that his conception — by whatever “Option” label he ends up using — is very much a rational acknowledgement of the social and political shifts of the last 50-plus years. Don’t be distracted by criticism of those changes per se.

#21 Comment By Fr. James On July 29, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

I think this proliferation of “options” is a good thing. One size does not fit all. It is a sign that we are all struggling to find a way to survive in a hostile culture that is rapidly moving toward persecution. There may be some things that are common to all options and each might have a charism that is useful to the whole.

#22 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 29, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

The interview ended in more or less a stalemate, but it highlighted the idea that we can’t escape the enlightenment realization that it is still we ourselves who choose.

TA here identifies the key point. The Enlightenment was a recognition of something that is just unavoidably true: there are lots of people (and lots of nations and communities) in the world, they’re different, they see things differently and value different things. Locally and for a time, you can try to force everyone into line, but even then you’re not necessarily gaining their assent (unless you just destroy their inner selves, as the Party finally has to do to Winston Smith in 1984), and overall, it’s impossible to line everyone up around the same vision of “the Good.”

So, inevitably, people choose. They just do. Even if they claim to be submitting themselves completely to authority or tradition or God, they’re choosing then to do that. Anthony Kennedy may have put it inartfully, and I wouldn’t look to someone like him for philosophical sophistication, but he was right that there’s no getting around this, and that the alternative to a political order that acknowledges it is one that doesn’t — i.e. one that tries to force people into line.

As I say, the Enlightenment discovered this fact, just as it discovered that the earth is billions of years old. It didn’t invent it, and if the knowledge were somehow repealed, it would just be re-discovered eventually. Once populations expanded and people began trading and migrating and eventually building big ships, there was no way to avoid the developments that MacIntyre laments, and there is no conceivable future not involving nuclear apocalypse in which they will be reversed.


Political liberal new to the blog, curious to read intelligent conservative Christian takes on latest developments in law and culture. I like to think that reasonable people can agree to disagree without mutual contempt and mental meltdown.

Great, that’s why I’m here too. And what you’re describing does happen! Sometimes.

#23 Comment By Charles Cosimano On July 29, 2015 @ 3:22 pm

The problem with all this is that things get messy. You can have a general principal of good that runs into reality. So, for the sake of argument, you have something that is considered good in all things, like, say genocide. (I’m deliberately using that so don’t have heart failure.) Now that works fine until you run into the Nazis and the Jews. Because there the principal fails the pragmatic test. It is not good to wipe out the most productive part of your society.

When that happens, the principal has to be modified to say genocide is good in most cases. And once you say that you land in casuistry because each case is different. So, genocide of Jews in WW2 is bad bad very bad. Genocide of Native Americans, good good good. Genocide of Armenians? Hard to say. Genocide of Rwandans? What’s an Rwandan?

Ok, now that everyones’ hair has fallen out, the point of this is that no principal is going to work all the time. Things break. Universals fall apart in the face of reality.

#24 Comment By Zorro On July 29, 2015 @ 3:41 pm

And that is our problem today: in our time, we cannot say in any rational or binding way what is Good, because we do not share the same story. The Good devolves necessarily from what is chosen to the act of choosing itself. But how does one know what to choose?

This is a genuinely interesting question, one which has no easy answer, it seems to me.

Rod says that “In late modernity, what the self desires is what is right.” This formulation isn’t entirely fair of course. For example, here in “late modernity” I desire not to pay taxes, but as a citizen and a rational being I see that taxes are necessary to maintain the community. So I see that it is right for me to pay taxes although it runs counter to my self.

I think the reference to how we don’t share the same story is very profound. I am imagining that in the Middle Ages in Europe, in pre-Columbian Aztec society, in pre-British India, in Confucian China, in any “pre-modern” society, what the Good was was probably self-evident to most people. It was what a stable and self-enclosed society said it was. One seldom or never even encountered different views.

So for example I have a close friend my own age who is a product of Hindu India, something of a pre-modern individual in spite of his wide contacts. He is moreover a Brahmin. Vijay is somewhat acquainted with American Christianity, and makes a big deal out of being tolerant of our erroneous views, but never doubts for an instant that Hinduism, specifically his brand of it, is absolutely correct. I have known Christians who took exactly the same position as to Christianity (their brand, of course).

So we see that being absolutely sure is no guarantee of being correct, since Vijay’s view and the view of my pentecostal Christian friends cannot possibly be reconciled. (Not to drag the Catholics or the Orthodox into this!)

As someone else pointed out, Rod himself has changed his mind, several times, on these issues, never doubting that the person who did the changing and the deciding was Rod himself. (Who else?) So how can it be a bad thing when we make up our own minds? The very word “Option” in “Benedict Option” hints at an individual decision, the decision to join such a community, for starters.

Broadly speaking, MacIntyre says that moral discourse is incoherent today, because the Enlightenment project of grounding moral discourse in Reason acceptable to all has failed. “Reason” is often deployed as a concept that masks will to power. We cannot have a moral community without a shared conception of the Good, one that precedes individual choice.

OK. I guess. But how can we arrive at “a shared conception of the Good” which “precedes individual choice” when the choice of which conception of the Good is correct, the Protestant, the Catholic, the Buddhist, the Orthodox, the Hindu, the secular, necessarily comes first? None of us, after all, can go back to a situation where we have never heard of the other alternatives. And the answers they give to fundamental questions are very very different.

(All of this of course is the philosophical underpinning of separation of Church and State and the establishment of a modern secular society.)

#25 Comment By Michael Guarino On July 29, 2015 @ 5:59 pm

Not really. What has happened is the discovery that reason can yield more than one correct answer. This is seen very simply in mathematics in the equation X = √4. There are two correct answer, +2 and -2. More complicated equations may have many answers– even infinite answers (which does not mean every and any answer is correct: the set of all even numbers is infinite, but still includes no odd numbers).

I am sorry, but these analogies make my skin crawl. In mathematics, any equation is shorthand for a set definition, with the equation itself providing a condition for set abstraction. So x = sqrt(4) is a quick way of saying { x | x = sqrt(4) }. Solving equations is simply a mechanical way of enumerating the set’s members, solving a system of equations is an attempt at expressing or enumerating, in the case that the set is in fact countable, the intersection of all those sets. This is very disanaloguous to finding “multiple answers” in an ethical debate, because there really was one answer to begin with, most people just don’t have the language down.

So here is my spiel on this issue, because I see people get it wrong so often.

In ethics, issues arise on two levels. First, metaethics are not settled. Many people are basically anti-realists, and tend to gravitate towards utilitarianism or consequentialism because the ontology can be made to hand-wave away ethical universals like the good. Others have little issue accepting a realist metaethics, usually because they have already committed to belief in God.

There are other differences in pure ethical expression due to metaethical uncertainty. The way moral statements are expressed by a Kantian are in the form of imperatives, whereas a consequentialist would discuss trade-offs or costs and benefits. Translating between these is nontrivial, and it dramatically affects the way you reason morally as well. Utilitarians can basically follow the theorems found in an optimization theory textbook. A pure Kantian needs to work from scratch, largely using the categorical imperatives as a starting board (I have seen people try to create modal logics that model it which always seem quite strange). And virtue ethicists would have a much different language as well, with a more dialectical pattern of reasoning allowing greater flexibility and accommodation for contradictory inputs (virtues that pull different ways). Virtue ethicist find this compelling because it allows one to focus on the lived practice of cultivating virtue. Notice we have easily blown past any mathematical analogy, because you really can do maths in a single language without much hassle: ZFC set theory (well, actually it would be much more tedious if you did that in any subject less abstract than say, topology).

The second level is more in the weeds of specific ethical argument, where we don’t have precise definitions of basic terms, which mean that conclusion rarely follow deductively. In those cases, an ethical “theory” literally could have multiple “answers” because we have no way to say that one of a set of contradictory claims are not consistent with the rest of the shared beliefs of the parties in an argument. If we want to play with mathematical analogies, the best one for this would be the independence of the axiom of choice from the rest of set theory, or the independence of the parallel postulate from the other Euclidean axioms of geometry. But this is terribly small-time compared to the metaethical problems above.

I doubt anyone is going to craft a political philosophy from these insights, but if they do, it very easily could be one that is hostile to the Enlightenment.

#26 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 29, 2015 @ 8:03 pm

“Strengthen the things that remain.”
For context, Revelation 3:2.

As followed by Bob Dylan in “When You Gonna Wake Up?”

#27 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 29, 2015 @ 8:25 pm

I (as distinct from we) believe:

There is a God who created the universe, who is in some unfathomable and teleological sense “Good.”

(It’s a fascinating speculation though, when I hear the chant, “God is great, God is good…” What if God had been great, and evil? If this evil God were omnipotent, what could we do about it but obey?)

A good person should try, as best they can, to approximate a smidgeon of understanding of what this good God desires, expects, demands, and try, incompetently, to approximate some degree of obedience.

Any person who claims to know what The Good is, or what The Truth is, has always been and always will be the most dangerous person in the world, because they are, always, wrong, due to the fact that they are not God.

We can generally agree on at least some of the basic outlines… Jesus said all the law and the prophets hang on two commandments. Hillel said something similar, adding, the rest is detail, go forth and learn. I appreciate adding Micah’s “He has shown you oh man what is good…”

God may desire that human societies have a modicum of order and law, but we should not kid ourselves that our laws are according to the Will of God, because we’re just not capable of doing that. Hopefully we have the good sense to adopt laws for ourselves that do not greatly transgress the laws of God, but often we do.

That is our responsibility. That last time God tried to bestow a set of laws on any human community, they went spinning off in some other direction every generation or two.

What does it all add up to? “When we all get to heaven…” we may find out. (Calvinists will object to the citation.)

#28 Comment By Mdc On July 29, 2015 @ 9:03 pm

Politically speaking, aren’t you an ‘Enlightenment liberal’, too?

[NFR: Most of us are, by default. — RD]

#29 Comment By Zorro On July 29, 2015 @ 9:34 pm

Wait. I think I’m confused.

The social conservatives here have made a big deal out of “religious liberty,” as in, the freedom of religious people not to bake cakes for same sex weddings and so forth. Much anguish has been had over this and related issues. It has been stated that with all their flaws, the Republicans are more likely than the Democrats to protect “religious liberty,” and that that is a good reason to vote for them.

But isn’t “religious liberty” itself a product of the Enlightenment?

It certainly is historically in Europe. From Charlemagne on, “heretics” were persecuted and often killed for their divergent views. In the 1500’s and 1600’s Catholics burned Protestants, Protestants burned Catholics, and Protestants burned each other at the stake, for holding religious views differing from whoever had the power at the time and place in question.

In the fledgling United States was born the idea that there would be freedom of every person to determine his or her own religion. This was not instituted out of openmindedness so much as out of the realization that even those 13 colonies could not live together on any other basis. (OK, some of the Deist Founders really were open-minded.)

But this was definitely an Enlightenment concept.

However, we have learned here, from Professor MacIntyre, that the Enlightenment has “failed” in this regard.

So, which is it? The Enlightenment with its idea that everyone has the right and responsibility to determine right and wrong for him or herself (as per Justice Kennedy), or…what? No freedom for those who dissent?

I’m going to restate CharleyCarp here, to take murder off the table:

What’s the option where you simultaneously fight to be left alone, and fight to impose the power of the state on other people (e.g., prohibiting my two male neighbors from getting married)?

I’m struggling to resolve this, and struggling to resist the idea that social conservatives are not really interested in religious liberty at all. That is, they want it for themselves, but not for anyone who disagrees with them. As to gays who want to get married, these conservatives are about as minded to respect other peoples’ consciences as any ordinary German prince in 1600. The rule then was, the prince determined your religious views. You agreed with him or else.

The only reason we have not heard this approach urged more forcefully lately is that the social conservatives lost in the larger arena. SSM is now legal nationwide. The very instant these conservatives have power again, the liberties of all these other people will be eliminated. (I don’t even think they deny that!) That’s the suspicion of people like my gay neighbors, and I’m afraid I’m finding there’s a lot of support for those fears right here in this discussion.

It may not be too impressive to insist on liberties for oneself which one would not be willing to grant other people, if only one had the power to deny them.

#30 Comment By S Joy On July 29, 2015 @ 9:37 pm

Communities that will thrive in the coming decades will have members with plenty of relational skills who possess emotional maturity – rooted in the soil of orthodox Christianity. Having orthodox Christian teaching without the former qualities will be predictive of a community failing. Subscribing to orthodox theology clearly does not automatically endow on with what one never learned *in community*….

The catch is that we don’t know the relational skills we are missing until we experience a community that has those relational skills (I think a lot of Americans experience some of these relational skills among foreigners when they go to developing countries on “mission trips”).

American men are at, on average, the infant level stage of emotional maturity – while women are only slightly higher at the adolescent stage of development.

There is a group of people who have been teaching relational skills to Christian leaders for about the past decade – theirs is what I think the new “Rule” of BO communities will be. Without at least some of these skills – we won’t have the ability to cooperate and protect communities from predators. “Building thicker bonds” is not possible with people who have never experience secure bonds…

See here: [10]

#31 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On July 30, 2015 @ 1:23 am

Since 911, individual liberty has been vastly curtailed, and global violence has exponentially increased. Wars and rumors of wars abound. The culture has become ever more perverse. The satanic absurdity and perversity of Caitlyn Jenner in Playboy might cause the whole universe to implode. I can imagine God having his doubts about creating the world when He saw this in the future.

Perhaps the next “terror event” will trigger the final annihilation of our freedoms and the complete establishment of a global police state, if we aren’t nuked out of existence first. The apocalypse seems to be upon us. So, what should we do—now? The Benedict Option. Well, yes, of course. But we need to ensure that there is space for it. Will there be in 10 years, in five years, in one year? So, no doubt we should do all we can to restrict the scope and power of modern states and international institutions of global governance, as well as expose the machinations of the “deep state” that actually rules us. We must preserve what is left of the freedoms of speech, protest, and worship by non-violent means, and by self-defensive force if necessary. Moreover, if modernity is merely the replacement of one bloody sacred for another—we used to have bloody crusades and wars for Christ and Mohammad, now we have them for democracy and freedom—it would seem reasonable for us to turn our efforts towards banishing any semblance of the sacred from the public square so as to separate it from all corrupting, political, coercive, and violence-making power and thus corruption. This would protect both the sacred from profanation and the state from idolatry. In other words, if Western governments are indeed shrines and purveyors of satanic nothing-worship, then we need to strip them of all sacred authority and power.

While it cannot be denied that a more secular, less powerful, and more—much more—decentralized government-military-financial-educational-intelligence-media complex is the sine qua non of any solution, and this is very MacIntyrean, if we take the reality and power of the sacred as seriously as it deserves, we should be as discontented at seeing the sacred remain merely a private affair as we are seeing it counterfeited, mocked, and profaned. We must not be complicit with the separation of religion and politics that defines the modern era. This is the true meaning of MacIntyre’s ouvre, as I argue in my book on his thought, in debate with Rawls and Maritain on the poltical problem of religious pluralism.

God exercises, whether we recognize it or not, social, cultural, and political reign over the world—we live now in a theocracy, always have, and always will, until the end of the world. And this rule is not just over individual hearts, but over institutions and states, over men organized collectively for the common good and for His honor, even if they dishonor Him and order the sacred commons to their monstrous, vampirish appetites. He is the ultimate common good, the ultimate ground for any human social contract, and if He is relegated to the private sphere of idiosyncratic and irrational fancy, something not-so-good will always take His place. Just as there is no such thing as “free speech,” as it is an Orwellian term used to suppress speech that is not politically correct, there is no such thing as an empty shrine.

Thus, we must work not only to dethrone the satanic sacred, the Abomination of Desolation now residing in the Holy of Holies, but also to replace it with the authentic sacred, the worship of the Living, Holy, All-powerful, All-knowing, All-just, All-merciful God. We need to learn, practice, revitalize, and establish in our communities and states those Traditions that embody and transmit His existence and will, that embody and mediate the ultimate realities of man’s existence, the transcendent origin, end, and meaning of all things that cannot be grasped by human reason alone, and which cannot be fully rationalized, defined, or articulated. Ultimate reality must be experienced and obeyed through and in its incarnations in authentic religious traditions. It is in this sense that genuine sacred traditions are the eyes that allow us desacralized men to see the spiritual, eternal, and transcendent meaning hidden in the physical, temporal, and mundane facts of everyday existence, to truly “delight in meaning” by being immersed in the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. We must replace the counterfeit and degrading meanings given to us by the satanic sacred with the truth.
To dethrone the satanic sacred that has usurped the seats of earthly power in Western society, we first must repent of our own complicity in its rites and ceremonies. What that complicity might look like is something we all need to think about before and during our Benedict opt-outs, but it has much to do with accepting the scapegoating status-quo because it flatters, protects, and keeps us feeling comfortable, and with refusing to speak truth to power out of fear. After a thorough examination of conscience, we must unmask the satanic face hiding right out in the open so as to help those blinded to its existence and horrific nature through the unholy fear it engenders, the tortuous psychological and spiritual deceptions it incessantly enacts, and its totalitarian control of public discourse. As Neil Kramer describes, “For the ordinary person, the primary power of Empire rests not in its might or cunning, but in its invisibility. People who are not mindful of its presence do not comprehend their conscious and spiritual incarceration.”

Waldstein: “The City of God is founded on a love of God that leads its citizens to contempt for themselves, counting all earthly things as worthless. . . . Augustine argues that the temporal ought to be ordered to the eternal (Civ. Dei XIX,17), but that this ordering will never be achieved entirely harmoniously till the second coming of the Lord. For, there is a second city here on earth in addition to the city of God— the civitas terrena, the earthly city. This city is founded on a love of self to the contempt of God (Civ. Dei XIV,28). And these two cities are in conflict . . . The earthly city is always opposed to true religion. . . . Justice consists in giving each his own, thus no society is just that does not give God the worship due to Him.”

The city of man has always been opposed to true religion, to the truly sacred, and this opposition has only increased in our “secular age,” and exponentially since 911. At the heart of every culture is always the sacred, and at the heart of our post-911, pathocratic, imperial culture of death and deception is a terrible—but entirely vincible—sacred power in mortal conflict with the Logos, the merciful, loving, and truly sacred Person who protects, guide, and saves those who are willing to recognize, adore, and trust in Him.

#32 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 30, 2015 @ 4:18 am

@Thaddeus J Kozinski:

Since 911, individual liberty has been vastly curtailed, and global violence has exponentially increased. Wars and rumors of wars abound. The culture has become ever more perverse. The satanic absurdity and perversity of Caitlyn Jenner in Playboy might cause the whole universe to implode.

That would be worrisome if it were remotely true. In fact, however, since 2001 the world has had [11] fewer [12] fewer [13] and [14]

So, no “exponential increase” at all, just the opposite.

I will agree, though, that Caitlyn Jenner in Playboy would be satanic and could implode the universe. Fortunately, the magazine she appeared in wasn’t Playboy, it was Vanity Fair. There’s talk of an upcoming pictorial in Playboy Thailand, but with luck, that will implode only Thailand.

#33 Comment By Zorro On July 30, 2015 @ 9:16 am

American men are at, on average, the infant level stage of emotional maturity– while women are only slightly higher at the adolescent stage of development.

This statement does not square with my experience.

I followed out the links S Joy provides, however, and I learned that for only $1,300 a “bonded pair” can remedy this situation through a five day seminar. This fee does not seem to include lodging or food. Or, of course, transportation. The website includes a statement that scholarships or discounts are not available, and suggests fundraising within your church or other group.

The catch is that we don’t know the relational skills we are missing.

#34 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 30, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

Religiously, Rod decided to leave the church of his birth and became Catholic. Until he decided to leave Catholicism and become Orthodox. Geographically, he decided to leave his home community for the big city. Until he decided not to.

I believe an important distinction is that each time, Rod chose a discipline, and practiced it faithfully. The key freedom that prevents such discipline from degenerating into a totalitarian community, sometimes misnomered “cult,” is the freedom of the individual to withdraw (intact).

It may be that humans don’t really need to enter into a communal discipline. It is almost certainly true that Benedictine discipline is not for everyone. It may be that some disciplines are wholly false, or that others are wholly true.

But it is possible that choosing a discipline and then practicing that discipline is the path to fulfillment of a human life. Individual choice still has an important role to play, and choice unconstrained by the police powers of the state (or the quasi-state of a violent gang) is still important.

#35 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On July 30, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

@Eamus Catuli

Orwellian doublethink perfected.

#36 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 30, 2015 @ 10:40 pm

Orwellian doublethink perfected.

But the two ideas I’m holding simultaneously are: (1) Evidence shows that violence has declined globally since 2001, and therefore (2) Thaddeus J Kozinski doesn’t know what he’s talking about. How are those contradictory? Seems like singlethink.

#37 Comment By Charles Lewis On July 31, 2015 @ 12:00 am

I’m so glad this discussion is occurring. As a journalist for 33 years I was forced to always simplify. Not because my readers were dumb but in 600 words in four or five hours you can only hit the top of the waves. There is something good about that. As a writer is forced me to really understand the topic and it also allows readers to take the story as a starting point for their own thinking. My humble advice is with the Benedict Option is to make it simple and let the complexity grow organically. Too many people may wait till this is fully formed to do something. But I suggest, with respect to Rod Dreher, this idea can be implemented in our own lives right away. Everything big starts with small adjustments. Give your brain a break from endless noise and information. Instead of listening to news or musics walking to work use that time to say the Jesus Prayer or the Our Father. Instead of watching the news, read the Bible or the life of a saint. Read good novels in which Christianity plays a part. I don’t mean a genre of Christian novels (made squeaky clean) but Tolstoy, or Dostoyevsky, O’Connor, Dante, and on and on. Seek out others who like to laugh and drink but take faith seriously. They are what we need now more than ever. Just change small habits for holy ones. And go to Church. I believe the Benedict Option will develop over years into something quite beautiful. I believe it would a be a waste to wait till that time.

#38 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On July 31, 2015 @ 12:39 am


Oh yes, the “evidence.” Whose evidence? Which Ideology?

Yes, things are great now, Pinker: the prolongation and escalation of violence and millions upon millions of human sacrificial victims—the unborn, the elderly, the handicapped, the poor and middle class in the first world, the vast majority in the third world; religiously, culturally, and intellectually starved souls; the normalization of political propaganda; pathological sex and violence in media and entertainment; massive indebtedness; masses of brave new world soma addicts (in forms Huxley couldn’t have dreamt of), the so-called collateral damage of millions of innocents in perpetual, epic-scale wars; the perpetual fear and terror of the national security and surveillance state; wars and rumors of wars; the real threat of nuclear Armageddon.

I’ll take Girard over these liars like Pinker and Singer any day. Modernity, for Girard and if you have eyes to see, is now witnessing the birth-pangs of the apocalypse, conceived, as it were, two-thousand years ago through the Gospel’s revelation of the scapegoat mechanism as the original sin of all cultures, a revelation accepted by the Church and embodied in medieval Catholic culture, but still tainted with the religious violence it was supposed to eradicate. This revelation was corporately and politically either thoroughly rejected, as in secularist Europe, or relegated to one private opinion among others, as in America. In both, it was replaced by an officially established, “gospel” of secularized victim-concern, with the divine victim, the only effective means to avoid the apocalypse of scapegoating violence, himself scapegoated through indifference and incomprehension. What ensued was the unleashing of, in Paul’s words, “the man of lawlessness,” now in his full fury—the uncontrollable, escalating mimetic desire of undifferentiated and equal, autonomous, relativistic persons in a secularized, mechanistic, individualized, immanentized culture bereft of any authoritative, corporate, transcendent meaning and purpose—without the safety valve of the archaic mechanism of religiously authorized human sacrifice. Girard writes:
The trend toward the apocalypse is humanity’s greatest feat. The more probable this achievement becomes, the less we talk about it. . . . I have always been utterly convinced that violence belongs to a form of corrupted sacred, intensified by Christ’s action when he placed himself at the heart of the sacrificial system. Satan is the other name of the escalation to extremes. The Passion has radically altered the archaic world. Satanic violence has long reacted against this holiness, which is an essential transformation of ancient religion.

#39 Comment By Caleb Bernacchio On July 31, 2015 @ 1:14 am

Dear Rod,

Thinking about our conversation, I think there is one point that should be clarified. After Virtue, rather than a offering a program, end in an aporia but its conclusion is not totally lacking content. It suggests that we build new forms of community that promote and protect practices against the corrupting effect of institutional pressure and its accompanying vices.

Why is the question of building new forms a community the central question of After Virtue? Why is this a question of the first importance for MacIntyre’s philosophical project?

Because After Virtue was an extended argument against the very possibility of an ethical theory that was not grounded in a very particular type of community. This is a community that has three characteristics it is organized in terms of various activities directed toward shared goods, it provides a space for people to order their life toward a final end, and it understands the present in terms of tradition of which it is a part. The first characteristic is explained in terms of the notion of a practice. Practices are the key to any “new form of community,” because practices provides the primary locus for the experience of the virtues, as well as the experience of rationally grounded authority, and tradition.

Unlike mere discussions of virtues, practices provides the primary context for the experience of the virtues. They also allow for the development of practical wisdom. What are practices? They are arts, and sciences, games like chess or baseball, and crafts life carpentry and farming, and professions like accounting or engineering. To be a successful participant of any one of the activities one must possess the virtues to a large degree or at least rely upon the virtues of others to maintain the integrity of the practice.

Participating in any of these activities requires honesty, justice, and courage. One must be honest to oneself and to others about the quality of one’s performance. One must be just in giving other their due when they perform well; and one must be courageous in resisting pressure to cheat when the other team is not looking. One must learn that winning and excellence are not the same; by learning this in very particular cases one becomes practically wise.

Any new form of community in MacIntyre’s sense must be a community that seeks to promote and preserve practices against the threat of hostile institutions that ostensibly support the practice. So, for instance, schools have been known to degrade the disciplines of math or literature, and instead to teach students how to pass standardized tests. Universities have been described as glorified trade schools because they instrumentalize what should be a period whereby students learn various arts or sciences and in the process become better human beings; they instrumentalize the disciplines and instead focus on teaching students the skills that will look good on a resume. Youth sports have become obsessions driven by the unlikely prospect that a child will one day be rich and famous as a professional athlete. And work has become merely instrumental, directed toward profit maximization rather than excellence. In all of these cases key opportunities for the experience of and development of virtues, as well the firsthand appreciation of both tradition and rationally justified authority, have been lost. Instead, individuals (this term is appropriate in this context) learn to use the things they encounter merely as means to the fulfillment of their own desires. The result is a stunted character that lacks the virtues.

How is this relevant to the Benedict Option? People who are concerned because of the the hostility and rejection of Christianity especially Christian morality, must recognize that religious instruction is not enough. In your terms, religious instruction without the cultivation of the virtues, is a recipe for MTD (moralistic therapeutic deism). If Christianity is to be any more than skin deep it demands that one cultivate the virtues, especially the cardinal virtues of justice, temperance, courage, and practical wisdom. This can be accomplished primarily by participating in a number of practices within a community that values practices precisely for the way that they contribute to common good of the community as a whole. It is for this reason that MacIntyre’s suggestion of the need for new forms of community, while not in any way a program, is not entirely lacking in content. Instead, such new forms of community must be communities that protect the integrity of practices, as the key locus of the experience of the virtues, authority, and tradition, against the threat of pride, avarice, and injustice. It is for the same reason that proponents of the Benedict Option must be concerned with practices as MacIntyre has described them.

This is also the reason that meaningful work is so important. So much of our waking hours are spent working. It is of the utmost importance that work contributes to character formation, and serves as means to contribute to the common good of one’s community. Work is not solely about making consumer goods, or profits, but it is instead a means of making one’s self, of shaping one’s character. It is for this reason that proponents of the Benedict Option must be concerned with promoting forms of work, and thus companies, that facilitate the cultivation of the virtues.

#40 Comment By S Joy On July 31, 2015 @ 9:01 am

Zorro –

I appreciate your effort to examine the link I posted – I am not sure if you meant to imply that requesting payment for services is indicative of the lack of relational skills?

Church/leadership failures are endemic among Protestants and Roman Catholics (I don’t have enough experience with Eastern Orthodoxy to address). Could it be that these failures have less to do with the lack of knowledge (cognitive/”head” knowledge) and more to do with the absence of emotional/relational maturity and skill?

After reading “Everyday Saints” I was impressed by the number of men with elder-level maturity among the Russian Orthodox community when the church was being persecuted under communism. Sadly, I can count on one hand the number of elder-level mature Christian men I know who exist (personally and in the “Christian” public forum) in the United States.

Without men (and women) who act and behave in a similar manner to these Russian monks – we Christians – no matter what we call the “option” – in the US who seek Community are doomed to fail.

Too many of us don’t know what we don’t know about a functional, resilient community.

Those Christians (whose work I linked)are at least making an attempt to remedy the deficits.

#41 Comment By Eamus Catuli On July 31, 2015 @ 9:33 am

@Thaddeus, that John Gray article was already discussed here on an earlier thread. It doesn’t actually dispute the numbers to which I posted links above. It quarrels with Pinker’s interpretation of the Enlightenment and the warfare of the 20th century, calls his conclusions “questionable,” and falls back repeatedly on formulations like “While the seeming exactitude of statistics may be compelling, much of the human cost of war is incalculable.” In other words, Gray basically concedes the numbers, but tries to argue that they don’t tell the whole story.

These are fair points, moderately stated, and nothing like your bizarre claims of “exponential” increases in violence specifically in the past 14 years. I’m pretty sure even Gray would agree that there’s no evidence for anything so extreme. Being British, he might also politely point out (the Brits, they’re always so polite) that focusing on 9/11 as some kind of iconic turning point is a remarkably Americo-centric way of judging global trends.

#42 Comment By S Joy On July 31, 2015 @ 9:35 am

What is it about calling a community a different ______ Option (fill in the blank with the “option” name) that will keep it from repeating the same leadership failures that are endemic to the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities that already exist?

Persecution does not confer the necessary secure attachments and skills required to enable a community to thrive.

#43 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On July 31, 2015 @ 4:09 pm

MacIntyre is, of course, the primary intellectual foundation for the Benedict Option, but there is one major weakness in his thought, and that is its resistance to, if not rejection of, the Catholic confessional state model, which is normative in Catholic Social Teaching, whatever form prudence would dictate for it to take in the present and future. But the reason for this apparent rejection seems to be MacIntyre’s lack of a truly political and adequately law-based structure for his small-scale communities. The other problem is MacIntyre’s ambiguous attitude towards the Liberal Leviathan: As I have written:

Perhaps the most significant difference between the political thought of Rawls/Maritain and MacIntyre is the latter’s rejection of the nation-state as a possible locus for political activity. In spite of their considerable differences, both Rawls and Maritain at least share the aspiration to embody their respective political visions on the national level. The source of MacIntyre’s and Rawls/Maritain’s differing political assessments of the nation-state is their disagreement as to the possibility that an overlapping consensus of incompatible religious and philosophical traditions can support a morally grounded political order. MacIntyre’s basic argument is that since a morally based political order requires a tradition-homogenous citizenry, and since the nation-state is necessarily comprised of a tradition-heterogeneous citizenry, the nation-state cannot embody a morally based politics. Insofar as it attempts to do so, the result can only be tyranny, force, and fraud, and the attenuation and disintegration of morally based political activity on the sub-state level. Insofar as sub-state political communities attempt to embody their authentic politics on the state-level, the result can only be the per-version of that politics, as MacIntyre’s pithy remark suggests, “Those who make the conquest of state power their aim are always in the end conquered by it.”
Yet, when we examine MacIntyre’s rationale for rejecting state-based politics, questions arise to which MacIntyre provides no clear or coherent answers. Why precisely is the nation-state incompatible with genuine political activity? MacIntyre explains his rejection of the nation-state in quantitative terms, with its great size precluding it from embodying a consensus on a particular tradition of rationality and conception of the good; but he also speaks in qualitative terms, suggesting that it is the state’s complex, bureaucratic structure that prevents it from performing genuine political activity. If size is not the essential problem, then could the state embody genuine political activity in the event of a nation-wide consensus on a particular conception of the good? If a nation wide consensus is too much to ask, could a state embody good politics if its size and scope were small enough to procure a consensus, but larger than the local communities Mac-Intyre prescribes? If the problem is not only quantity but also quality, could the state’s essential structure be reformed to enable genuine political ac-tivity? Or is there something essentially and irredeemably anti-political about the modern state, regardless of accidental differences like size, scope, and complexity? Is the modern nation state intrinsically anti-political, or is the state qua state such? Is the political model of the nation-state necessarily bound up with the errors and defects of modern, post-Enlightenment thought and culture? And if the state is irredeemable, why exactly is that the case?
MacIntyre does not provide adequate answers to these important questions. For example, his judgment that the modern state cannot embody a genuine politics is based upon his notion of the modern state’s incapacity to embody conceptions of the good. But upon examination, this notion is confusing. On the one hand, MacIntyre insists that the state should not embody a conception of the good, but on the other, he admits that the state cannot help but embody some particular conception of the good:
Even though that neutrality is never real, it is an important fiction, and those of us who recognize its importance as well as its fictional character will agree with liberals in upholding a certain range of civil liberties. . . . For the contemporary state could not adopt a point of view on the human good as its own without to a significant degree distorting, degrading and discrediting that point of view. It would put those values to the service of its own political and economic power and so degrade and discredit them.
If the state is as amoral a structure as MacIntyre claims it to be, it is not clear why its “neutrality is never real”; for, why could the desired neutrality not be produced in an essentially morally neutral structure? If state-neutrality cannot be effected, does this suggest that the state is an essentially moral entity? If the state’s complexity and bureaucracy render it impervious to being infused with moral substance, then how could it ever manage to behave in the morally non-neutral manner MacIntyre claims it inevitably does? In any case, why not aim at least to shape the state’s non-neutrality in accordance with a true conception of the good, perhaps by working to lessen its size and complexity to make it more amenable to moral influence and embodiment; one could begin with the state’s more modest and accommodating embodiments, such as local and municipal governments. In short, it does not seem reasonable to abandon a potentially harmful agent of such immense power to its own anarchic whims, as it were, foregoing even the attempt to infuse it with and direct it to moral goods. If the explanation for the inevitably moral bias of the state is that it is structurally and irreversibly immoral, then this severe judgment requires both an adequate philosophical explanation and historical demonstration, neither of which MacIntyre provides.
Keith Breen, Ronald Beiner, and Thomas Hibbs have made strong argu-ments that MacIntyre’s notion of the state is problematic. The state, as MacIntyre admits, is necessary for the existence and sustaining of MacIntyrean communities of the common good, but these authors argue that unless the state embodies a politics of the common good, MacIntyrean communities cannot survive. In other words, there needs to be some functional and authoritative political entity charged with ultimate custodianship of the common good, for without it there can be no instantiation of the politics of the virtues of acknowledged dependence; only a state-like institution, as Aristotle insisted, can fulfill such an architectonic role. As Breen points out, however, MacIntyre confusedly characterizes the state as irredeemably evil and non-political, on the one hand, yet capable of enacting genuinely good political effects, on the other: “The state supposedly subverts all values and yet he praises the ‘Americans with Disabilities Act’ for removing obstacles to ‘humane goals.’” What this reveals is that for MacIntyre the state can be a bearer of ethical value. However, if it is some-times capable of genuine moral activity, then it is not irredeemably evil, as MacIntyre seems to imply. Breen notes, “Whether states corrupt values is a matter of contingent fact, not theoretical generalization.”
Another problem with MacIntyre’s view of the state can be discerned in the counsel he offers to members of traditional communities regarding the proper way to deal with the state and state-functionaries. Because the state is a non-moral and self-serving entity disguising itself as a moral and selfless one, MacIntyre advises the morally earnest, community-minded citizen to have as little dealings with it as possible. One cannot shun the state completely, however, because it provides certain goods of effectiveness necessary for the existence and sustenance of traditionalist communities, such as economic resources and security from domestic and foreign violence. Therefore, the prudent strategy is for traditionalist communities to “take from the modern state and modern corporations no more than what one really needs.” The upshot of MacIntyre’s counsel is, ironically, that traditionalists should adopt, to a certain extent, the self-serving, calculative attitude of state-functionaries. Breen notes, “Far from attaining unified lives, virtuous practitioners must maintain a stark duality of mind, oriented to local excellence but the canniest of tacticians in their tussles with state func-tionaries.” The result is a kind of moral schizophrenia, not exactly the robust and integral practice of the virtues of acknowledged dependence.
These two examples are symptomatic of the fundamental incoherency in MacIntyre’s notion of the state: “At heart here is a basic contradiction, the wish for a minimalist state that will, through some miracle, fulfill the goals of social democratic welfarism. Collaboration is decried whilst being recom-mended.” If the state can act as a moral agent for the political good, even if most of the time it does not, then it cannot be characterized as intrinsically evil, and even “amoral” would be an inaccurate description. Instead of counseling calculative cunning and withdrawal, which would be the proper relational attitude to adopt regarding something evil and irredeemably so, why not attempt to transform the politics-precluding nation-state into a authentic agent of a true politics of the common good? Limiting the scope of one’s political program to non and sub-state social entities only makes sense if it were an a priori impossibility to extend genuine politics any further, but MacIntyre has given us no adequate reason to think so. The incoherence in MacIntyre’s thinking is, I suspect, a result of his excessive hostility to the modern state in virtue of its past and present dominance by liberalism. However, the liberal dominance of the state, pernicious as it might be, is at least consistent with liberalism’s socially transformative goals. MacIntyre’s error it to conflate state politics with liberal politics, but he provides no ade-quate reason to think that the connection is a necessary one, even though it has been an historical one. In short, MacIntyre has not demonstrated an essential incompatibility of state politics with one ordered to the virtues of acknowledged dependence.
Unpolitical Politics
While MacIntyre’s rejection of the possibility of a state politics of the common good is unnecessary, it is, at least understandable. Though a more extended area for genuinely moral political activity would be better than a less extended one, the rejection of state politics seems an acceptable price to pay to prevent the de facto immoral—but perhaps not inevitably so—nation-states of contemporary Europe and America from corrupting the relatively few and far between nascent communities of virtue that are much too weak and vulnerable to defend and protect themselves from the state juggernaut. However, the price might be higher than just the loss of greater scope for political activity. As we shall see, the real price is the loss of politics itself. MacIntyre is so careful not to implicate communities of virtue in the political machinations of the state that he renders them functionally non-political, and hence vulnerable to the very machinations he seeks to avoid. If the state is as politically powerful in its effects as MacIntyre suggests, and if this political power is inevitably used for evil, then why not equip sub-state communities with some measure of genuine political power to defend themselves and to ensure they receive the political goods they need, such as freedom from external and internal oppression and violence? If we examine carefully the constitution of the MacIntyrean political community, it is incapable of providing these goods—for it is not a genuinely political constitution at all. Because MacIntyre rejects the political nature of the state itself, he must also reject any state-like political features for his ideal political communities; thus, one is left wondering how genuinely political these communities really are. Ronald Beiner writes,
The unavoidable question is: What’s political about MacIntyre’s “politics of lo-cal community”? . . . he writes that a community is “political” insofar as “it is constituted by a type of practice through which other types of practice are or-dered.” He calls this a polis. But the Greek polis embodied concepts of law, au-thority, and citizenship—notions seemingly absent from the local communities that MacIntyre is calling political.
Communities require law, authority, and citizenship to be genuinely political, but nowhere does MacIntyre describe his ideal political communities as affording citizenship, possessing representative authority, or having any framework of coercive law. The latter is the most significant, since, at least for Aristotle and Aquinas, coercive law, as well as authoritative custom, is an essential component of any political entity. The state in MacIntyre’s view, however, is the only institution empowered to make and execute law; but, as Thoms Hibbs points out, even if local communities were empowered to make laws, how could they compete with the enormous law-making power of the state?
Within the confines of the nation-state with its invasive and seemingly omni-present legal apparatus, what sort of legislative self-determination can a local community have? Even if it decides how to allocate resources and enact local laws, its police force is still fundamentally committed to enforcing the law of the nation and its economy is largely dependent on the national and increasingly the international economy.
MacIntyre expects his local communities of virtue to order and rank goods and practices for individual community members, but their freedom to do so is at the behest of a dangerous and practically omnipotent state. MacIntyre makes no provision to equip these communities with the political sovereignty to enact such orderings with any level of self-sufficiency and autonomy from the state.
In short, because MacIntyre’s political communities are insufficiently political, they cannot guarantee the securing of the moral goods MacIntyre desires of them. Without possessing the power of law and sovereign self-rule, they can neither effectively order the practices and goods within their dominions, nor enact the “practice of practices” that is politics itself. Rather, it is the law-making and law-enforcing state, the only institution invested with actual political power, that ultimately orders political culture by default; however, according to MacIntyre, the state’s overarching “ordering” of the goods, practices, and communities under its dominion is inevitably disordered. Beiner pointedly remarks, “The problem here, of course, is that MacIntyre is left with no possible site for overarching political community compatible with the basic condition of modernity—he offers Aristotelianism without a polis.”
Paradoxically, the political impotence of the MacIntyrean community can be traced to the political impotence MacIntyre imputes to the modern state. If the state is, in reality, not politically impotent, if it does indeed embody and enforce a particular conception of the good, however mistaken this conception is and ineptly it is enforced, and if this conception of the good inevitably wields an architectonic political influence over all the institutions under its purview due to the power of its laws and its monopoly of coercive power, then for MacIntyre to counsel moral communities to simply reject the state, or at most, to adopt a self-serving, utilitarian relationship with it, is to insure that the state has its political way, as it were, with these communities. Since the state’s conception of the good is necessarily a false one, then no community, regardless of the vehemence with which it rejects this false conception of the good, can hope to remain immune from its influence. The only recourse against a state-gone-bad, as it were, would be either to attempt to reform it, or to protect one’s community through the counter-use of effective political power; however, neither of these is endorsed in MacIntyre’s political vision. As Breen points out, MacIntyre’s refusal to grant to the nation-state the capacity of moral activity threatens the moral integrity of those institutions to which he does:
The state, like any other institution, cannot but embody values. Living in a net-work of networks means the character of the nation-state (liberal, socialist, or fascist) determines to a real extent what can go on in its constituent towns and villages. Consequently, liberty and the ability to act persist only when secured on every level of political and social organization. And this suggests, too, that MacIntyre and his liberal opponents are similarly wrong to exclude ethos from national and supranational political structures, it being an ethos of a highly spe-cific sort that sustains freedom and sets boundaries to what can and cannot be done in the name of the common good.
While MacIntyre may desire the social conditions for the thriving of Thomistic-constituted communities, he does not prescribe these conditions. In rejecting the consolidation of any conception of the good within the social structure of the state, MacIntyre’s political project sustains an otherwise morally reformable state, leading to the political impotence of just those moral communities that could transform it into a moral force for good; lastly, he prevents the tradition-homogenous communities of virtue from preserving their moral integrity, self-sufficiency, and political autonomy. Jonathan Chaplin summarizes the problem with such an unpolitical politics, as it were: “It [The MacIntyrean ideal community] is parasitic upon the existence of a ‘regime,’ a democratic political community. It lacks an account of the nature and normative purpose of the state as the institutional context which alone makes political advocacy, whether agonistic or consensual, possible in the first place.”

#44 Comment By CatherineNY On August 1, 2015 @ 2:09 pm

When you look at previous attempts at Ben Opt-type communities, I would recommend a study of Brook Farm.

#45 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 2, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

there is one major weakness in his thought, and that is its resistance to, if not rejection of, the Catholic confessional state model

One reason we have a Second Amendment is so we can defend ourselves against the imposition of a Catholic confessional state.

You are welcome to have a Catholic confessional farm.

#46 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On August 3, 2015 @ 11:51 am

“One reason we have a Second Amendment is so we can defend ourselves against the imposition of a Catholic confessional state.”

Sounds like Voltaire or Samuel Adams.

“Imposition” is the secularist, liberal way of ruling, not the Catholic way. In a Catholic political order, each citizen would have true religious freedom, for his spiritual personhood as a creature loved and willed by God would be both recognized and protected, in law as well as cultural practice and ethos. What we have now is the imposition of what Jim Kalb calls, “the tyranny of liberalism,” a sub-political state based upon materialism and the hegemony of money, with the “equal satisfaction of preferences” (decided upon arbitrarily by bureaucrats and ruling class “experts”) the unimpeachable commandment and sole basis of the “just” use of coercive power domestically, where, in fact, elites rule ordinary people by exploitation, intimidation, and propaganda. I wonder why you aren’t talking about the need for a 2nd Amendment defense against this “imposition.”

The Catholic confessional state is the perennial model, for it is entailed logically by Catholic theology, the natural law, and Catholic social teaching. Thomas Storck is very good on this, especially his “Foundations for a Catholic Political Order.”

If we take MacIntyre’s critique of liberalism seriously, we should recognize that the only way to a just and God-pleasing political order is to focus our energy on building and sustaining small-scale, local, communities of virtue-practices, precisely what the Benedict Option is calling for. Nevertheless, the long-term goal is the Catholic confessional state. Maritain and Murray thought otherwise, but I think after Michael Hanby’s masterpiece, “The Civic Project of American Christianity,” appeared in First Things, most recognize that the Maritain/Murray project failed and was bound to fail. MacIntyre’s philosophical project of exposing the bankruptcy of liberalism, both the left and right varieties, has been vindicated, and what is left to do now is to work together to understand his project, both theoretically, practically, and politically, in the light of Magisterial Catholic political theology.

I would just add that the thought of Rene Girard is an essential complement to and, in a sense, completion of MacIntyre’s critique of liberalism, for he reveals the scapegoating violence at the heart of modern liberalism, and the truth that only a politics of the Divine Scapegoat can save us from it.

#47 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On August 3, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

I shall attempt here only to outline very briefly and superficially what I think such a political prescription might look like and how it could be obtained. As MacIntyre has persuasively argued, that political order most conducive to human flourishing requires communal adherence to and practices based upon the Thomistic-Catholic tradition. MacIntyre provides no persuasive argument, however, for limiting the scope of this political order to small-scale communities of a non or, at least, less than fully political character. His rejection of not only a large-scale, tradition-constituted political order, but also a normative state-politics on any scale, is both inconsistent with his own theory and ultimately non-Thomistic and non-Catholic. There is no reason MacIntyre’s political prescription should not include a large-scale, Thomistic-Catholic constituted state analogous to the political order of medieval Christendom but fit for and attainable by citizens in modern nation-states. However, even if MacIntyre were to recommend such a thing, how could the religiously divided nation-states of today ever attain the unity in religious truth that such a political order would require?

I do not have an answer to this question, but I think MacIntyre’s thought provides the best resources for answering it. MacIntyre’s theory posits the existence of tradition-transcendent norms, and these could provide a strong basis for a modus vivendi political order suitable for pluralistic nation-states not now unified in the Thomistic-Catholic tradition. They would only be provisional norms, but they would be explicitly, deliberately, culturally, and politically ordered in a teleological fashion through the institutional structure of the state and the myriad formative structures of the culture to the purpose of fostering the best social, legal, institutional, and cultural conditions for the communal discovery and consensual political establishment of the true tradition, recognized as such by the vast majority. Prior to this discovery and establishment, MacIntyrean tradition-constituted communities of diverse theological and philosophical traditions would be fostered and sustained by the state, and dialectically skilled representatives of these traditions, instead of the tradition-independent individuals of the old liberalism or the tradition-totalitarian pragmatists of the new liberalism, would serve as the main interlocutors in a dialectical, communal, and political search for the true tradition of ra-tionality.

The particular moral norms upon which this provisional political order would be based would not be characterized and advocated in a theologically neutral and nonfoundationalist manner in accord with Rawlsian “reasonable-ness,” for example, but would be endorsed, as in Maritain’s democratic charter, as true, universal, and moral values, inhering in a teleologically constituted human nature. These norms would serve as the minimally substantive values necessary for public order and civil discourse between rival traditions, such as the virtues of honesty, courage, generosity, and dialectical vulnerability. Such values could be worked out dialectically and consensually, instead of imposed upon the populous by the state; however, like the norms embodied in any tradition, they would be seen as possessing an authority not solely dependent upon and informed by majority consensus. In other words, they would be tradition-transcendent norms. But before such norms could be developed and established, and before they could ever become publicly authoritative, the reality of the present tyrannical hegemony of the tradition of liberalism over society would need to be recognized by the populous. Here, MacIntyre’s critique of liberalism as an established tradition is eminently helpful. Only when the tradition of liberalism loses its undeserved and destructive social and political authority among the citizenry could a truly deserving and salutary, publicly authoritative tradition develop and eventually supplant it wholesale, one now informed by and embodying MacIntyre’s theory of tradition-constituted rationality and the tradition-transcendent norms required for tradition-comparative inquiry. Such an authentic and morally robust public tradition could gain the rational and voluntary adherence of a tradition-divided populous since it would be based upon the commonly practiced norms and shared truths in each authentic tradition.

Although differing traditions may be irreconcilable, they do have certain things in common. MacIntyre notes that rational traditions aspire to truth, or at least warranted assertibility; they believe to have achieved it in some part; and they seek greater comprehensiveness and logical coherence. All political philosophies, notwithstanding their significant differences, have an important attribute in common as well. All political philosophers who articulate prescriptions for an ideal political order have as their ultimate goal the political establishment, by whatever means logically and ethically permitted in their system, of their prescriptions in society-at-large. What else but this would motivate the political philosopher to publish his political philosophy in the first place? To enhance the public discussion? This is simply not enough. Indeed, a political philosopher prescribing a morally based political model should be seeking not merely the perpetuation and preservation of a justly ordered religious pluralism, as in Rawls; or the translation of an inexorable pluralism into a practical Christianity on the nation-state level without the need for integral, believing Christians, as in Maritain; but a communal consensus on the intrinsic political defectiveness of worldview pluralism, and the necessity of its eradication by means of teleologically-informed, communal dialectic oriented towards and aspiring toward the truth and embodying this truth on the large-scale level of the nation-state—and perhaps even beyond this. In contrast with Maritain’s democratic charter, this “anti-pluralism” consensus would not be seen as a good in itself, but only a provisional means to the securing of a large-scale political consensus on a particular tradition. And there is no reason why this tradition should not be given some form of official political recognition by the state to protect it and foster its development.

Ultimately, MacIntyre’s project is inadequate as a blueprint for the last phase of this political project, determining what particular tradition should become politically hegemonic, because it is not explicitly informed by political theology derived from supernatural revelation. Rowland writes,

MacIntyre’s work alone does not however provide a comprehensive post-modern Augustinian Thomist critique of the culture of modernity and under-standing of the role of culture in moral formation. For this it is necessary to venture beyond the boundaries of philosophy to the realm of theology. This is because the culture of modernity and its practices have been formed not only by the severance of the orders of faith and reason, but also, more fundamentally, by those of nature and grace . . . . Although MacIntyre has examined the failure of the Enlightenment’s attempt to construct a conception of human flourishing upon an allegedly theologically disengaged rationality, he has not examined the theological counterpoint to this project, namely, the attempted severance of the orders of nature and grace.

If the deep problems MacIntyre identifies in modern political order stem from a theological error, namely, a false notion of the proper relationship between nature and grace, then these problems can only be solved through a correct notion of this relationship—and this notion can only come from revealed theology. This is the conclusion to which Thomistic-Catholic political philosophy should ultimately lead, and from which political theology must begin.

If the ultimate moral and political good for man can be fully intelligible and attainable only from within a particular tradition of rationality, and if a tradition of rationality can be rationally evaluated according to the degree it allows its adherents to know and practice the good, then any just political order must not only be open to, but also specifically and deliberately ordered to public discussion and debate about the truth and goodness of diverse traditions. The political good requires above all the discovery of that moral and intellectual tradition most conducive to human flourishing, which is to say, the true one, for only upon and through it can one ground and secure political justice. The “fact of reasonable pluralism” can be interpreted in no other way. In sum, the purpose of any overlapping consensus or democratic charter is to create the conditions for the communal discovery of the true tradition. Only in the event of such a discovery could there be any real possibility of morally based political unity. Large-scale political unity in the truth is a good that must be sought, in spite of the great difficulty in attaining it. And, pace Rawls and Maritain, it is not an impossible goal.

David Gallagher articulates with great clarity and succinctness the intrinsic desirability of a non-pluralistic, large-scale, religiously united political order:
It would be better, all things considered, to have unanimity among the body politic on the ultimate questions, and if there were such agreement, a number of matters consequent upon the shared comprehensive doctrine could enter political life. Public life would be richer, would produce more good for its citizens, if it included aspects of the transcendent. . . . The point here is that when we accept the unity of reason, then it seems a mistake to take the liberal approach to political life as in principle the best or the only adequate one. It may be the best here and now, but only because we are in a defective situation, that of wide-spread error concerning ultimate questions.

David Schindler takes Gallagher one-step further, suggesting not only that a confessional political order is desirable, but also that it is inevitable:

A nonconfessional state is not logically possible, in the one real order of history. The state cannot finally avoid affirming, in the matter of religion, a priority of either “freedom from” or “freedom for”—both of these priorities implying a theology.

If the Thomist tradition is the true tradition, and if the ideal political order can only be described coherently and persuasively with the resources of both the philosophy and the theology of this tradition, what MacIntyre could provide, if he were only to put some theology into his intellectual arsenal, is an effective refutation of any non-Thomistic attempt to prescribe a model of the ideal political order. MacIntyre has made it clear that the ultimate reason for the superior strength of Thomistic philosophy is precisely its theological underpinnings: “What they have too rarely asked is how far the philosophical strengths of Thomism in secular debate with rival moral philosophers may not derive from the extent to which it succeeds in articulating in secular form what were originally distinctively theological, distinctively Christian preoccupations.” As MacIntyre states in his most recent book, a purely secular, purely philosophical understanding of the moral life of man is inevitably insufficient: “So that a purely secular understanding of the moral life is always inadequate and incomplete, both with regard to its end—the vision of God—the most that reason can show is that no finite object or state of affairs could be our final good—but also with regard to the kind of character that we need to have, if we are to become able to attain that end.”

What a theologically informed, MacIntyrean-Thomist, ideal political order might actually look like, and how it could be effectively implemented in the present day, is a distinctly theological task.

#48 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On August 3, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

@Siarlys Jenkins

Liberalism, not a voluntarily and non-coercive embodied political Catholicism, is the true “imposition,” as it imposes its nihilistic, anti-logos will on people and communities, by definition. MacIntyre:

“Every individual is to be equally free
to propose and to live by whatever
conception of the good he or she
pleases, derived from whatever theory
or tradition he or she may adhere to,
unless that conception of the good
involves reshaping the life of the rest
of the community in accordance with
it. . . . And this qualification of course
entails not only that liberal individualism
does indeed have its own broad conception of the good, which it is engaged in imposing politically, legally, socially, and culturally wherever it has the power to do so, but also that in so doing its toleration of rival conceptions of the good in the
public arena is severely limited.”

“Liberalism in the name of freedom
imposes a certain kind of unacknowledged
domination, and one which in the long run tends to dissolve traditional human ties and to impoverish social and cultural relationships. Liberalism, while imposing
through state power regimes that declare everyone free to pursue whatever they take to be their own good, deprives most people of the possibility of understanding their
lives as a quest for the discovery and
achievement of the good, especially
by the way in which it attempts to
discredit those traditional forms of
human community within which
this project has to be embodied.”

That you would think to use your 2nd Amendment rights against Catholicism embodied politically and voluntarily and, of course, after a widespread genuine conversion of the nation to the Catholic Faith, a politically embodied Catholicism which is the only real alternative to tyrannical liberalism, rather than what is truly a tyrannical imposition reveals the power of Liberalism over souls.

#49 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 3, 2015 @ 9:43 pm

Sounds like Voltaire or Samuel Adams.

Two of my heroes.

Thaddeus J. Kozinski’s elaboration of Catholic social order sounds like something written by Frederick Engels… true freedom is the recognition of necessity.

Or perhaps, “Comes the revolution, you’ll like peaches and cream!” (Come the Catholic confessional state, you’ll WANT to be a devout, observant, Roman Catholic!)

Or perhaps we should go with a simpler slogan: Slavery is Freedom.

#50 Comment By Thaddeus J Kozinski On August 4, 2015 @ 2:38 pm

To be a Catholic is simply to believe in what the Church teaches and live it out as integrally as possible, including in one’s political live. To imply that such belief and practice necessarily leads to an unjust soul and state, is, well, blasphemous.

William Ward:

“The Church professes to be infallible in her teaching of morals no less than of faith. If, then, Catholicism be true, and if Catholics have the fullest ground for knowing it to be true, the one healthy, desirable, and legitimate state of civil society is that the Church’s doctrines, principles, and laws should be recognized without question as its one basis of legislation and administration; to the Church’s authority.”

You are deeming what is healthy, desirable, and legitimate sick, abhorrent, and unjust, but since Voltaire is your hero, that makes sense.

Of course, to obtain such a ideal state of affairs requires, first, voluntary conversion to the Catholic Faith, but how many Catholics understand what this conversion looks like when lived out politically? In the meantime, it is good for all men of good will to work together to establish a just and God-pleasing political order, which requires a repudiation of the ideology of liberalism and an understanding that a religiously-neutral polity is impossible, and is only a mask for a hidden, anti-logos religious establishment.