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No, The Maginot Line Will Not Hold

A short response to Claes Ryn's TAC essay criticizing the Benedict Option

Though he never mentions the Benedict Option by name, Claes Ryn writes in TAC a jeremiad against the very idea. We agree that the country, indeed Western civilization, is in a serious crisis. But that’s about it. Excerpts:

Many Christians are calling for a return to moral and religious basics and for a reinvigoration of family and community life. Nothing would seem to be more appropriate and encouraging or to be more conservative. Are not our problems at bottom moral-spiritual? But here as elsewhere habits of avoidance threaten to turn a sound impulse into self-deluding escape.

Self-deluding escapism? Tell me more:

It is common for supposedly “traditionalist” Christians to say that the historical situation has become so bad that little can be done to reverse destructive trends. People of faith must resign themselves to retreating into their own separate spheres, to keep the flame alive in their corner of human existence. Has not Christianity always recognized an inevitable tension between faith and the world?

Quietism in our time! More:

Two objections immediately come to mind. It might be argued first of all that what is needed in threatening historical circumstances like ours is not a general disposition of retreat from challenges but a spirit of moral-spiritual toughness, a readiness and willingness to take on the world. In our era of flight from reality there is a danger that in practice a supposed return to moral-religious basics will turn into a combination of trepidation and dreaminess.


Realizing the limited reach and efficacy of politics must not become an excuse for a general retreat from the front line of life. Granted, different people must play different roles. Those who have chosen the special witnessing of otherworldliness do, by definition, leave ordinary worldly responsibilities to parents, entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, politicians, soldiers, scientists, et al., although here and there their roles may overlap with those of people active in the world. Most who lead ordinary lives will, and should, give their best energy in family, church, and local community, but these efforts should be influenced as little as possible by sentimental spirituality. What seems most needed is the virtual opposite: a moral-spiritual toughness capable of taking on our historical predicament. We all have a responsibility—small or great depending on our personal gifts and circumstances—to do what might be done to reverse large, dangerous trends. A wish to stay away from potentially painful, daunting tasks, understandable though it is, aids and abets the destructive forces.

This is not the Benedict Option as I have written about it over and over, and write about it in the forthcoming book. More to the point, it is not the Benedict Option as I presented it to a conference earlier this year in which Claes Ryn was in the audience. He should know better. If he was confused on any point, I would have happily shared with him a copy of the speech, had he asked. But as usual with this kind of critic, they wish to argue with the Benedict Option as they imagine it to be, not the Benedict Option as I have explained it.

I started to undertake a point by point refutation of Ryn’s specious claims, but then realized that it would be pointless. However many times, and in however as much detail, as I explain that I’m not saying let’s all head for the hills and cultivate our lotus gardens, they are bound and determined to think so. It’s frustrating to have to argue with people who don’t listen the first time, and who mischaracterize my argument. But until the book comes out, I can give people who don’t read me regularly a pass on this. Someone who sat there and listened to me talk about this in some detail for about an hour, not so much.

You will notice in Ryn’s essay that he has no plan for how to address this current crisis. He simply says:

People who want to make the best of troubling historical circumstances must shake off tempting illusions and other escape mechanisms and employ all available levers and resources. They must avoid the twin forms of denial: retreat and surrender.

Yeah? So what would Prof. Ryn have us do, then? I could be wrong in this Benedict Option stuff, but I prefer the attempts I’m making to think creatively about the crisis to Prof. Ryn’s bah-humbugism, which, absent some detailed explanation of what it means to “employ all available levers and resources,” is really more escapist than anything I’ve put forth. Employ all those things to defend what, exactly? These old conservative generals can’t help fighting the last war, and resting in the confidence that their Maginot Line will hold if we just rally our spirit and reinforce the concrete. What they don’t get is that the Huns have already gone over, through, and around their defenses, and are occupying our territory. The Benedict Option is the Resistance.



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