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Home/Rod Dreher/In Defense Of J.D. Vance

In Defense Of J.D. Vance

J.D. Vance and family

I have avoided writing about my friend J.D. Vance’s candidacy for US Senate, for a couple of reasons. He’s been a friend since just before Hillbilly Elegy shot to national prominence. I have so much respect and affection for him that I don’t trust myself to evaluate him objectively. I figured that when I write about him, I would need to disclose that, of course, but I also figured it would make what I wrote about him less valuable. Most people know that we are friends, and that I was an early champion of Hillbilly Elegy. I am admitting to you that I cannot be fair about J.D. Vance. I have thought since shortly after I got to know him that he would be a terrific member of Congress (Senator or House member), and have told him for years that I look forward to the day when he runs for office.

That day has arrived. I haven’t talked to J.D. since I’ve been in Hungary (he declared while I was here), and haven’t been following his campaign. I knew that there was some nasty remarks about him coming from the both the Left and some quarters on the Right, but I haven’t followed it, in part because I can’t stand to see a friend trashed. You’d feel the same way if it was happening to your friend.

(This, by the way, is why I deliberately avoid people trashing David Brooks, a friend with whom I disagree about a lot of issues, but who is a good and loyal man, and one to whom I am and will be loyal, no matter what. I scarcely know David French, but I count him as enough of a friend to avoid the piling-on that routinely happens to him, even though I really disagree with him on certain matters, and have said so on this blog. I don’t mind at all disagreeing publicly with either David on politics, policy, or cultural matters, but I will not descend into the vicious assault on their characters. I believe them both to be honorable, and even if they weren’t, they’re my friends, so screw you, jack. Sorry, but that’s how I roll.)

The point is, I know that I have limited credibility when writing about J.D.’s candidacy, so I resolved to choose carefully my opportunities to speak. This is going to be one of those times.

The great Abigail Shrier has written a lengthy and novel defense of J.D. in the face of a specific kind of attack. I had not read The Atlantic piece she references, but was grieved to see it. Nobody likes seeing their friends treated that way in public, but it particularly stings for me, because I know the character of the man who is taking this sh*t because he dares to put himself forward for public office. Here’s the heart of it:

Vance positions himself as a populist. He thunders against Corporate America, university endowments, and the billionaires of Silicon Valley. He is forthright about his defense of religious freedom and his support for many of the Trump-era policies. But he offers something that may be more important right now than any policy position: a conservatism that refrains from denigrating and dividing the American people.

Consider, for a moment, politicians that have overachieved in the years since Vance wrote Hillbilly Elegy. Donald Trump and Joe Biden both confounded their critics and exceeded expectations. The cackling finger-waggers—Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren—all underperformed. There are other differences among them (sex often seems a factor), but at least one important difference between the winners and losers might be described in terms of who did – and didn’t – seem to look down on us. Our 45th President was a man who unapologetically inhaled two Big Macs and two Filet-O-Fish sandwiches at supper and washed it all down with a chocolate shake. A man roundly dismissed as an idiot by the media elite, and every other type of elite. And our 46th, the man who would beat him—in my view, the only Democratic candidate who could—had suffered many more wrenching personal losses than all of his Democratic primary competitors combined. His son still struggles with addiction. For 2020, he dropped the smarmy comebacks of past campaigns and spoke with more humility and less self-righteousness. After an early primary debate in which Kamala Harris brutally scorched him for past missteps, Biden greeted her with, “Go easy on me, kid.”

For years, I received a monthly statement from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power stamped with a “sad face” at my family’s usage—and was reminded that we are awash in judgmentalism in America. The Left judges us as implicitly biased by looking at our skin color, castigates us for our energy consumption, scorns our resistance to activist-led race and gender educational efforts. The Left judges our choice of automobile, our decision to have three or more children, the food we place in our grocery cart.

But we have no stomach for right-wing Holy Rollers, either. It is impossible to imagine Ralph Reed dominating the Christian political scene today, as he did in the 1990s. His vision of righteousness has ceased to appeal or gain traction. Americans never warmed to Mike Pence, though his personal decency made an impression. They never adored Ivanka either, though she is beautiful and glamorous and promoted harmless things like getting more girls into STEM. Her rarified perfection had a cold, hard, mineral quality. She may sous vide in the sewer of our culture—her Instagram-ready family, cushioned by a pocket of air—but those of us who lack her advantages, we’re forced to swim in this stuff. We were leery of her judgment.

A year ago, for a few months, we were prepared to be judged, and we catapulted White Fragility to the top of every best-seller list. Today, we can’t bear it. We lack the will to judge each other and the heart to let ourselves be judged. (Robin DiAngelo’s sequel released this June – Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harmflounders in the rankings on Amazon). DiAngelo and Kendi pound out the Left’s version of fire and brimstone, and they’re losing us: we’re tired of their angry and unforgiving deity.

More:

The suicide attempt rates among teens and even tweens have gone vertical. For teen girls between the ages of 12 and 17, the rates increased by 26% during the summer of 2020 and 50% during the winter of 2021. The July issue of Clinical Psychiatry News reports:

From April 2019 to April 2021, the demand for pediatric behavioral health treatment at [Children’s Hospital Colorado] increased by 90%. In Colorado, suicide is now the number one cause of death among youth and occurs in children as young as 10 years of age.

The hospital has declared a state of emergency.

One of NYC’s top tourist attractions, The Vessel at Hudson Yards, may now permanently close to the public because of too many young jumpers. Is there any more damning indicator of a culture than that it produces hopeless children?

All of which is to say, if politicians have something they want Americans to hear, they ought to dispense with the habits of self-righteousness, superiority and blame. Those ugly tics may help raise the Twitter waves that the Democrats’ mean girls surfed to fame: AOC & Friends. But they are turnoffs to an America that knows there is no “us” and “them” when it comes to pain and hardship and worry.

We are racially mixed and religiously intermarried. Gay and lesbian and transgender Americans aren’t ‘the other’ – as Republicans fooled themselves into thinking for so many years. These are our families—all of our families—even conservative, traditional, and religious families. We worry desperately about money—not because of obsessive acquisitiveness, but because constructing a bulwark against a failing culture requires heaps of it. (How much is private security, in the absence of a police force? Private school, in the absence of non-racist public ones? Non-woke doctors, who will fulfill their oath to heal us? How much is all this going to cost, and how will we possibly afford any of it?)

We are awfully fatigued by the finger-pointing and division. We hear much about what’s wrong with America, and what’s wrong with us. All of our national heroes have been denigrated: The Founders, yes, but even those who destroyed slavery, like Grant and Lincoln. Our children are getting the message; they head off to the Olympics and turn their backs on the American flag. Spare us talk of their high-minded principles: Young people manifesting that level of disrespect aren’t headed anywhere good.

We could stand to hear a few things about what’s good about us, what’s great about this country. Pessimism about the future of America is high and rising across all age groups. Please tell us something, anything, that we might feel good about; please give us hope that America might be better next year.

Intellectuals may balk, but bills that promote patriotic education—a few classes on why we used to think America a unique nation—will sound pretty good to most. Our children should be allowed to feel grateful to inherit America, even as we teach them, forthrightly, the truth about the flaws and complications of her legacy.

The Left’s self-righteousness suffocates us. But the conservative itch to preen is every bit the turn-off. We’re glad you have your perfect faith; many Americans haven’t been to church in months or years. Now isn’t the time to remind us how much better our lives might have been, had we made different choices.

Read Shrier’s whole piece. 

She says, “All of this J.D. Vance seems to know.” Yes, I can tell you as a friend of his, he certainly does. J.D. is a Catholic convert — I was present in 2019 when he was received into the Catholic Church:

New Catholic JD Vance receives his first Communion

But unless he has changed his mind, his attitude towards gay marriage is more in line with his generation’s. He told me once that when he and his wife first married and were living in San Francisco, a committed gay male couple, neighbors of theirs, helped them through the rocky patch of learning how to live together — and for that, J.D. said he would always be grateful. I thought about that after reading Shrier’s piece. J.D. is a social conservative, but in a natural, non-ideological way.

I get that. A decade ago, when I was preparing to move back to my hometown in Louisiana, someone in Philly, where I was then living, asked me how I could stand the thought of relocating to such a rigid, backwards place. I just laughed. Everybody knows who is gay in my hometown. Nobody really cares. For one thing, the younger people are pretty liberal about it, but even the older folks are relaxed in the way they actually live their lives. Jane might be an out lesbian, and that might make some of us uncomfortable, but Jane has been here all her life, she comes from good people, and she’s a good neighbor. I don’t have to agree with the way Jane conducts her private life to love her and defend her.

You might call this hypocrisy: You say you care for Jane, but you don’t care about her enough to support her and her partner having marriage rights, you big hypocrite. This is the kind of thing that only someone who lives in a bubble — a left-wing or a right-wing bubble — could say. It’s about ideology ironing out by force the messy reality of people’s lives. I have a very conservative Southern Baptist friend in Baton Rouge who firmly believes that homosexuality is sinful, and transgenderism is disordered. But in 2016, when catastrophic floods hit our city, he gave shelter in his apartment to a young trans couple who had nowhere else to go. Why? Because he is a Christian, and that was the Christian thing to do. I would have done the same. Does that make us hypocrites? OK, so we’re hypocrites. No big whoop. That’s life.

If you are a white person in the South who rejects racism, you have at some point had to deal with a racist relative. Uncle Bobby might be the kind of man who can be counted on to tell a racist joke at Thanksgiving dinner. You will have learned to tolerate this, because that’s what it means to be in the family. Maybe you will have chosen to take Uncle Bobby aside and tell him why you hate it when he talks that way. Or maybe you will have asked your dad, Bobby’s brother, to have a word with Bobby, and tell him to keep his obnoxious opinions to yourself. Or maybe you will have decided that Bobby is hopeless, and the most loving thing you can do is to tolerate Bobby’s crap, because this is family, and you only get to see them once or twice a year, and you’re not going to blow up Thanksgiving because your idiot uncle can’t keep his fool mouth shut.

Conversely, you might be a member of a Southern family that has a loudmouth young progressive in its ranks — the kind of person who comes home from college to Thanksgiving and seeks to rub everyone’s nose in their political sins and failings. You might deeply hate to see Caitlin show up with her tattoos, her piercings, and her woke politics. But she’s family — Lord have mercy, Dickie and Carolyn sure have had a hell of a hard time raising that child — and you work hard on being tolerant, because this is family, and you only get to see them once or twice a year, and you’re not going to blow up Thanksgiving because your idiot niece can’t keep her fool mouth shut.

This is how it works. Southerners have an advanced capacity to put up with a lot for the sake of keeping social harmony. It can and does lead to all kinds of dysfunction — oh yes indeed it does! — but it also works magic in keeping messy people together. The bonds of family and community cannot be stretched infinitely, of course, but they can be stretched a lot farther than people think.  In my own extended family, we don’t have any people who inhabit ideological and social extremes, but if we did, we would find a way to work through it. That’s just what we do. When I was in the latter years of high school and the first years of college, my father and I were very much at odds politically (actual dialogue: “Daddy, I’m a socialist.” “Got damn, how did I get a son like you?!”), but we held it together.

If you’ve read Hillbilly Elegy, you might have wondered how on earth young J.D. Vance put up with his mother’s drug addiction, and her constant relapsing. He did it out of love and duty. When his book came out, a number of progressives faulted him for blaming Appalachians for their own plight, because he called them out for their laziness and other moral corruption. That was really unfair, because J.D. also talked about the economic and cultural conditions that made it harder for them to choose the morally correct way to live. It wasn’t always this way, but people on the contemporary Left have a way of dividing the world into Victims and Victimizers. Victims can’t ever do wrong, and Victimizers can’t ever be right.

Here’s an example. Black Americans are much less likely than white Americans to have been vaccinated against Covid. Here’s something from a couple of weeks ago:

This spring in Louisiana, my home state, and one where one in three residents is black, a troubling trend emerged when vaccinations first became available:

But as the vaccines have become available to most of Louisiana’s 4.6 million residents, a troubling trend has emerged. Black people appear to be getting vaccinated at significantly lower rates than White residents.

Statewide, White people are 30% more likely to have been vaccinated than Black people, according to state data.

In East Baton Rouge Parish, where about 46% of residents are Black, roughly a third of the first doses administered so far have gone to Black people. White people, who make up 47% of the population, received 56% of the first doses, with 11% of the recipients listed as “other.”

Another analysis done this spring showed that the vaccine laggards in Louisiana were white people in the most pro-Trump parishes, and black people everywhere. 

More recently, a black opinion writer published a column noticing the same trend nationwide. But notice how she frames it: white people who refuse the vaccine are idiot Trump Republicans, but black people who refuse the vaccine — well, you have to understand the historical and social rationales for why they make the choices they do. Standard left-wing double standards: the Victim can never be held responsible for anything he does, and the Victimizer deserves no empathy, ever.

J.D. Vance isn’t like that. He blames individuals for making choices that hurt their prospects at leading a stable and productive life, but he alsocriticizes the structures that help explain why they do what they do. Isn’t this, you know, honest? Don’t we all know somebody in our extended family, or circles of friends, who has been handed a lot, but who has blown all the advantages his parents gave him through their hard work, and who blames Society for his troubles? Don’t we all know somebody in our extended family, or circles of friends, who has done all the right things, but who has been waylaid by circumstances beyond her control, and is suffering because of it, and could use help?

J.D. Vance speaks for people like that. Abigail Shrier writes:

 “It’s one thing to take an appreciation that cultural circumstances matter,” Vance said to me, of his approach. “It’s another thing to wag your finger at people and tell them the reason they’re not doing better is because they’re just making bad choices. And I think conservatives have to be able to hold two thoughts in their head at the same time: Personal responsibility does really matter; we don’t want to tell everybody that they’re a victim… But also people’s circumstances matter too.”

He talks of Americans yearning to live not the great life and not only the good life, but something far humbler: “a normal life.”

A lot of people have dumped on J.D. for having embraced a lot of the aspects of Trump’s presidency that he rejected back in 2016. I would assume that some of this is strategic — you’re not going to win a GOP primary in 2021 as an opponent of Trump — but I also believe that most of it is completely genuine. Why? Because we all saw a lot in the past four years. Trump remained Trump — but the Left went berserk. Speaking for myself, I hated a lot of what Trump said and did, but I genuinely came to fear the Left, as it became consumed by wokeness. I was never on the side of Never Trump, because I knew what a derelict state the GOP was in, but I also could not be exactly pro-Trump, because I thought he was foolish, undisciplined, and unprincipled. Nevertheless, I ended Trump’s term with more sympathy for him than I started with, precisely because the Left had become so unhinged and so powerful. I have not talked to J.D. about this, but my guess is that he feels the same way.

In any case, he has always believed that the themes that animated Trump’s shaggy-dog campaign in 2016 are right. Here’s an interesting excerpt from a 2016 interview he did with the Ur-liberal NPR interviewer Terry Gross:

GROSS: You know, reading your book, I get the impression that you think – and I think rightfully so – that there’s a lot of similarities between what poor people who are white endure in America and what poor people who are black endure in America. Sure, there’s differences, too, but there’s a lot of things in common. Yet, I’m wondering if you and the people who you grew up with made that connection at all and felt any sense of identification with black people who were your class counterparts.

VANCE: I never thought when I was a kid that there was a sense of competition or animosity towards poor blacks. I just thought there was a recognition that they lived differently – they primarily lived on the other side of town. And we’re both poor, but that’s kind of it. There wasn’t much explicit statement of kinship or of the lack of kinship. Though, I will say there was one really interesting experience I had with my grandma where I started to realize that there was some sort of kinship at least that she felt. And I think I was very lucky to have that exposure to a woman who had lived the life she had but was able to think these thoughts. And what happened is that we were watching a golf tournament. And it was, I believe, the 1997 Masters, where Tiger Woods won.

I was a very young kid, maybe 19 or 20, and the only reason my grandma was watching it was because he was in it. She loved Tiger Woods. And the reason she liked Tiger Woods is because she saw him as an outsider that was shaking up a rich man’s game. And there was this really interesting moment where after he won – and the Masters always has this ceremonial winner’s dinner to celebrate the victor. One of the golfers said something to the effect of, what are we going to have at the winner’s dinner – fried chicken and watermelon, which, of course, was this extraordinarily nasty racist comment.

But it struck me at that moment, one, that that fried chicken and watermelon was almost the cultural food of my people, and my grandma just got so viscerally angry. And she said, those a-holes, they’re never going to let people like us be part of their crowd. And the sense that she had was they both looked down on the black people who were outsiders and the poor, white people who are outsiders. And she really saw the similarities. And that was the first real exposure that she felt some sort of kinship to people who looked very different from her but ultimately were similar in a lot of ways.

And this, from the same conversation:

VANCE: I do. A lot of people in my family are going to be voting for Trump, a lot of my neighbors and friends from back home. So it’s definitely a phenomenon I, I think, recognize and frankly saw coming pretty early. You know, it’s interesting that I don’t think the Trump phenomenon is exclusively about the white poor.

I think that it’s more about the white working-class folks who aren’t necessarily economically destitute but in some ways feel very culturally isolated and very pessimistic about the future. That’s one of the biggest predictors of whether someone will support Donald Trump – it may be the biggest predictor – is the belief that America is headed in the wrong direction, the belief that your kids are not going to have a better life than you did.

And that cynicism really breeds frustration at political elites, but, frankly, that frustration needs to find a better outlet than Donald Trump. And that’s why I’ve made some of the analogies that I have because I don’t think that he’s going to make the problem better. I think, like you said, he is in some ways a pain reliever. He’s someone who makes people feel a little bit better about their problems. But whether he’s elected president or not, those problems are still going to be there, and we’ve got to recognize that.

GROSS: So when you’re having a discussion about the presidential race with someone in your family, someone who’s going to be voting for Trump, what is that conversation like?

VANCE: It typically starts with me making a point that I just made, which is, look, maybe Trump is recognizing some legitimate problems. He’s talking about the opioid epidemic in a way that nobody else is. But he’s not going to fix the problem. You know, better trade deals is not going to make all of these problems just go away.

And typically my family actually recognizes that. That’s what I find so interesting. They don’t think that this guy is going to solve all their problems. They just think he’s at least trying and he’s saying things, primarily to the elites, that they wish they could say themselves. So it’s really interesting. There’s a recognition that Trump isn’t going to solve a lot of these problems, but he’s, at the end of the day, the only person really trying to tap into this frustration.

And it’s, you know, I – so my dad is a Trump supporter, and I love my dad, and I always say, Dad, you know, Trump is not going to actually make any of these problems better. And he says, well, that’s probably true, but at least he’s talking about them and nobody else is and at least he’s not Mitt Romney. At least he’s not George W. Bush. He’s at least trying to talk about these problems.

And I think it’s amazing how low the bar has been set by the political conversation we’ve had for the past 20 or 30 years that this guy, who many people don’t think is going to solve the problems, is still getting a lot of support from people who are blue-collar white folks.

Vance went on to say in that 2016 conversation that he wasn’t planning to vote for Trump because he believed that Trump was “noxious” and leading the white working class to a bad place. I would like to know precisely what happened in the last four years to change his mind. I can tell you, though, from our conversations over the past four years, that his contempt for Woke Capitalist elites is very real, and felt very deeply. He’s a Yale-educated lawyer and investor. He was talking like that privately with me years ago. You can accuse him of being a hypocrite because he takes money from Peter Thiel, but I don’t think Thiel is woke, and if he is, then he is funding a politician who is going to work against his interests. In any case, J.D. knows this world from the inside. He is prepared to be a traitor to the class he was trained to join.

J.D. Vance is the kind of Republican politician we need: a populist who actually thinks deeply and strategically, and who knows how to move within the world of elites. I’ve been banging the gong about Viktor Orban since I’ve been here in Hungary, because in him I see a political leader who believes a lot of the things that non-Establishment US conservatives do, and who has also turned those beliefs and principles into effective government. I have no idea what Vance thinks of Orban, or if he even knows who he is, but a politically and administratively competent patriotic, anti-woke, populist is exactly the kind of Republican I want to vote for.

Look, if I thought J.D. Vance was a fraud, I just wouldn’t write about him. He’s a friend, and I wouldn’t betray him, but I wouldn’t write anything about him. He’s not a fraud. He could have stayed on the West Coast making a pile of money, or gone East and gotten involved in Establishment GOP circles. Instead, he went back to his native Ohio, and wants to make a positive difference for the people from whom he came, and to whom he remains loyal. I’ve heard him say this personally for years now. His religious conversion was real. His love for and devotion to his wife Usha, the daughter of hardworking Indian immigrants, and for their children is one of the foundations of his life. He is in every way the real deal. Conservatives need a normal person like J.D. to carry the torch for us in Washington, not yappy ideologues who can draw a big crowd on social media, but who are more interested in performing to own the libs than in making substantive changes to make the lives of normal people better.

J.D. Vance is a normal person who just happens to have written a surprise bestselling memoir of his life, one that was made into a movie, and that gave him a platform to advocate for and work for the kind of people he wrote about — the kind of people whose struggles, whose defeats, and whose victories made him who he is. If he’s messy, in that he does not believe exactly the same things about Trump that he did in 2016 — well, that shows us that he’s human. Do you believe exactly the same things you did about politics in 2016? I don’t. Normal people change their minds in response to changing conditions. I am no more confident in Donald Trump today than I was in 2016, but the rapid disintegration of American culture has made me more sympathetic to the kind of conservatism of which Trump is a poor symbol. But I do have hope in rising political stars like J.D. Vance — help his campaign out here (he needs to put some policy positions on that website, though) — and Blake Masters, another Thiel guy, who is running for Senate in Arizona (see below).

If these are the kind of candidates that Peter Thiel is bankrolling, I say hooray for Peter Thiel. They have George Soros; we need a Peter Thiel. I disagree with Thiel on some important issues, but I don’t have to agree with Thiel to be excited about the candidacies of these two men he’s helping make their inaugural runs for the Senate. We are not going to vote our way out of this American crisis, but the men and women we elect can work to create the conditions under which we in civil society can fight back against those who are tearing America down, and tearing Americans apart.

To be clear, I’m not endorsing either politician. I can’t do that in this space. But I am saying that we need conservative politicians like J.D. Vance and Blake Masters.

One more thing: someone named Christopher Roach, writing on the American Greatness site, has taken a shot at the Benedict Option in a way that indicates he has not read it, and has no idea what he’s talking about. Look:

In recent years, Rod Dreher argued that Christians may need to retreat from a hostile world in order to maintain their way of life and their sanity. Modeling his proposal on the Christian monasteries that kept learning and culture alive in the collapsing Roman empire, he called it the Benedict Option. In a similar way, many on the Right have counseled starting families and creating separate communities composed of select groups of fellow believers.

There is a word for this strategy: “quiescence.” It is rooted in the belief that doing battle with the culture is both unlikely to succeed and also corrupting.  Proponents argue that it is more realistic to preserve a small flame of civilization than to try to spread the fire of truth in a hostile world.

The problem with this option is that it’s not an option. It’s giving up.

The forces of the aggressive, secular Left are not going to let any of us retreat into our own enclaves. They will hunt down every last private clubpizza shop, and bakery out of mere spite. They will steal your kids and destroy your life.

Roach is one of those people who believe that the Benedict Option is a “head for the hills” counsel. If he had troubled himself to read the book, he would have read in its pages lines saying that we conservative Christians cannot afford to give up on standard politics, if only because we have to defend religious liberty. But he would have also read that politics alone will do nothing for us if we don’t live counterculturally as Christians and conservatives. If politics was the solution, we would not have seen the collapse of Christianity within Generation Z — this happening at a time when conservatives were winning political victories. The Benedict Option argues that if we are going to participate in public life as faithful Christians, then our private lives have to be far more rooted in the teachings and the disciplines of the faith. Viktor Orban said somewhere, speaking of the limits of politics, that he, as a political leader, can give you things, “but I cannot give you meaning.” This is true. A big part of our problem in the US, on both the Left and the Right, is that we have looked to politics to give us meaning. The way it manifests on the Right is typically with the belief that if only we get politics right, everything else will take care of itself. This is a dangerous lie.

Roach goes on to praise the Portuguese authoritarian Antonio Salazar as a good model for America. Maybe, maybe not, but for people like me, who are more concerned with the state of the church than with politics, only 35 percent of Portuguese today practice their faith. That is much better than Spain, which, after the death of the dictator Francisco Franco, suffered a rapid decline in Catholic faith and practice. To be clear, had I been in Spain during the Civil War, I certainly would have backed Franco, given the Stalinist alternative. But controlling Spain’s politics from 1939 until his death in 1975 did not preserve the Catholic faith in Spain. Politics were important to Spain: the Left was burning down churches and murdering priests, and had to be stopped, but Franco’s political power was not enough to make the faith live in the hearts of Spaniards.

This fact has a lot to do with the Benedict Option. We conservatives, especially Christian conservatives, are going to have to master the art of being active in public life (those with a calling to do so), while being far more active and engaged in the lives of our families and communities (a calling which affects us all). It would be very nice if these people who criticize the Benedict Option would actually read the book before griping about it, but I’m not holding my breath.

Point is that I don’t expect J.D. Vance or any other politician to save America from itself. What I hope for is that the “things” they can give us include defending the liberties of our families and our institutions — and that means defending them both against predatory wokeness and an economic system that is indifferent to family flourishing. The rest is up to us, individually, and the choices we make. This is the nature of social reality. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, you can’t make a system so perfect that nobody has to be good, or self-disciplined, or self-sacrificial, or a responsible parent and neighbor.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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