A comment from a reader:
As a millenial male whose conservative Catholic identity is currently breaking away piece by piece, I take interest in this issue. For an involuntarily celibate humanities casualty in the economic wasteland of the California interior, making below minimum wage online and being driven to mass by his parents, the entire Benedict Option debate seems like the luxury of those who can afford to form families to protect.
I became Catholic three years ago. I quickly gravitated to the Latin mass because I love the exotic beauty of the language and the sacredness of the music. But over time I realized that in both pre- and post-VII Catholic communities, the entire culture of the faith is oriented around three groups: priests, religious, and married parents. I don’t have a vocation to be a priest (and in any case take antidepressants), I can’t join a monastery because of my student loan debt, and I lack the sexual-economic marketability to become a parent. The plight of the involuntarily single male is overlooked in the Catholic discourse; it’s viewed as an unnatural state, a peculiarity. The church spends tremendous energy advocating the unborn and extolling family life, but does little to actually promote family formation.
Where is the church helping me find a job and a mate? I sympathize with gainfully employed family men such as Ahmari and French and their desire to preserve Christian family values, but what do Christian family values mean to me if I am shut out from family life, perhaps permanently? Traditionalist conservatives only seem to care about people with families. I know this isn’t actually the case, but it is true that their discourse is heavily accented on those with the economic fortuity of having a family.
I haven’t gone to church in three weeks. The underlying cause of my disillusionment was the frustration described above, but it was precipitated by my disgust with the church’s position on abortion in case of maternal life endangerment, which I could no longer accept after Alabama included this exception in its law. I was also embittered by the plight of a friend whose wife divorced him against his will; if he had had a Catholic wedding, the church would say tough luck, he can’t remarry.
No longer keeping the faith, I am tempted to affiliate myself with socialism. The techno-plutocracy isn’t going to get any more humane as the march of automation concentrates the wealth and the jobs in the hands of ever fewer people. I am a default conservative on marriage, abortion, and immigration, but I am willing to overlook these issues if the Sanderses and Ocasio-Cortezes of Congress are truly prepared to make life more dignified for unemployed and underemployed young people.
Rod, I have great respect for you and enjoy your blog, so please don’t simply dismiss this comment as incel raving. You recently wrote a very respectful and compassionate post about a young conservative who embraced Islam. Please show the same compassion for young conservatives tempted by socialism.
I’m not going to make fun of this guy. He’s desperate, and his desperation is not something to mock. When I was researching the Sovietization of Eastern Europe earlier this year, I discovered that the mass loneliness, displacement, and aimlessness of young men in postwar Eastern Europe played a significant role in the establishment of Communism there. Of course the Red Army played the largest role, but there were people who were hungry for what Communism had to offer, because everything was broken, and they longed for solidarity and stability.
If you have something serious to say to this young man, let’s hear it. If you’re only going to make fun of him, don’t bother, because I won’t publish it. I have been hearing from too many unhappy single people lately, and have been frustrated by my inability to help them, to tolerate poking fun at what they’re suffering. All they’re asking for is the kind of things that most people have always taken for granted: a spouse and a family. Neither the Church nor the State can find him a spouse, but that longing is sooner or later going to make a connection with something.
UPDATE: This e-mail came from a reader who is an observant Catholic in his 30s, married with children. I’ve taken out other identifying details. I think he’s 100 percent correct here:
I find myself in agreement with almost everything you post; I think the Benedict Option is a no-brainer; I believe religious liberty is already significantly curtailed in the public sphere; I have no doubt that a person like me is anathema to cultural elites; and I am strongly skeptical that there is a legislative or political path towards a more friendly, plural, tolerant equilibrium.
So, let me try to put in words what I felt the urge to share. Basically, I’m increasingly worried about what comes next for masculinity given the current state of affairs, but it isn’t socialism that is concerning me. It’s fascism.
In the particular case of your young millennial incel correspondent, his interest in socialism is either going to be stable and anodyne — great, another boring white ally to the left who reliably votes Democrat, big whoop — or dramatic and short lived: I can’t see any actual socialist organizations, or far left groups, being a friendly home to a dude like this. I’m not going to make fun either, because there but for the grace of God go I, but he’s not their target demographic and will be unlikely to form meaningful bonds with any of those communities.
But you know what is a really friendly home to a dude like this? The white nationalist far right, online and offline. Based on a cursory review of photos and videos from the Charlottesville marches and similar events, the current movement strongly over-indexes on incels and their ilk. If the primary draw to Catholicism was the exotic beauty of the Latin and the sacredness of the music, then I can’t help but think the pomp, regalia, and tradition of national socialism will also resonate.
This is a single case, but I think there’s a broader truth to this. Young men (like me) have come of age in an environment where the dominant view is that straight white maleness is the problem, and where their economic prospects and likelihood of being able to develop a stable and loving family in a community oriented towards that family’s success are both worse than they ever should be. Your correspondent self-identifies with a label that comprises overwhelmingly white, virulently racist and misogynist young men who are already glorifying radical violence. This isn’t a good set of identifiers for what could be a very large constituency.
SJWs and the far left aren’t capitalizing on this growing disaffection: in fact, they are making it worse. I’m not sure the far right is capitalizing on it yet either, at least to an extent that we should be worried, but it’s only a matter of time before someone is able to effectively communicate to this group and say you know what, you’re right to feel aggrieved and you’re right to hate the people who’ve taken your prospects from you. You’ve been told that your identity is the problem, but really it’s the thing that we can build a movement on. SJWs and libs have prevented you from having what is dutifully yours: respect, a meaningful role in society, a family. Sorry, let me rephrase that. The far right is already implicitly and explicitly doing this; I just don’t think they’ve been able to do it to the scale they could yet.
So while I agree with 99% of your writing, to think about this as an issue of Incels and Socialism is to miss the forest for the tree. There’s a whole lot of disaffected young white men out there just like your correspondent, and they aren’t going to become SJWs in service of a radical left agenda. They are perfect recruits for a radical right, hate-based movement that will tell them to embrace their grievances, and give them a way to get back at the institutions and individuals that held them down for so long.
More broadly, I guess what motivated me to write is the tension I feel as a young white male who also tries to be an orthodox Christian. On one hand, I know that if I were to clearly and unequivocally state my beliefs about gender ideology I would lose my job. On the other, I know that the disaffection that got Trump elected is putting people like me on a path to nowhere good.