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The Neo-Reactionary Ben Op

Reader Raskolnik sees a radical side to the Benedict Option:

One point I’ve heard repeatedly from the nationalist right is that “conservatism” failed to actually conserve anything. And looking at the contours of Western social history from 1950 to 2020, it’s hard to disagree.

The brutal reality is that “standing athwart history yelling stop” accomplishes, and has accomplished, absolutely nothing. The reason is that this formulation of the conservative project accepts the fundamental premises of progressivism, that history is a thing with a telos, and that this telos is only intelligible in terms of utopian political discourse (as opposed to, say, the Second Coming of Christ). As such, so-called “conservatism” is fundamentally progressive, as it contains within itself the seeds of the progressive political project.

I think this is nowhere more visible than in the de facto collusion between those who would tear apart the fabric of the natural family for ideological reasons (same sex “marriage” etc.) and those who would do so for economic ones, worshipping the free market at the altar of Moloch. Trump’s election illustrates that the new operative political dichotomy is in fact between the extremely trendy rightthinkers in control of Hollywood and the academy, who are “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”–the de facto position of the institutional Republican Party at least since 2000 and arguably much longer–on the one hand, and the irredeemable deplorables who are socially conservative and fiscally liberal on the other. Again, the truth of the matter is that Conservatism, Inc. not only (perhaps even deliberately) failed to conserve the natural family or religious liberty or the sanctity of human life or pretty much anything else; it did so precisely because it was ideologically aligned with global capital on one side and the cultural commissars of the sexual revolution on the other. This was not an accident, it was baked into the Buckley/Kristol cake.

This is why I think that if Western civilization has a future, this future can only be secured through a (neo)reactionary stance that not only fails to give even a single inch to the ideology of the so-called ‘enlightenment,’ but fiercely and actively opposes it. It is quite simply not enough to give in to the idea of history as Progress, and only quibble about the rate of this so-called ‘progress.’ Under these circumstances, the ratcheting effect will only accelerate, as it has over the past half-century+. The only solution is to eradicate the modernist paradigm, root and branch. Which is why the Benedict Option is our only hope.

I had not really thought of the Benedict Option as a neoreactionary project, mostly because I know little about neoreaction. What I do know — and this is something I speak to in the book — is that the logic of the Enlightenment has deposited us on this far shore. Liberal democracy is a fruit of the Enlightenment, but we are discovering that it cannot produce within people the sentiments it needs to sustain itself. This, I believe, is what Adams meant when he wrote that the US Constitution is fit only for a “moral and religious” people. Without religion, the passions of men will tear through the Constitution like a whale through a net, he wrote.

Anyway, the Ben Op definitely sees in the Enlightenment the seeds of the dissolution of religious belief.

The Benedict Option’s prime goal is to build resilient communities of traditional Christian faith that can stand in opposition to the post-Christian progressive ethos, and sustain themselves across generations. Apropos of Raskolnik’s comment, I spoke to a reporter earlier this week about the Ben Op, and told him that while the Indiana RFRA and Obergefell were the immediate catalysts for this idea spreading, we would absolutely need the Benedict Option even if Republicans had been in power for years and years, and even if same-sex marriage didn’t exist. Philip Rieff in 1966 and Alasdair MacIntyre in 1981 saw exactly where we were and where we were going. The Republican Party may not be as eager to get there as the Democrats are, but they’re both taking us in the same direction.

I invite readers who know more about neoreaction than I do (which, again, is next to nothing) to comment on how the Benedict Option fits into it conceptually. Note well that I will not be approving comments that merely want to express anger or disgust with neoreaction. I’m trying to learn something here. I know this much: as the Benedict Option is a Christian movement, it must have nothing to do with racism and anti-Semitism. Not all neoreactionaries are racists or anti-Semites, but those who are will receive hospitality in any “monastery” I’m a part of in spite of their views, which I strongly believe must be unwelcome.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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