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MacIntyre Is Ben Op & Doesn’t Know It

Even the great philosopher himself has failed to read the book he dismisses

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nx0Kvb5U04]

Hey readers, I’m at the Q Conference in Nashville until tomorrow, and have only limited access to wifi. Some of you are writing to ask if I’m sick, because I haven’t been blogging as much. You’re really kind — but be assured, all is well.

Caleb Bernacchio posted to Twitter the above comments by Alasdair MacIntyre. Fast-forward to the 1:07 part, where someone asks him about the Benedict Option. He responds testily, saying that the Ben Op has nothing to do with him. Then he explains what he meant by saying that “we await a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.” The world he charts out is pretty much the world I talk about prescriptively in The Benedict Option! Like half the book’s critics, it seems, MacIntyre is responding to what he thinks the book is about (head-for-the-hills withdrawal) rather than what it is actually about. I hope someone who knows him will get him a copy of the book so he can read it. I am happy to send him one personally, if you’ll let me know how to do that.

To be clear, I am not saying that MacIntyre would necessarily agree with my book, were he to read it. But the criticism he would level would be at least informed by what the book is, not what he apparently thinks it is. MacIntyre doesn’t grasp that I agree with him that in our society, “liberals” and “conservatives” are two sides of the same coin.


Yes, I think this is correct. The Benedict Option is a short-ish book written for a general audience, and is in no way a complete critique or program, or anywhere close to it. Had I been given all the time and space I wanted, I’d still be writing it, and it would end up at least three times as long. But I had a deadline, and a limited amount of space. Publishers, weirdly enough, want to sell books; most books that are longer than The Benedict Option, which is about 250 pages long, don’t sell as well as shorter ones. For someone who is as logorrheic as I am, it was a real challenge to write to that length, and to be honest, I couldn’t have done it without my editor’s scissors going snicker-snack. Having to lose all the stuff I wrote about a Mormon guy in Baton Rouge doing flood relief work, and about the Clear Creek Abbey community, and about a Catholic teacher in suburban Wichita and his neighborhood farm — it was like chopping off fingers. I’m not exaggerating — and if you’re a writer, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The model of political and economic engagement presented in the book is extremely elementary. But I knew it could not be any other way. Each chapter in the book could have easily been a book on its own — but I had to keep them to between 6,000 and 7,500 words each. Writers know that it’s almost always easier to write long than short. What I hope for The Benedict Option is that it’s simply the opening shot in what will be a wide range of books taking on particular aspects of what I propose, and going much deeper, and doing so from within particular traditions.

For example, I expect that the definitive Evangelical book about the Ben Op will be the one that the great Jake Meador of the Mere Orthodoxy blog is working on now (and I know he will be shopping around a book proposal soon; I think it will be red-hot). I have told Caleb Bernacchio that he should write a book (and should do so with Philipp de Mahy) focusing on politics and economics in the Ben Op. There are all kinds of educational books to be written. Yesterday at Q, I had a long private conversation with a man who is a big deal in classical Christian schooling. He told me that the world is wide open now for traditionalist experimentation on the education front.

This is an exciting time for us creative minorities! I am not any kind of expert; I am a journalist and a generalist who has tried to provide a framework for thinking about how to live as faithful tradition-minded Christians in a post-Christian, consumerist, individualist, anti-traditional culture. As I tell fellow Christians when I speak, I do not have all the answers, and I don’t know anyone who does. We in the churches are going to have to work this out together. Come join the fray. Before you decide that the Ben Op is B.S., though, please read the thing and understand what you reject. You may end up not rejecting it at all, because what you thought it was — a call to head for the hills and hunker down in some kind of separatist commune — is not at all what the Benedict Option calls for.



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