Old Notre Dame Man Yells At Hallucination
A friend sent me this three-minute clip of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre disdaining The Benedict Option:
Look, MacIntyre is an important philosopher and no doubt a good man, but this is simply pathetic and dishonest.
MacIntyre says that the Benedict Option is about withdrawing from the world, which it most certainly is not -- as he would know if he had troubled himself to read my book. He has never done that. How do I know this? Because when he first spoke out against it, I wrote to him, said to him that he misunderstands my argument, and had him sent a copy of the book gratis. In an email of October 28, 2017, he thanked me for the book. I responded with this:
By the way, I am writing you from Nanovic Hall at Notre Dame. I gave a talk about the Benedict Option last night. I know you've said you oppose my ideas, and of course that is fine with me. But I hope you were able to take a look at the copy of the book I had my publisher send to you. I take a fair amount of criticism from grad student types who say that I am OBVIOUSLY not writing in perfect line with MacIntyre's vision, etc. To which I say, "You're no doubt right." I tell them that I don't pretend to be doing so. I accept MacIntyre's critique of late modernity, and am trying to figure out a way to live in such a way that we lay Christians can endure this new Dark Age. I don't know if it can be done, but I know we have to try. In every talk I give about the Benedict Option, I tell my audience that I do not pretend to have the answers, but I hope I am asking the right questions. We are going to have to figure this out together, even risking failure, I say. What else is there? To surrender to liquid modernity?
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I never heard back from him. Then, a few years later, he was again asked in a public forum about the Benedict Option, and again denounced it. But I was present in the room for this, and went to him after the session was over, introduced myself, and told him that I wish he would read the damn book, because he keeps making statements about its argument that are objectively untrue. He froze when I stood in front of him, and said not a word. I offered to meet with him; he just sat there, apparently mortified, and said nothing. It was extremely awkward, so I walked away. I think it is embarrassing at the very least for a scholar of MacIntyre's statue to repeatedly denounce a book he has not read, and refuses to read.
There is nothing that MacIntyre says in the short clip above that is contrary to anything I wrote in The Benedict Option -- except in one glaring case. Contrary to MacIntyre, I do not argue for heading for the hills to withdraw completely from the world. Anybody who has read the book knows that. But we get at the very end of his indignant discourse above to the real reason why MacIntyre trashes the book: because conservative people like it, and he doesn't like conservative people.
A few years back, when MacIntyre first lashed out at the book, I was talking to a Notre Dame professor friend about how frustrating this was, not because he disagreed with the book (which would have been fine), but that he mouths off about it without having read it, and getting its argument fundamentally wrong. My friend said that he had noticed that both Stanley Hauerwas and Wendell Berry had done the same thing regarding recent writing from conservatives who cite them faithfully. (In fact, I wrote to Hauerwas to politely reprove him for fundamentally misstating my argument in his critique, and he wrote back a kind note conceding that he had not read the book.) My friend -- a fellow conservative who finds a lot in Hauerwas, Berry, and MacIntyre to like -- speculated that their advanced generation of old lefties simply cannot deal with the fact that the young people most interested in their work are people on the Right. I remember that Tanya Berry said to me in 2007, when I met her at a conference in Louisville, that she and Wendell didn't understand why so many young conservatives loved his work, but they were grateful for it anyway.