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‘Your Frame Is Too Small’

Carl Eric Scott says my version of the Benedict Option misses the scope of the problem

The political scientist Carl Eric Scott, who writes for the Postmodern Conservative blog, on the Benedict Option:

Rod’s framing, admittedly jumping off of others’, is off.

The fight over SSM is part of several larger progressive efforts and patterns. Yes, it works with a larger “liberal-tarian” attraction to the idea of liberty as personal autonomy, but that attraction is not driving the bigger political trends.

A Kennedy decision for SSM will cap-stone a pattern of constitutional development apart from democratic say and reasonable interpretive guidelines that the Dems have been trending toward since W. Wilson, and really have doubled-down upon since Roe. The Living Constitution. Similar patterns are afoot in democracies all across the world–see James Allan’s Democracy in Decline. Particularly if Hillary or an Unknown Democrat wins in 2016, this pattern will become more aggressive, particularly in the area of family law.

It is also part of a pattern of progressive embrace of demonizing and propagandizing politics. The template here goes back to Lenin, also to the likes of Wilson and (alas) even TR, and in some ways even back to Paine and Jefferson. I.e., it is innate to modern democracy. But it has taken an utterly shameless turn in the last decade and a half. The tactics of the more extreme SSM activists, and the success of these, are part of and at the leading edge of this trend. Very few decent liberals and moderates speak against it, something you really could count upon as recently as the early aughts.

This is connected to a more and more shameless use of mendacity. And now with the Lois Lerner and John Chisholm cases, we’re seeing how it turns into outright persecution of political opponents, by means of capture of key bureacracies.

Part of this is due to a Dem/lib/lefty sense that a) biblical religion is on the ropes, and b) there’s no room for compromise or pretended compromise with its representatives anymore. It took a generation for the impact of the Dems going all-in on Roe to have its impact, but by the mid-90s, the overwhelmingly secularist bias of the Dems and of all the left/liberal dominated institutions, educational, entertainment, etc., was becoming clear. For a brief window, that threatened electoral margins, so efforts were made to hide this, to downplay this, to keep the more theologically liberal biblical religion believers happy enough to vote Dem. But from 2005 on, the sense has been there is no more need for that. What John Lennon poetically wished for, an end of biblical religion, the progressives will now openly declare. The platform they are nearly at, and will be at soon, is to remove all tax breaks, and to criminalize all non-private religious expression and practice on the basis of debased “public-reason test” thinking. It’s on. They know that once you’ve thrown the punches they have, once you’ve dwindled and marginalized the pro-life Dems into near-extinction, there is no going back–either biblical religion fades at its present rate of decline, or, the Dem party goes down and goes down hard. Presently, no-one on the left has a plan B, that is, a plan for what to do if orthodox Christianity sticks around more than they expected.

But Rod Dreher’s framing forgets that more folks than just orthodox biblical believers are involved here. The proggies gone wild, having lost all sense of what it was in common culture, in strategy, in a coherent definition of 1st amendment speech, religious, and associational liberty, etc., that used to hold them back, will go wild in all sorts of areas. Those who toe the line on LGBT issues will find themselves declared heretics in other issues. So moderate-minded and conservative-minded Americans who have little active connection with small-o orthodox Christianity, folks seldom-observant, and perhaps somewhere between MTD and heretical in theology, are going to find themselves being effected by all this. What are they going to do in the face of the despotism-tending progressivist onslaught, if it comes? Nothing?

Rod also ignores the many small-o orthodox biblical believers who correctly or not, regard their American identity as nearly important to them as their Christian one. Will they do nothing also? Will they stand by and watch the “Executive Unbound” and its ever-growing administrative apparatus take over? Destroying federalism, budgets, and the Constitution? Destroying the rule of law and the pattern of trust across government, down to the policing of our streets? Will they say nothing when it is their home that is burned by progressive-cultivated mobs?

That is, a situation that gets radically worse on the religious liberty and liberty-to-dissent-from-SSM front, which Rod so strongly predicts, will simultaneously be a situation in which much else will be falling apart.

In such a situation, will the American who regards himself as a Christian first, but also who treasures America, stand by when a good leader, or perhaps even a right-wing demagogue, calls upon him to step up and fight–and I mean really fight, through massive civil disobedience organized via conspiracy, maybe secession, maybe even organized violence?

This kind of storm may not come. I even think it unlikely to come. But if it does, it will be nothing like dealing with barbarians, rapine, and declining civilization, such as St. Benedict had to deal with. It will be dealing with a civil war that cuts right across most communities, families, and hearts, and one in which all Benedict option “monasteries” will be directly targeted, infiltrated, etc.

So there will be no choice about whether there is a war. Nor will there be any coherent “we.” Christians will be divided into various stances about how to resist, and those who fight will find themselves in alliance with the non-religious, with the “America-idolizers,” etc., with all the many shifts of alliance and stance that always occur in these struggles.

Your frame is too small.

Readers, what do you think?

UPDATE: More from Scott, in the comments thread:

Thank you Rod for posting this, although as I read it again I find it a bit rough and conveying more worry than I want to. Still, it does reflect thinking I’ve been doing in a series of posts I call “Late Republic Studies.” All these posts seek to consider a) whether we may be sliding into times in which the viability of the American republic comes into real-life question, and b) how we ought to prepare our thinking for that possibility. None of the posts suggests we can predict such a disaster, but they all seek to prod us towards thinking about what our options would be if such a disaster, which we typically only think about about in indulgently rhetorical or breathlessly apocalyptic terms, actually did befall us.

In that way my Late Republic thinking links up with Benedict Option thinking. The difference is that my thinking is more political, and more focused upon America-as-a-whole. Another difference is that if politics and governance increasingly go the way the partisans of a leftist (or perhaps “liberal-tarian”) administrative state want them to, i.e. into a kind of secularist democratic despotism, my thinking holds that this would be resisted with vigor in America, with possibly nation-dividing or anarchy-producing results. It would perhaps be a futile vigor, one that only results in fratricidal division, but my sense of the American character simply does not permit me to think that a resigned submission is possible here, whatever happens in Europe. And that means I don’t see how most American Christians could avoid getting caught up in such a struggle if, God forbid, it ever occurs.

I suppose saying that paints me as someone who has a penchant for angry apocalyptic thinking. All I can say is that I began this series of posts by criticizing other conservatives for saying things like “we’re a republic no more.” I stand squarely against those saying we can predict doom with any confidence, and I took the pains, in a series of fours posts, to lay out three different scenarios for America in near-term: one mixed, another pretty bad, and a third, the least likely, rather rapidly accelerating our drift into late republican times.

I find myself in the weird position of shouting “Get Worried!” and then in softer voice: “…but, not too worried, and not in the wrong way.” Here are the links to those four posts:





Those posts reveal the main things I think we should be worrying about, but they also sketch a hopeful-enough scenario, and argue for why it is at least possible, given several more big GOP victories of certain kind. Part of that scenario involves a re-emergence of what I call “Reform Democrats.” A taste:

“By ‘Reform’ Democrats I essentially mean a reprise of the New Democrat movement of the 90s, this time accompanied by larger emphasis on civility and support for the Constitution. The intellectual spirit of this reprise would involve a return to something akin to the open-mindedness that characterized The New Republic of the Peretz-era at its best. The Reform would especially seek to strengthen Democratic expectations and procedures for disowning party members linked to various kinds of corruption or vile behavior. The reason this prospect is so important, despite how unlikely it appears at present, is that we cannot maintain our republic indefinitely so long as the Democratic Party retains its competitiveness along with its present characteristic corruption-abetting, mendacity-expecting, demonization-demanding, and Constitution-flouting traits. Out of a certain moral imperative, and out of a witness to the good traits of liberals I know, I continue to stubbornly disagree with several of our blogs’ commenters who say a Democratic return to self-moderation is impossible.”

And here is the more fulsome positive vision:

“If things turn out really well, what happens is that the threats from liberal-tarianism, and from economic radicalism both fade into the background, and reformed New Democrats, determined to support the Constitution, and to honor the American political tradition in a more balanced way, emerge as the main competitor to the Grand Old Party. Politics continues, human nature being what it is, and so Americans still remain divided, probably most of all on abortion and economic policy, likely also on the shape of federalism and local power, and periodically very divided about wars, but the divisions are manageable, often peaceable, and no longer seem like they might sunder our nation. Yes, this vision only comes about through political fighting, a readjustment of constitutional thinking, and various government and party reforms, but some kind of revival within Christianity, and perhaps within Judaism also, is necessary for its realization.”

On that last topic, religion’s future in America, I have a long review-essay out in the new Perspectives on Political Science considering recent books by Ross Douthat, Joseph Bottum, and George Mardsen, but you have to pay for it. A more jumbled version of that essay, and without the Mardsen, was my post “Post-Christian America?” https://www.nationalreview.com/postmodern-conservative/410205/book-notes-post-christian-america-edition-carl-eric-scott Obviously, I agree with Rod about the importance of religion, and with a general need for Christian rejuvenation and more serious discipleship.

But the thing I most agree with Rod about is that the time has come to start preparing for the shockingly bad scenarios, even if we cannot have grounds for thinking they are destined. “The End-Game for the American Republic” and/or “Post-Christian America” are less dramatic and unthinkable things now that we get closer to them, and arguably even begin to move into them. We know our descendants may have to live out their lives dealing with them, so the time has come to get spiritually and intellectually ready.



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