Rod Dreher is convinced that America, indeed the whole project of modernity, is doomed, and he thought this long before Donald Trump took up tweeting or occasional residence in the White House. Trump is the least of our problems, he assures us.
In The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, Dreher insists that a “flood of secularism,” bringing with it a tsunami of sexual libertinism, is destroying the family and ushering in the new Dark Ages. In response to the collapse of Roman civilization in the sixth century, St. Benedict established monasticism, preserving the faith from the barbarian hordes. Dreher thinks proponents of liberalism, moral relativism, heedless consumerism, and of course “political correctness” are the new Visigoths, and pose a similar threat to the faith today. He goes further. It is time for “orthodox” lay Christians—and he won’t tolerate much shilly-shallying about what “orthodox” means—to form intentional communities that are separated in significant ways from the moral contagion of the larger culture. These communities will be family-centered (naturally) and presumably in some cases economically self-sustaining (good luck with that). They will most likely be anchored to a church or perhaps gathered around a monastery. (Dreher is smitten by monks, whose sage prophecies of doom he seems to take at face value.) Traditional Christian practices of worship and communal cooperation, based on St. Benedict’s Rule, will structure everyday life. Children will be homeschooled or sent to Christian academies, and thus protected from our toxic popular culture and the state’s malign meddling regarding sexual morality. This is necessary, Dreher writes, because American society has abandoned, and the federal government is now openly hostile to, biblical Christianity and especially traditional sexual morality. Drastic action is required.
Dreher has worked as an editorial writer and columnist for the Dallas Morning News, been exposed to the flesh pots of the Big Apple while writing for the New York Post and National Review, and made a brief stop at the Templeton Foundation. He is now an editor and remarkably prolific blogger at the paleoconservative The American Conservative. He writes faster than most people (or at least I) can read. His odyssey has also included a conversion from Methodism to Catholicism, and then—after the sex-abuse scandal, which, understandably, he found appalling—a switch from Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy. Eventually he settled his family in Louisiana, where he grew up.
As his résumé suggests, Dreher has been a fervent political conservative most of his life, but not a predictable one. He appears to prefer work boots and flannel shirts to bow ties, brandy snifters, and cigars. One of his earlier books, Crunchy Cons, was a kind of manifesto for back-to-the-earth types who championed organic food, environmentalism, and old-fashioned craftsmanship, while eschewing liberal mores. Dreher also expressed skepticism about the materialism and technological utopianism of free-market absolutists. A certain romanticism comes naturally to traditionalists. What Wilfrid Sheed said about the novelist Walker Percy might also be said about Dreher. As a Southerner, he seems half in love with defeat. (Not surprisingly, Dreher is a big Percy fan.)
In The Benedict Option, Dreher declares that he has seen the error of his ways. For too long conservative Christians have identified their creed with the nation’s, neglecting the fact that Christians have no abiding place in this world. It was a mistake to look to the Republican Party to stem the tide of secularism, abortion, and the assault on the family. With the capitulation of corporate America to the liberal social and sexual agenda, that hope has been revealed as hollow, if not a con. It is time to accept the fact that “politics will not save us.” The hour is late, and the open persecution of Christians not far off. Dreher looks to the “hands-on localism” pioneered “by Eastern bloc dissidents who defied Communism” as a model for today’s Christian resistance. Most important, now is the time for Christians to put their own house in order and in so doing become a moral witness for others. “Just as God used chastisement in the Old Testament to call his people back to himself, so he may be delivering a like judgment onto a church and a people grown cold from selfishness, hedonism, and materialism. The coming storm may be the means through which God delivers us,” Dreher writes.