Making Sense of the New American Right

Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.

I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s

  • gun rights,
  • pro-life,
  • taxpayer,
  • right to work

— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.

The Joy Of Traditionalism

Many on the right, especially those who identify as “Alt-Right,” spend massive amounts of time rejoicing in the pain of those with whom they disagree. The fact that videos about “libtard meltdowns” and “Butt-Hurt Crying Hillary Voters Compilation” have far more views than videos about Shakespeare, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Dante’s Commedia, should tell us something. Young conservatives and reactionaries, much as they flail their hands at the death of Western civilization and the loss of wisdom, do very little in the way of actually preserving the beauty and truth underlying this great tradition. If joy is truly a result of love, man must be very careful to develop the right affections in his breast. Right now many on the right seem hellbent on cultivating affection for dank memes rather than for truth, goodness, and beauty.

.. Simply change your habits to help bring friends and family into rituals and ways of life that affirm reality. Host a formal dinner! Go to an art museum! Have a picnic in which you read classic poetry aloud! This is how we can create a sustainable traditionalism in the West.

What I am advocating here is not aestheticism, but communally gathering around all that is true, good, and beautiful. Politics is ordered toward promotion of the common good, thus in order to engage in politics we all must first have a love for the good. We cannot base the rejuvenation of our dying civilization upon a shared animosity, for as Chesterton reminds us, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

.. If I could write The Benedict Option over again, I would have a lot more of this in it.

.. “Nothing we make in this life will be eternal, but we have to build them as if they will be eternal,” Marco continued. “That’s what God wants. If you promise yourself to a woman for a lifetime, that is a way of making the eternal present here in time.”

.. “I know from the olive trees that some years we will have a big harvest, and other years we will take few,” he said. “The monks, when they brought agriculture to this place a thousand years ago, they taught our ancestors that there are times when we have to save seed. That’s why I think we have to walk on this road of Saint Benedict, in this Benedict Option. This is a season for saving the seed. If we don’t save the seed now, we won’t have a harvest in the years to come.”

Trump Can’t Save American Christianity

Is there anything Donald Trump can do to alienate evangelicals and other conservative Christians who support him? By now, it’s hard to think of what that might be. These are people who would never let men with the morals and the mouths of Mr. Trump and Mr. Scaramucci date their own daughters. And yet, Team Trump has no more slavishly loyal constituency.

.. The truth is, Christianity is declining in the United States.

.. the United States is no longer a counterexample to the West’s secularization. America is on the same path of religious decline pioneered by Europe and Canada.

.. Mr. Smith finds that what he terms “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” has displaced authentic Christianity as the true religion of American Christians.

.. In M.T.D., the highest goal of the religious life is being happy and feeling good about oneself. It’s the perfect religion for a self-centered, consumerist culture. But it is not Christianity.

.. “America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer,” Mr. Smith told me. “That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism.”

 .. But the standard “religious right” model, based on the idea that the American people are a morally sound majority led by decadent liberal elites, was inaccurate.

.. Conservative Christians helped elect Republican politicians, but that did not stop the slide toward secularism. True, the church gained some access to power, but it failed to effectively counter popular culture’s catechetical force.

.. Mr. Trump is not a solution to this cultural crisis, but rather a symptom of it.

.. Pope Benedict XVI himself once said that the spiritual crisis the West faces is worse than anything since the fifth-century fall of the Roman Empire. This is why St. Benedict of Nursia is so relevant to Christians today.

A Russian Takes On The Benedict Option

the next step towards the Omega point of the history of Western Civilization will be society’s full acceptance of the idea of “open marriage.”

.. Susan Dominus. In her article, “Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?”, Dominus argues that, in general, yes it is happier, especially in the case where it is the woman who acquires many partners: jealousy spurs the sexual appetite of the man, and the sexual life of the partners comes into a nice balance.

.. Christianity, when you come right down to it, is really not a very demanding religion. It permits believers to eat pork and drink wine except on days of fast. On lay people it does not impose particularly harsh domestic norms. In fact, the only strictly tabooed side of life in Christianity relates to sexuality. Sex is permissible only in marriage and preferably for the purpose of giving birth to children, while deviations from this norm give rise to various suspicions.

.. It is either, as Chesterton once said, “the glad good news” of original sin, or else it is, along with other Abrahamic religions, an apparatus for suppressing something important and necessary in sexual life, something which, apparently, is stifled by traditional marriage and is of little use for the continuation of the species.

.. Among the things common to all religions is that they all impose taboos on female promiscuity, and on same-sex sex, but it is Christianity that adds that a person is obliged not only externally, but also internally, to be free from attraction to what is prohibited by the tradition.

.. How invulnerable to the threat of “sexual liberation” will remain Russia, China, the Islamic world?

.. should one remain politically loyal to one’s state even after you notice that it’s well on its way to hell?

.. Instead of fighting for the dominance of our faith in the public sphere, we are only trying to achieve corporate independence from the pressures of the secular state. Alas, I think this position is strategically untenable.

.. In one religious community, let’s say, all women could be subject to regular beatings on the principle that all of them are known to be sinners by nature. In another religious community women could be forbidden from entering into extramarital affairs, but if they do, they are threatened with divorce and exclusion from their community.

The Cost Of Christian Denial

Although the situation in Boston is unusually bad, it is not unique. All around us, the same sad trends are in evidence. Parish closings and wholesale diocesan retrenchment programs have become familiar. How should we respond?

Here are two possible responses:

A) “This is a disaster! Stop everything. Drop what you’re doing. “Business as usual” makes no sense; this is a pastoral emergency. We don’t just need another “renewal” program, offered by the same people who have led us into this debacle. We need to figure out what has gone wrong. More than that. We know that the Gospel has the power to bring people to Christ; therefore it follows that we have failed to proclaim the Gospel. The fault lies with us. We should begin with repentance for our failures.”

.. the Evangelical right hates the Benedict Option book because it calls out the failure of the Religious Right. The Evangelical left hates it because they are ready to compromise (quietly) with the culture on moral theology. And most of the people who actually read the book but disagree with it don’t really think the situation on religious liberty and the rest is as bad as Rod Dreher does.

.. I am not talking about left-of-center Christians whose leftism is found in their economic views. I am talking about those who compromise on moral teaching, especially on sex and sexuality, and on the nature of religious authority.

.. The observer adds that many Evangelicals view conversion not as a lifelong process of steady repentance and dying to self, but rather as a singular moment in time. The kind of thing I discuss in The Benedict Option — the necessity of incorporating the Gospel into a holistic and disciplined way of life — doesn’t make intuitive sense to people who believe the summit of Christian activity in the world is preaching the Word and leading people to accept Jesus as their Savior.

.. The point is, evangelism is largely pointless without discipleship: the sustained and continuous formation of the individual Christian into the disciplines of the Christian life.

.. Evangelical professors keep telling me that the typical student at their Christian college is one who is filled with strong emotions about Jesus, but with little or no formation in the habits of Christian thought and living. Their faith is built on sand, which is why it is not likely to survive the rising floodwaters of liquid modernity.

.. This is a point that cannot be emphasized strongly enough. After one accepts Christ, then what? That is not the end of the journey, but rather the beginning. Very few of us will be called to be Benedictine monks, of course, but all of us are called to lives of discipleship.

.. The great historian Robert Conquest said that this is his Second Law of Politics: “Any organization not explicitly and constitutionally right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing.” Adapted to Christianity, this might say, “Any Christian individual, church, or organization that does not understand itself as orthodox and live accordingly will sooner or later become heterodox.”

.. And it’s important to emphasize that, though the faculty deserve some blame, this trend is largely driven by students, who care only about advancing their self interests while engaging in various virtue signaling rituals to demonstrate the depth of their devotion to the anti-culture.

.. Law school is a seminary of modern progressivism. First principles are rarely worthy of discussion. Only relevance matters. The mysterious science of the law is described as neither mysterious nor science but simply prejudice wrapped in the cloak of an undeserved constitution. And it’s important to emphasize that, though the faculty deserve some blame, this trend is largely driven by students, who care only about advancing their self interests while engaging in various virtue signaling rituals to demonstrate the depth of their devotion to the anti-culture.

.. You really think the coming generation of lawyers and judges will care about defending religious liberty when they see it as nothing more than a cloak for bigotry? Are you willing to stake your future on that?

.. Note that a very strong majority of Catholics do not even support the religious liberty position of their own church on mandatory birth control. A majority of Evangelicals do, and generally hold the line for religious liberty, but they’re the only ones.


Christians in the Hands of Donald Trump

For several years now, Moore has been the energetic and winsome spokesman for a next-generation religious right — one that no longer regards itself as a moral majority, that recognizes that traditional religion in all its forms has become a counterculture in the West

.. Having spent the late Obama years trying to reconcile themselves to growing marginalization, to sudden secularization and increasing liberal pressure on their institutions, they suddenly find themselves with a real share of power — with allies all over the Trump cabinet, whatever the president himself may believe — in a political alignment that almost nobody saw coming.

.. But Dreher’s deeper, “how to build a counterculture” argument matters regardless of whether his prophecies are accurate

.. how do you think we got Trumpism? There is blame enough to go around, but the weakness of religious community is an important part of the story

.. if every Protestant megachurch were one degree more liturgical and theological

.. Being a bit of a dogmatist myself, I’m skeptical that a robust institutional Christianity can be built on the premises of contemporary liberal theology and the cultural shifts that it accommodates.

The Benedict Option

Maybe if I shared Rod’s views on L.G.B.T. issues, I would see the level of threat and darkness he does. But I don’t see it. Over the course of history, American culture has tolerated slavery, sexual brutalism and the genocide of the Native Americans, and now we’re supposed to see 2017 as the year the Dark Ages descended?

.. It should be possible to find a workable accommodation between L.G.B.T. rights and religious liberty, especially since Orthodox Jews and Christians aren’t trying to impose their views on others

.. My big problem with Rod is that he answers secular purism with religious purism.

.. The right response to the moment is not the Benedict Option, it is Orthodox Pluralism.

.. To me that means the real enemy is not the sexual revolution. It is a form of purism that can’t tolerate difference because it can’t humbly accept the mystery of truth.