Rod Dreher has assembled a “Benedict Option FAQ” for a very heady, ambitious, and interesting topic he’s been posting a lot about in the past several months, what is, in short, a call for Christians to retreat a bit and work on forming ‘little platoons’, consolidating forms of community where their values can be practiced and socially reinforced outside of governmental coercion.
What has perked my interest in the so-called ‘Benedict Option’ (BenOp) that Dreher is putting forward is his central reliance on Alasdair MacIntyre’s incredibly prescient book After Virtue (1981), one of the most important books on philosophical ethics in the past 100 years.
While I am not a practicing Christian myself, Dreher’s goal and ideas on the matter in general are worth considering.
What is the so-called ‘Benedict Option’ Dreher is putting forward? He recommends starting with the following paragraph from philosopher MacIntyre’s book:
It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict.