Cucked like Rod

There's nothing quite so pathetic as serving as oblivious host and apologist for an ideology you're actively hostile to. A classic example of this is the way many virulently anti-Christian atheists subscribe to what amounts to a non-theistic Protestantism. You can see the phenomenon in reverse, as well, in those who claim to be traditional, orthodox Christians and yet accept the anti-Christian, modernist presuppositions of the secular liberal order.

Rod Dreher—author, columnist, blogger, and resident church lady of Paleoconservatism—is one of the chief exemplars of this latter category. In one breath, Dreher can be found decrying the ravages of Liberalism on Christian faith and traditional modes of life, emphatic about the necessity of retreating from the sphere of its deadly influence. In the next, he will be cordially agreeing (or at most politely disagreeing) with one of Liberalism's foremost public apostles on matters diverse. Just how dangerous can you really believe Liberalism to be when you're this cozy with it?

Not very. Dreher's chic anti-liberalism is mostly a fashion statement, like a flannel-wearing hipster posing for selfies with their locally sourced, grass-fed meal; a sort of traditionalist and monastic LARPing which conceals a deep-rooted commitment to the Liberal order.

Dreher recently claimed that conservatism is more than anti-liberalism, (reminiscent of the liberal Catholic refrain that "pro-life is more than anti-abortion!") but the truth is that conservatism is less than anti-liberalism. It's an irenicism with the enemies of Christ and the Church. This being the case, it's fitting that Dreher's project for Christian survival and renewal "The Benedict Option" is fundamentally a conservative (not reactionary) project, despite its pretensions of being entirely opposed to the reigning Liberal order. Its merely conservative nature can be seen when Dreher says things like:

Anyway, I agree with you about the Novus Ordo, believe it or not, because I have seen it celebrated with great reverence — especially by Father Paul Weinberger out in Greenville, Texas. Making a successful Ben Op dependent on the Traditional Latin Mass is unnecessary and futile. Don’t get me wrong; I fully support the TLM for Catholics who want it. I just don’t believe it’s strictly necessary. That said, that’s not an argument for me, but for Catholics.

The Novus Ordo, and presumably the Vatican II reforms generally, are not to be rejected or resisted but accommodated. This is the conservative temperament at work: preserve the deleterious advances of liberalism and then try (perhaps, if you get around to it) to resist any further ones.

So little is the character of Dreher's project anti-liberal (much less anti-liberal+) that the Benedict Option reminds one of nothing so much as the progressive Protestant project "The New Monasticism." With more of an urban focus and less concerned about the corrosive effects of a post-Christian culture on public morality, the movements are otherwise quite similar. Both seek organic communal life, more pious and simple, centered on Christian worship patterned after monastic traditions, and are committed to distancing themselves from dangerous worldly influences (late capitalism, bourgeois comforts, popular mass culture, etc.) Both also effectively cast off the single essential thing that traditionally distinguished monastic life from Christian life in the world: consecrated celibacy. Dreher, ever the progressive, has even taken to calling these non-celibate communities "Benedict Option monasteries."

But the Old Monasticism never left. In America, true, Orthodox monasticism has never really taken hold in any large-scale way. And even the Roman Catholic variants have substantially faded in number and influence in the last 50 years. But still, it does exist, and in the last few decades Orthodox monasticism has grown and established a presence throughout the United States. Why doesn't Dreher call attention to the traditional forms of monasticism of his own tradition as models?1 Likely because they are too austere, too traditional, too genuinely anti-liberal to fit the bill for his novel program. "Do what the Orthodox have always done" doesn't make for a sizzling pitch for a new book with ecumenical pretensions.

Of course, rural living in tight-knit, whole-life communities centered on the daily rhythms of the true faith is desirable for many reasons. And perhaps possible to pull off for some, at least for a time. But not for most, as this sort of transition requires both education and resources, which are often lacking. And not forever. The problem with this approach is that, while it seems to understand the Liberal order is beyond repair and must be separated from, it underestimates the extent to which that order is committed to our destruction. If they force you to bake the cake, it won't be that long before they arrive at your Benedict Option compound armed to the hilt to shut it down, if not go full Waco. The pious suburbanites who practice the Benedict Option may not be interested in the Liberal State, but the Liberal State is quite interested in them.

"But what other options are there?" A bolder, more aggressive approach which understands that the Christian witness calls for a martyric, hostile confrontation with the existing order. No retreat, no surrender. Witnessing to the Gospel requires, not only non-submittal but a confrontation with the monsters of the age. Surely Dreher would claim he is not neglecting this call, but every eschewal of every criticism exposes the chimerical nature of his project. Rural and urban, novel and traditional, monastic and familial, quietist and yet confrontational: the Benedict Option is everything you want it to be, and thus can never be much of anything at all.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that "there is no neutral ground in the universe. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan." To give way to Liberalism, even to cede a square inch, is to cooperate with the forces of darkness. In a cultural moment when Christians have lost so much ground, the answer certainly isn't to concede yet more. Heroism is needed. The heroism we've neglected for the false promises of the American social contract, which daily looks more and more like a suicide pact. Heroism which demands the restoration of the social order to its rightful place under Christ's rule, come what may. One which knows well, and vows to protect, the humble heroism of the monastic and simple, rustic Christians, but which refuses to surrender the remainder of the field to the Evil One. A moral framework and order will be imposed on society, as it always is. The only question that remains is whose moral framework it will be.

Dreher, for a man so firmly committed to opposing the American liberal project, sure knows how to ape its talking points and pal around with its proponents. His deep catechesis in Liberalism has taught him the way to win friends and influence people. Protestant leaders like Russell Moore and Albert Mohler aren't to be called to repentance for rejection of the Orthodox Church but effusively praised. Mohammedans aren't blasphemous Christ deniers, but saints. Liberals like David Brooks aren't to be vociferously opposed as an existential enemy, but calmly and rationally persuaded, if not simply agreed with.

Meanwhile, reactionaries and traditionalist Orthodox and Roman Catholics not only aren't wined and dined by Dreher in this manner; they have a tough time even getting a proper hearing. Which you may have noticed if you've ever entered the combox at AmCon—which Dreher tyrannically moderates—to strenuously object to his effete pontificating. No friends to the right, few enemies to the left, it seems.

While quick to denounce SJW histrionics and virtue-signalling, Dreher himself resembles nothing so much as a poor man's Andrew Sullivan: a prolific content-scraper and hectoring schoolmarm, prone to flights of hysteria, gesticulating feverishly at the outrage du jour. Not only has he rashly adopted the Left's content, but its aesthetic.

It is difficult to find a better term for this state of affairs, where one is outwardly and formally committed to opposing some system (liberalism in this case), but unwittingly a devout adherent of the same, than cucked. Either Christians must separate themselves from the corrosive, death-dealing influence of liberalism to maintain traditional communities of faith, or they can blithely cooperate with it, even to the extent of proclaiming many of its doctrines sacrosanct. That is the choice, you cannot serve both God and Liberalism. Someone alert Rod Dreher.

  1. He did have a brief stop at St. Anthony's in Arizona a couple years ago, but not to highlight as a Benedict Option model.