What Neoreaction Thinks Of The Benedict Option

Haiti, as everyone knows who as studied the black problem, is the western portion of Columbus’s Española, or St. Domingo, the largest after Cuba and the most fertile in natural resources of all the lands of the Caribbean Sea. It was the earliest of the Spanish settlements in the New World. The Spaniards found there a million or two of mild and innocent Indians, whom in their first enthusiasm they intended to convert to Christianity, and to offer as the first-fruits of their discovery to the Virgin Mary and St. Dominic. The saint gave his name to the island, and his temperament to the conquerors. In carrying out their pious design, they converted the Indians off the face of the earth, working them to death in their mines and plantations. They filled their places with blacks from Africa, who proved of tougher constitution. They colonised, they built cities; they throve and prospered for nearly two hundred years, when Haiti, the most valuable half of the island, was taken from them by the buccaneers and made into a French province. The rest, which keeps the title of St. Domingo, continued Spanish and is Spanish still – a thinly inhabited, miserable, Spanish republic. Haiti became afterwards the theatre of the exploits of the ever-glorious Toussaint l’Overture. When the French Revolution broke out, and Liberty and the Rights of Man became the new gospel, slavery could not be allowed to continue in the French dominions. The blacks of the colony were emancipated and were received into the national brotherhood. In sympathy with the Jacobins of France, who burnt the châteaux of the nobles and guillotined the owners of them, the liberated slaves rose as soon as they were free, and massacred the whole French population, man, woman and child. —James Anthony Froude, The Bow Of Ulysses, p 182.

A certain naïveté regarding the question of race, if such a term even applies to the pre-modern world, is seeping into the minds of traditionalists. They should learn the lesson that the Jacobins learned about international unity: Christ’s unification of people in himself, does not, and has never removed the rifts between them which are real, very permanent, and will continue even in some form in the life to come. Rather, Christians hope them to serve merely as distinctions and not as causes for conflict. The Jacobins truly believed that removing the barriers would result in harmony rather than war. If we define racism as respecting these barriers, racism is natural and healthy, and Christian racism would be wise.

Rod Dreher has recently flirted with neoreaction. Before we discuss his article on Dec. 9 about the relationship between neoreaction and the Benedict Option, it’s useful to first address his article back in September, where he talks about racism, a theme present in his December essay, as well. Dreher back in September writes:

Any political and social peace we find in this world is, as Augustine says, the peace of Babylon, not the peace of Paradise. If I’m a neoreactionary, then I’m a neoreactionary who doesn’t want to return to a prelapsarian era, and who doesn’t even see that as possible, but rather one who wants to create communities within which it is possible to live in greater harmony with God (which is to say, with Reality), and with each other. Also, because I am a convinced Christian, I can never reconcile myself with the racists of the Alt-Right, and don’t want to. I know they, like good Nietzscheans, think Christianity is for patsies. OK, fine. I believe it is the Truth, and that truth condemns racism. This is not a point I am willing to argue here, so don’t even try. I do want to make the distinction that there are different kinds of neoreaction.

He has fooled himself very cleverly, as many Americans have. When they took away the right of men over their wives and children, they thought they were limiting abuse. But the strange point, and a fact which should send chills up your soft but possibly still intact spine, was that for the middle and upper classes, the abuses these laws were supposed to prevent almost never occurred. These laws in effect, brought forth with as much force as Dreher says, “the truth condemns racism,” that “the truth condemns slavery,” or “the truth condemns physical violence committed in a domestic setting.” All very well, but the effect of these laws was merely to take the crude tools of rule away from poor men that they had, in their way, to rule their families, tools which were not needed for men of Dreher and my class, and so would never miss them.

Likewise, when non-slave owners had finally relieved slave owners of their property, they felt no weight of want, but the lightness of self-righteousness. At least for their part, the blacks of Haiti had the sense to recompense them for their hubris. Our own faith has a long tradition of recognizing God’s use of evil men to punish other evil men. Perhaps the Jacobins should have learned to end all of their declarations with absit invidia! But invidia is real.

Napoleon sent an army to punish the murderers and recover the colony. Toussaint, who had no share in the atrocities and whose fault was only that he had been caught by the prevailing political epidemic and believed in the evangel [gospel, in the Christian sense – Ed.] of freedom, surrendered and was carried to France, where he died or else was made an end of. The yellow fever avenged him, and secured for his countrymen the opportunity of trying out to the uttermost the experiment in negro self-government. The French troops perished in tens of thousands. They were reinforced again and again, but it was like pouring water into a sieve. The climate won a victory to the black man which he could not win for himself. They (the French) abandoned their enterprise at last, and Haiti was free.

This is real history, as told by James Anthony Froude. When most people decry racism, they are thinking of Jim Crow, under which blacks actually began to prosper, since where their communities were functional, they did not have to compete in business with whites, Jews, Asians and others. Go to that little corner store in the ‘Inner City’. Is that a Korean or an Indian who owns it? What does the term ‘racism’ even imply?

What concerns them, of course, is the fomenting of enmity between groups based on broad racial groups. But if our concern is the fomenting of enmity, that thing which creates that evil g-word, almost more wicked than the n-word, genocide. But when we look at Africa, we find that racial lines are not required; that in fact we may find two tribes who are nearly identical to outsiders, but slay one another with abandon. Is there any real connection between someone recognizing lower black average IQs and the murder of blacks by whites? Has there ever been a connection?

Not to jump the gun, but many peoples’ minds will jump to the Holocaust. A rigorous historian, however, will notice that 1) we did not enter the war for the purpose of fighting a genocidal action, and 2) the genocidal action, of whatever size it may finally prove to have been, did not start until Germany was itself in dire straits, which could be proven to have easily been caused by American and Communist aggression. (Did I mention we teamed up with the Communists in that war? Why not; we did. These bedfellows were not that strange.) Indeed, there is strong evidence that Adolf Hitler’s particular dislike of Jews was fueled by his youth in corrupt 1890s Vienna, where Jewish businessmen, rich from industry, lived lives of dissipation and vice.

The Armenian Genocide, which the Turks wrongly deny, was clearly an overreaction to criminal nationalist revolutionaries of the Armenian sort. Their overreaction was not justified (which is why they hide it) but certainly recompense for the revolutionaries’ criminal acts to the point to get them to stop was not only just, but necessary for the lawful authority. As Paul says and warns, “Do you not fear the power?”

In any case, we do not have a clear causal connection between racism of the sort that notes the difference between groups based on ethnicity and allows the natural barriers to exist, and the mass killing of those groups. In fact, it seems more the case that the latter follows from the removal of natural barriers; in fact, the first element in the series is generally a species of response to the middle element as well.

What Dreher has done, and I recognize in myself, is a subtle form of classism disguised as religious truth; Dreher would recognize the difference between a Muslim and Christian, which difference often correlates with racial groups (and one reason why being against Islam in some contexts can get you labeled as ‘racist’) but not in general between whites and blacks. This, he would rationalize, is because he knows intelligent, middle class blacks. As do I. Knowing a good-natured Muslim affects the nature of Islam in the same way that knowing a lion that doesn’t maul affects the nature of lions.

In fact, what he calls ‘racism’ is merely the lower-class response to group differences. It’s a tribalist response, which many conservatives, being part of upper-crust tribes, like “People who live in DC” or “Journalists in Cambridge” look down upon. But then, now you can see the parallel; Dreher cannot condemn their racism without himself doing the same. He has run into what I call the “non-judgment reflection paradox”. Judging people for a form of judgment is incoherent and is often finessed through simple sophistry, that is, taking what is the essence of the question (“prejudice”) and using a different word (“racism”) as a proxy for it. Racism has a color that prejudice does not, though all of racism’s sting is prejudice’s. But if we look at mere prejudice, we see it going both ways, and in fact, we see the reaction against the alt-right’s supposed racism from both conservatives and progressives as a clear form of punching down, which both would decry if it were dressed in other colors.

It is a matter of ‘who is allowed to judge whom‘.

The fact is, prejudice, a form of ‘forward judgment’ is always necessary and must needs happen. But if we valorize it, we must recognize that we can no longer condemn racism. We must stick to the truth, that is, in what way are the pre-judgments inaccurate, in what way are people fomenting enmity within their own country over disputes that either cannot be resolved or should not have happened? But the crudeness of prejudgments made by those of lower classes and castes doesn’t mean they are untrue; they may be broadly accurate in a way that our own refined and often self-deceptive ‘fore-judgments’ are not.

Journalists and public writers are often under pressure to shape their own prejudgments according to fashion, so that they can keep their prominence. After all, their prominence is part of their livelihood. I don’t blame Dreher at all, and he should realize that my own samizdat is written under cover because of this very reason. Such is the general gist of fashion itself; popularity is often a warning sign of corruption, and indeed a writer, the more prominent he becomes, becomes more pressured by this very corruption, that of mere fashion.

I would invite Dreher, before he blackens his reputation with the mark ‘neoreactionary’ to understand the political implications of attacking the alt-right due to ‘racism’. He is in fact a higher class person attacking the lower class of his own nation on behalf of members of a class higher than his own. He is not acting as defender of those beneath him in his own nation, but one who attacks them because they are difficult – annoying, inconvenient, contemptible. Maybe if they weren’t so rude about blacks he might like them? But there was a liberal who understood better than any liberals today about the very question in fact:

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour. Hence he comes to us clad in all the careless terrors of nature; he is as strange as the stars, as reckless and indifferent as the rain. He is Man, the most terrible of the beasts. That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one’s duty towards humanity, but one’s duty towards one’s neighbour. The duty towards humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable. That duty may be a hobby; it may even be a dissipation. We may work in the East End because we are peculiarly fitted to work in the East End, or because we think we are; we may fight for the cause of international peace because we are very fond of fighting. The most monstrous martyrdom, the most repulsive experience, may be the result of choice or a kind of taste. We may be so made as to be particularly fond of lunatics or specially interested in leprosy. We may love negroes because they are black or German Socialists because they are pedantic. But we have to love our neighbour because he is there—a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us. Precisely because he may be anybody he is everybody. He is a symbol because he is an accident.

(That’s ol’ Gilbert by the way.)

Dreher has made a big deal of this very idea, but in his rejection of those closer to him, if he wishes to be a neoreactionary, in favor of those further, he reveals that he has not understood this basic dictum. Dreher; if you are a reactionary of any kind, you may not be alt-right, but the alt-right is, in this space, your neighbor.

I am a fan of Dreher, and I do believe that the Benedict Option is conceptually important in the project of Restoration. But he has not come far enough to call himself a reactionary of any sort if racism is a hangup. Race realism, if it means anything, means recognizing that racism is largely a meaningless term, and at best its content can be substituted for terms with better accuracy and depth, and at worst it is merely a way to keep people of weak will in line. He claims to want to be in line with reality, but ‘racism’ of the sort meaning basic prejudice will be a normal reality if any of his Benedict Option communities contain persons of a class lower than his, or have to deal with members of groups with large differences in ability or personality.

We can only hope that this does not cause him to give up hope, and as the communists did, “fall upon them.” (This episode makes me worried for them on that account.)

If, as he says, this part of his belief is non-negotiable in fact, he would merely be a liberal who finds it fashionable to take on certain elements of ‘reactionary’ thought in a passing way, to differentiate himself for the sake of marketing his columns. I do not think this is the case, and if not, I invite him to reconsider his disavowal; he is not going to be able to please everyone, and in any case, our God calls us not to be “pleasers of men.”

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  1. Would it not be a fine thing, were the entire country like Greenwich or Darien before the war?

    1. Laguna Beach Fogey December 11, 2016 at 5:07 pm

      Hell, I’d take Greenwich and Darien in the ’70s (I lived in both towns) over the cesspit we have now!

  2. I miss when we were honest about the things we ought to be honest about and dishonest about what we ought to be dishonest about.

  3. Rod Dreher is just looking for an edgier way to describe himself because cuckservative cut too near the bone. He likes the term neoreactionary and will form a definition to suit himself.

  4. Dreher is way too milquetoast and bogged down in the culture of “respectable” journalism. In this day and age you’ve got to draw hard lines. The Benedict Option begins in the mind, with *categorical* rejection of Liberalism- even if that means aligning yourself with some positions that aren’t socially acceptable to the society ladies at literary tea parties.

    1. Yes I think DS’s comment here is the key to understanding Dreher and his “Benedict Option”. The opinions of society ladies is of the utmost importance to him, and not only conservative Buckleyesque society ladies either but Liberals as well. He frequently turtles up when confronted with unpleasant facts, for instance he spiked two of my comments from his NRx threads, and for nothing more than bringing up the uncomfortable fact that Christianity’s relationship with Judaism was, how to say…not so stellar, prior to the Holocaust.

      I linked him to John Chrysostom’s homilies on the Jews and simply asked him if he thought Chrysostom’s remarks were “Anti-Semitic” or not. Of course he thinks they are but he can’t say as much because it would expose his own hypocrisy and immense cognitive dissonance.

      My point is that if he can’t deal with something as benign as asking whether or not he agrees with the Easter Orthodox church’s most famous Father, how is he going to deal with the immense amount of shitlordom contained in this article?

      1. I have followed Dreher for a few years and the more familiar I have become with him, the more he strikes me as essentially a deracinated WASP in search of an identity. In the 80s, he was a Mondale liberal. In the 90s, he was a Catholic neo-con. Now he is Orthodox and occasionally flirts with the neo-reactionary label. To a greater or a lesser extent, most of us are deracinated now; that’s no mark of shame, any more than it should be to be born with a club-foot. The point is how we respond to that. Dreher’s response is to keep us constantly updated about his quest for authenticity and meaning, not least by using the details of his family life as the background for his very own spiritual travelogue. It comes across as mere affectation and narcissism, so I would have to think very hard before he led me off into any particular wilderness.

        I understand what he means by the Benedict Option and why he is pushing this idea. He is right to recognise that liberal, democratic modernity is anti-Christian by the mere fact of itself. But he seems to believe that if only Christians will retreat into a cocoon, the world will leave them alone. This is not 6th Century Italy, and the people in command of the West are not Christian kings. They are people (not just men anymore) who are apostates or the children of apostates and who have the power of the electronic surveillance state at their disposal .

        1. Great comment. I am Orthodox and I cringe every time Dreher writes a column. He is like Franky Schaeffer in that he wants the world to watch him on his endless journey of self-discovery. Pathetic.

          1. This is PRECISELY what I mean:


            For pity’s sake, I now know more about his relationship with this niece than she does, and I am living on the other side of bloody Atlantic Ocean.

        2. The “coming home” genre is very unfortunate. Some who wrote works like this have indeed genuinely helped people trying to diagnose what is wrong spiritually. It’s necessary because we live in a supposedly “Christian” nation and yet it seems so … communist. Some people’s answer to that is that they’re the same thing, but for people of faith it’s an unsatisfying answer for obvious reasons.

          The problem that Frankie Schafer got into was – not that Dancing Alone should not have been written, but that having “Come Home” they should stop TRAVELING. Inasmuch as it comes to be a “continued journey” – and if you’ve read other writers like James Lileks the element of “following the notable’s life” is present in many other places – it ends up in narcissism. “My dear readers, what shall I do?”

          My criticism of Orthodox writing now is that they have yet to cast off this element of our secular culture – travelogues can be interesting, but only if they are about something else and not you. But since most of us are still “trying to find ourselves” (whatever that should mean–) and since that is a very popular genre EVERYWHERE, the temptation must be universal.

          The difference between a story from your life that helps illustrate an important point and an important point that helps drive telling the continued story of your life is subtle, and not to be dismissed.

  5. #MuhBiodiversity and #MuhTriggers are superficial. Hostilities (personal and cultural) are diffused in the Church.

    When individuals wallow in their uniqueness outside of the context of their identity in Christ you get individuals — or sadly, a people — who concoct 32 genders and identify themselves by shared entertainment experiences.

    1. Pretty much this.

  6. Laguna Beach Fogey December 11, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    We look down on striving middle-class and lower-middle-class men like Dreher.

    That’s the thing about so many Neoreactionary or wannabe NRx writers, this LARPing as “higher class” individuals.

    Don’t encourage the bastards!

    1. I don’t think the author here is looking down on anyone.

    2. You should be aware that I don’t take the “don’t judge” aspect seriously, but since it is integral to the belief systems of many, it is a valid target for rhetoric.

  7. What do you mean by divisions that are sure to continue in some form in the next life? (earnest question)

    1. The Church has always taught such. There is a heavenly hierarchy, much as there is an earthly one. To be sure the hierarchy will not break on strictly racial grounds, but since God has given less to certain men and more to others, and those broadly follow racial lines (indeed, thus the meaning of race), then there are men from whom God expects less and from whom He expects more, and whom He will reward less and more richly.

      Remember the parable of the talents: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25%3A14-30&version=DRA

      The man given five talents receives ten (or eleven); the man with two receives four. Both are good and faithful servants and commended by their master, but he to whom more was entrusted, more is given.

      Or, if you prefer St. Thomas, you can get explicit confirmation of the hierarchical nature of heaven (for man and angels) here: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/summa/FP/FP108.html#FPQ108OUTP1

    2. in the life to come, our differences are not destroyed. In the Apocalypse for example, it is the “nations” which worship, not “humanity”. There are numerous other examples to make it clear that although we will be transformed (and do not yet see what we will be) male will not cease to be male, female to be female, and on down. Aspects of those differences must needs change – for example, there is no longer a need to create marriages since procreation will no longer be necessary, etc, which – for a rather orthodox position – means there will be no sex in heaven.

  8. “Neighbor” is not defined by Jesus as universally inclusive. The parable of the good Samaritan is designed to relieve men from loving all who claim goodwill, yet demonstrate none. Christianity encourages whores repent, not love indiscriminately.

    Your neighbor is no accident. You love him because he cares for you. Jesus command following the parable is to, “Go and do likewise,” not go and expect likewise, and not go and love all.

    1. You did not make them your neighbor; they are the sample of humanity given to you by God. They are not “accidental” in the sense of pure randomness, but nothing is completely outside of the oversight of God and therefore nothing is “truly” random; accidents therefore refer to arrangements outside of our control, which is exactly Chesterton’s point.

      As for loving all, there is nothing wrong with loving all. But in trying to love one person, say, your neighbor (who, despite what some have said, is your neighbor because they happen to be next to you, not because they decided to be nice to you first.) you will find that your power to love even one person effectively is quite limited; ergo it becomes obvious that “loving all” requires powers you do not possess.

      Charities, even in a Christian context, have always had this foible of falling into callous altruism; the woman who pours out her very life to manage the gift drives but loathes her own family.

      Now, on the other hand, those who show you KINDNESS have indeed made themselves your neighbor. The root of our very concept is linked to the word “kind” or “kin” – meaning, treating someone … like your own. So that much does remain true.

      ‘Do not repay evil with evil, but with good.’

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