After expecting that their values would finally triumph through an alliance among conservative believers in different faith traditions, the spread of what are perceived as secular norms [see the above article on the conflict between religious and fiscal conservatives] is making some conservative Christians reconsider the political ambitions of the past four decades and rather give priority to the cultivation and preservation of “a robustly Christian subculture within an increasingly hostile common culture,” writes Damon Linker in The Week (May 19). This is called “the Benedict option,” from the concluding paragraph of Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1981 book “After Virtue” (1981), hoping for a new St. Benedict who, like his predecessor at the end of the Western Roman Empire, would help to construct “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.”
According to Linker, such views have been gaining ground in circles around The American Conservative and First Things magazines. It would not mean political quietism; conservatives would still contribute to various public causes, but the time of national political crusades or attempts to play a decisive role in presidential politics would be over, with conservative Christians acknowledging the fact that they are now a minority in a majority secular nation. One of the advocates of the Benedict Option for years is conservative blogger Rod Dreher. In an article published in First Things (February), Dreher describes the Benedict Option as “a radical shift in perspective among Christians, one in which we see ourselves as living in ruins (though very comfortable ones!) of Christian civilization,” with the coming task of keeping “orthodox Christianity alive in the hearts and minds of believers living as exiles in an ever more hostile culture”—but neither utopian nor strictly separatist. This would involve an emphasis on education and culture. It does not require a withdrawal from political life, but “is primarily a theological and cultural project” based on radically rethinking “our place within this order” (The American Conservative, May 19).
Commenting on the recent massive Irish vote for instituting same-sex marriages, Dreher remarks that it is futile to hope to win by fighting “the forces of liberalism on their own terms.” The practice of politics as usual is a distraction from the essence of the challenge of living in generations to come amid the ruins of modernity (The American Conservative, May 23). There now seem to be groups of conservative Christians discussing the Benedict Option (The American Conservative, May 29). Linker thinks that this pessimistic cultural project is currently starting to capture the imaginations of social conservatives.