The Still-Shadowy Third Option

My February post, Outsiders, mentioned Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option. Dreher has been energetically rebutting critical reviews on The American Conservative in the past two weeks, and I have to question how ethical it is for an author to drum up sympathy for his own book in quite this fashion.

That said, I salute Dreher for recognising the emerging chasm(s) in society and the need for concerned humans, of any stripe, to respond. Increasingly, as the idea of President Trump becomes more established, the irruption of pain and resentment that accompanied his ascendancy becomes clearer and more accepted into public discourse. To acknowledge this is not to embrace the crudity of much of it; rather, I would argue that acknowledging it is the first meaningful step in striking back at that crudeness.

At the same time, we have entered uncharted territory, and we cannot pretend that, as new Columbuses, we can now turn back across the ocean and tell the King and Queen of Spain, “There wasn’t anything much there. Certainly nothing worth looking at.”

Read one of Dreher’s supporters, Jake Meader, on his perspective:

“We are living in the last days of western liberalism, a way of understanding the world that treats all human beings as detached individuals free to define themselves in whatever ways they see fit and in whatever ways capital can enable and facilitate. As the system fails, its great shortcomings are becoming ever more apparent. As a result of this, the actions society must take to prop up the system are becoming more extreme and the dangers to the church and to civil society more generally are growing accordingly.”

Now, I don’t know that we are in the last days of western liberalism. Certainly, if western illiberalism is what is offered in its place, what we have must suffice for a while longer. I also see a fairly major kicking back happening.

But I accept that such liberalism (whatever that precisely means, which is a topic for another post) is the fraying duct-tape on a creaky structure, rather than being the clear foundation for the future. Its very success in promoting social fairness, a leveling of racial disparities and an openness to people whose natures and lifestyles are counter-traditional, has meant we all just assumed things would get better and better indefinitely. The problem is that the liberal project has apparently stalled for many people.

Secular liberalism can make room for most forms of faith, while queasily acknowledging that the faiths themselves are ultimately its enemies. To a serious believer, the sovereignty of God and His rules must inevitably supersede any secular order, unless there is (O rare jewel!) a recognition that ‘God’ only truly speaks to individuals, never to humanity as a whole. The balance of forces between faith and liberalism needs endless renegotiation. And since I personally prefer a liberal environment where my own ‘faith’ can be practised in solitude, I am forever wary of Dreher and his ilk, just as they are wary of me.

These caveats aside, the doors were blown off established liberalism on November 9 of last year, having been loosened on their hinges by the Brexit vote in the UK six months earlier. We have, like the Genoese explorer, come to a new land, and a whole new perspective on what our world might become. It doesn’t belong to a chancer like Steve Bannon, nor Donald Trump, but neither does it belong to Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi or, most probably, Justin Trudeau. A third thing is about to emerge from the configuration that has been the liberal-left, and at this point, its outlines are only dimly perceptible.

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