Howard Kainz: By establishing preconditions for dealing with value disagreements, we will arrive at the vestibule of Aquinas’ classical precepts.
We hear much these days about the “Benedict Option,” inspired by Rod Dreher’s book by that name. Some Catholics surrounded by “nones” and liberals – and confronting public schools sexualizing students, local parishes preaching a watered-down hand-holding Catholicism, etc. – are seeking various forms of community as a defense against anti-Christian currents.
Some have changed parishes or neighborhoods, or even moved their families to locations bordering Benedictine monasteries! Some may find TheCatholicThing.org and similar Catholic Internet sites to be their “cyberspace” Benedict Option.
The general idea is to take steps of self-preservation in a world imbued with relativism and secularism, get support from like-minded persons, and keep ourselves and our children from succumbing to a social environment gone berserk.
Rod Dreher got the inspiration for his book from a short final paragraph of Alasdair Macintyre’s 1981 book, After Virtue, where Macintyre concludes, comparing our age with the late Roman Empire of the original Benedict, “this time . . . 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.”
In a later interview, Macintyre confided that he regretted writing that paragraph, thus giving rise to the impression that he was advocating a strategy of withdrawal.
Macintyre’s book received – and deserved – a lot of attention. I came across it at a time when I was doing research for my book Ethics in Context, and was impressed by his brilliant critique of attempts to formulate viable ethical theories in the aftermath of the Enlightenment – especially two theories that still appear in college classrooms in various revisions and reincarnations: utilitarianism and Kant’scategorical imperative.
One thing, however, that Macintyre does not go into: both of these influential theories were Enlightenment attempts to replace natural-law theory, which had previously enjoyed pride of place among Catholic philosophers and also some Protestant philosophers.
Howard Kainz is emeritus professor of philosophy at Marquette University. His most recent publications include Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), Five Metaphysical Paradoxes (The 2006 Marquette Aquinas Lecture), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).