I just re-read Rod Dreher’s FAQ on the Benedict Option. I love it. Although Dreher is talking exclusively to Christians (though inclusively among varieties of Christians), there’s a lot there for the rest of us, as well.
He opens with a quote from his inspiration, social critic and historian Alasdair MacIntyre, that says in part:
A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.
Hundreds of thousands of us, maybe millions, have come to the same conclusion (or have held similar views since the days of Atlas Shrugged and Galt’s Gulch). Certainly the wisest watchers have long since “ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of [the U.S. or “Five Eyes”] imperium.”
Finally (if belatedly, slowly, and reluctantly) moral, intellectual, philosophical, and survival communities have begun to coalesce.
Freedomista communities can be as varied in kind as their participants can make them: intentional, accidental, familial, communitarian, individualist, monastic, quasi-monastic, neighborhood-based, floating, mobile, urban, suburban, rural, offshore, you name it. They don’t have to fit any cubbyhole identity at all. One of the best freedomista communities I know of began life as a purpose-made intentional organization, lost about half of its members, but all the while expanded outward with the addition of neighbors who maybe didn’t talk freedom talk but who definitely lived freedomista values. So it’s kind of an unintentional intentional community that now spreads over several sparsely populated miles.
Dreher’s Benedict Option FAQ doesn’t say anything about what physical or organizational form the life he envisions has to take, but it does point to one natural development: supportive lay communities gathering around traditionalist churches or monasteries, pretty much as happened during monasticism, part I, back in the Dark Ages.
Non-religious or more inclusively religious communities could form around … just spitballing here … granges, gun clubs, local schools, medical centers, vocational-technical schools, available parcels of rural property, charismatic individuals (though that one’s usually a terrible idea), grocery or hardware stores, small farming communities, the intersections of trade routes, or you name it.
So much to be done in the area of community building — and fortunately so many to do it!
But we are often necessarily short-sighted about the potential of communities if indeed dark times descend upon us. We just want to get something going; long-term developments are out of our control, anyway. But beyond merely providing defense and varied skillsets and mutual aid and encouragement and neighbors committed to compatible goals, communities can eventually provide networks of the above and more.
It’s easy to envision regional, then national trade routes developing, and even to foresee communities founding other communities from afar, as monasteries still do today.
After whatever initial chaos must merely be endured, organization and communication will grow.
But I promised I’d talk about “the symbiosis in hard times between those freedomistas who retreat … and those who fight.” Though I’ve been walking wandering ways to get to it, here we are.
“Those who fight” may be (duh) actually guerrilla warriors (any physical warfare we face is almost certain to be guerrilla). But fighters could also, in unfree times, be public speakers, organizers, authors, pamphleteers (electronic or the old-fashioned kind), messengers, saboteurs, filmmakers, or simply cranky, stubborn individuals who loudly refuse to conform to the demands of the imperium. Many people can be rendered pariahs, criminals, undesireables, or “unpersons” for their intransigence before an increasingly ruthless state. In short, the word “fighters” could encompass virtually everybody of the type we call activists (or capital-A Agitators in Freedom Outlaw parlance). — the very people who in the past have looked down on those of us who advocate strategic retreat or emphasize local community building.
How do we benefit each other, in those potential dark days? (Keeping in mind that we can’t know what form our dark days may assume. Outright war? Simple, but irrecoverable economic ruin? Stable but iron-fisted tyranny? Widespread moral and intellectual decay? Environmental catastrophe? Fanatical mob violence? All different but all raising needs for mutual support among free people.)
Communities can provide for warriors and activists:
- Places to hide
- Places to resupply
- Rest and recuperation
- Medical care for wounds or illnesses
- Underground transportation out of the area
- “Legitimate” cover for dangerous activities
- Jobs during lulls in fighting or between activist forays
- Monetary support
- Moral support
- Intellectual stimulation
- Love and friendship
Warriors and traveling (fugitive) activists can provide for communities:
- News from the front lines
- News from other communities
- News from the wider world
- Trade goods not locally available
- “Raid goods” liberated from tyrants (including luxury items, secret documents, and books and artworks needing to be hidden away and preserved for the future)
- Strategic partners with different views and experiences
- Weapons for community or individual defense
- Healthy young men to help with heavy work/harvest work
- Fresh genes to prevent the community from becoming inbred
- Ideas and intellectual discussion from the outside world
Of course communities and fighters can land each other in danger, too. Being caught harboring a fighter could result in anything from a few arrests to mass murder of an entire group. Seeking refuge within a community could bring a fighter both safety and the danger of being betrayed. Even fighters in a good cause can still rape and pillage. Traders in even an an otherwise fine community can be tempted to cheat “outsiders.” Hazards are many and they go both ways.
But we’re talking about people and establishments existing in dark, already dangerous, times. Such dangers have always gone with the territory.
Again, all this symbiosis, all this mutual benefit (and more) can happen without the traders or the refuge seekers or refuge granters agreeing on every political point or life choice. None of this requires all parties to be in agreement on anything — except the bare fact that each has needs the other can fulfill and each party, each group (I hope), recognizes and respects how the other can further the causes of liberty and preservation/restoration of long-term intellectual life. This life, and these trades on both sides do require committedly self-sufficient, responsible, decent, principled people. But they don’t require sameness or rigid agreement on all things.
Of course, you may be saying. This isn’t news. This is just Claire describing the invisible hand of markets, or common-knowledge history of underground resistance or the Soviet samizdat or the way things may have worked back in the Dark Ages. And you’re right! That’s all it is. Nothing new.
Except that, just as those early retreatants from the Roman imperium forged new forms of community and an entirely new society without necessarily even understanding that’s what they were doing, any dark future we end up in will also, in a sense, re-create the world.
How that new world comes out will depend on more variables, more choices, more happenstances, and more quirks of fate than any mind can anticipate. For instance, if our electronic realm remains intact (and we’re forced to make it more secure and decentralized) the implications will be entirely different than if we’re forced to communicate offline, covertly, and far more slowly. A time of long, violent guerrilla warfare will produce a different result than a time of gradual institutional collapse in which physical danger is minimal but local warlords or raving fanatics may rise and fall. And we can’t see from here which of a thousand outcomes is more likely to transpire.
However the long-term events unfold, whatever kind of society emerges on the other side, in the short- to medium-term we’re looking at one ominous world.
But the very fact that my bullet lists up there describe simply what has happened, what does happen, what occurs often and very naturally in human populations whose institutions have collapsed and are being torn apart is a heartening thing.
Whatever we face — and I hope it’s nothing worse than a Soviet-style non-violent collapse, but without the old empire being parceled out to apparatchiks-cum-oligarchs (especially given that we’ve already a surfeit of oligarchs and don’t need more of them) — retreatants and activists alike can face it with the comforting knowledge that, push come to shove, we can quit knocking each other’s choices and get down to the eternal verities of mutually supporting each other for mutual benefit.