Rod Dreher was profiled in this month’s issue of The New Yorker. (For those who don’t know, Dreher is a writer and blogger for The American Conservative.) He comes across a charming figure – erudite, mild-mannered, post-partisan, and, most of all, a “seeker”, open to new knowledge and new experiences:
For a decade, daily and at length, Dreher has written about his obsessions—orthodox Christianity, religious freedom, the “L.G.B.T. agenda,” the hypocrisy of privileged liberals, the nihilism of secular capitalism, the appeal of monasticism, the spiritual impoverishment of modernity, brisket—while sharing candid, emotional stories about his life. Dreher writes with graphomaniacal fervor and ardent changeability. He is as likely to admire Ta-Nehisi Coates’s dispatches from Paris as to inveigh against “safe spaces” on college campuses, and he delights in skewering the left and the right simultaneously—a recent post was called “How Are Pope Francis & Donald Trump Alike?” Because Dreher is at once spiritually and intellectually restless, his blog has become a destination for the ideologically bi-curious. Last year, his interview with J. D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” was largely responsible for bringing the book to the attention of both liberal and conservative readers. He gets around a million page views a month.
A bad Dreher post can be mean-spirited and overwrought, but when he’s at his best his posts are unique: deeply confessional, achingly sincere, intellectually searching.
The author of the profile, Joshua Rothman, seems quite taken with Dreher, both intellectually and otherwise. He describes him as having an “open, vulnerable, and strikingly handsome face” and a “fashionably upswept haircut”; while conversing with Dreher, Rothman can see “his emotions flow across his face with complete transparency, changing phrase by phrase”. Dreher reminds Rothman of nothing so much as a “monk from some arctic monastery”.
And, indeed, monasticism is the central theme of Dreher’s new book, “The Benedictine Option”. He argues that like-minded right-wing Christians should withdraw from secular society:
They should strive to make Christian life meaningfully different from life under high-tech, secular capitalism; they should take inspiration from Catholic dissidents under Communism, such as the Czech activist Václav Benda, who advocated the creation of a “parallel polis”—a society within a society. They should pray more often. Start their own schools. Move near their church. St. Benedict, Dreher said, didn’t try to “make Rome great again.” He tended his own garden, finding a way to live that served as “a sign of contradiction” to the declining world around him.
Given all of his high-minded talk about monasticism and a separate Christian society, Dreher has hardly withdrawn himself from the secular public intellectual sphere. He’s writing blog posts that “ideologically bi-curious” intellectuals love to read, cranking out books that receive coverage from both the secular and Christian intellectual elite, giving talks on 37th Street in New York (attended by Ross Douthat!), and chatting with NPR about the future of Christianity. When Dreher was discussing a “parallel polis”, did he mean Midtown?
I also found The New Yorker profile puzzling because within lefty circles, Dreher is widely known for being, well, an asshole. Rothman hints at this side of Dreher’s writings at times (“A bad Dreher post can be mean-spirited and overwrought”; “As a longtime reader of Dreher’s blog—an experience alternately enthralling and exasperating—”), but the overall sense is that Dreher is “intellectual searching”, “achingly sincere”, and almost adorably upstanding (“Fed up with what he perceived as his own caddishness—he had dated one girlfriend longer than he should have”) – the type of intellectual sparring partner that every liberal would wish to have.
As I’ve been reading more of The New Yorker, I’ve picked up on its tendency to valorize intellectualism as an intrinsic good. If you are a writer and a thinker, if you purport to struggle against your own hypocrisies and human weaknesses, if you occasionally criticize those on your side and defend those on the other, if you “meditate on [your] perennial outsiderness”, and if you speak eloquently, then you will earn a place in The New Yorker’s heart as a respectable intellectual, no matter how vile, bigoted, facile, and unoriginal your arguments may be. The New Yorker privileges the form of intellectualism over its substance, the manner of speaking and writing over the content. Rod Dreher is a thinker because he looks like a monk and talks with an open and vulnerable face and lives in Cobble Hill, not because his ideas are genuinely interesting or profound. It’s much the same way that David Brooks was hired by Yale to teach a class on humility and by the Aspen Institute to give a talk on “finding meaning in your work” when he knows nothing about either topic. Brooks was hired not because he is a thinker, but because he has done a damn good job of impersonating one.
Let’s review some of Dreher’s hits. He claimed, rebutting Pope Francis, that diversity was not a source of strength, writing about a Muslim terrorist,
If this kind of thing happens more often, it will put every Muslim in America under suspicion. We can be morally certain that the majority of Muslim-Americans do not approve of this. But if even the families of these radicalized killers don’t know what their grown children are up to, how are the rest of us supposed to know?
The more things like this happen, the more sense Trump’s idea to halt Muslim immigration for the time being makes. What a crazy year when Donald J. Trump makes more sense on anything than a Pope.
He’s also deathly afraid of blacks:
It is reasonable to assume that if you are going to be a violent crime victim in DC — as most people in Washington are not, and never will be — then your assailant will almost certainly be a young black male.
How does this play out in real life? When I lived in DC back in the 1990s, if I was walking back to my apartment on Capitol Hill after dark — the Hill was not nearly as safe then as it is now — I would cross the street if I saw young black men dressed like street thugs coming at me.
He argued that to “legitimiz[e] homosexuality” would be to
lock in, and, on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality. I believe this would be a profound distortion of what it means to be fully human.
He gets angry when people pronounce Hispanic names in a Spanish accent:
It’s a pet peeve of mine when NPR’s Hispanic on-air reporters conclude their pieces by pronouncing their names in a strong Spanish accent. It’s a gesture that calls attention to itself. I’m not sure why, but sometimes you hear American reporters — and not just Hispanic ones — pronounce the name of Latin American cities with a distinct Spanish accent…
The identity politics of liberals spoil everything.
And he thinks wanting both to have fun in college and not be sexually assaulted is asking too much:
If her account is true, then yes, it was rape. But come on: what do you expect from a culture that brings together college-age men and women, and puts almost all of them in co-ed dorms? What do you expect from a culture that values casual hook-up sex … until suddenly, it doesn’t? Believe me, I’m not excusing what this guy allegedly did. If that were my daughter, I would be raising hell with the school (and if that were my son, I would be raising hell with him). But it does seem clear to me that college kids want to live in an environment in which they are free to engage in consequences-free sex with no interference from Mommy and Daddy (= the college administration), except when something goes wrong, in which case they rage at Mommy and Daddy for not protecting them from themselves.
Boy — Muslims, blacks, gays, Hispanics, and women! I think Dreher just won bigotry bingo.
(The most telling line in Dreher’s cant is when he calls the Hispanic pronunciation “a gesture that calls attention to itself”. This is coming from someone who “wrestles with his addiction to blogging and to Twitter, and has covered the Apple logo on his laptop, which he calls “my precious,” with a sticker of the Benedictine emblem.”)
But I think possibly the worst thing Dreher has written is this vile trash about police brutality victim Freddie Gray.
But let’s not lie to ourselves about who does more to make Baltimore a hell for its poor black residents. It’s not the Baltimore cops; it’s the Freddie Grays. The unwillingness of the Jesse Jacksons and the Michael Eric Dysons to confront the role that black individuals and black communities play in perpetuating this cycle of violence and despair makes them hard to take seriously.
If every Baltimore cop, in every instance of contact with a community thug, observed perfect protocol, that would do absolutely nothing to prevent the Freddie Grays from preying on their own communities. (And do not be deceived: the victims of the Freddie Grays are almost always black.) Gray was a hoodlum. Even hoodlums deserve to be treated fairly by the police, who, holding a monopoly on force in this society, must be held to the highest standards of conduct. But Baltimore’s core problem is not police brutality. Baltimore’s core problem is Freddie Gray, and the culture that manufactured him
After all, who is the greater threat to the flourishing of West Baltimore: bad cops, or young men who sell drugs, have no gainful employment, and who cycle in and out of city jails? You want to talk about bad cops? Let’s talk about bad cops. But good ol’ Freddie and the community that calls a sociopath like him its dearest darling are inextricable from this crisis.
The only evidence that Rod Dreher offers up that “good ol’ Freddie” is a “sociopath” is that he sold and possessed drugs, didn’t have a job, and went “in and out of city jails”. Fuck you, Rod. You’ve spent most of your intellectual life trying to make homosexuals feel miserable about themselves, referring to minorities as “thugs”, implying that rape victims had it coming, and talking up the virtues of racists like Steve Sailer. It says a lot about “intellectualism”, and the people who slobber over it, that sociopathy is thought to be associated with the (understandable) behavior of people who are entrapped by an unfeeling system rather than with the appalling words of the people who reify and reinforce it.
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