We believe that building intentional communities is not simply important but necessary. However, as we have stated before, a truly successful community will become “a hub for building up parishes, evangelization, and the struggle for social justice… not a retreat from political engagement, but a springboard for holy men and women as they work together in building a better world.”
Transcribed below is Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, which claims to be inspired by MacInty’re After Virtue. He is responding to the question: “Can we pursue local goods, especially local goods of parishes, without concern for the broader common good of our society and our nation?”
Let me make one thing clear, the so-called Benedict Option movement, insofar as it is inspired by anything to do with me is inspired by one sentence only. And people who have put it forward have apparently read nothing but that one sentence. That is a sentence in which I suggest that we have been waiting for a new St. Benedict. Let me say what I meant by this because it is buried by what you’re saying.
What is very interesting about St. Benedict is that he quite inadvertently created a new set of social forms. He founded a monastic order and one thing about this monastic order was that they had to survive to make their living, so they had to be farmers. So, we have monks who are farmers. Now the interesting thing about monks is they don’t breed. They can’t reproduce themselves. If you simply had monks going out into the wilderness and farming there soon wouldn’t be. So there had to be non-monks around. And this is what always happened. Benedictine communities existed in a set of villages, often very close to one of them. Then it had a crucial symbiotic relationship with them. First of all, they were all farmers, so they exchanged these goods. Secondly it is from the sons of these villagers that novices were found. And the monks therefore had a keen interest in the education of the community. So over time the monastery became the place that supplied schooling and liturgy. The villages provided lay-recruits and so on. What was built up was a local community which was largely independent of the feudal order, not entirely but very much so.
So this is not a withdrawal from society into isolation… this is actually the creation of a new set of social institutions which then proceed to evolve, a very interesting set of social institutions too. Later on, when you get collisions with the feudal order in all sorts of way, that becomes interesting too. So, when I said we need a new St. Benedict, I was suggesting we need a new kind of engagement with the social order, not any kind of withdrawal from it. I should add by the way it’s also the case that by and large the people who have put forward this [the Benedict Movement] appear to have conservative views politically, and I’m well known for holding that conservatism and liberalism are mirror images of each other; one should have nothing to do with either of them. I mean, the moment you think of yourself as a liberal or a conservative you’re done for. It is as simple as that.