The Benedict Option and the Barbarian Challenge

MiddleAgesProgress-LD-JAS-300x174 The Benedict Option and the Barbarian Challenge

“Ceasing to Fight for Our Christian Culture Only Prepares Us for Defeat”

Scratch the soul of many a conservative and beneath you will find a villager. Something is there that attracts these Americans to more natural and simpler lifestyles. Perhaps it is because organic and authentic things appear restful and reassuring in a world of uncertainties and anxieties.

However, what makes the organic option particularly attractive to conservatives is that it seems to be a solution to a neo-pagan world that corrupts and attacks family life. These conservatives believe, not unreasonably, that families fare better when surrounded by organic produce, home remedies and whole grain granola. Journalist Rod Dreher wittingly dubbed these rustic conservatives as “crunchy cons.” He described the phenomenon of those who desire to find a “village” of like-minded people to get away from the maddening liberal crowd.

RTO-mini2 The Benedict Option and the Barbarian ChallengeFree Book: Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go


Such attractive dreams of an organic Christian society have circulated for decades. The idealized community generally involves a fair amount of acreage far enough away from the city. Community members might build a homestead on some ten or twenty acres. There would be huge gardens full of organic vegetables and produce. Livestock, free-range chickens, or goats would supplement diets. Add an orchard and maybe a vineyard. One could make one’s own beer, cider or wine. Self-sufficiency would reign as people would get off all the grids. There would be children aplenty to make things merry. One would simply walk away from secular society. There would be no time for sin and war, since all would be busy on their farms with wholesome work.

Of course, at the center of the village there would be a church, ideally a monastery, a Benedictine monastery, where holy priests would celebrate the Divine Liturgy and bells would call people to prayer. Monks would intercede before God for our sinful world. A sacredness would be conferred upon all society where a love of beauty in a God-centered life would propel men toward their final end. Eventually, a school or university would form around this community and a new culture would be born.

Indeed, such a community would be full of culture. Like-minded people would be gathering, singing, eating and praying together. People would rediscover poetry and wonder. Let the neo-pagan world party to its destruction, but let it leave us alone in our “backward” and godly bliss!

The idea of the Christian village has recently gained more traction with the defeat of Indiana’s religious liberty law, which is seen as a foretaste of a coming persecution. Writers like Rod Dreher are urging people to make a strategic withdrawal from modern society that would allow Christians to reassess their situation and explore their identity in a liturgy-rich context. It need not be the full village version, but it does entail something of a withdrawal. He calls it the Benedict or “B-option” and proposes that people find their strategic retreat parishes/communities to weather the liberal storm.

It must be said that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the idea of a Christian village centered on family and faith. It is entirely according to our social nature to desire to live in a community committed to virtuous life in common. Such communities help individuals put their lives in order and control their disordered passions. They satisfy the longings of the postmodern heart that crave community and wholeness. Such villages would return God back to the center of things where He belongs. It is where we need to go but …

Such communities are not enough. Benedict alone does not suffice.

There is one major problem with the B-option and that is what might be called the “B-challenge.” Benedictine communities may have flourished, but they also seemed to attract barbarians who ravaged and plundered them. Those who adopt the B-option of Benedict must find a way to deal with the B-challenge of barbarians.

Such a task consists of understanding the nature of the barbarian. Historically, barbarians were those who gave in to their whims and destroyed indiscriminately. They devastated ordered society and redistributed its wealth. They did not leave Christians alone, but rather sought them out, often coming from afar, to loot and plunder their communities wherever they might be found.

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Occupy Wall Street participants

There can be no doubt that we live in a neo-barbarian world inside a culture of death. Today’s tattooed and wired neo-barbarians are likewise aggressive.  They also redistribute the wealth, albeit through taxes and entitlements. They do not live and let live, but insist that all approve their disordered lifestyles. Indeed, it is the very brutality of the neo-barbarian mandate that impels those considering the Benedictine option to flee.

The lessons of history are particularly expressive regarding the triumph of barbarians. Vikings, Huns, Goths, Moors and communists all devastated the tranquility of even the most isolated of organic societies. There is no escaping. There is a kind of impossible co-existence between barbarian and villager. Thus, in our case, the B-challenge can only consist in confronting the brutal neo-barbarians at the gates.

That is not to say that Benedict loses his validity as an option. After all, the core of what is to be defended and gives meaning to life is found inside his liturgical framework turned toward the worship of God.

But Benedict must be defended against the ravages of the barbarian. The barbarian must be fearlessly confronted, contested, fought against, defeated…and converted.

To the efficacious prayer of Benedict must be added the zealous action of a Boniface, apostle of Germany. He did not dialogue with the barbarians, but chopped down the great oak tree which they worshiped as their god, and brought them to the knowledge of the true Faith. To Boniface can be added legions of saints like Patrick in Ireland or Remigius in France, all of who overcame the barbarian and secured Benedict’s peace.

It would be wrong to assume that Boniface plays only a temporary role inside a B-option. Successive waves of barbarians followed after Boniface’s triumph. Saintly kings, knights and crusaders rose to the occasion to engage and defeat them. Even our modern times saw the need to defend the West from yesterday’s Nazi and communist brutes and today’s Islamic beheading savages.

Castillo_de_Almansa_sobre_el_cerro_del_Aguila-attributed The Benedict Option and the Barbarian Challenge

“In this vale of tears, we must be continually engaged in the fight for order”

In this vale of tears, we must be continually engaged in the fight for order since there will always be those who oppose God’s law and undermine the family, marriage, and all those other institutions that make up the heart and soul of an economy, a culture and the Christian village. There will always be those who never live and let live and will seek us out.

Like it or not, when we cease to fight for our Christian culture, we prepare ourselves for defeat. Unless there be Bonifaces with the fortitude needed to confront this great struggle, all our efforts will come to nothing.

Indeed, an organic order only becomes possible when there are those who, by their spirit of self-sacrifice and dedication, practice fortitude to the highest degree. This can be seen in the dedicated spirit of the soldier who leaves everything to face suffering, separation from family, and even imprisonment or death to defend the West against the barbarian. It can be found in today’s cultural warrior who endures so much scorn and risks everything to defend life, marriage and ordered liberty. It needs to be seen in those representative figures in society who make the great sacrifice of setting the tone and being role models for all society. When such key figures practice fortitude to a high degree, all society becomes permeated by this virtue, thus fortifying the whole social order.

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When Benedict and Boniface are fused together in grace and fortitude, it sets the stage for a Christian society that is practically indestructible. The barbarian can then be subdued by the arm of Christian fortitude and converted by the sublime call of Christ. Because of their intense dynamism, the converted barbarians often become vibrant Christians.  We might even say that it is in the crucible of combating the neo-barbarian at the gates and restraining our own disordered passions (the barbarian within) that we will find the elements of a true culture that will meld people together into communities.

If we truly desire the B-option, then let us not withdraw from modernity, for strategic retreats easily turn into routs. Let us rather engage our neo-barbarian culture by both cultivating our Benedictine identity when projecting Boniface’s strength. It is the only option.

  • Muguy

    Dear Mr. Horvat,
    I wish, and I pray with all my heart and soul, that some day soon we will get back to our roots, i,e.,”One Nation Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All”.
    For now, I can only say that the USA is in a state of deterioration in regard to the family, moral values and traditions. All due to a minority of liberals using political power to scare and silence anyone who dares to disagree with them.
    One of the big problems we face now is the constant attack on the police force, notwithstanding that the core of the issues, as presented by a “partisan” media, has little or nothing to do with them. Could it be that their final goal is to eliminate this force in order to be free of restraints.
    Thank you for your article Mr, Horvat. Hopefully it will be widely read.

  • jascott

    My goodness! You’ve read my mind! On Saturday I will be leading a public Rosary for Marriage in the little Oklahoma town where I attend Mass. Our parish has gotten small (I’m a new-comer) and the parishoners are getting old but we can pray! I have been a Benedictine Oblate for 25 years and have been amazed to see our country slide toward civil disintegration, much like St. Benedict’s day. I’m identifying with him even more lately and marveling that I was attracted to his spirituality all those years ago in light of these developments. Also I have been through Fulda, Germany where St Boniface lies! My husband is a former Marine and is watching closely the events surrounding the police actions in various US cities. He is concerned as am I. I’m glad (relieved) to hear of your monastic plan should things continue to devolve with the next Supreme Court decision.
    I loved your book and have it on kindle now too. Just rereading it calms me down! I leant it to Catholic family business-owners that I know. They thought it should be required reading for high schools! God Bless you and Mary Keep you.

  • Cole

    Two things that crossed my mind when I started to read this article.

    1.) It talks of a utopia, which history has taught us never ever works out.
    2.) You talk about the redistribution of wealth making a negative innuendo towards liberals when conservatives redistribute wealth from the poor to the wealthy. Both conservatives (economic front) and liberals (social front) are responsible for a decline in today’s society.

    I agree with the overall premise of why our culture and economy is in decline, but at times I disagree with some of the individual points you make.

  • Dale McNamee

    I am reading “The Benedict Option” and what Rod Dreher is saying is that American “Chrisitians” have mixed Christianity with the fate of a particular political party​ (Republican) and he wants Biblical Chrisitians to undo that tie and ties to our consumerist, materialistic, “cut-flower” culture ( Os Guinness ) since it is thoroughly rotted and will fall…

    I’m also reading Anthony Esolen’s “Out of the Ashes” and Thomas Cahill’s “How the Irish Saved Civilization” as I think that we are approaching or are at the Dark Ages and after the fall, we will need to be ready to rebuild…

    St. Benedict realized this and began a counter culture that the Irish monks followed and they went out into a dark, ruined world…

    We should do the same and The Benedict Option gives us a chance to regroup and focus on Christ and then go out into the world when he says so…

  • Good riddance I say! We don’t need backwards, religious bigots like you anyway! Our progressive society is one of tolerance and inclusion, SO GET OUT!!!!!!!

    • Vphigdon

      Backwards is forwards. We have only one option. That option is heaven. We do not want the other. We must commit to a counter revolution. In the end we triumph. Penance, penance, penance. Pray, fast and sacrifice for sinners. And be prepared to get on front lines. We will rally this weekend. Never let the devil rise his ugly head. Let’s always be there to crush it. We are Mary’s heel. God bless

      • You sound like a religious nut-job! It’s because of religious zealots like you that I lay awake trembling in fear at night!

  • JMJ

    I could not subject my children to either public schools or Catholic schools run by VC2. Surely just to protect one’s children, one must retreat from this culture (no TV, no radio, no internet, etc.). I am unfamiliar w/Dreher, but have heard VC2 progressives and even Chaput criticizing what they call a “ghetto” mentality–i.e. all Catholic politicians have to support (& perform like Catholic nursing homse & hospitals?) abortion, euthanasia, sodomy, etc. to be elected and therefore it’s justified to take that position to remain in the government/culture. To preserve the faith, I believe may need a ghetto. While your model is Boniface/Benedict I am more Lot/Noe (‘s wife), but believe man starts out in a womb and from there goes forth to conquer the world. Surely, one can be in a ghetto/village/parish and still vote, write op-eds, have a job, but NYTimes, WP, even internet and Catholic Church are more and more censoring out any views that don’t agree w/their own atheistic Culture of Death. Re prayer: One can pray on the street, but actually Jesus Christ specifically states that one should pray to be seen by God (not man). Judith, for example, comes to my mind. I know demonstrations became big in the late 19th/20th century, but not sure that they are not just the beginnings of massed armies/revolutions/fighting.