The worst instinct of liberal democracy, its elevation of the expression of the individual human will to the one remaining sacred good, has thoroughly triumphed. It has reformed from within Christian and religious life along the lines of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD), where religion is reduced to a therapeutic servicing of our sense of “well being.” It has formed society most prominently through the sexual revolution, where fertility, monogamy, marriage, and now the distinction between man and woman are all to be redefined to conform to whatever so-and-so happens to desire today. Less obviously, but no less consequentially, it has transformed how we educate our children (to acquire means to exercise their will rather than to know what is true, good, and beautiful); how we spend our time (consuming blue light from screens); how we interact with one another (poorly); and how we interact with the natural world (with a mixture of avarice and guilt and seldom with a sense that we are a good part of it ordained to its just rule).
Whether we approve these changes or see them as diabolical, we are part of the society in which they are taking place. Should Christians seek to shore up or gain control of the mechanisms of power of that society? Will that better enable them to practice a good way of life and pass it on to their children and grandchildren? Or is it rather the case that the liberal order has advanced so far in its secular voluntarism that we would better spend our lives entering more consciously into our religious practices, seeking to deepen and renew them all the better to resist their deformation by the corrupt fancies of our age?
Dreher’s answer to these questions is a qualified one. Because orthodox Christians are intrinsically a part of the broader society, they have no choice but to influence its institutional life as best they can, but the forces arrayed against them are rich, formidable, and bloodthirsty. The Christian right has largely failed to redirect our culture after forty years of trying; we will be fortunate now to hold the opposition at bayand this we must do. Dreher sees, rightly, that the powerful “liquid” liberalism of our age would not be so great if Christians had more truly rallied to Maritain’s vision nearly a century ago to purify the sources of our religious devotion and to renew our political lives so that they conform to and aid our vocation to the knowledge and love of God. Because the times are less propitious now, Dreher summons us to follow the example of the Benedictines, to conceive of new “rules” or disciplines by which we may live so that our days are shaped primarily by our perception of God as our good rather than by the fluid, insidious influences of the mainstream culture.