Two Cheers for Rusty Reno, Rod Dreher, and Other National Sages

“If I’ve a taste, it’s not alone.” —Rimbaud

According to that hateful elitist Aristotle, democracy is the worst form of government because, among other things, it is averse to meritocracy. It is only workable in small communities of like-minded citizens. And, as if the idea of like-minded citizens weren’t already close enough to racism—or, even worse, to white nationalism—the Stagirite also considered non-Greeks to be barbarians, and therefore incapable of democratic rule. So did his teacher Plato, another elitist, and even less likable, it seems, than his philosophic student. “Share a dish of dried figs with Plato and he will take them all,” said Diogenes the Cynic. And again, “Plato winces when I track dust across his rugs: he knows that I’m walking on his vanity.”

And yet, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition,” wrote Alfred North Whitehead, “is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” For Charles Murray and many others, Aristotle is the single most intellectually accomplished person ever to have lived. But what do these thinkers have on the celebrated editor of First Things magazine? Absolutely nothing, Rusty Reno shows in his new book. “In Aristotle’s time,” he laments, “only the well-born few voted on laws.” By contrast, “[i]n modern democracies,” he writes approvingly, “all citizens are implicated in the political process.” Now you, Takimag reader, who are not as wise as the author of Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West, may be skeptical about the feasibility of democracy in so large a country as ours, one increasingly characterized by incompatible interests and values, many of them answerable to a remote and unaccountable administrative state. Or, if you are stupid, evil, or both, you may question the very desirability of democracy as such, believing that truth, and wisdom, are not decided by tallying up votes. In any event, to the lost souls among us Mr. Reno offers a sublime corrective, as reliable as his shiny metrosexual shoes:

Anyone who denies that a nation of more than 300 million people can practice democratic self-governance in any meaningful sense underestimates the power of the “we.” When seventy thousand football fans rise for the national anthem, their reverence is repaid with pride—pride in their country.

So much for anybody’s doubts—whether they’re about democracy or the utility of donating to the writer’s nonprofit publication! The complexity and the stakes of “democratic self-governance” are indeed analogous to the pride football fans feel in pledging allegiance to the American flag. (Also, it’s quite encouraging that football fans, like sports fans in general, increasingly are a progressive bunch, daily subject as they are to politically correct propaganda via ESPN and Sports Illustrated.)

I do recall, it is true, the wild streets of my native Philadelphia when, two years ago, the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Filled with joy, the Philly fans rioted throughout the monstrous city aswarm with earthen love. Fights broke out, and many people were injured. Store windows were smashed, cars were overturned, and the total damage done cost the city thousands. Nor was Diversity missing, for the young black men, who are usually busy at that time of night shooting each other, took advantage of a perfect opportunity for looting. Still, thanks to the influence of recent books by Rusty Reno, Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, Frank Buckley, and other national sages who never cease kissing the right asses so as to appear on Fox News, I have no doubt that those unhappy memories will soon seem as distant as the awful days when Frank Rizzo, the racist patriarch, was our mayor.

Besides, we have a new police commissioner here in town, and she’s a woman of color to boot—Ms. Danielle Outlaw. (Alas, bad team members may find that last name to be rather fitting, just like Rusty, a name more common among dogs than men.) In an article published on Monday in The Philadelphia Tribune—America’s oldest African-American newspaper, let us observe with pride!—Michael Coard, a local attorney, made an admirable case for Outlaw’s qualifications:

I like and support newly appointed Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and it’s primarily for two reasons…: One—She’s not a white man. Two—She’s a Black woman.

White men, generally, historically and presently speaking, have been toxic. If you don’t believe me, just consider racism, sexism and classism. And in each of those “isms,” you will clearly see that they were created by and continue to be promoted by white men. Moreover, as far as white men who’ve been police commissioners and law enforcement leaders throughout this country are concerned, just consider the likes of Philadelphia’s Frank Rizzo, Birmingham’s Bull Connor, LA’s Daryl Gates and the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover along with hundreds of other past and present local, state and federal top cops.

On the other hand, Black women, generally, historically and presently speaking, have been curative. If you don’t believe me, just consider the Black women who have provided the antidote to what white men have poisoned. For example, consider Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Assata Shakur, and the 95% of Black women who voted against the Orange Racist in the White House. In other words, sistahs are still trying to cure what ails America….

“To the lost souls among us Mr. Reno offers a sublime corrective, as reliable as his shiny metrosexual shoes.”

As a rabble-rousing agitating community activist myself, I’m feelin’ Sistah Raiford and the general point she’s making about Black officials overall. However, I’m a pragmatist who understands that, for example, a revolutionary like Angela Davis (whom I absolutely love) would never be appointed police commissioner anywhere in America. But if by some miracle she were, the rank-and-file white male cop majority would undermine and sabotage her every step of the way.

Therefore, we, meaning all Black/Brown people and all reformist/progressive white people, must give Commissioner Outlaw the benefit of the doubt and enthusiastically support her when she takes over on Feb. 10—at least until she gives us a reason not to support her. But I don’t expect that to ever happen.

After all, she’s a Black woman.

You go, girl! Having long noticed “sistahs” beating their misbehaving children on the streets, at the bus stop, at the DMV, at the supermarket—in short, wherever there are “sistahs” with their children—I am thoroughly persuaded concerning the “curative” power of black women. Yet it wasn’t always so, I must admit. In fact, just last weekend, when the local news reported that Philadelphia had appointed its first female police commissioner, I exclaimed some shameful words that have tortured my conscience since: “A woman police commissioner? God help us! As if that clown Krasner weren’t bad enough!” Lying next to me in bed, the woman I’m dating sighed in exasperation. Although my lady friend, like all non-dykes, very much enjoys her subjection to the patriarchy, she was nonetheless offended by my male prejudice. In my defense, though, I had not yet read Reno’s latest book, which, incidentally, has also cured me of my insomnia. Nor had I read Coard’s take on Outlaw, Coard who, in a 2018 profile in Philadelphia Magazine happily called “One of Us,” said this about his legal practice: “I spend most of my time…avenging my enslaved ancestors and defending their descendants.” We need to “love” our fellow Americans, Reno stresses like a proper Christian, and in view of people like Michael Coard—of whom there are many in academia and the media—one may be reminded of how very foolish it was for Machiavelli to think that

It is so far from how one lives to how one should live, that he who lets go of what is done for the sake of what should be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation. For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good.

The 2010s have ended, and we have entered a new decade. God willing, it will be more inclusive than the last one. Led by our public intellectuals, who are always eager to get up a dialogue, we Americans may finally heal. Yes, we may bridge the partisan divide! For this project, there are on the left such noble characters as Steven Pinker, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Judith Butler, and the undying Noam Chomsky. On the right, besides the greats already named, we have Yoram Hazony, Daniel McCarthy, Matthew Schmitz, Sohrab Ahmari, Tomi Lahren, Kat Timpf, and other blond Fox-THOTs. And of course, best of all, there is Rod Dreher, the distinguished author of The Benedict Option. Writing at The Agonist, Tom Piatak highlights what makes the “crunchy con” philosopher such a bright light in this dark time:

Relentless self-promotion, even narcissism colors his output, a significant amount of which revolves around his latest book….

Beginning in the summer of 2018 and for several months thereafter, much of his work for the The American Conservative website was on the Catholic Church, to the point that a more accurate name for that website went from being “The Benedict Option Update” to “What is Wrong with the Catholic Church this Instant.”…

Dreher’s eagerness to stoke anxiety among Catholics recurs whenever opportunity knocks….

Dreher’s singular focus on the failings of the Church represents quite a departure from the intended focus of his current home, The American Conservative, a magazine founded to promote the paleoconservatism embraced by its founders Pat Buchanan, Taki Theodoracopulos, and Scott McConnell, and specifically to oppose the Iraq War. Dreher zealously promoted that costly misadventure….

Dreher has indicated that he is likely to vote for Trump, even while adding that if he were in Congress, he would vote for Trump’s impeachment (but not his conviction) and also offering qualified praise for the Christianity Today article calling for Trump’s removal from office. This is typical for Dreher, who generally couples any genuine move to the right with several nods to the left. Back in August of 2017, Dreher was even graceless enough to attack Buchanan, without whom The American Conservative would not exist, for allegedly writing “a shameful defense of white supremacy” that was also “abhorrent” and “disgusting, racist, indefensible.” Dreher can virtue signal with the best of them.

Dreher is largely uninterested in exploring problems in his own communion, Eastern Orthodoxy…. Given Dreher’s obsession with corruption in the Catholic hierarchy and how it affects the faith of ordinary Catholics, one might think that he would be interested in a thorough examination of how the Communist infiltration of the Russian Orthodox Church affected believers in Russia and the continuing effects of that infiltration….

Orthodox converts like Dreher are poorly positioned to raise doubts about Amoris Laetita, because the Orthodox have accepted divorce for centuries, Jesus Christ’s clear words to the contrary in the Gospels notwithstanding. And although Dreher warned Catholic readers that the Amazonian Synod would likely lead to married priests and women deacons in the Church, the Orthodox already have married priests and, at least in Africa, women deacons. The developments Dreher wants his Catholic readers to fear already exist in his own communion, and again, have existed there for centuries.

So then, whether or not the hoped-for left-right alliance emerges, we are undeniably fortunate to have the guidance of Rod Dreher, whose Benedict Option teaches us to withdraw into our divine enclaves, where we shall be safe from the evil opinions that characterize those bad people on the dissident right—even as, like Dreher himself, we can continue to publish, and tweet, and twaddle, thus remaining very much in public view. Plainly, it is not in God’s plan for everyone to be so heroic as the editors of Modern Age, National Review, The Dispatch, The Bulwark, or First Things. Nevertheless, we others needn’t despair, for the Benedict Cave is no dark one. Rather, it is ever lit up, and as rife with enthusiasm as Mr. Dreher after he gets a fresh hipster haircut or a trendy new pair of black-rimmed glasses, very like those of the good team members in Williamsburg, New York. Warm, too, is the Benedict Cave, the hairy bags of water huddling together in their virtue like Messieurs Reno and Lowry during a successful fundraising campaign. Finally, whenever a diversion is needed, the faithful can recite their lofty motto, that is, the chorus from “Tom O’ Bedlam’s Song”:

Yet I will sing, Any food, any feeding,
Feeding, drink or clothing;
Come dame or maid, be not afraid,
Poor Tom will injure nothing.



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