Rod Dreher’s book proclaiming that Christians embrace a Benedict Option to separate from society and protect the faith is a wonderful idea. A review thoroughly examining it can be found here with a basic message of “Dreher’s not going far enough”. Dreher is an easy target, but the subject of this essay is the shaky foundation that Dreher rests his idea on: the parallel polis.
Dreher has admitted to being influenced by Vaclav Benda, creator of the parallel polis idea, and in the Benedict Option, one can see it clearly. The parallel polis is an appealing idea of creating parallel institutions that people could find refuge in from a totalitarian regime. The totalitarianism of the Soviet sponsored communist regimes did allow for some cracks, but Benda’s crowd had limited success. Once the Soviet sponsored regimes were dissolved, some dissident groups with American aid became parts of governing coalitions. Benda’s crowd was one such group, but they did not meet with electoral success.
Benda’s parallel polis is appealing to dissidents struggling through the liberal dark ages, but the game has changed. Look over Benda’s list for parallel institutions and laugh at the goals while facing 1970s technology and the Soviet style communism that is not as all encompassing as our progressive societies. Advocate for civil rights and be branded an outcast. Parallel education is possible with homeschooling but not much else nor is parallel science possible. A parallel information system gets scrubbed by Big Tech and labeled hate facts. Parallel economy? Enjoy getting the cancelled letter from Chase the moment they disapprove of your politics. A common Internet meme is to see the progressives do a phone call campaign or just send a few tweets and magically, some corporation jumps and answers their wishes. The response “if you don’t like it build your own ___”.
With the rate progressive totalitarian policies and behavior is going, build your own society is next. This of course would be separatism, which the left will absolutely not allow. Oh no no no, they need your tax dollars and services for now, and will not tolerate you not being under their thumb. You may be an evil racist moron, but they still need you. Dreher’s desire for separation would require a level of separation beyond the parallel polis. It would have to be economically self-sufficient like a homestead or compound, which one can ask the efficacy of to any of the FBI’s and ATF’s victims of the last generation.
There is a lie throughout Dreher’s work. At any moment, he could arrange with his fellow Orthodox parishioners a housing development. They could pool resources with the church’s assistance to buy land, employ architects, contractors and build a small community. They could pick out land in a favorable area and would be astounded how cheap they could build an Ortho-land. He does not because defection from society and coordination like this is difficult. It takes an institutional leader, not a writer LARPing as an Orthodox member. Dreher and his readers may want this but it is merely a wish for they have not the will.
The parallel polis is not capable in the mental and spiritual totalitarian culture we live in today. The simplest sign of this is how family members will no longer agree to disagree or reveal basic opinions on topics because of fear of shaming and ostracism. Perhaps the better parallel polis is to let your immediate circle be aware that you reject this game. They can be free to share with you. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s with a good joke at the lunacy of Caesar’s latest proclamations but build the safe ground under your feet. If you create a spiritual and mental safe space in your presence, one that is true and will not back down at the first sign of pressure, others will crowd around you. Like an inkblot, the more added will make it grow until it has covered the page.
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The real problem is that Rod Dreher wants the Exile without actual Exile. He wants to present himself as a christian being thrown to the lions while he sips his latte.