Creative Commons License

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Quotes worth saving (20): the coming ages of barbarism and darkness

After Virtue: a study in moral theory, by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Published in 1981. 

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognizing fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another - doubtless very different - St. Benedict.


Alasdair MacIntyre


paul bowman said...

Chris, I’m just getting caught up here. Happy to see new life in the old blog. Happy to think that we might pick up some conversation on the blogs and away from FB again.

This post leaps out at me because this MacIntyre passage has sparked (or maybe more accurately has been appropriated in service of), just in the last few years, a whole sort of sub-genre of discourse among what you might call the Christian chattering class — of which I have to count myself a member, though a very very minor one! — here in the U.S. and I think probably widely around the ‘anglosphere’ now. If you’re not familiar with it, do a search for ‘Benedict Option.’ A lot of what circulates under this rubric, I expect, you’d find objectionable on its face, at least, and probably in much of its substance. But I think you’ll find it an interesting culture phenomenon at the same time.

The little publishing & civic-life-boosting organization I’m involved in, Solidarity Hall, actually spins off from this, in a way, with our blog — titled ‘The Dorothy Option,’ as explained in the inaugural post earlier this year. Can’t claim impartiality, of course, but will recommend it anyway for getting acquainted with the Benedict Option discussion, even if our bit is an aside from the main current. Also perhaps worth a look, this recent piece in venerable left-wing Catholic mag Commonweal, ‘The Virtue of Staying Put,’ which, as title suggests, aims to recall somewhat the original MacIntyrean inspiration.

god-free morals said...

Okay, so I've had brief look into this.

I suppose the 'Ben Oppers' are correct to advocate MacIntyre's approach (he did convert to Catholicism in the 80's after all) but I'd always seen it as a charge for something new, totally new and therefore currently unknown or unknowable, rather than a 'new' rethinking of a very old idea. The new St Benedict isn't just the old St Benedict with an iPad.

It all depends what you think the 'moral life' is, I suppose.

For me an isolated, insular, exclusivist community is not a method of sustaining morality and civility, but I doubt they'd see themselves that way either anyway. Who ever is left standing at the end wins I suppose. Meekness, not withstanding.


paul bowman said...

You’re raising issues that matter, it seems to me. Charles Beard, a recent acquaintance of mine operating a Catholic Worker house in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, takes this on pretty directly in something he wrote this summer after going to hear Dreher talk at an event held by a community formed around the Clear Creek Monastery, also near Tulsa, that Dreher’s writing treats as an instance of BenOp practice. (The Catholic Worker ‘movement’ Beard’s own work is connected to was begun by Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day — the Dorothy of Solidarity Hall’s ‘Dorothy Option’ — it should be noted.)