Thompson to Dreher: “Say it Better”

Greg Thompson’s review of Rod Dreher’s new book in the Neo-Calvinist publication, Comment, should be good news to those worried about progressive PCA pastors (if Thompson fairly qualifies as such). Thompson agrees with Dreher that America is undergoing a disturbing number of changes:

[Dreher’s] argument is this: The liberal order of America and of the West is currently under attack from a progressive, illiberal, and anti-religious ideology rooted in the Marxist tradition. While the core claims of this ideology have long menaced American culture, it is currently taking on a new and more dangerous shape. Cultivated in the classrooms of our universities, embraced by the elites of our institutions, enabled by the moral malaise of our therapeutic culture, and empowered by the technological ubiquity of surveillance capitalism, this ideology will harden—indeed has already begun to harden—into an entire cultural order. In this cultural order, best understood as “soft totalitarianism,” liberal ideals of individual freedom will give way to tribal collectivism, cultural memory will be replaced by utopian dogma, and civic dissent will be met with firm reprisal. Indeed, the evidence that this has already begun is everywhere around us, and of all citizens swept up into these waves of illiberalism, faithful Christians are among those most at risk. 

Thompson is also concerned:

I am, for instance, concerned about the illiberal ways in which cultural and political perspectives increasingly serve as justification for dehumanization and malice. I am concerned about our increasing default to exclusively identitarian accounts of ourselves and our neighbours, and the potent tribalism this nurtures. I am concerned about a preening civic moralism that feels more performative than principled, and for the plague of self-righteousness that blooms around it. I am concerned about the contradictions of a therapeutic culture that venerates self-expression even as it normalizes self-harm. I am concerned about the ways in which our extraordinary technologies invite exploitation and obstruct wisdom. I am concerned about economic and cultural actors whose power places them beyond the reach of any practicable form of accountability. I am concerned by the ubiquity with which each one of these tendencies manifests itself on both the cultural left and the cultural right and in so doing threatens the health, indeed the very possibility, of our common life.

So why does Thompson write that Dreher’s book is “egregious” and “dangerous”? The reason has to do with the way Dreher expresses his alarms:

While in the world of entertainment punditry such a transparently reductive manner of speaking about one’s cultural enemies may be indulged and even celebrated, in a work that claims the intellectual mantle of liberalism and the moral mantle of the Christian church, such an account is a disgrace. Why? Because in characterizing progressivism in this way, Dreher tacitly claims the powerful heritage of liberalism for himself and places his cultural enemies outside of it, all while either unaware of or indifferent to both the moral incoherence and social consequences of doing so.

Sweeping claims about good guys and bad guys may not be the first strike against a writer for anyone ministering in a communion that has some regard and attachment to Francis Schaeffer.

Observing the deficiency of Dreher’s (he is a journalist, after all) prose may also prompt a writer to think about lines like this:

Dreher’s gauzy invocation of liberalism is reflective not of the rigorous complexities of history but of the simplistic nostalgia of Cracker Barrel.

“Simplistic,” “nostalgia,” or “Cracker Barrel,” each on their own would have made the point. Throwing them all into the sentence is either redundant or piling on.

9 thoughts on “Thompson to Dreher: “Say it Better”

  1. Who is the most guilty of “potent tribalism?” I think the socialist left is. It is by design. That aside, the U.S. is really two countries now. Anyone with half-their-brain-tied-behind-their-back knows this. One country is the people of the cities and the inner suburbs (the lower class, the takers, and the liberal, I want to feel good about myself rich) with little interest in the Christian faith and life. The other country is the people of the outer suburbs and rural areas (middle and upper-middle working class) who have some commitment to, or at least a respectful connection to the Judeo – Christian ethos. The first set is not that interested in gun ownership. The second group owns lots of weapons. The first group supports abortion and euthanasia. The second group opposes them. I know, these are generalizations but they are the reality and where this nation is headed who knows but God? Maybe we should split into two. Let the hedonists have their own country. We’ll see how long that lasts.

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  2. It’s not a good idea to even engage with Thompson. Engaging with him gives him credibility and saps yours because Thompson is a notorious Wokester and Wokesters seek dialog to wear you out while building a bandwagon for their abominable ideas. He’s not making good-faith arguments against Dreher’s book, to wit, “But his TONE!” as if he’s been given tone authority over Christendom.

    Aaron Renn’s review was much better.

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  3. @Zrim:

    Dreher has a point when he says that illiberalism has taken over. Witness the recent internet purges, which have alarmed not only the usual conservative suspects but also the ACLU, Glenn Greenwald, international heads of state, etc.

    The *structure* of twittermobbing, collegiate conformity, and corporate memory-holing goes beyond anything we have ever seen. It’s not whether these forces are left or right. They might be left today and right tomorrow. Rather, the concern is that the ability to make someone’s life hell is not matched with an equal restraint to say “we shouldn’t do that.”

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  4. Jeff, and it’s a fair point as far as it goes, though I’m not as breathless about it, which gets to what my point was: Dreher’s sub-text of cultural overtake appeals to dystopian warrior impulses, which seems ironic since what also comes with warrior territory are transformationalist ticks. But if transformationalism (i.e. culture is downstream from religion) is how we got here then maybe it shouldn’t appeal.

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  5. Jeff, I have not. Neither have I been pulled over while driving as a black man. I don’t doubt illiberalism exists in both cases, though I’m not breathless for either.

    But I also find it interesting that those breathless about religious illiberalism are also the ones most skeptical about racial illiberalism, i.e. institutional racism is fake news.

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