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I heard a man say once that one’s entire response to Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option hinged on how one thought about the sustainability of the current social order. That the existing social order is hostile to orthodoxy is obvious. But is that order sustainable, such that Christians should head to the catacombs?1 Or, on the other hand, is this order, which is so hostile to orthodoxy, itself incoherent and thus likely to unravel in the near future? If you take that approach, then not only do you not head to the catacombs, you may actually double down in your arguments for a Christian society because you believe it is entirely possible that we could realize some tangible, wide-ranging victories in the not-that-distant future.
Something like the same test applies to the debate over incrementalism and abortion. Unpleasantries aside, the point at issue in the dispute between Jonathan Last, Ramesh Ponnuru, Rachael Larimore, and Philip Jeffrey seems to be chiefly about whether or not we should take small steps working within the system to reduce the number of abortions over time or if we should push more aggressively, in an echo of the left on several social issues, and try to secure a more decisive victory.
Rod - Book - Sense - Things - Republic
As with Rod’s book, one’s general sense of where things are in the republic would seem to be a determinative factor in how one thinks tactically about this debate.
On the other hand, if you suppose that our current order is generally unsustainable, that the prevailing social narratives that shape our life together are incoherent, and that there is opportunity for a better story to replace it in the near future—and thus for fairly radical political change to follow—then the case for incrementalism is much less obvious. Why chase small victories that are only “victories” at all...
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