Isker, Dreher, and Me

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Here’s the plan, guys. I am going to begin with a brief review of Andrew Isker’s book, The Boniface Option. After that, I am going to interact a bit more with Rod Dreher’s review of it, along with some observations about Dreher’s odd and erratic behavior since his review was published. And then I am going to reveal a little bit of the thinking behind the public invitation that both I and Jared Longshore extended to Dreher, an offer that invited him to come to Moscow and see some things for himself. In short, we will begin with the public stuff, and then move gradually into some “inside baseball” stuff. And you, because you are premium members, get to read all of it. Just kidding. There are no premium members. But at least you get to act like premium members.

Also, I was reliably informed at church this last Sunday that I had neglected to select a book of the month for either August or September. That this came as a surprise to me should give you some indication of how abandoned I have become to the thinking of great thoughts—or what some might call woolgathering. Either way, I am tagging this post as a book review, and this book is my September selection for the book of the month slot. Not that it needs my help. We are a few weeks after the book’s release, and it is still selling quite briskly on Amazon.

The Boniface Option

Let us begin with the bottom line. This is a good book. And if you read Rod Dreher’s review of it, and thus had your expectations lowered, and then came back and read this book anyway, you would count it as a really good book.

Andrew Isker writes vigorously and well, and for the most part he knows who the enemy is. He knows what the outrages are, and he is willing to tag the outrages with appropriate names. This really is Trashworld, and the globohomo industrial complex really is a threat to us all. He understands the comprehensive nature of the threat, and sees that we are under a full court press. If we are going to run an offense at all, we have to run one that takes into account the fact that we are under a full court press.

The weak parts of the book are those few places where he tags certain things as part of Trashworld that in my view aren’t necessarily part of it at all (e.g. suburbia, seed oils, industrial food production), and in not cautioning enough against the globohomo narcissism that our modern fitness mirrors tend to reflect. But these distractions are easily forgiven, given the overall point of the book, and the glaring abominations Isker spends the bulk of his time targeting. The strength of the book, and the thing that put Rod Dreher off his feed, was that Isker treats abominations as though they actually are abominable. He sees them for what they are, and gives them the treatment.

“If you had ever wondered how The Benedict Option would have been if its author were a late-millennial Calvinist Memelord Of Moscow, Idaho, well, now you have your answer.”

Rod Dreher, Reviewing ‘The Boniface Option’

But there are callings worse than being a memelord. When the sovereignty of God determines that we are to live in a time that is bent like ours, and someone has invented memes, and it is discovered that the left can’t meme, the power of memes is kind of like discovering that one little aperture in the Death Star. Or to elevate our discourse somewhat, it is like discovering that one unprotected spot on Smaug’s underbelly. I have seen many occasions where a meme does short work to some absurd position, and it is far more effective than a learned tome that destroys the position, but which nobody reads. For example, as the meme goes, when a six-year-old is transitioning, it is kind of like meeting someone with a vegan cat. We all know who is actually making the decisions.

The strength of Isker’s writing is in his short descriptions. Somebody must have given him a pithy helmet for his birthday. “Spiritually homosexual whether or not they can make you actually homosexual,” “assimilate them into the Borg Collective,” “terabytes of porn while they wait for the next Marvel movie to come out,” “the bugman is trained to deny the reality you show him,” “he is willing to submit to the idea that 350-pound lingerie models are beautiful, that men can become women . . .,” “the fake and gay globohomo cinematic universe,” “there is a direct line from Rosie the Riveter to a pink-haired, septum-pierced, androgynous orc teaching your preschooler about anal sex,” and “being a replaceable wage slave in a cubicle under the thumb of HR harridans.” Someone like Rod Dreher complains that such statements are the work of an angry and bitter young man, instead of colorful descriptions coming from an astute journalist with eyes in his head. Overstatement? There are a bunch of readers out there who have had their own personal run-ins with the HR harridans, and they don’t think it is overstatement. And we have all seen the efforts to make plus-size lingerie models a thing, and we wonder less at the models and more at the agenda of the people trying to make it a thing. In short, the kind of writing that Isker puts out has traction for a reason.

The real concern is not that so many people are attracted to this kind of writing. The real concern, at least to me, is that the left has been so bizarre, absurd, and demanding, that the revolt, when it comes, will overshoot. Although Dreher thought he saw that kind of thing in this book, thankfully, I did not. And I was also happy that the Jews made no appearance here.

Reviewing a Review in the Course of a Review

In the course of his review of Andrew Isker’s book, Rod Dreher said this:

But over and over, Isker—a young Minnesota pastor who was trained by the ever-combative Douglas Wilson—undermines his case by responding with febrile intensity

Rod Dreher, Reviewing ‘The Boniface Option’

While it is possible to undermine your case with febrile intensity, and I have seen that done, I don’t believe Isker is guilty of this. As Davy Crockett may have said to Jim Bowie, as they stood on the walls of the Alamo, looking out at Santa Anna’s forces, “The time for nuance has passed.”

Chesterton says somewhere that we must fight because we love what is behind us, and not just because we hate what is in front of us. While Isker spends a good bit of time emphasizing the need to cultivate a healthy sort of hatred, he also spends an extended time reinforcing Chesterton’s point, an emphasis that Dreher backhanded this way:

“‘To teach your daughters to hate those enticements, you must make your household a place of deep joy. It must be a refuge from the disgusting world of filth,’ Isker writes. Look, I can’t judge Isker’s life; I can only judge what’s on the page here. But there is nothing in this volume that suggests Isker’s household — or anywhere, really, aside from maybe his deer blind, his walk-in humidor, or his online community—is a place of deep joy.”

Rod Dreher, Reviewing ‘The Boniface Option’

However, for those who know Andrew Isker, he has to be one of the jolliest men I have ever met. And Dreher’s comment that there is “nothing in this volume,” emphasis his, to indicate that Isker’s household is a place of joy, is a comment that is wildly misplaced. There is page after page of such indications.

Then Dreher says this, dragging me into it.

I’ve noticed over the years, watching how disciples of Douglas Wilson operate rhetorically, that they typically lead with a quarrelsome overstatement, and take strong negative reaction to it as a sign that they’ve really hit the mark with their criticism. Sometime that’s true, I suppose,

Rod Dreher, Reviewing ‘The Boniface Option’

But think for a minute. Say I set myself down to write about the California bill that is currently headed for Newsom’s desk, the one that says that parents who don’t affirm their child’s gender status are going to get punished in custody battles. Say that I gird on my polemical sword in order to go into battle over this. How on earth would it be even possible for me to lead with “overstatement?” If I were say that Sacramento has turned into an orc parliament, would that be overstatement? No, I don’t think so.

And So What Gives With the Invitations?

But there have been some late breaking developments. Since that exchange, Rod Dreher—for some reason—posted this. I already commented on the fact that Dreher’s review of Isker’s book was far more problematic on the tone front than The Boniface Option was. And then this. I don’t know the details of Dreher’s departure from The American Conservative, but it seems to me that he could be going through some sort of crisis or crack-up, and somebody needs to throw him a rope. It would be one thing, and bad enough, to lose your temper with some inconsiderate fellow travelers. But to lose your temper, f-bomb them, and then post a transcript of the proceedings online? Something is not right.

After Jared Longshore extended an invitation to Rod Dreher, repeating in essence the same kind of invitation I had offered, Stephen Wolfe asked on Twitter why on earth would we do something like that? There is an answer, and all of it has to do with the changing of the guard. But before getting to that answer, with this kind of erratic behavior going on, it could be necessary to put some limitation on what Dreher were to talk about.

We have made this offer very many times over the years, and to a lot of establishment conservatives. Not one has taken us up on it. We have offered folks the same deal we offered Dreher, and we have also offered to fly me to where they were, in order to meet however they were willing to meet. We have been willing for private meetings, no cameras or mics, and for public meetings for discussion. In the early years, this was refused because Big Eva did not want to give us any air time. What we were teaching did not accord with the established narrative, which was that evangelicalism was destined to drift steadily left. But in recent years, this has changed. Now the problem would be quite different.

Before, our proposals, our teaching, and our entire approach seemed, you know, radical. Kind of out there. They didn’t want to give air time to the hotheads from Idaho. But now . . . now what we are saying seems, I don’t know, what’s the word for it? You know, it all seems kind of sensible. And none of the left-drifters want the people to look at them and ask, “Isn’t that sensible? Why don’t you think that is sensible?”

Hard question to answer. But it all seems pretty normal to me.