Praying for the Apocalypse
Rod Dreher has found his calling as a prophet of liberal modernity’s imminent collapse
Most writers have hobby horses—and those who publish subscription newsletters certainly do. The whole point of the exercise is to permit one writer (or one group of writers) the freedom to explore ideas, topics, and people he or she considers important or interesting. My Substack’s title announces its focus, and I’m confident I’m sticking to it in a way my subscribers expect and appreciate.
Still, I hesitated to write another post about my old friend Rod Dreher so soon (roughly six weeks) after I devoted two posts to him. One part of the hesitation comes from a fear that if I keep aiming critical fire in his direction, we will end up ceasing to be friends at all. But another concern has to do with whether the attention is warranted. There are so many figures and trends on the right worthy of thinking and writing about. Why devote another post to Rod?
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My answer: Because I’m genuinely dismayed by much of what he’s now saying and writing—and because the patterns I’m detecting in his thinking are familiar from the darker sides of both Christianity and right-wing politics. If Rod is thinking this way, I bet others are, too. Then there’s the possibility a wider circle of people will adopt similar habits by listening to him. Either way, I think Rod’s continued radicalization is significant and worthy of continued critical attention.
Rejoice—The End is Nigh!
I’ve been paying attention to tweets coming out of the National Conservatism Conference in Miami this week. That’s why I took note of what Rod was saying on Wednesday afternoon. That’s when I came across this tweet promoting a post on his blog for The American Conservative:
The tweet is telling us, as Rod does so often these days, that things are about to get very, very bad, and far worse than anyone (except Rod and his closest ideological confidantes) realizes. Specifically, the entire world is about to experience hyperinflation as a result of the severe energy crunch in Europe tied to sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s efforts at retaliation against the European Union.
That does sound bad. But then why the chipper headline—“Cheer Up! The World Is Ending”—for the post Rod is promoting with his tweet? Perhaps because the tweet and the post aren’t really about the literal end of the world. They’re about what is supposedly a looming disaster for modern civilization—an economic catastrophe that would make the financial crisis of 2008 look like a minor tremor, followed by falling governments and other forms of severe civic turbulence. That’s what Rod foresees on the horizon and what has put him in a giddy mood.
Clicking on the link confirms this reading. The post begins by telling us that he just finished “a great breakfast in Miami,” that he has good news to share, but that first he will start with some bad news.
The bad news is that we are all in for very hard times, and soon. I have spoken to several people in a position to know these things, and the consensus is that global hyperinflation is on its way. The energy crisis in Europe is much worse than our media have been telling us.
People are saying, at the right-wing conference, that the world is about to experience hyperinflation. Who are these people “in a position to know”? Are they economists? Are they sane economists? Economists with a track record of making accurate predictions? Are they government officials? From which countries and parties? Are they privy to information not publicly known or available? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions because Rod tells us nothing about who is saying these things.
Instead, he links for support to a right-wing website, which points to a tweet thread by a “Finnish economist” who writes a column for The Epoch Times, a far-right international newspaper affiliated with the Falun Gong. This economist’s most recent column is titled “Europe is Bound to Collapse.” Two columns before that, he wrote “China’s Economy is Destined to Collapse.” Two before that, it was “Are We Headed for Another Great Crash (of 1929)”? I’m sensing a pattern.
Having cited this professional catastrophist in support for his declaration of impending economic doom, Rod writes, “Let me repeat: I am hearing much the same thing from people in a position to know.” Then he finally cites someone he at least identifies as an economist. Her reaction to Rod telling her about the threat of hyperinflation? “Yes, it’s coming, for sure.”
Well then, that settles it.
The Blessings of Armageddon
I’m not being unduly harsh in stating that Rod knows next to nothing about economics. Neither do I. Of the many topics an opinion columnist can write about, economics is the field that leaves me most unsure of myself and most reliant on the expertise of others. For that reason, I don’t write about it much. I certainly never write items proclaiming that some very specific, exceedingly rare, catastrophic economic event is definitely about to take place. That’s because I don’t possess the knowledge required to make such a prediction myself. I don’t even possess the knowledge required to evaluate those who do possess such knowledge. I have every reason to think Rod is in precisely the same situation.
Yet he is unbothered by his ignorance. He is ready and eager to defer to the supposed expertise of others, to place his trust in what they tell him, provided they attend the same right-wing conferences, write for trusted right-wing media outlets, and/or validate his deeply felt convictions. That’s not just confirmation bias. It’s the active, headlong pursuit of confirmation at the cost of fatally sacrificing his own critical intellect. But he doesn’t just defer to those who tell him what he wants to hear. He amplifies what they’re saying, adding assurances at regular intervals (and sometimes in italics or bold type) that this thing I am saying is true.
Rod has come to write like a prophet bringing the good news of impending apocalypse. Again, this isn’t literal armageddon. It’s merely armageddon for the modern liberal order, which, he insists, will very soon be obliterated in a tsunami of economic immiseration. Rod’s advice, following the tweet thread from the Chicken Little economist from Finland, is to stock cash, food, water, and (for those fortunate enough to possess the right kind of stove) wood.
And also to follow what Rod himself has been saying since he wrote his 2017 book, The Benedict Option: “go local, now. Not tomorrow—right now” (bold type in original). He goes on:
I've passed on to conversation partners this week what I heard from some French Catholic friends who live in a village in France: that the local people no longer have faith that their government will be able to help or protect them in the coming crisis—which will also be a crisis of food and water—so they've already started building a strong local network. Every time I've brought that up, the people to whom I've been speaking nod vigorously. Americans and Europeans both.
Rod’s French Catholic friends have told him that some local people are thinking locally, and when he tells this to Americans and Europeans at a right-wing conference in Miami, they nod approvingly. Which inspires another prophetic pronouncement: “I can't stress strongly enough: now is the time to prepare, spiritually, morally, and materially. It is August 1914.”
But within a couple of paragraphs, it’s actually more like the early 1940s in Central and Eastern Europe, with Christians living under Nazi occupation and about to be overrun by brutal Communist oppressors who will attempt over the following decades to crush them and their faith. That’s the claim of Rod’s last book, Live Not By Lies (2020). This orgy of self-confirmation culminates in a stream of Christian apocalypticism that ends the post. It is worth quoting at some length. (I have excised a long quote from the latter book and references to people mentioned within the quote. Feel free to go to the post yourself to read the passage in its entirety.)
The passivity and middle-class conformism of most American Christian churches will not be enough to withstand what's coming. The preoccupation so many conservative Christians have with MAGA and election fraud is a total distraction, as is the preoccupation of normie bourgeois Christians with trying to winsomely rationalize their way into blessing race, sex, and gender radicalism, so as not to lose their status in the late imperial order. What is headed our way is far, far too serious. We cannot wait for our spiritual leaders to act. Take initiative yourself. …
I gave a grim talk [I assume he means at the Miami conference—DL] about the need for religious believers to prepare ourselves for what is to come. I emphasized the need to be ready to suffer. That's never going to be popular with a crowd, but I am absolutely convinced that it's true. Besides, God can use that for renewal….
[He concludes after quoting a passage from his book that includes a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about how hope can arise from suffering—DL] There it is: the hope. The hope is not that we can avoid suffering, though of course none of us wants to endure it. We don't get a say in the matter, unless we want to sell our souls (and even then it might not be enough). The gift of suffering—the thing that led Solzhenitsyn to say, "Bless you, prison"—is that it reveals God's mercy to us. It can set us free…. Or it can destroy us. For Christians, hope is not optimism; hope is rather the sure knowledge that there is ultimate meaning in our suffering. The choice is ours—and it's a choice all of us are going to face, very soon.
Winter is coming. Prepare.
In other words, “Cheer Up! The World Is Ending.” The old order will soon be no more, but a new one is being born to replace it. And Rod Dreher is its prophet, proclaiming hope as he ecstatically imagines the ruins to come.
I suppose that’s one way to make a living.
Plunging into the Pits
But what are we to make of the tweet that followed the one promoting this very post? After announcing the imminent advent of global hyperinflation, Rod gave a plug for the just-completed National Conservatism conference and home-state Republican governor who spoke there:
This was then followed a few hours later with a strong endorsement of this same governor’s cruel stunt of flying roughly fifty migrants (most of them fleeing a dictatorship and … hyperinflation in Venezuela) to Martha’s Vineyard to troll the libs with human props.
Just as Jesus might have said.
But seriously, I’m confused. Rod is convinced the world is about to succumb to a crisis that leads governments around the globe to topple and economies to buckle—and he thinks this is news worth cheering because it will make possible a rebirth of a more authentically Christian civilization on the far side of calamity. But Rod is also very impressed with the juvenile antics and petty maliciousness of the Republican governor of Florida. Because … he believes it will help this governor win the American presidency and do great things in the midst of political and economic collapse? Isn’t this a bit like being cheered by plans to rearrange the living room furniture while an EF 5 tornado bears down on your house?
But enough already.
I wish I had a nice, snappy conclusion for the end of this overly long post, but I really don’t. All I have to say is that I’m obviously saddened and appalled to see what’s become of my old friend as he’s plunged ever deeper into despair and disgust at the world around him, embracing strongman politics and leaping into the intellectual pit of prophetic and apocalyptic eschatology, some of the oldest and most destructive of Christian temptations.
I sincerely hope Rod’s present and recent past become a passing phase, promptly succeeded by his return to ways of thinking and writing that remain open to the complexities of the world, along with a willingness to endure the exigencies of uncertainty and skepticism. I’ll be waiting to welcome him back with open arms when and if it happens.
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Dear Everyone: I'm very busy with many things and so usually avoid jumping into the discussions in the comments on my posts. But I want you all to know that I'm thrilled you've taken to having conversations and respectful debates about the issues I write about. You're making this a real community. I also wanted you to know that I follow along with and read everything.
You're not the only one wondering what happened to Rod. There's a whole Reddit subthread devoted to former readers speculating about what caused him to go off the rails. I started reading Rod soon after he moved to Louisiana. While I didn't agree with many of his views, at least that Rod was intellectually curious and willing to engage with readers who challenged his viewpoints. I found his writings on Dante moving and got a lot from them.
Somewhere around the time of the Benedict Option, Rod's views started hardening and the "mean girl" aspects of his personality metastasized. His obsession with homosexuality, transexuality, and wokeness took center stage, and his blog posts became predictable. His substack, where he writes about more personal matters and about his project on enchantment, shows aspects of the old Rod, but it's become impossible for me to reconcile that guy with the nasty, misogynistic guy on AmCon and Twitter, who embraces authoritarian leaders and an ends-justifies-the-means mentality. He's become a shill for Orban and Putin and what he sees as their manly virtues.
Rod's writings on Substack make clear he believes that, having been exiled (and yes, that's the term he uses) from Baton Rogue, he's now on a mission from G-d to help save Christianity from the libs. I'm sure he'd embrace being labeled as a prophet. Sadly, I think it's more likely he's on the verge of some kind of mental breakdown.