Within a day of each other, two outstanding priest-writers reviewed The Reactionary Mind. I’m deeply grateful to my friends Fr. Michael Rennier and Fr. Dwight Longenecker for their generous and thoughtful insights.
First, here’s Fr. Rennier for Dappled Things:
When I use the phrase “reactionary” applied to myself, I have in mind a rejection of modernity with all its objectifying, materialistic, functionalistic habits. When it comes to politics, I basically want to practice local, relationship-based politics that are based on the Common Good. I have no interest in joining a broader movement of the “left” or “right.” Davis is probably considered a man of the “right.” I would tend to describe myself, if forced to, as more of a Wendell-Berry-style anarchist. And yet, we essentially seek the same things. We want to be surrounded by beauty, family, nature, happiness, and, eventually, hopefully, sainthood. The label doesn’t matter.
Davis, in fact, goes to great pains to move beyond politics. Many of his reactionary impulses, such as the desire to practice distributism, a social movement which, in spite of being linked to men like Chesterton, is perhaps more closely identified with the “left.” Davis doesn’t seem to care much how you label it, though, because this is not a political book. It’s a book about how to live the Good Life. As he concludes, “If the world has a future… It won’t be the politicians… This isn’t a manifesto. It’s an invitation to imagine a better future, which begins by imagining a better past.” The labels of politics constrain the search.
My guess would be that most readers of Dappled Things would fundamentally agree on this point—the essence of the Good Life isn’t located in politics or ideology, which tend to have the opposite effect intended, crowding out basic, normal, human life. Essentially, Davis is writing about the freedom to build a culture, which is authentically located in the local, in human beings. It’s a matter of interior virtue manifesting as goodness and beauty.
Spot on. Father is right that I generally consider myself “of the Right.” But I don’t equate “Right-ness” with truth. I have had people call me a leftist for being a distributist, and my response is always the same: So what? If I’m wrong, explain how I’m wrong. If I’m right, you can call me any names you like.
Next is Fr. Longenecker for The Imaginative Conservative:
But Mr. Davis rescues the reactionaries. With a jaunty air and the panache of all the ridiculous warriors from Cyrano de Bergerac to Don Quixote, he stands up for all that is alternative, counter-cultural, strange, spare, and delightfully luddite.
He pokes at progressives and punctures the pomposity of our contemporary assumptions and the pride of our techno-affluent power. He is for the virtues of an earlier time and the sanity of a simpler life. His book is a reminder that in a world of fugitives, the one who returns home will seem to be running away.
So who knows, Mr. Davis’ muscular conservatism may inspire an army of young men to get married, have lots of kids, go to church, choose country living, and raise hearty, red-cheeked children who know how not only to survive in the wasteland of modernity, but to thrive and build a better future.
Truly humbling. My thanks to them both.
By the way, if you don’t follow Fr. Rennier and Fr. Longenecker, obviously you should. As it happens, both are former Anglican priests before they swam the Tiber and became Catholic priests. Both also have wives and children. And while I do think celibacy ought to remain the norm for Roman priests, I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have priest-writers who have lived experience as husbands and fathers.
By the way, neither Fr. Rennier nor Fr. Longenecker belong to the Ordinariate. They both converted and were re-ordained before Summorum Pontificum. And while they both love the Anglican Patrimony (as I do), they had the great courage to become Catholic—and Catholic priests!—before the Vatican was willing to make any “liturgical accommodations” for us. That’s true courage.
P.S. — Fr. Rennier begins his review by saying,
I first met Michael Warren Davis when, several years ago, he reached out to me, “As a man of the cloth, and one of great discernment,” to provide a contribution to the Catholic Herald for a piece on the perfect Catholic cocktail.
And he ends it:
The Reactionary Mind is a provocative read. Well worth checking out, particularly for the recipe in an appendix about how to mix a Pink Gin, which I totally told him about and for which he owes me big-time.
This is absolutely true, though I’d completely forgotten. Mea culpa! It’s all coming back to me now, though. I remember blanching when I read Father’s email saying Evelyn Waugh drank a pink gin for breakfast every morning with his crossword puzzle. Yuck.
Anyway, Fr. Renier deserves full credit for the mixological content of The Reactionary Mind. Still, I think his review is fairly unbiased.