Alasdair Macintyre published ‘After Virtue’ (AV) in 1981. Many of us read it around then, but it has come into public view again through Rod Dreher’s ‘The Benedict Option’ in which Dreher takes a comment from the very end of AV where MacIntyre says “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.” (Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue p. 163)
The title is a clue for those who know the work of Aristotle, that AV is an attempt to refine an Aristotelian world view, a moral philosophy, and MacIntyre refers to Aristotle throughout, and in particular the ‘Nichomachian Ethics.’ AV is also a work that seeks to refute Nietzsche’s claim that “… morality is only a mask for the will to power …” (Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue p. 22). MacIntyre’s view is that modern moral and political philosophy falls short and we must therefore renew by studying and enacting virtue.
That last line which refers to Godot, is a swipe at Beckett, as in Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’, where Godot never shows up, and which is thought to be a criticism of those who wait for an external force to save them, thus a swipe by Beckett at certain forms of Christianity. MacIntyre suggests that we do need an external saviour in the form of a new St. Benedict, someone needs to show up.
When MacIntyre refers to St. Benedict he offers no elucidation save that he is waiting for another very different Benedict. There is no clue as to what this other Benedict will be like, he is not prescriptive, which means he is not seeking to be prophetic, but rather, he is yearning for a saviour. Dreher (interview with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at Red Letter Christians 2015 https://www.redletterchristians.org) claims that MacIntyre is being prophetic, but it is clear that MacIntyre’s language and construction is nothing of the sort, it is simply a hope, a desire, a yearning.
Why is he waiting for another Benedict? According to MacIntyre, while not subscribing to pessimism (because we survived the dark ages), we are on the cusp of a new dark age and we need someone to shine a light. He sees a decline and grieves the loss of moral community, salvation is in a new type of St, Benedict.
Enter Rod Dreher and the ‘Benedict Option.’