I believe I first heard of Opus Dei in 1999 when I was working on a political campaign with a good friend who I would describe as a “devout” Catholic. I was interested in the Church at the time, mainly for its central place in the history of the West. My friend and I had numerous late-night discussions (beer for him, martinis for me) about history, politics and the Church. One night after we’d had a few he asked, “Have you ever heard of Opus Dei?” I hadn’t.
He told me a fairly amusing story about how Opus had tried to recruit him during his distinguished undergraduate career at Georgetown University. Someone invited him to an event at the Georgetown Opus Dei “Center for Men” and he hung out there a bit, but never seriously considered joining.
“Two interesting things about them,” he told me. “One, these guys would only drank one beer, then stop. Two, they had the Washington Post in the lounge, but the ads for women’s lingerie had been cut out.”
Despite his own intense faith, this wasn’t for him. He was at the School of Foreign Service studying to be a diplomat. Detractors of Opus Dei love to shout that it tries to recruit the best and brightest young Catholics who are planning to go into international relations, law, politics and journalism.
Of course, MSNBCBS, the Department of State, Senators and NGOs try and recruit the same set of people to work for them, but they’re Righteous Progressive Warriors for Peace and Justice, so that’s just fine.
My friend still had a copy of Camino they gave him, and he gave it to me to read. After that, I did some more research on the organization and its founder, Saint Josemaria Escriva.
At any rate, this post is not meant as a thorough history of Opus. The Wiki bio of Escriva is a pretty balanced presentation of the history and development of the movement. Some years later I read Dan Brown’s excrescence of a book and was much amused by the albino Opus Dei assassin. The traitorous FBI agent Robert Hannsen was a member, for what it’s worth.
At this point, the reader may fairly ask, what the hell has all this to do with Neoreaction? “NRx” is a mainly internet-based socio-politico-philosophical inquiry, not a religious order, has no leader that can be discerned, no structure, no history, no monuments or even office space. Opus has this:
But here’s the crux (think about what that means): Neoreaction can only affect society if it gets elites to support its ideas, intellectually, financially and eventually physically. Right now, Western elites, the Princeton-Harvard-Yale-DC-Oxford-Davos-Brussels axis, are about 99.44% pure Cathedral Prog, (with a Ted Cruz thrown in for color). The tip of the NRx spear realizes that its real mission, at this point, is to recruit elites as supporters (or at least, sympathizers. Opus calls them “collaborators”). The Neoreaction doesn’t seek political power within the current liberal democratic nation-state systems of the West, nor is it a mass movement, nor is it interested in “members” who aren’t very intelligent. Like Opus Dei, NRx has a certain exclusivity that keeps it lean and focused, and at the same time seems to make even intelligent opposition lose objectivity.
Opus and the NRx bring out something primal in “Progressives,” because they’re impervious: men without shame or fear or guilt, at least of the kind that Progs use as a rhetorical hammer to threaten and bludgeon their opposition. “Conservatives” can’t stand for long against charges of racism or sexism or ableism or whate’er, because they’re liberals. Nothing enrages the Progs like a person who refuses to be intellectually cowed by charges of “hate.” A powerful, organized group of such people is their deepest secret fear.
Neoreaction isn’t there, yet, not by a long way. It might take some steps by imposing more demands on its followers, the same way that Opus does, and all the successful religions do. The “Mainline Protestants” have withered in direct proportion to their embrace of “inclusiveness” and their depiction of Jesus as your Special Boyfriend who won’t judge you, and who will always take you back despite the fact you cheated on Him.
Opus Dei demands you sleep on the floor once a week, arise the instant the alarm goes off and dedicate your every waking moment to excellence and to raising up your daily work to God.
There’s a hint of this in some Neoreactionary blogs, lately. While they have different forms, organization (or lack of it), and goals, Opus Dei and the Neoreaction have in common a distaste for the disgusting aspects of modernity and an ethos of raising up the Good, the True and the Beautiful. Of right reason guiding a right social order. Neoreactionaries need emulate Opus Dei in this way: to raise their standards, to conduct themselves as elites and to improve themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. The best way to spread the word is by living example.