This is a repost of an old Reddit post.
The decaying Roman Empire is the closest analogy in history to our time. Some use this to argue for the Benedict Option. To better understand this historical time period, I have been reading books from that time.
First I read and skimmed The Later Roman Empire by Ammianus Marcellinus. Marcellinus was in the Roman army. He was what we could call a conservative today. He supported traditional Roman values and was a Pagan. He had great interest in politics and believed that a good leader could save Rome. Most of the book is all about politics and the leading figures of his time. History proved Marcellinus wrong, the politics made no difference. The good leaders made no difference. The culture was simply hopelessly rotten. And the same holds true today. Because the politics is so irrelevant, I skimmed much of this. Much more interesting were his few accounts of the Romans at this time.
Men of learning and sobriety are shunned as bringers of bad luck who have nothing to contribute.
If they [nobles] hear of the sudden appearance of some obscure strumpet, some old street-walker who has earned her living by selling herself to the townsfolk, they vie in courting and caressing the newcomer, and praise her in such outrageously flattering terms as the Parthians used to Semiramis, the Egyptians to their Cleopatras, the Carians to Artemisia, or the people of Palmyra to Zenobia. Such is the behaviour of men among whose ancestors a senator was thought to have behaved improperly and to deserve a reprimand from the censor because he kissed his wife in the presence of their own daughter.
Let me now turn to the idle and lazy proletariat. [...] They devote their whole life to drink, gambling, brothels, shows, and pleasure in general. Their temple, dwelling, meeting-place, in fact the centre of all their hopes and desires, is the Circus Maximus.
To turn now to the vulgarity of the stage. The players are hissed off unless the favour of the mob has been purchased by a bribe. If there is no demonstration of this sort they follow the example of the savages of the Chersonese, and clamour for the expulsion of foreigners from the city, though they have always been dependent on the help of these same foreigners for their livelihood. Their language is foul and senseless, very different from that in which the commons of earlier times expressed their feelings and wishes, and of which many witty and elegant examples are preserved by tradition.
I am now reading Early Christian Lives. I now have a better understanding of the development of monasticism. Saint Benedict did not single-handedly save Europe. He was part of a long sequence of developments. The real founder of monasticism was Saint Antony. He simply rejected the culture of his time and moved into the desert (in Egypt where he lived) to get away from his degenerate culture. This caused others to follow his example and they were the desert monks. Over time, they became more organized and developed monasteries. And finally Saint Benedict came up with a good set of rules for a monastery.
It's worth noting that the normal people of this time thought that these early monks were irrelevant lunatics and that the leading politicians of their time were the people who mattered. History has proven the opposite to be true.
So the first step was not organizing a community. The first step was for individuals to recognize that their culture had become intolerably corrupt, and to reject that culture and move away from it. These people tended to move near each other and only later did communities form. And the same applies today. This argues for an informal Mennonite Solution where decent people move near conservative Mennonite churches to learn how to live as free from modern culture as possible. This is the Antony option because it is based on the action of individuals, not organizing a group.