There's no way around it. This does seem to be national Crunchy Cons day among conservatives of a certain ilk and, yes, I was planning on mentioning the long-awaited release of Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher's book. After all, a major theme of this blog is the complexity of some of the "liberal" and "conservative" labels that journalists toss around all the time.
If readers wish to do so, click here to flash back to a crucial GetReligion post on themes that are very close to the heart of Dreher's hilarious and serious book.
But let's start with this from a reader:
TMATT, did you see today's OpinionJournal article on Rod Dreher? The author states that "... consumerism and conservatism are, for him [Dreher], incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp." I think Dreher is the one with the "grasping" problem. He is obviously not an economic conservative -- I may not like strip malls and such, either, but I believe in free choice. According to the article, only Rod Dreher's "countercultural" priorities are truly conservative. Wow. Welcome to the communalistic world where you must share Rod's vision to be a conservative. May I suggest that Rod use his talents to come up with a new name (other than the modifier "crunchy") to describe his movement, instead of stealing the term "conservative." And please quit describing him as a social or economic conservative when he is obviously neither.
Posted by Scott Allen at 2:24 pm on February 21, 2006
Actually, the Wall Street Journal article stresses that Dreher -- a columnist and editorial-page scribe at the Dallas Morning News -- is a conservative in a very old-fashioned tradition, a conservative who is more interested in preserving old values than building new shopping malls. Forced to choose between the church and the mall, or the home and the corporate tower, Dreher is going for the home and the church every time.
This is, of course, the battle at the heart (or the soul) of the modern Republican Party, as described by President Bush's scribe Michael Gerson and others.
I will not try to sum the book up, in large part because the essay by conservative historian George H. Nash does such a good job of doing so. He is right that Dreher is trying to find a path between (or away from) two competing brands of Libertarianism, a way between the political "Party of Lust" and the political "Party of Greed." Here is a crucial part of his essay on Rod's work, a statement that points toward the Godbeat story hidden in this book:
In Mr. Dreher's view, consumer-crazed capitalism makes a fetish of individual choice and, if left unchecked, "tends to pull families and communities apart." Thus consumerism and conservatism are, for him, incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp. He warns that capitalism must be reined in by "the moral and spiritual energies of the people." It is not politics and economics that will save us, he declares. It is adherence to the "eternal moral norms" known as the Permanent Things.
And the most permanent thing of all is God. At the heart of Mr. Dreher's family-centered crunchy conservatism is an unwavering commitment to religious faith. And not just any religious faith but rigorous, old-fashioned orthodoxy. Only a firm grounding in religious commitment, he believes, can sustain crunchy conservatives in their struggle against the radical individualism and materialism he decries. Nearly all the crunchy cons he interviews are devoutly Christian or orthodox Jewish believers who are deliberately ordering their lives toward the ultimate end of "serving God, not the self" -- often at considerable financial sacrifice.
If this sounds more like Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind, than Rush Limbaugh, then there is a reason for that. Which is the higher social good, freedom or virtue?
We will not argue about that here. I am more interested in knowing if GetReligion readers see any interesting feature stories in the weeks ahead that explore any of these themes. I may write about it for Scripps Howard News Service in a few weeks, with the obvious confession right out front that Dreher is a friend (and, besides, I own more pairs of Birkenstocks than the whole Dreher clan put together, including a pair purchased in 1979).
Besides, if you want to argue with Dreher, then by all means do so. Folks are blogging about his Crunchy Cons manifesto over at the Dallas Morning News opinion page. Also, you can read one of his original National Review essays from 2002 and then weigh in at the new Crunchy Cons blog at NRO.
And Rod has already started responding to those who want to toss him off the ship of conservatism. But the bottom line is easy to see: He is a moral and cultural conservative, more than a political and economic conservative. Or, as he just posted on NRO:
Where the Right Went Wrong
[Rod Dreher 02/21 11:38 AM]
... (The) book has its intellectual roots in the traditionalist camp of postwar conservatism, as distinct from the libertarian camp. Both were united in opposing the behemoth state, but whereas libertarians were more concerned with economic liberty, traditionalists were more focused on virtue. It seems to me that modern conservatism, in the main, pays lip service to virtue, but is really more wrapped up with economics and libertarian concerns. Do you agree? If so, where, and why, did the Right lose touch with traditionalism?
Here's a line from the first chapter that speaks to this concern: "Both mainstream liberalism and conservatism are essentially materialist ideologies, and we should not be surprised that both shape a society dedicated to the multiplication of wants and the intensification of desire, not the improvement of character."