Friday, March 17, 2006

More Thoughts on Crunchy Cons

Having finished the book, and continuing to read the blog, I feel compelled to add a few thoughts to the conversation.

On the blog, Rod Dreher has been frustrated by what he sees as misreadings of Crunchy Cons, while we see a number of people questioning Crunchyism. The key questions among critics seem to be: Is CCism a set of principles or a set of preferences? What is Conservative about CCism? And if CCism is a mere sensibility, what is Crunchy about CCism?

What is Crunchy about Crunchy Conservatism?

Let me take the last question first. In reading CCism, I felt it was primarily a call back to traditionalist conservatism, a conservatism which places the emphasis on virtue rather than liberty. The 'Crunchy' part of the book is that it explores how conservatives have been rediscovering these quintessentially conservative notions and ways of life in aspects of the countercultural movements of the sixties; in organic food, neighbourhood cooperatives and environmental concern. That is the best way, I think of understanding the crunchy gloss to what is largely a paeon to traditionalist conservatism.

Is Crunchy Conservatism a set of principles or a set of preferences?

Earlier disputes have rotated around whether Crunchyism is an ideology or a sensibility (as Rod Dreher puts it). My personal view is that the actual differences between ideology, set of principles and sensibility are minor, and that most of the difference is emotional. The fact is that Crunchy Cons rarely makes arguments that can be reduced to aesthetic preference. New Urbanism is good, not for the aesthetic it produces, but for the community it nurtures. Agrarianism is similarly admirable, for the intimate connection it provides between man and creation. The Arts & Crafts movement is good, since it suits architecture to human use and places an emphasis on permanency & particularity. Slow food is good, since it nurtures family life and preserves particular local cultures. These are all principles, not preferences, and while they may occasionally conflict, it appears clear to me the CCism cannot be dismissed as yet another lifestyle option.

What is Conservative about Crunchy Conservatism?

This is perhaps the most interesting question raised, and probably the question which leads many conservatives to be skeptical or overtly hostile to CCism. Let me therefore point out that Crunchies, on account of their celebration of family relationships would likely be skeptical of Social Security and Medicare as they currently stand. Perhaps most clearly, Crunchies in their concern for the moral education of their children, will be the staunchiest supporters of educational freedom (vouchers, etcetera). That places Crunchies in strong opposition to the three largest entitlement programs in America.

What then, should be made of Rod Dreher's criticism of CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program) cuts in Texas? It indicates the limits of the Crunchy anti-entitlement position, not the slim edge of the wedge. Firstly, the program was directed to the poor- not a generally available entitlement like the above. Secondly, it was directed to families- easing the burden of raising and educating children. So, while Crunchies are hardly libertarian economic conservatives, they are likely to favour much smaller government spending than is currently the case. This at least initially puts Crunchies firmly on the conservative end of the Republican party.

What about other policies? In its localist, devolutionary leanings, Crunchies are firmly federalist, confirming their position on the right. The real challenge to conservatism in its current form comes in Crunchy opposition to factory farming and allegiance with environmentalism. The factory farming issue correlates closely to other social issues firmly within the conservative movement- Crunchies see factory farming as intrinsically wrong, and thus support strong regulations preventing such evils. Introducing such moral views is hardly unconservative. The environmentalist leanings similarly draw on existing principles within conservatism. Worries about the future impact of such things as global warming or the current impact of air pollution draw hardly push Crunchies outside the conservative envelope- unless one adopts a libertarian presumption to 'conservatism'. Of course, the entire book argues that authentic, traditional conservatism does not contain a libertarian presumption. By arguing that Crunchyism violates that presumption misses the point entirely.

The Canadian View

Jonah Goldberg has consistently criticized Dreher's opposition of "mainstream conservatives" with Crunchies. Jonah has a point- at least so far as I can see, most American conservatives don't fit so neat an anti-Crunchy category as Rod appears to construct. But as a Canadian, I'm far more used to conservatism being a term of opprobrium than he is, and so it struck me with less force. Moreover, the anti-liberal strain of conservatism has more force in Canada. Much of American conservatism does seem to be infected with the Lockean paradigm of individual liberty above all; Canada has a strain of much purer Toryism. Those familiar with George Grant's Lament for a Nation for instance, will not be shocked at Dreher's conservative critique of elevating efficiency and the market above the community.


Blogger CPA said...

Practically speaking, I still think the "crunchy con" idea seems to be more or less the equivalent of "not so con". Why? Because the positions you mention: against Social Security, against Medicare, and against public schooling. Politicians who run on these as a platform uniformly lose. Even federalism is (generally) a loser.

But politicians who, for example, run on a platform of forcing private owners who wish to develop wetlands to seek approval from a federal agency frequently win (but also frequently lose). So a crunchy political movement would tend to make the conservative party fight hard on issues they'd inevitably lose, and be divided and confused on issues where the left is unified.

The result? If a state/province or country's conservative movement gets high crunchiness it will look, at least to superficial examination, like being just LESS conservative.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, because the center is where elections are won. But the crunchy movement, to judge from what I've seen on the blog, is actually much less welcoming of diversity than the rest of the conservative movement. Why is it that Jonah can get along with Andrew Stuttaford, and John Derbyshire and KLo but not with Caleb Stegall? MY impression is because Caleb Stegall has no interest in getting along with peole who aren't crunchy.

March 19, 2006 11:23 AM  
Anonymous Hattie said...

against Social Security, against Medicare, and against public schooling.
Be careful what you wish for...

March 19, 2006 5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Stegall simply calls it as he sees it, and he has no incentive to make nice with anyone--particularly patronizing, rude, ignorant poseurs like Humberg and Podhorrifice.

Stegall is the most disinterested participant on the CCblog. He is not a professional writer, pundit, journalist, opinion-maker, publisher, etc. The New Pantagruel is a mere blog-hobby for him as far as I can tell.

March 19, 2006 7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to cpa's comment above...

"Politicians ... uniformly lose."
"... because the center is where elections are won."

You seem wholly concerned with whether your party wins, and not whether the condition of the country is improved.

The goal is to further the interests of The People, not to maintain the power of The Party.

March 20, 2006 10:56 AM  

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