Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Cons, but never "Crunchy"

The Wall Street Journal had a review of Rod Dreher's new book Crunchy Cons in today's paper. I haven't read the book, but I've read several pieces by Dreher on the concept of "crunchy cons". It's a phrase I've never liked -- why should anyone of a conservative persuasion who likes food that tastes good and wants to homeschool their children be pigeon-holed into a rather assinine-sounding category like "crunchy", which has connotations of outdated 70s reactionism?

Well, Jonah Goldberg, a damn fine writer, and a conservative, has read my mind and distilled my thoughts into a clear, devastating critique of the term "crunchy cons" (this is from a column from 2002).

One small example: Rod writes, "The crunchy cons, religious or not, share a belief that something has gone seriously wrong in contemporary mass society, and are grasping for "authenticity" (a word you hear often from this group) amid a raging flood of media-driven consumer culture." Rod is an excellent reporter, so I am sure this is true. But wouldn't it be more accurate to simply drop the "crunchy" from that sentence and simply note that conservatives believe there's a problem with contemporary mass society? Indeed, Russell Kirk — certainly no crunchy con despite the reverence crunchy cons hold for him — lamented in The Conservative Mind, "a world smudged by industrialism, standardized by the masses, consolidated by government." In other words, crunchy cons aren't worried about such things because they are crunchy, they're worried about such things because they're conservatives.

What we as conservatives should also be worried about is that the crunchy ones among us are, according to Rod, looking for "authenticity" in such superficial things as organic foods and loose-fitting casual wear (a subject I've addressed before). This points to the internal contradiction within much of this crunchy-con stuff. Rod insists that crunchy cons are different from the leftists who impose profound ideological meaning on their consumer choice because crunchy cons enjoy organic food simply because it tastes better (taste tests have never demonstrated this, by the way).

Well, if that's the case, who cares? Some conservatives, I'm sure, love French food and other conservatives prefer Thai. But we do not divide rich philosophical movements according to such criteria. Do we really want to say that there is an ideologically coherent and distinct group of conservatives who enjoy better-tasting food? If we do, what's to stop future NR cover stories about that rogue fifth column of conservatives who "actually enjoy sex"?

And, if this is not the case, if there are conservatives who are looking to find "authenticity" in what they buy and what they wear, that is serious stuff — serious in a bad way. Because, it means that these conservatives cannot find meaning in the Permanent Things after all. Rather, their search for meaning is a tale largely told in their credit-card receipts.

Conservatism is about ideology, not "lifestyle". The fact that Darwin brews his own beer simply means that he enjoys brewing beer and thinks it tastes better. It has nothing to do with "back to the earth" or "crunchiness" or any other silly label. He likes brewing beer, dammit! There's absolutely no need to mold that inclination to fit a category that is in itself a reaction to stereotypes of conservatives. There are no doubt liberals who enjoy brewing beer, and liberals who enjoy Pabst Blue Ribbon, and you know what? It just doesn't matter, because the type of beer you drink ought not to have ideological implications. It may be a reflection of your personal tastes or your pocketbook, but to base a movement around such, frankly, ephemeral critera is, well, ephemeral. Same with those who would claim that homeschooling is a sign of crunchy conservatism. No, homeschooling is a sign, generally, that you care about the quality of your child's education, and it crosses political and religious barriers and income-tax brackets.

And why should we, as conservatives, buy into the liberal stereotype that conservatives are bloodless, big-business minions who are at the same time so cheap as to only shop at Wal-Mart because only price matters, and yet so materialistic as to drop obscene amounts of money on McMansion temples to square footage? Sure, I know some conservatives who only shop at Wal-Mart and live in McMansions, yet in other respects they're as counter-cultural as they come (and they consider themselves "crunchy cons", to boot). The point is that conservatives have complained for years that the media doesn't understand them and constantly mis-represents them, and yet by creating this crunchy con label we are effectively saying, "All the stereotypes are true! And that's why it's so cool that we're bucking them! Look, we appreciate funky houses and organic food -- that makes us hip! Sign up here, kids..."

Jonah says it all better than I do, though, so go check him out.
We are told that "The crunchy-con bookshelf — and because they eschew television, they have lots of bookshelves — sags with works by conservatives like G. K. Chesterton, Richard Weaver, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, the Southern Agrarians, and Michael Oakeshott." The problem here should be obvious. With the possible exception of Tolkien, these books should be on any conservative's shelf. One need not enjoy cereals that taste like kitty litter to appreciate Richard Weaver and you need not have read a word of Richard Weaver to enjoy your kitty-litter breakfast. In short, the two have nothing to do with each other. Identifying conservatives by what they eat or wear is fine I suppose, if you want to sell clothes or food to conservatives. But I'm at a loss to understand why conservatives will benefit from looking at themselves through the eyes of direct-mail marketers.


Julie D. said...

And, plus, what about crunchy cons who LIKE TV? (you knew that would get me here, right?)

mrsdarwin said...

You got it, baby. I like Tolkien as much as the next girl, but some nights I feel like watching Futurama. Does that mean I'm not crunchy? Or does it mean that real people blow off steam in various ways?

Pro Ecclesia said...

You're exactly right, Darwin. Which is why, although I think Rod makes some sense about particular lifestyle choices such as mom staying home and schooling the kids and living in smaller communities, I have never felt comfortable with the "Crunchy Con" moniker.

That's why I said at my blog that I'm not sure I qualify as a "Crunchy Con". Sarah and I made the lifestyle choice we made because it's what's best for our kids, not because we want to "take back conservatism" for the Chestertonians.

Pro Ecclesia said...

Sorry, that should be addressed to the Mrs.

Kate said...

I know what Rod's getting at though. Sure, you can say with Jonah that these are all just old-time small-c conservative values, but the real problem is that Rod and other small-c 'crunchy (if you will) conservatives feel at least somewhat disenfranchised by conservative politics, thus the desire to be distinguished as a distinct sub-set.

Julie D. said...

I guess that's my problem with the whole thing. I'm not a joiner ... especially of groups that like to define themselves.

Which makes it truly amazing that I'm so very Catholic. Good thing that the Church is so very catholic!

Anonymous said...

"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected." – G. K Chesterton

This is the real cruncy-con problem. Conservatives have become primarily concerned with conserving bad things.