Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Debate on Crunchy Cons

The debate at the blog they set up at National Review has gotten pretty heated. Jonah Goldberg has previewed his larger argument on the issue:

I don't believe Crunchy Conservatism exists. I think it is Rod's invention. I don't think there is any body of thought, serious or otherwise, that is "crunchy conservative." I think Rod points to things he agrees with or likes and calls it crunchy and conservative when often they are one or the other. I think Rod's taxonomy is entirely artificial. And I think the word "crunchy" and the props used to support are not only superficial, but they smack of precisely the kind of branding and marketing outlook Rod decries. Yes, yes, yes: There are people out there worried about the ravages of the free market and modernity who are conservative. Some of them dig organic food and open-toed-shoes. Some of them do not. I do not see what is to be gained by dividing people who agree on important things by concentrating on unimportant things....

Rod, you can dismiss this as mere small talk about tribalism. But, I do think somebody should defend actual existing conservatism from the fundamentally unfair and invidious assumptions in your book. Not to do so would be a form of "no enemies on the right" thinking.

Moreover, I think much of your argument is really a Trojan horse for the incorporation of leftwing and liberal sensibilities and arguments flying under the false flag of "conservatism." You people are quoting and defending Marxist perspectives to attack materialism, which is in effect like quoting various Klansmen to attack racism. You claim Russell Kirk as your "patron saint" but everywhere I look I see Jacques Rosseau.

I want every success in the world for Rod. But I really do want this whole thing to fail. I don't want to be going to conservative panel discussions for the next thirty years with people arguing about, say, the "crunchy" versus "neocon" perspective on this or that. I don't want to meet college kids who think they represent some new rebellious strain or tribe because they listen to the Grateful Dead but like reading John Dos Passos or Russell Kirk. I don't want a new generation of conservatives to don crunchy uniforms because wearing a jacket and tie is seen as the uniform of free market idolators.
I'm sympathetic to Goldberg on this one, especially the part about "dividing people who agree on important things by concentrating on unimportant things." It goes to something that we have been discussing here for the past few days. Dreher is trying to make an army of crunchy virtue out of thinking adults who have made individual decisions about how they choose to live their lives. Here is what worries me (and, I think, Goldberg): in making that army, Dreher implicitly excludes conservative individuals who as thinking adults have chosen not to live their lives his way. Maybe they do not see materialism and modernity as such a threat, or, if they do, maybe they don't see the Christian family life of recycling and organic food as the solution.

I'm far from an expert on conservative intellectual theory, but it seems to me that the libertarian aspect of conservatism rejects ringing declarations of virtue like crunchy conservatism that are ultimately based on a series of eminently debatable lifestyle choices. Indeed, the strength of contemporary American conservatism has been its openness to anyone, anyone, who adheres to a number of fundamental values (and mindless materialism ain't one of them). It's the Big Tent, stupid.

So as for me, I'll take South Park conservatism over crunchy conservatism anyday.

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I watched that debate unfold today and it was pretty interesting. I am sympathetic to some of the impulses behind "crunchy" but I have to side with Goldberg (and Tom) on this issue. Conservatism is the partial philosophy that allows me to shop at Wal Mart with gay abandon but get my produce elsewhere.