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Dreher's Crunchy Cons and Paleoconservatism

In Crunchy Cons, [Rod] Dreher reports on the amazing depth and scope of this phenomenon, which is redefining the taxonomy of America’s political and cultural landscape. At a time when the Republican party, and the conservative movement in general, is bitterly divided over what it means to be a conservative, Dreher introduces us to people who are pioneering a way back to the future by reclaiming what’s best in conservativism—people who believe that being a truly committed conservative today means protecting the environment, standing against the depredations of big business, returning to traditional religion, and living out conservative godfather Russell Kirk’s teaching that the family is the institution most necessary to preserve.

The thesis of this book was apparently the topic of some extended intra-NRO squabbling three years ago. Normally I would say, along with the Tsarist from Darkness at Noon, "The wolves are devouring each other!" But with the forthcoming release of Mr. Dreher's book, his idea of "crunchy cons" might deserve some more sympathetic consideration.

Of course, when I hear the word "crunchy" in a political context, I think of it the way that I have seen the English use it. I happen to know that Mr. Dreher does not mean the same thing--his crunchiness refers to, I am not kidding, granola. In political chatter, "crunchy" is usually something more liberal and "wet" sorts say about their curmudgeonish, vaguely reactionary neighbours, which is to say normal people. I think Viktor Orban, leader of the center-right Fidesz and former prime minister of Hungary, was once described by The Economist as "crunchy," and I was pretty sure this was not intended as a compliment.

Here is a "manifesto" from the book description:

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.

3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.

5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.

6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.

8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

Sound familiar? Granola aside, Mr. Dreher's "crunchiness" refers to some sort of traditional, humane conservatism. The manifesto listed in the book description would go over much better with a roomful of paleos than with a lot of Mr. Dreher's colleagues at The Corner. Indeed, the very idea of "crunchy cons" has had Jonah Goldberg tying himself in knots--this has got to be proof that Mr. Dreher is doing something right. The 2002 article that began this inside-baseball furore, continued by Jonah "Lie for a Just Cause" Goldberg, is here.

Mr. Dreher should be applauded for recognising and praising conservatives who love the small and particular and treasure authenticity and the Beautiful, and also for being one. It is fascinating that someone who understands conservatism in this way still hangs on at NR, if only because it is such an unexpected thing. If Mr. Goldberg cannot quite grasp what Mr. Dreher is saying, perhaps he should look in the mirror or glance over FoxNews or the Standard to see the lock-step fanaticism that passes for conservatism in the "mainstream."

(I had an encounter with a liberal friend of mine similar to one that Mr. Dreher described in his article, where my friend assured me that I must be against historic preservation, presumably because I tended to be against government regulation. He was quite astonished for some reason to find that I, an aspiring historian, put store by preserving historic buildings.)

In one sense, Mr. Goldberg has been right: there is nothing new about the "crunchy cons" (not that Dreher said that there was), at least not as far as their more general principles are concerned. Particular eccentricities of taste and habit are neither here nor there (I don't much care for vegetables, organic and fresh or not), and it would be a stupid mistake (one that Goldberg makes) to think that any one particularity of Mr. Dreher's "crunchy cons" constitutes some sort of philosophical claim--rather each different habit represents a commitment to smallness and particularity to which, I suspect, Mr. Goldberg is simply allergic.

Except for the fact that I doubt that paleos could ever actually have a "manifesto" with positions, the manifesto of crunchiness accords pretty well with what I believe, as far as it goes, and might not be entirely out of place in the pages of Chronicles. The gentlemen there have been preaching for a great many years that small is beautiful, that the natural world should be preserved in responsible, "homocentric" stewardship as God has ordained, that corporations are often the bane of local communities and humane life and that the crass practise of consumerism and debased popular culture were rotting America out from the inside. They have said all this and more, and have long represented the non-ideological, humane conservatism Mr. Dreher hints at, but it is good that Mr. Dreher has begun writing about some of the same sorts of things.

Consider Mr. Dreher's description of himself and his family:

It never occurred to me that eating organic vegetables was a political act, but my colleague's comment got me to thinking about other ways my family's lifestyle is countercultural. Julie is a stay-at-home mom who is beginning to homeschool our young son. We worship at an "ethnic" Catholic church because we can't take the Wonder Bread liturgy at the Roman parish down the street. We are as suspicious of big business as we are of big government. We rarely watch TV, disdain modern architecture and suburban sprawl, avoid shopping malls, and spend our money on good food we prepare at home. My wife even makes her own granola.

In other words, everything that is fake, hollow and dangerous about modernity appears fake, hollow and dangerous to Mr. Dreher and his family. Perhaps before long Mr. Dreher will start singing the praises of agrarianism--okay, let's not get carried away. His disdain for "Wonder Bread liturgy" shows an intuitive drive for meaningful, traditional religion, and his suspicion of big business is both perfectly sane in itself and the natural response of the lover of the local, the community, the personal, the normal and the good. Home-schooling is the normal and natural thing to do. Naturally, Goldberg chastises him on this score and calls home-schooling a "retreat." A retreat from what? Trying to rehabilitate a far-gone school system that is dedicated to alienated our children from everything that is theirs and teaches them to despise their own history and people?

Elsewhere he says, "we are citizens before we are consumers." Who else has said that? Oh, yes--Pat Buchanan. That is what really gets Goldberg's goat--Rod Dreher has started preaching Russell Kirk-style conservatism and a sort of paleo-lite, and I think Goldberg is shocked to find that sort of thing back in the pages of NR after he and his have done their best to get rid of it. What is more, Mr. Dreher seems to have reached his views through living what seems to him to be the most sane, humane and normal way of life possible. Perhaps the lesson is that a sane life will lead you to believe many of the same things that paleos believe, for the simple reason that we derive our understanding from the broad sweep of Western tradition, have gleaned its wisdom for humane and sane living and endeavour to follow it. Except for the apparent preoccupation with granola (who likes granola?), this makes a lot of sense. That it can no longer really make a lot of sense to Goldberg et al. is not surprising--Kirk's "permanent things" rank pretty far down their list of priorities these days, if they were ever on it.

What Goldberg and his ilk presumably cannot grasp is how far removed "mainstream" conservatism and a great many "conservatives" are from Mr. Dreher's sort of conservatism. He can whine that conservatives have always been diverse, and they've always believed this or that from Mr. Dreher's article, so Mr. Dreher's 'discovery' is not important or new, but this misses the point entirely. Contrary to Goldberg, what Mr. Dreher is talking about has nothing to do with the left--his target audience is pretty clearly self-styled conservatives, crunchy and otherwise, because he finds, quite correctly, that the non-crunchy sorts really have fallen prey to vapid, ideological thinking in large numbers.

Thus Mr. Dreher writes in a different article:

I could give you lots of examples like that from my own experience, and those of people I hear from. The point is that too many conservatives, consciously or not, behave as if conservatism were synonymous with unrestricted capitalism. Of course, free-market capitalism is the most dynamic and revolutionary force in the world, which can be both a good and a bad thing. As Jonah points out, it's not exactly news that there are and have always been conservatives critical of the destruction capitalism wreaks on institutions. But that is not the impression you would get from the media (for obvious reasons), and that is certainly not the impression I think many rank-and-file conservatives have about the movement. Conservatives can be quite politically correct within their own circles.

And again:

Again, I think Jonah doesn't appreciate the gap between theory and the way conservatism is actually lived in this country. Tell me, where can we find the conservatives who rail against the "world smudged by industrialism," and who resist mass standardization when that mass standardization saves them some money at Wal-Mart? You will find them in the camp that calls itself "crunchy;" you will not find them among the broader channel of contemporary conservatism, many of whose members will cheer the construction of a polluting factory down the street, so they can get jobs there and make big money so that they can rush down to the mall to buy a big-screen TV and a satellite dish.

The only thing that strikes me as a bit odd is how Mr. Dreher, having said all that he has said, could still like Rush Limbaugh. Mr. Limbaugh is a living example of the very sort of lock-step GOP-led conformity Mr. Dreher's crunchy folk reject--he went from amusing radio entertainer and a sort of moderate GOP populist to an unabashed tool of the forces that gutted and destroyed whatever was good in the conservative movement. Possessed of some of the instincts of Middle America, he became one of many East Coast talking heads whose views changed to match his new status. As my father has observed, he went from being entertaining and genuinely quite funny to deadly serious and morosely party-line.

But if Mr. Dreher has received the impression that contemporary "conservatives" are rigidly ideological, mindlessly loyal to party and sell-outs to the corporate-government condominium it is because Mr. Goldberg and legions of Mr. Bush's supporters have given him that impression. If Mr. Dreher makes his article an opposition between "crunchy cons" and Republicans, it is because most non-crunchy types accept whatever is good for the GOP and define their beliefs accordingly. They may not be so cynical about it, but over time "mainstream conservatives" have reinvented conservatism to suit GOP designs to the point where the humane and thinking conservative, such as Mr. Dreher's "crunchy cons" seem to be, finds that he cannot desire good order while agreeing with the propositions the GOP endorses.

Mr. Dreher says again:

There are four basic areas that are touchstones for crunchy conservatives: Religion, the Natural World, Beauty, and Family.

If he has not already done so, Mr. Dreher might profit from consulting the latest Chronicles, "The Beauty of Holiness: Building for Eternity" (I am especially keen on Claude Polin's brilliant essay, "Conservatism as Medicine") or look over any one of dozens of Chilton Williamson's columns on life in the West (or his new book) with its frequent descriptions of nature and the natural beauty of the West written with what seems to me to be deep veneration. As for traditional religion (namely Christianity) and family, the constant and frequent affirmations of both in Chronicles are too numerous to mention and compare favourably with any other self-styled conservative magazine or journal of any type.

This is not just to put in a good word for Chronicles (which many, if not all, of my regular readers already read), but to make the point that there is a magazine to which the "crunchy cons" can turn for far more congenial, thoughtful, serious and humane conservative writing that they are likely to find at NR or at any of the other flagship magazines and journals. They will discover that in many of their rather 'odd' views they have tapped into a broad tradition of moral sanity that offends both the "conservative movement" of today and the left because it is deemed to be regressive and of no practical use.

Especially on the topic of religion I find Mr. Dreher's "crunchy cons" very familiar. Indeed, I seem to be one without having known it. Here is Dreher again:

As you talk to religious crunchy cons, you find a surprising number who are religious converts of one sort or another, many of them to traditional Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. What they have in common is a craving for an older, more demanding kind of religion, a faith with backbone that stands against the softness of bourgeois Christianity.

As a convert to Orthodoxy for almost three years now, I suppose I must fit into the template of the "crunchy con" in at least this respect. Is it simply taking religion seriously that makes someone crunchy, or is it converting and taking it seriously that makes someone crunchy? I'm a bit unclear on that, but no matter. It is not even so much a question of seeking a "more demanding kind of religion," as if we were approaching religion as if it were a kind of exercise, but one that is true and authoritative. There is, in fact, a certain lightness and ease of the burden in the life of the "demanding" churches, because the burden in question is a natural one--it is enduring dreadful Christian pop and sing-alongs that pass for worship that I would find far more demanding and taxing. The increased demands and greater "backbone" are a function of accepting and embracing the Truth and the richness of the Tradition.

Update: There is, as there had to be, a CrunchyCon blog.

I am very late in catching on to this development (avoiding NR like the plague does have its drawbacks), as I see that our friends at Caelum et Terra already commented on it some time ago.

Daniel Larison | December 02, 2005


I am a compulsive subscriber, so I got that issue of NR when it came out. I noticed the similarity to the Paleos, although I'm not sure that Dreher does. The first thing I intend to check his book for when it comes out is an index entry that reads: Kauffman, Bill. Next to him, Dreher is a crunchy lightweight. I check the crunchycon blog by the way and except for the link to the Kirk Center, it doesn't seem remotely crunchy.

clarkstooksbury | 12/02/05 22:17

I think that this discussion of Mr. Dreher misses the point on (at least) a couple of levels.

First, while I can only guess, I assume that Mr. Dreher continues to be involved with NRO and the GOP because he is actually interested in intervening in real-world politics rather than just preaching to the (rather small) choir of Chronicles subscribers and the like.

Second, I think that the claim that Chronicles and the paleocons in general share the notion that "Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government" is simply wrong. As any reader will see, while mass consumption capitalism may offend the sensibilities of many Chronicles contributors, their main fire is always directed against the state and, even when it is not, they have no solution other than hand-wringing.

(The best evidence of this is that the paleo's main allies are libertarians of the Lew Rockwell variety, to whom Walmart is the pinnacle of human achievement. See, for example, A World Recreated", celebrating the rise of Walmart and the coming death of the nation.)

Essentially, their aesthetic distaste for modern society not-withstanding, the paleo-cons are still just another varient of the liberal individualism that passes for conservatism here in the USA.

FaceRight | 12/03/05 13:00

Daniel - Excellent site! You really do a terrific job of articulating and defending vitally important aspects of the "permanent things", which I most definitely share w/ you. Scott Richert informed me of you worthwhile and insightful effort. I visit whenever I am able.

I have known of Mr.Dreher for sometime. He used to be an editorial page writer for the NY Post before moving on to NRO. In fact, several of his Post columns were sort of the NYC version of Scott's Rockford Files in that Dreher would illustrate the importance of the local while recounting his young family's life living in Brooklyn, NY (where I grew up).

Several of his tales, however few there were, really captured that traditional, humane conservatism you noted above -- and in Brooklyn of all places. I recall at the time appreciating his perspective.

Unfortunately, it all changed when I came across his work for NRO. In my mind, his perspective had changed, and his emphasis fit neatly within that bastion of leftist opportunism -- NRO.

As I recall, he came out strongly in support of Bush's invasion of Iraq with a position contradictory to Principle 5 of his manifesto: A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship—especially of the natural world—is not fundamentally conservative.

Later, given the Pope's statements, it appeared that Dreher began to question the invasion -- but as far as I can tell -- he never retracted his previous support or admitted it was wrong and contrary to serious conservatism.

Given his odd track record coupled with your honest assessment that "it is fascinating that someone who understands conservatism in this way still hangs on at NR", I can't help but be cautious of Mr.Dreher's latest work -- though once again, your posting has been engaging...Regards, Michael

MJK | 12/03/05 13:13

With all respect, I would suggest that FaceRight re-read Chronicles and the works of Dr. Fleming and Scott Richert in particular.

You may have issues with hand-wringing, but to posit that they represent just "another variant" of the liberal individualism that passes for conservatism here in the USA is absurd.

These folks are quite critical of libertarianism, particularly the so-called paleo-libertarians of the rockwellian persuasion, and all espousers of homo economicus.

Mr. Richert has chronicled the deleterious effects of big so-called "box" stores in his region and beyond. Not to mention, Dr. Fleming's most recent tome: The Morality of Everyday Life, which totally contradicts FaceRight's description of paleo cons of the Chronicles variety.

The folks at Chronicles apty diagnosis the problem and do offer practical approaches to addressing these problems. They tend not to be of a policy wonk nature, but that's because they tend to have absolutely no faith in big government solution.

MJK | 12/03/05 13:30

My thanks to Mr. Stooksbury for his remarks. Bill Kauffman certainly outdoes Mr. Dreher in crunchiness in many ways (his latest article, on Vermont secessionism, is a fun example).

FaceRight may have a point that the gentlemen at Chronicles and paleos in general do not exactly agree that "big business deserves as much suspicion as big government." The rub is in the "as much as" phrasing. On balance, we might be more suspicious of government, but we would still be very suspicious of big business. This is simply a recognition that concentration and consolidation of wealth and power have corrupting effects, even on the best of men, and private enterprises are no less susceptible to these deformations.

On these and other points we differ with our libertarian friends, and we make no secret of our disagreements. We may be allies with them in many respects, but it is frequently here and over moral questions that we find ourselves arguing against each other almost as often as we argue with everyone else. I would refer FaceRight to Mr. Richert's argument with Jimmy Akin over just price a few months ago, any of his articles over the years on trade policy and economics, or the online dust-up with Thomas Woods over Catholic social teaching and economics that took place on the Chronicles site earlier this year. If the defense of domestic manufacturing on the one hand or the open advocacy of the agrarian lifestyle strikes FaceRight simply as "hand-wringing," then I don't know what he regards as substantive alternative proposals. That shoring up domestic manufacturing alone will be very difficult does not make advocating it so much lamentation. There are practical, achievable measures that could accomplish this. Part of the task before that can be done is to overthrow some of the reigning assumptions that "free trade" is broadly beneficial without any serious negative consequences. I also submit that anyone who thinks of Americans as citizens and in terms of their local, ethnic and religious loyalties ahead of their function as consumers and employees is light years away from anything our libertarian friends or any individualist.

It is quite correct to say that paleos are tremendously critical of the impact corporations and "the market" have on small communities and cultural life, and to the extent that they echo solidarist or corporatist critiques of capitalism they are linked to traditions of European conservatism to which any form of liberalism or individualism is anathema. Michael is correct to cite Morality of Everyday Life. I can only suppose that FaceRight has not read the book to make a claim that its author is basically no different from any other liberal individualist. The book would show that his critique of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment ethics, and much of the modern world along with it, is not simply "aesthetic" in nature, but stems from fundamental disagreements with the entire liberal tradition about human nature and society. It is rather difficult for someone who does not believe that man exists as an individual, with all the implications of autonomy and rights that go with it, to be an individualist in the sense that the term "liberal individualist" implies.

My thanks to Michael for his comments on the site and on the post. I'm pleased that you've found my commentary to be worthwhile. I second your conclusion that the lack of "solutions" offered by the gentlemen at Chronicles stems from their assessment of the problem, which is widespread and deeply cultural, and not one that can be rectified with recourse to a set of policy proposals. It is not only that they have no confidence in a "big government" solution, but I think they have scarcely any confidence in a government "solution" without a society ruled by moral sanity and restraint to support it through established habits.

If there is a "solution" that can be proposed, I submit that it is living the sane and moderate sort of life that Mr. Dreher seems to be advocating with his "crunchy con" view. Dr. Fleming has advocated something similar in tending to family, community and church and trying to educate our children as best we can. The politics of the human scale is not suited to being restored by grandiose "movements" in any event.

I think Michael is right that Mr. Dreher probably still supports the Iraq war, but since I only frequent The Corner every now and again and do not read the main magazine I am not well informed about his views on the war. Many of the war's 11th-hour democratist justifications also violate Dreher's professed hostility to abstraction.

Working at NR may allow Mr. Dreher to participate in "real" politics more readily than the gentlemen at Chronicles, but it is worth asking whether that involvement in "real" politics accords with much of what Mr. Dreher and his crunchy folk really believe or if it is an unfortunate compromise of his far more authentic understanding of what it is to be conservative and to live a good life. It is the latter that is really the point of making conservative arguments--to defend a vision of society that promotes the good life, as understood by the best minds of our tradition. Sacrificing real social and family goods to advance an "agenda," as legions of conservative activists (oxymoron that that is) have done, is the mark of serious confusion. Mr. Dreher at least recognises unhealthy ways of life and seeks to avoid them, even if he does keep company with some of the cheerleaders of the more unsavoury aspects of the regime.

To want to defend simultaneously a regime and political party that do their best to subvert that life while also defending the value of the "crunchy" good life simply doesn't make a lot of sense. There is always a choice between the sort of relevance that gets you a seat at the table and the sort of relevance that allows human life to flourish, and a great many "conservatives" over the years have made the wrong choice on the assumption that to do otherwise would be to take themselves out of the political equation.

Probably if more men and women looked to their own families and hometowns with the sort of focus hinted at by Mr. Dreher's "crunchiness" the country would be in better shape today socially and culturally than it is in this hour of pseudo-conservative hegemony. That is what involvement in "real" politics has earned the erstwhile champions of good order: sell-out after sell-out to the Beast with the promise of scraps from his table to be distributed later (yet somehow these scraps never do get delivered). It is little wonder that the gentlemen at Chronicles are less than enthusiastic about entering that particular line of work.

Daniel Larison | 12/03/05 15:25

Just a couple other points that I neglected in the last reply. Mr. Stooksbury is right that CrunchyCon the blog does not seem to be especially crunchy, either in the Dreher-granola way or the vaguely reactionary way. Most disappointing. The blogger there says he had a certain "affinity" with some of the things Mr. Dreher was saying. That is a start, I suppose.

If Mr. Dreher even began to question the invasion on the basis of the Vatican's statements, that would be noteworthy. Many prominent Catholic supporters of the war did not so much question the war at that point as find every excuse in the book why they were not obliged to pay much attention to what the Vatican had to say about it. For example, first place for most disingenuous defense of the war had to go to George Weigel for inventing the notion that pre-emptive strikes are accepted under just war theory.

Given Mr. Dreher's record at the "bastion of leftist opportunism" (a great description, by the way), I too am curious, but I think we would do ourselves a disservice if we ignored Dreher's book or assumed the worst simply because he works on one of the chief pirate ships in the hijacked conservative movement. Caution is advisable, but if we simply discounted someone with views this apparently close to ours because of his poor choice in employers we would be falling into the lazy, very neoconnish 'guilt by association' attack with which they have smeared so many.

Finally, I wanted to correct an earlier oversight and note my appreciation to Mr. Richert for recommending the site.

Daniel Larison | 12/03/05 15:58

Well, thanks for the links! Sorry to have disappointed so far, we'll see how things progress! I've at least started an attempt at answering some of the questions that I inferred were being brought up here about my own "crunchiness". I've enjoyed reading y'all and will continue to do so.

Ron | 12/05/05 17:11

Ron, thanks for your comments and for reading the post. My remarks were a bit excessive, and I regret if I dismissed your blog out of hand. I should have remembered that in my early posts at Polemics my views were not always immediately obvious. From what I had seen at the point I made my remarks, you were certainly in the Kirk-Burke tradition, which is perfectly good as far as it goes. However, I think I had been expecting something a bit more startling or unusual given the alleged eccentricity of Mr. Dreher's "crunchy cons." I see from your latest post that I was a bit too quick on the draw. Your resistance to labels is very good, as these are sometimes as much obstacles to understanding as means of clarification. I do suspect that Mr. Goldberg disdains labels, be it "crunchy" or neocon, in order to obscure his views and cloak some very anti-traditional ideas under the umbrella of generic conservatism.

Unfortunately, the near-ubiquity of not very conservative people who invoke Kirk and Burke (such as, say, Mr. Goldberg) without understanding their thought makes me skeptical of just what someone does mean when he invokes them. For instance, Prof. Bainbridge styles himself a Russell Kirk Tory, which sounds very good to me, but his actual views don't really seem to match the claim.

Daniel Larison | 12/06/05 10:30

Ouch. I have never been one to refuse to accept a good scolding when it is merited and especially when it is so politely delivered, so let me make 3 admissions:

1) I let my Chronicles subscription expire about a year ago.
2) I haven’t read Mr. Fleming’s book
3) My characterization of the Chronicles folks as “liberal individualists” was an overstatement.

That said, I think that it wasn’t entirely wrong either. Obviously, in a monthly magazine like Chronicles there are exceptions to any generalization, but I still think that the magazine and paleo-conservatism in general is long on complaints and short on solutions except in the most general terms. Partly this is because paleo-conservatism’s main enemy is really neo-conservatism. Paleo-conservatives in real life often seem more interested in scoring points against their rivals than in winning on the actual issues because this might actually mean working together with the hated neo-cons as allies. (And what better proof of this than the description of the libertarians as “friends” and their frequent appearance as contributors to Chronicles. After all, on all of the really significant issues facing us – immigration, gay marriage, secularization, moral relativism – the libertarians are on the WRONG side. Yet it is the neo-cons who receive all the vitriol, while the libertarians are merely the subject of polite and comradely disagreement.)

The other factor in paleo abstentionism is the doctrinaire anti-statism which is particular to the Anglo-American right and which does, I believe, have its roots in liberal individualism. This is especially immobilizing when dealing with the corporations which the paleos distrust so much. Given the scale and power of the multinationals today, it is hard for me to imagine how to confront them without the recourse to the power of the state and so I think that the paleos’ are left completely disarmed.

Perhaps the position of the paleos is the defeatist one that the only thing left is a sort of neo-Amish withdrawal into mainly local and familial concerns. This is a legitimate position, although not one that I’m ready to accept, and it would be worthwhile for those who hold to it to really explain why we must accept the destruction of Western culture without a fight.

(BTW, I would point to Paul weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation as a good example of principled conservatives who are working to actually get something done without caving in to the mainstream "conservatism" of which Chronicles and the paleos are so justly critical.)

FaceRight | 12/07/05 01:13

Thanks for the additional comments. You make a number of telling points. The problem of how to curb multinationals and the state at the same time is a real puzzle, and I won't kid you that I have any clear idea how it would be "solved." George Grant, the important Canadian philosopher and so-called "Red Tory," was more prepared for an interventionist regulatory state of a certain kind because he had the good fortune of inheriting a real conservative tradition from the Loyalists. Grant's view was that decentralisation of politics could only work if corporations were similarly broken down and decentralised (otherwise there would simply be overt corporate oligarchy ruling in place of the state)--unfortunately, I don't recall that he had any ready-made solution for how to do that.

The economic views of the editors of Chronicles tend to be somewhat more in keeping with Continental Catholic traditions, in which subsidiarity is paramount. Because of that, I suspect they would be more sanguine about government regulation of corporations (albeit at the most local level possible) than those deriving their view of the role of government in the economy strictly from Anglo-American liberalism (which, I agree, is what most "conservatives" in America accept). They might, I think, look back to older English forms of tenure and organisation that protected village and town commons from the control and possible depredations of large-scale landowners as a model for authority acting in the interests of the commonwealth. (One of the principal complaints against the government by paleos, aside from its obviously excessive and tyrannical scope, is its complete divorce from the good of the commonwealth.) What I think many would agree on is the need for radical political decentralisation to have some sort of new federal structure (or perhaps even a Kennan-like division into smaller federal republics?) on the correct assumption that the Constitution is no longer really binding on a state that does whatever it wills. One of the tasks is to persuade and convince people that concentrations of wealth and power are injurious to the good life, and also to convince them that they should want to live the good life. These answers will probably not seem very satisfying, but I hope it explains what paleos are trying to accomplish in their own way. We are trying to "get something done," if you like, but they are not the sorts of things that will be of obvious political significance for many years.

I can say with some confidence that the reason why Chronicles seems "long on complaints" and "short on solutions" is that the magazine has long been a magazine concerned with culture and with the cultivation of humane and classically educated Christian people. It is not a programmatic magazine designed to influence policymakers on contemporary problems. To borrow a distinction from Delsol's Icarus Fallen, we are people who believe there are burdens in life, not problems, and so we approach things in a way all together unsuited for managerial-style government.

Constant emphasis in the magazine on the classical and Christian traditions, humane learning, the upright rearing of children and concern for extremely local life (and consequently frequently making "complaints" against those forces and policies that are attacking these things) is how the magazine seeks to provide some edifying instruction in how to preserve what is most needful for civilised life through a period of barbarism. As for the question of whether this is defeatist, I would answer that attempting to carry on a sane and normal life while in the grip of the Beast is sometimes the only and perhaps the most effective long-term sort of resistance that can be mounted. I suspect that the gentlemen at Chronicles would say, and I certainly would say, that the "destruction of Western culture" has in most respects already happened. We haven't given up the fight, if you will, but gone underground to preserve as much as we can.

I believe it is correct to say that the magazine, like paleoconservatism itself, has become more preoccupied with contemporary political questions and the neocons, if only in the role of sounding the alarm, because of the neocons' unusually great prominence in the present administration. As some of the first to be targeted by the neocons, I think the gentlemen there believe they have an unusually keen insight into the villainy and treachery of these people. There is also the genuine animus against the people who have corrupted and betrayed conservatism, and who represent a destructive and revolutionary ideology. The reasons, at least for my part, why the neocons receive so much more of our scorn than do the libertarians with whom we may often disagree are these: whatever our differences with our libertarian friends, they do not possess the single-minded hatred of historic America, her European and Christian heritage and the tradition of limited, republican government that the neocons have, and they are not in the halls of power daily endangering and betraying this country. Libertarians are usually well-meaning people who have accepted some very bad assumptions about human nature and society, whereas neocons are out-and-out leftists who are deliberately hostile to all forms of traditional life that they cannot co-opt or pervert. I don't think the ire directed at them is really that much greater than that directed at any other enthusiastic servant of Revolution. They are simply the most prominent, most noxious examples around at present.

There is nothing really objectionable about Mr. Weyrich's efforts in principle (and I think few have more respect among paleos than Ron Paul for his thankless, fruitless, often solitary job of defending constitutional liberty in Congress), but I think where paleos increasingly differ from Mr. Weyrich and the like is in our view (or perhaps I should qualify this by saying that this is my interpretation) that the disciplined, self-governing, independent American people needed to change things significantly no longer exists. What needs to be done, if it is to have any lasting importance, cannot be done without such a people, and Americans today are not that people. It is extremely difficult for those trained to think and live as dependents to choose to be free instead, and given the choice Americans (like most people down through the ages) have consistently chosen dependence and false security. Perhaps not all of the gentlemen at Chronicles share my negative assessment on this score.

This may rate me the label of "pessimist" from many people, but I don't think a fair assessment of the state of the people in this country could lead one to conclude that they possess the habits of restraint, self-discipline and self-government that make a return to limited government possible. I believe it is part of the task of Chronicles to begin the slow, painstaking work of first exhorting and educating our own children and neighbours towards these and other important habits, and then gradually leavening the wider society.

If we are dedicated to the "permanent things," I think we must approach this hortatory and instructive work with a view towards eternity, on the (admittedly medievalist) assumption that nothing of permanence and no "permanent things" are better preserved than when our minds are directed towards the heavenly politeia. One of the many reasons why the "movement" failed was its very easy assumption that the FDR-Truman years were a more or less strange aberration in the national story and that displacing their party and repealing their measures would basically set things right again, which gave the movement extremely short-term goals (elect Republicans! appoint conservative justices!). Those goals were not necessarily bad goals as far as they went, but they allowed conservatives to mistake achieving extremely temporary ends with a kind of permanent vindication and triumph. After a few wins, success created the arrogance and complacency that fed the corrupting pragmatism that led conservatives to become functionaries of the GOP and nothing more.

As a political movement, this might all be understandable, but I believe the "conservative movement" at least pretended to be more than a band of intellectuals coming up with clever ways of justifying Republican policies (that is what it does today, albeit not so cleverly). It aspired to defend things of deep and lasting significance, to which policy questions were properly ancillary, and this defense can really only be done with the next several generations in mind as the fruition of what we sow today. This need not rule out trying to "get something done" today, but it becomes a question of priorities and what task we believe will be the best use of our energies and attention. Some very principled and good people have frittered away their entire lives on the "movement" and its goals only to see the "movement" turn to ashes in front of them. It failed because, if I may, it trusted political leaders to act uprightly, when it should have known they would be the last to do so. This is one reason why The Rockford Institute's motto is "Trust ye not in princes."

Daniel Larison | 12/07/05 12:55

You may be interested in "radical preservation." Preservation/ism today usually is a liberal enterprise.


DK | 01/11/06 12:09

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