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Crunchy Metrocons Forever

At the inaptly named American Thinker is this whiny article by one J.R. Dunn, who so completely misunderstands both Rod Dreher and Mark Gavreau Judge that taking apart his argument is almost too easy. It's so very easy, it doesn't even count towards ending my writer's block. Someone who refers to the "pre-'60s paleoconservative golden age" is so badly informed (unless we are referring perhaps to the 1860s or maybe better yet the 1060s) that it is almost not fair to take him to task.

Here is Dunn not getting it:

They like conservatism – appearances aside, they probably both like the same things – but they don’t like the current packaging. Which reduces their arguments to nullity, since conservatism is not about packaging, or fashion, or what kind of footwear you slip on in the morning. It’s about principle, a framework of ideas and concepts that are expressed in various ways and constantly debated but which boil down to the contention that “novelty must always be examined under the presumption of error”. If you believe that, you’re a conservative. If you don’t, a copy of every New Criterion ever printed is not going to help you.


So wear some socks with those Birkenstocks, Rod… it’s cold outside. And Mark, loosen that bow tie a little. Sit back, relax, drop the ideology… and I think we’ll all get along.

What Mr. Dunn refers to is the fruit of an extremely superficial reading of Mr. Dreher's conception of crunchy cons outlined in his book of the same name and a fairly superficial understanding of Mr. Judge's unfortunately dubbed "metrocon." Like Jonah "Lie For a Just Cause" Goldberg, Mr. Dunn has managed to grasp one particular expression of crunchiness that Mr. Dreher has embraced and mistake it for the whole of Mr. Dreher's vision. Further, he has mistaken Mr. Dreher's view of conservatism for a lifestyle seminar. One of the points Mr. Dreher makes again and again, and which the perennially dull constantly miss, is that organic foods, for instance, represent a vision of a humane, more natural order that connects people to the farmers who produce that food while also serving to support those farmers. People can eat nothing but processed and fast food, but in so doing they are buying into an entire way of life that prizes consumption and indulgence rather than sanity, moderation and sober stewardship of land.

In other words, there are certain ways of life that are not conservative--outside of those ways of life, there is plenty of room for diversity among conservatives. Of course, Mr. Dunn misses the obvious point that it is Mr. Dreher who is advocating such diversity and arguing against the stifling effects of homogenisation and leveling that the state and market have brought to bear on American society. The larger point is that his sort of humane, Kirkean conservatism does take many forms (the book is Mr. Dreher's effort to catalogue and discuss many of them), that conservatism is precisely non-ideological and that mainstream conservatism of today is exceedingly ideological and party-oriented (and not in the sense of being festive!), and anything more than a superficial glance at Mr. Dreher's ideas would make that clear.

I am not as personally committed to the fashionable conservatism of Mark Judge. I leave that sort of thing to Michael Brendan Dougherty, the paleo master of style, but if Mr. Judge's proposals are not necessarily quite as substantial they are not the superficial nothing that Mr. Dunn charges them with being. This is Mark Judge's confession:

I am a conservative metrosexual.

As most people know, a metrosexual is a heterosexual man who has good taste in art and music, and likes to pamper himself with nice clothes and expensive grooming. There's only one drawback: I can't stand much of the so-called common-man culture celebrated by the Right.

There might be something of vanity in the metrocon outlook, but for the most part it is a reaction against the complete lack of taste and discretion that prevails among many American men. The metrocon wants to say, "Yes, the common people are good folks, and otherwise I may trust them to know what is best for themselves and their communities, but I wouldn't go to dinner dressed like one of them."

What would have once passed for polite conduct and good grooming are now consigned to the alley of "metrosexual." Men who would prefer not to play the role of yobs have been pulled towards this identity. This is probably not because they want to be identified as "metrosexuals" or anything of the kind, but because they would rather not be identified as boorish clods.

This, Mr. Dunn informs us, is horrifying elitism. Well, then, sign me up, and not just for my usual reactionary reasons. What is the "common man culture" to which Mr. Judge refers? His three targets in particular are NASCAR, the WWF and the Left Behind books. I defy Mr. Dunn to defend any of those things on their merits. Oh, wait, that's right--they have no merits.

I have, alas, watched NASCAR from time to time, and it is not only dull and time-consuming to watch (and this from a self-confessed Bollywood fan), but even by the standards of professional auto racing it is certainly "second-rate." There are a few genuinely good drivers on that circuit, but only a few who could compete seriously in any other racing circuit. It is a perfect sport for Mr. Bush's America, in its way: a rigged system designed to provide phoney competition that nonetheless always yields one of a handful of winners, usually the absolutely obnoxious Tony Stewart over the last couple of years. It sounds like modern democracy, actually. But I defy Mr. Dunn to defend Tony Stewart or the people who cheer for him. I would rather argue for seeing that the Southerners get their rights and self-government back rather than pretend to enjoy their ridiculous motor sports.

I might add to the list of the crass, idiot culture of this country The DaVinci Code, which so many "conservatives" I know have bought and taken seriously that one wonders whether their teachers should have bothered to teach them to read in the first place, if this was all they were going to do with the ability. In one sense, they are not to blame for being taken in by this rubbish--many of them were never taught about history or Christianity to the extent that would reveal this book to be a cheap fraud in about two seconds. If it is elitist to resent the cult of Dan Brown, then I am a proud elitist.

The real problem with Mr. Judge's metroconservatism is not its fashion sense, which might be fine, nor is the problem his distaste for the crass and stupid in our country. On that count, I applaud him. The real problem is that Mr. Judge believes Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol represent "an older conservative order," and it is to them and their policies that he looks when all is said and done. To be that, in the end, is far worse than being an elitist or even a metrosexual. It is to be a neocon, or one of their fellow travelers.

Daniel Larison | February 18, 2006


Daniel - Once again, your assessment is spot on.

It is clear that Dunn misses it all when he makes such trite statements as "politics of exclusion has no place in our thought and practice..." This statement reveals much to its reader about the reviewer. Also, I found Dunn excursion into the theological with his parenthical, extremely simplistic exegesis about Jesus walking with sinners insightful.

I am convinced that it's impossible to truly reconcile any form of militarism or love of that which is military (ie Dunn's editor of the International Military Encyclopedia)with Kirkian conservatism. We are encountering a phenomenon on the right that conveniently mixes up militarism, equating it with conservatism & traditionalism.

Drs. Kirk and Nisbet all forwarned us of this nonsense. I would venture a wager that Dunn has hardly read, or at least, has "excluded" from his comprehension the verities of these two guides. It is obvious that, whatever their faults, Mr. Dreher and Mr. Judge have been influenced by these two luminaries.

As I read the Judge article, I must admit I found it slightly silly. Though I did find many of his criticism well placed, I also found the ending of his piece very off putting. I wonder about anyone who believes that Podhoretz and Kristol represent "an older conservative order." Given that statement, I'm not sure Dunn and Judge are really that far apart.

Michael -

MJK | 02/19/06 09:44

Michael, thanks for your comments. It was amusing in Dunn's piece that he wanted to exclude Dreher and Judge's ideas from the realm of debate, but claimed to reject the "politics of exclusion." Of course, no one really rejects the "politics of exclusion." The people who invented that phrase were engaged in this very sort of politics. You see it in ecumenist rhetoric all the time: inclusivity for all, except for those crazy, bigoted people over there.

To make political judgements or to make political and religious commitments of any kind is to exclude someone and identify with someone else. When you oppose bin Laden, you are engaged in the "politics of exclusion." It is normal and healthy when practised within certain limits. In theory, conservatives should not welcome card-carrying socialists into their camp (Joshua Moravcsik, call your office!), but I suppose if they turned them away that would be "exclusion." Exclusion can be good--it suggests discernment and conscious thought (two things real conservatives tend to favour). But, as you say, Dunn missed the point all together.

Taken by itself, Judge's article was a bit silly, or at least it won't be remembered in any sense as an "important" article. At one level, I suspect his contempt for "common man culture" has less to do with the vulgarity and stupidity of the "common man culture" and more to do with the fact that he, Mark Judge, does not like it and happens to prefer nice suits and New Criterion. In this he may be exhibiting better taste, but it may simply be because these things strike his fancy and not because he has any great sense of aesthetics that has been offended by NASCAR and the like.

But the point of the article, it seems to me, is not necessarily that one should choose only Brooks Brothers suits or prefer New Criterion over all others, nor was it that these things in themselves make one a conservative (which seems to be how Dunn took it), but that a conservative man will not be a philistine, a boor or a cultural illiterate because of the eternal verities that he does hold. Maybe that is too generous of an assessment of Judge's article, but if that is what he meant then I see a lot of merit in what he had to say there. Obviously his approbation of Kristol and Podhoretz is a silly opposition of two elitists, who may or may not know something about Beethoven (any fool can talk about Beethoven without necessarily being well educated in music or the early nineteenth century), to the non-specific populists who like NASCAR and the rest. Where Judge is badly mistaken about Kristol and Podhoretz (and how far removed from real conservatism do you have to be to think of those two as representatives of the old conservative order, when they are among the the most recent wave of usurpers?), I suspect he is also badly mistaken in how he would view the policies favoured by the NASCAR fans (such as, say, limiting or banning mass immigration). Where Judge himself is probably superficial would be in identifying the supposed good taste of a Kristol with sound political judgement and aligning bad taste with wrongheaded policies. He does not discuss this in any detail in that article, but my guess is that his aversion to the "common man" would extend to his respect for populist policies that he finds similarly low-brow.

What offends me about Mr. Bush is not his boorish disdain for the art treasures at The Hermitage (where he was famously bored and fidgety as a small child on a field trip), for example, which is what I would have expected from someone like him, but his horrible policy decisions. In fact, if his boorishness were combined with some populist streak that made him realise how deeply unpopular and wrong modern immigration "policy" is, I think we could live with it.

For my part, elitist and academic that I am to some extent (gasp!), I cannot get into The New Criterion. Learned commentary is very good, but there is a certain tone or style in New Criterion articles that leaves me cold. This is often my experience with many academic "culture" journals.

I appreciate the importance of dressing well and respectably, and I think it may reflect a proper attitude about decorum, manners and gentility that civilised people of various political leanings value. Where I suspect Judge goes off the rails, though we do not see this so much in this article, is in mistaking a certain worldly sophistication and good taste with substance. Had Dunn attacked Judge along those lines, I might have taken his point.

Daniel Larison | 02/19/06 16:28

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