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New Crunchy Con Blog

Connected with the release of Rod Dreher's book, Crunchy Cons, which comes out today, there is a new blog at NRO called Crunchy Cons. There Caleb Stegall, editor of The New Pantagruel, had this to say:

The result of this history has been the gradual eclipse of our religious/moral heritage in the beaker of liberalism’s universal solvent. Conservatives intent on defending the older moral orders of society have, to gain purchase on the essentially progressive American mind, been forced in the main into tracing their cultural or policy prescriptions to some basis in individual or natural rights. American conservatism has thus developed an instrumentalist and mechanical view of the “crunchy” virtues: they exist only as a means to preserve the maximum freedom and efficiency of individual action. Or perhaps, diluting the mix even more, they exist only as one valid expression of the individual will among many other equally valid expressions. So when the putatively conservative David Walsh argues against abortion, for example, he does so on rights-based grounds: abortion weakens the sanctity of all individuals; the sanctity of the individual is the foundation of personal autonomy and freedom; therefore, abortion must be opposed to preserve personal autonomy and freedom.

In the end, however, the underlying philosophical conception of man, society, and God will trump any specific policy goal or cultural norm. I would suggest that this is the reason conservative arguments against the expansion of the marriage license seem to have less and less purchase on the American mind as time wears on. If marriage is simply a contractual arrangement for the mutual fulfillment of two peoples’ desires in a social sanctioned way (which is the prevalent view of marriage in conservative, and even religious circles), then opposition to making this contract more widely available begins to chafe against our sense of fair play.

This is the situation Rod describes so well in the book. A conservatism which, based on the essentially liberal and progressive virtues, has become unrecognizable to an older understanding of reality embodied by such conservative luminaries as Russell Kirk. And as such, incapable of offering a coherent vision of our social order as an alternative to the dominate liberal-progressivism of modernity.

Daniel Larison | February 21, 2006


Making common cause with the Pharisees strikes me a highly questionable.

If recent past history is our guide, I suspect they will end up with the pound of flesh from where they intend it. Has the downward cultural slide ever been righted by such alliances with the devil?

The Scholastic | 02/22/06 11:02

I agree that I don't like the fact that the blog is run under NRO auspices, and I think there might come a time when that arrangement becomes unworkable from NRO's side, but I think Rod Dreher's ideas are worth encouraging. Caleb Stegall's concern about over-articulating something that already naturally exists is a sound one. However, for the moment, I am hopeful that Crunchy Cons will do one of two things: either it will, improbably, convince many NRO readers (and perhaps contributors) to return to a humane and sober conservatism, or it will reveal still further the basic hostility to that kind of conservatism that motivates most of the NRO crowd.

But, to answer your question directly, no, decline and degradation of the culture has usually not been halted in this way. If anyone assumes that talking about crunchiness or getting crunchy cons a "seat at the table" will somehow reverse the slide, he is kidding himself. The crunchy con idea will be exploited and used by the worst in the "movement" for their own purposes, as every good thing always has been. We can expect that. But that is not the point of Rod Dreher's work, as far as I understand it. If that is what I thought were going on, I would not promote the idea.

The "cultural slide" may be righted, or at least contained, by pursuing the humane, faithful and family life that some of us in this country already are living. If I understand Rod Dreher's goal, it is less to revitalise the "movement," which I would consider a dubious goal at best, and more to remind people that they do not need the "movement" to live the life of the permanent things (and the book is intended as a testimony of all those who are, in some fashion, trying to live that life). The "movement" has very nearly destroyed or distorted conservative attitudes in this country (that is also one of Dreher's arguments), and its only value would be in articulating, as it was once supposed to be, a vision of society that defends and gives priority to the traditional and humane priorities of people who are trying to live sane and virtuous lives.

It may be that by letting Crunchy Cons in the gate, so to speak, NRO as it now exists has assured its own eventual repudiation. That may not be the case. Time will tell.

Daniel Larison | 02/22/06 12:37

Daniel Larison writes: “It may be that by letting Crunchy Cons in the gate, so to speak, NRO as it now exists has assured its own eventual repudiation. That may not be the case. Time will tell.”

Why go this rout, which smells like a rat, when the Rockford institute is already in a position, and has the vitality, to became a player of the caliber of the Mises Institute?

If the Rockford institute was sitting on its hands satisfied at being second rate I would be much more inclined to look elsewhere, but that is simply not the situation. And while I may think Christopher Check needs to kick the advertisement dept. into gear, the Rockford institute is the obvious standard bearer upon which to build, while Buckley’s house is built on the backs of those whom he and his fellow travelers befriended and executed.

The culture war against the culture of death is finally a spiritual war, where right ordered actions are the visible signs. Those right ordered actions are ordered according to prudence which is the mean of any given virtue. This move to make common cause with NRO in contrast is not a striking at the mean, and thus appears rash because it is not taken out of necessity when more desirable and prudent options have failed. .

The Scholastic | 02/23/06 06:01

I don't see encouraging Mr. Dreher as something that has to exclude supporting TRI and Chronicles. The Rockford Institute is the obvious standard bearer, I agree, and for most of the time this blog has been up I have promoted the Chronicles site and argued in defense of its ideas (some of my non-Chronicles readers might get the impression on some weeks that this is all that I do).

What struck me as interesting and worthwhile about the crunchy con business is that the principles it apparently represents are largely, if not entirely, the same core principles that inform paleoconservatism. If it proves to be something other than that, or functions as the Alan Keyes of the world of ideas, I would not promote it.

Personally, I think it is an unexpected coup to have anyone advancing traditional Kirkean ideas, whose main exponents today are paleoconservatives, in the veritable heart of darkness. The more this blog draws out the irreconcilability of the traditional view and that of the mainline NRO folks, the better for everyone. What the book does, if I understand it correctly, is to show that many of the central ideas that Chronicles has championed and still champions may have some kind of a broader following. If we would like to see TRI attain a greater prominence and influence, not for its own sake but for the sake of the goods we seek to preserve, showing the practical, living application of the ideas that TRI defends seems as if it would be an advantage in fighting the culture war. Maybe I have misjudged something here, but it appears to be an unexpected opportunity for paleoconservatism and, more importantly, for the moral and social goods it defends that, if it proves to be a dead-end, costs us nothing.

Obviously, if all of this were not aimed in some concrete way at edifying and raising people up, it would simply be vanity and empty talk.

Daniel Larison | 02/23/06 10:27

Hi Daniel - I hope you are still checking the comments. I have had the opportunity to peruse the crunchy con booklog and wanted to share my impressions, briefly, with you. Though there are some interesting and insightful pearls (not one attributed to that bore Goldberg), overall the exchanges seem largely superficial.
Caleb makes some important points. Surprisingly, Prof. Fronhen too enlivens the postings. But, it all seems so contrived -- a forum set up by Rod's old friends to help him sell books and increase the profile of NRO...not that there is anything wrong with such a venture, but it would be more honest to provide disclaimer of sorts.

I'm also a bit befuddle by much of what passes for conservatism and almost abstract references to traditionalist thinkers - conveniently misinterpreted in some instances. Over the last couple of days, I have read that "CCs" are intellectual heirs of Leo Strauss (ref-Muncy), Himmelfarb (ref-Rod's friend), that James Woolsey and Frank Gaffney (ref-Rod) are conservatives, and that Fr. Neuhaus is somewhat misunderstood.

Honestly, I'm not sure where Angelo Matera is coming from. I'm particularly unconvinced by his theological perspective regarding culture etc -- it seems outside the tradition I'm most familiar. In fact, I found his comments on the inevitability of "freedom" as he described it and his juxtaposition of "proposing" as opposed to "imposing" as a result of this inevitable freedom a bit sophmoric and more akin to Enlightenment philosophy than a traditionalist perspective...may be I'm missing something.

Michael -

MJK | 02/24/06 11:08

Angelo's comments regarding the inevitability of freedom, which seemed to imply the desirability of the perpetuation of the present social regime of individual freedom, were bizarre. It is precisely the sort of freedom that the modern world has extolled that proves afresh each morning that it is a week reed which pieces the hand of any traditionalist who leans upon it in endeavouring to construct an apologetic for his philosophy.

My perspective on the project at NRO is more positive; the blog format is constraining, limiting the degree of philosophical depth tha can be achieved when the expectation is for relatively brief parries in an exchange. But perhaps that is the most that the majority of NRO readers - and editors - are able to assimilate, if they are at all capable of absorbing any of it.

What conservatism needs is a recovery of the knowledge that what man requires is a therapy for desire, not the liberation of desire, and that this must entail a further recognition that there has never been, in all of human history, a society that simply chose, of itself, to be virtuous. Mainstream conservatives will resist this, not even necessarily on account of residual liberalism or libertarianism, but because they are slaves of the market, and have come to adore their chains.

Maximos | 02/24/06 12:47

I agree that some of the commentary, most of it from the anti-crunchy folks, is skating over the surface and reduced to asking such intriguing questions as, "Do you watch TV?" and "Do you shop at Wal-Mart?" Very powerful stuff, that. Obviously, I think most of the best contributions are coming from Mr. Stegall. His contributions have so far been a large part of what has made the blog go from interesting to genuinely worthwhile. But don't count out Rod Dreher himself--also note that Jeremy Beer of ISI has joined in. I don't want to give the impression that I have ever thought the Crunchy Cons blog is some sort of font of unsurpassed wisdom (no blog can be that), but I do think it is an important venue for ideas that most conservative Americans have hardly ever seen before (or if they have seen them, they were taught by some ideologue that they were anachronistic or vaguely commie).

I take many of Rod Dreher's points about the market and consumerism, and I think he makes them well, which are points he has "already" made in the book, but then the point of the blog is to elaborate on the ideas contained in the book. It seems to me that he is making basic points, which may seem rudimentary to those who are already convinced, but they are not at all obvious to many, many people and need to be conveyed to a broader audience.

The intellectual history claims are very shaky. The U of C-related figure with whom crunchies obviously have the most in common is Weaver. Strauss simply doesn't enter into it for most who would identify with these views. Not because Strauss might not have said some things congenial to our way of understanding things, but because very few people have ever actually read Strauss. Maybe Himmelfarb is personally influential for Rod Dreher. What this points to, I suspect, is the myriad different influences that draw people to this sort of sensibility and humane vision. My influences range from Khomyakov and Dostoevsky to St. Maximos to Novalis to Maistre to Filmer to Jefferson and John Taylor. Most "crunchies" would not share three fourths of my influences. One of the larger points of Rod's book, from what I have read of it so far (it just arrived this morning), is that there is not going to be one, predictable path of arriving at this sensibility, nor will its expression be monolithic. As with the interest in organic gardening some of the "crunchies" have, crunchiness ought to be likened to a garden with an array of different growths, all of which nonetheless tap into the same soil of a common persuasion or mentality.

That being said, I have a hard time believing that Woolsey or Gaffney could be considered conservatives except in the sense that Langley and the Pentagon are conservative (and, in the sense that I mean it, these are not). If Fr. Neuhaus has been misunderstood in some way, it is not because of any failure on his part to be clear about where he stands and what he believes--he has declared his loyalties very loudly and clearly. That is his business, but we don't need to kid ourselves about what those loyalties are.

Matera's argument is one of someone who basically subscribes to a belief in inevitable forces of material causation. You're right that he also privileges choice in a way that is quite at odds with a traditionalist mind. "In the future all such social bonds will be voluntary." This is to throw authority out the window after having brought it in by the back door. This has nothing to do with "fearing" freedom, but recognising it as a false good when it takes the prominence in people's lives that it has. Everywhere on earth man is confronted with "liberating" forces of economic and social change, and most men recoil in disgust. That is the normal reaction to this kind of "freedom." We often find the forms of their opposition or reaction distasteful or simply awful, but American conservatives are the only people alive who actively try to square the circle of keeping a materialist lifestyle with all the trimmings (a.k.a., Matera's "freedom") and pretend at the same time that one can readily live a humane and good life in a world beset by this kind of "freedom."

Basically Matera says this: now that capitalism has unmoored people, there is no way to return to a society that has strong, constraining moorings of the kind that made traditional societies what they are. Well, I suppose not, as long as we have self-described "crunchies" resigning themselves to the inevitability of its happening. What is striking about this assumption of unending prosperity and "freedom" is that it is hollow--not in the sense that it is necessarily economically unsustainable, but in the sense that men will not indefinitely continue to live a life of meaningless pursuit of extraneous and frivolous goods. Man really does not live by bread alone. Nor does he live by choice. Choice is the idea that we are taught to help us justify our failures to fulfill our obligations and commitments. Choice is not freedom: it is the confusion of the fallen mind.

Most people repudiated liberalism at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century because they saw a particular expression of that life as horribly wanting; they made the mistake of thinking that the basic materialist goals of the liberals were top priority, but their application was too limited and elitist.

But Matera makes a fundamental mistake in identifying that loss of moorings with freedom. A man without moorings is an exile--the ultimate antithesis of the free citizen.

Daniel Larison | 02/24/06 13:23

Gentlemen - You have clarified much for me: providing me necessary perspective on the whole endeavor. I do agree with you both, and appreciate your analysis. I particular appreciate your comments and insight into Matera's contribution, which confirms my perspective - but much more intellectually. Regards,

MJK | 02/24/06 14:23

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