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Crunchy Dragoons?

That's part of the problem with what has been written on the blog (I haven't read the book). Whatever is good, true, and noble is, by their definition, "crunchy." By that token, whoever recognizes the importance of transcendence is dragooned as a "crunchy"; if they resist, they are mourned as a hapless victim of consumerism or denounced as a hypocrite. ~Email posted at Crunchy Cons

When K.J. Lopez posted this email, she must have thought it was making an interesting point. I suppose it is interesting that there is a persistent misunderstanding at work in this "discussion" that leads readers to conclude what this one did. The discussion has gone something like this:

Crunchy Blogger: Transcendent realities of Beauty, Truth and the Good require us to live in ways that do not egregiously violate them, and require instead a life of virtue. As conservatives, we all theoretically subscribe to living a virtuous life and believe in the importance of transcendent Truth and pursuing the Good, but some of us seem to be better at the 'theoretically' part than actually living out these convictions. Here are my observations on how modern Americans are living that seem to be seriously out of alignment with those goods, and these are my alternatives...

Anti-Crunchy Blogger 1: You're trying to make politics into a religion! The politics of transcendence is scary and fascist! Don't be like a fascist! I believe in a partial philosophy of life. You know, the kind that doesn't require anything from you.

Anti-Crunchy Blogger 2: You're trying to tell me how to live! I like transcendence, but please don't pester me about details.

Anti-Crunchy Blogger 3: I'd be willing to entertain ideas about how transcendence applies to my life, but obviously you all are just talking about a "mere" sensibility and not real ideas. I don't even like granola.

John Podhoretz: [Irrelevant obnoxious remark goes here.]

Anti-Crunchy Emailer: I care deeply about transcendence. Just don't expect me to examine my life in the slightest, and stop being so mean!

Anti-Crunchy Columnist: There's room enough for all you pathetic, tradition-constructing crunchies at my table anytime. (Just so long as you acknowledge that your way of life is hopelessly outmoded and fake.)

Daniel Larison | March 16, 2006



Comments

Excellent taxonomy...I especially enjoyed the Podhoretz delineation: he is most definitely an insufferable bore. His contributions remind me of the punky little kid in the schoolyard: all smartass talk, but little to back it up.

I must admit I do find this K-Lo chick a bit tiresome. Her contribution are equivalent to a child's game of schoolyard tag: "you're it..." Well, I gather she's too busy getting that really deep content on to NRO to elaborate on some of her hit and runs.

With friends like these (at NRO), Dreher probably could use more real allies.

MJK | 03/16/06 13:43

The main downside of using the NR venue, and the reason why I have consistently said that I think it is not an ideal venue, is that it relieves the other NR contributors of having to engage it seriously. They have already granted the crunchies their sandbox, and will occasionally visit to show their own flag, so to speak, but they probably don't feel as if they need to make a meaningful contribution because "their" meaningful contribution is being good enough to allow the crunchies their sandbox in the first place. They will let their readers make their obnoxious comments for them, and when the crunchies complain that the regulars are being obnoxious they can cry, "But we were just posting 'interesting' emails. We were never rude to you!"

For some reason, the character Luzhin from Crime & Punsihment comes to mind as an appropriate symbol for this attitude. Luzhin, a sort of Mr. Darcy without the charm or good looks, is a moneyed man who has come to take Avdotya Romanova, Raskolnikov's sister, as his fiancee. He prefers to marry a poor woman from an unknown family so that she will be forever in his debt and will, to his mind, be terribly grateful for his condescension. Of course, he expects Avdotya's blind and complete obedience, including having her disown her own brother, and she resists. (Luzhin is then exposed as the slime that he is, as all may remember, thanks to the exposure of his dirty trick trying to implicate Sofia Semyonova as a thief--Avdotya goes off and marries the amusing friend of Raskolnikov, Razumihin.) The regular NR contributors, like Luzhin, seem to act as if they believe the CCs should simply be grateful that they are even being allowed to have their discussion and at no less than NRO! Okay, maybe the Luzhin comparison doesn't exactly work, but for some reason that name just popped into my mind and it seemed to fit so well.

Daniel Larison | 03/16/06 15:15

I don't think I'm saying anything new or contradictory to the comments I've made at the Crunchy Cons' parody site, but I sincerely wish the crunchy bloggers' comments matched what you posted.

I think that, more often than not, there has been an assumption that non-crunchies "egregiously violate" transcendent truths, not an attempt to convince us of this.

Personally, I think most of us -- crunchy or not, conservative or liberal -- are in serious opposition to what is good and true and beautiful, but that's because we fall so short of the standard of the Sermon on the Mount, not because we shop at Wal-Mart. I agree that rampant consumerism is bad, but I think it's a symptom of greater spiritual problems, and I doubt that we would accomplish anything substantial by trading fast food, strip malls, and suburbs for organic food, mom-and-pop stores, and convivial bungaloes.

Allow me to summarize some of the principles from the Sermon on the Mount:

Quickly reconcile with someone you've wronged. Give no quarter to the temptation to indulge in lust and hatred. Be nothing less than honest. Treat everyone with love and respect -- even those who hate you. Do good deeds quietly so as to avoid the spotlight. Pray sincerely as part of genuine relationship with a personal God. Trust that God loves you, knows what is in your best interest, and is both willing and able to bring that about.

Until I'm convinced that eating at McDonald's or shopping at Wal-Mart is as egregious as violating those principles above -- that they are as much the cause behind our being "seriously out of alignment" with what is transcendent -- I'm going to continue to be highly skeptical of crunchy conservatism.

And though I too wish John Podhoretz would offer more substantive criticism, I will see the gist of the negative reaction to crunchy conservatism as a good thing.

..and, honestly, the emails that have been posted haven't been half as obnoxious as Caleb Stegall.

Bubba | 03/16/06 15:31

Eh, I meant to say, "I will continue to see the gist of the negative reaction to crunchy conservatism as a good thing."

If the negative reaction causes the crunchies to do more intellectual heavy lifting to prove their point, great.

Bubba | 03/16/06 15:43

I think you are being a bit unfair. Yes, JPod is a jerk and others have been snotty.

But Rod and the other crunchy cons have never addressed the problem with the tone and style of the book. At least in part, the book is an attack on non-crunchies. Rod is regularly trying to downplay this and avoid giving offense, but the tone of the book is confrontational. You can't say "the only truly conservative way of life is counter-cultural" and not expect people to take offense.

The book is in many ways a call to missionary like sacrifice but it never explains exactly how this is going to work. Is it just a fresh way of looking at the world? Is it a call to live a totally different life? Is it aimed at creating a remnant of traditionalist conservatives that will reawaken the movement? Is it possible for large swaths of the population to live a crunchy life? Should they dive in wholeheartedly or can they just incorporate those things that work for them? I haven't seen any of these questions addressed in earnest.

Also, the book takes on some rather serious issues and yet is completely anecdotal. It is at once a pop political book that wants to tackle a serious issues. Again, Rod has never addressed any potential weaknesses or compromises he had to take in order to write the book.

I am glad Frederica has asked Rod to describe what he has learned from critics, because I haven't seen anything from him but defensiveness and aggrieved feelings.

Kevin Holtsberry | 03/16/06 20:15

This parody is funny at times but (except for its depiction of the insufferable Podhoretz) bears little resemblance to the reality of the crunchy con blog. A better description would be as follows:

Crunchy Con :If you live in a suburb, live far from your birthplace, don't home-school, or don't eat only locally grown food, you're probably a bad person, possibly even not quite human. It's morally wrong to buy coffee beans, and even the chainsaw is on only probationary tolerance. Everyone should be a farmer, except it's OK to live in the most crime-infested parts of the inner city.

Non-Crunchy: I'm not sure any of those statements are true. Care to elaborate?

Crunchy: There is no need for me to back up my assertions with detailed arguments. If you don't agree, you obviously care nothing for transcendence and beauty. Even if you've written eight gazillion articles against gay marriage, you may be a nihilist at heart.

James Kabala | 03/16/06 21:17

kabala...??? Mr. Larison is right on, but really... I cannot imagine that this is your real last name.

Your not so cute retort seems the reverse: the non-crunchy types(aka neos, aka silly) seem to simply assert without regard.

BTw - The family Podhoretz are truly the most tiresome bunch of them all...

MJK | 03/17/06 00:44

Bubba - Caleb is truly the only one who is making any sense on that dopey website, even more than Rod. So, I hope he continues to do what he is doing. Please...your sermon on the mount nonsense is extremely simplistic, and telling as to why you cannot comprehend the far more nuance and theologically relevant perspective espoused by Caleb.

Podhoretz isn't in the same intellectual league as Caleb, and the fact that you, sir, cannot discern as such is far more telling than anything else you may have to express...

MJK | 03/17/06 00:51

As the author of the email quoted above, I note that Daniel Larison has denounced me as a hypocrite.

I guess that is sort of funny.

Tom | 03/17/06 09:03

Something has bothered me about this crunchy business since the beginning, but I have had a hard time putting my finger on it.

I grew up during the 80s and 90s on a small, mixed farm (family homestead) in a manner that looks to fit this 'crunchy' business quite well, with the eastern rite Catholicism, the stay-at-home mom, and a tight-knit extended family.

This has nothing to do with organic food or inhabiting old houses, but with the lifestyle that comes along with growing your own food, attending your family's church, and staying close to home.

I think what bothers me is that this crunchy conservatism seems to consist of townies trying to emulate this lifestyle in a convenient manner. That is, eating the locally grown food but not growing it, and sharing home-cooked meals with friends but not with family. There is nothing conservative or 'crunchy' about that.

Nathan S. | 03/17/06 11:28

MJK, I imagine that you agreed with Caleb's perspective long before the Crunchy Con blog; that's the most obvious explanation for why you think his position is nuanced even though it's hard to imagine how he could be any more blunt than he's been.

You're right that I can't discern Stegall's brilliance and nuance and relevance, but that may have less to do with my intelligence and more with Stegall's unwillingness/inability to persuade.

Let's take his assertion that suburbians are cowards. After saying that he wasn't referring to those who are the exception he wrote, "the trend is real, and it would be putting our heads in the sand to pretend otherwise."

Did he give those reading the blog any reason to believe that "the trend is real" other than his own presumend authority? Any indication that suburbs are disproportionately underrepresented -- compared to both rural areas and cities? Better yet, any indication that such a trend is independent of things like economic status and blue-state/red-state dynamics? So far as I can tell, no he did not.

I'm not denying the possibility that he seems like a greater voice of reason than even Rod Dreher for those who are already true believers, but he doesn't even seem willing to try to convert anyone else.

And, an aside, I wonder just what you find nonsensical about the Sermon on the Mount. On a discussion about how we best order our lives according to Permanent Things, I'm not going to put much trust in anyone who fails to see the relevance and the wisdom and the truth of Matthew 5-7.

Bubba | 03/17/06 12:05

hanks to you all for your comments. I will try to address as many of the points as I am able to do today. I'm a bit surprised by the attention this little parody has received, but no matter.

First, yes, the parody was in some respects "unfair," as parodies and satires are wont to be. Bubba's very entertaining site mocking the CC blog also makes a lot of very funny observations by not being strictly "fair." My impression is that the negative reaction the parody has received from non-crunchy folks generally means that it hit a little too close to home for comfort. This is not to say that CCs haven't made blunders (in the back-and-forth of a blog, it would be a wonder if everyone didn't make at least one), or that they have always expressed things perhaps as well as they could have done. But non-crunchy folks should realise that this admittedly exaggerated picture still truly captures the anti-crunchy critique as it appears to the CCs.

Bubba and Mr. Holtsberry seem to have similar objections. If I understand them right, they say that the crunchies are criticising and, in some cases, condemning other habits or even an entire way of life, but they are not admitting to doing this or are doing so only implicitly and not attempting to provide convincing arguments why this is so. This is an interesting criticism, and it may be that the less confrontational CCs are not making the confrontational nature of the exchange from their side as explicit as they might. The more confrontational CCs, however, such as Caleb, make it very clear what their standards are and what they think violates those standards. He is the one who has made no bones about the fact that he thinks, for example, daycare is deeply wrong. For his forthright assessment, which Bubba says he wants to see more of, he has been branded with various epithets and rather unfairly criticised for wanting to do things or implement things via the state that he does not want to do or implement.

Otherwise, as Mr. Kabala has suggested, the crunchies declare anyone who questions these criticisms to be uninterested in the permanent things or hypocrites. This is to take things a bit far. To my mind, the CCs keep saying: "If you believe in the permanent things, examine your life and see how the materialist lifestyle you are living contradicts what you believe." The only people who should feel a charge of hypocrisy coming from this are, well, the people who claim to believe these things and see nothing amiss in assuming that their life is perfectly conservative enough because, well, they believe in the permanent things in their head, they go to church and they are nice people. I'm sure they are nice people (as my old priest used to say, Christ did not call people to be nice, but to be perfect, but maybe that's for another time), but they could apply these convictions that they hold and really make something more of them. Because we are all enmeshed in this way of life, this shouldn't be understood as an argument between the enlightened CCs and the benighted crowds. If the CCs have come off sounding aggrieved and defensive recently, it is because their critics seem intent on insulting them and attacking them. Not attacking in a "heavy intellectual lifting" way, but in a less than serious, "Well, oh yeah?" sort of way. Maybe the critics think this is just a case of turnabout being fair play: "Call me a selfish materialist? Well, I'll call you a statist and a jerk! Ha ha!" The difference is, in my view, that the first charge by the CCs is actually based in something that Rod saw and everyone can see around him in his daily life, and this is something that conservatives in particular have got to address in a thoroughgoing way, while the retorts are about as intellectually interesting as a bowl of tepid soup.

For the record, in this post or in any other I don't believe I denounced anyone in particular as a hypocrite. The "Anti-Crunchy Emailer" I created is a composite of many different emailers. Tom's happened to be the one that caught my attention yesterday for a slightly different reason. I have no idea what Tom, who has written the email above, believes about transcendence one way or the other. If he does not "recognise the importance of transcendence," I don't see how he could be considered a hypocrite. If he does, he does not have to accept the crunchy label--a label that many of us friendly to CCism do not adopt because, well, many of us find it rather silly. But if someone does first of all believe that a transcendent reality exists, that man is a spiritual being with obligations to the Divine, then I have a hard time seeing why he objects to the substantial claims of CCism. The point of CCism is to call people to live according to those eternal obligations and the permanent things. Those who choose not to live that way are free to do so, but they will and should have a hard time laying claim to the label of conservative. Or, more to the point, whether or not they lay claim to that label, the only way to make that label mean something worthwhile is to live according to those obligations. Otherwise, we can admit that we are not in pursuit of a different "vision of order," but instead just want our faction to control the spoils system.

That does not mean, therefore, that everyone who does not rush to embrace CCism doesn't take transcendence seriously, and if, in the heat of the debate, that is what has come across this is unfortunate. In one sense, CCism is beside the point. The people in the book are not living those lives because of "crunchiness," but usually because of how they understand God's commandments, to which they are doing their best to be faithful. If the non-crunchy folks feel as if they have been cast as nihilists and hypocrites, it is because the arguments their "spokesmen" on the blog have usually boiled down to throwing up roadblocks wherever the CCs see a departure from the permanent things: "The permanent things are all very well and good, and we all like them a lot, but please don't let them interfere with that particular area of life..." If that is not what the critics meant to say, it is certainly how it came across.

What the CCs on the blog and I have been driving at quite hard, however, is that it simply doesn't make sense to accept that there are binding, eternal obligations on man and eternal verities that transcend and govern the created order while endorsing or being indifferent to a way of life that seems to reject those claims in a very straightforward way. It is ironic and unfortunate that Bubba agrees with the central critique of CCism about the materialism of American society and yet is one of CCism's foremost critics. Eating as McDonald's or shopping at Wal-Mart (which, to be fair to Rod's own vision, Rod does not categorically and at all times reject) contributes to being "seriously of alignment" to the extent that it inculcates the habits and mentality that man should prefer efficiency and cheap commodities over the social, cultural and moral goods that may have to be sacrificed to have efficiency and cheap commodities. To the extent that it works to inflame the passions and appetites, rather than curb them, I think we can all see why these things are potentially damaging. So Rod's CCism, replete with organic chicken and Whole Foods and homeschooling, is an alternative vision that some folks are already pursuing. It seems to me that it is a fairly broad way that does allow a certain amount of diversity (and there would have to be a good deal of diversity in any idea that privileges the local, familiar and particular), but what is far more important than having everyone sign on at the co-op and eat organic vegetables is for them to acknowledge that a mentality too much centered on consumption and acquisition is an unhealthy and unconservative one. This is when a lot of the critics will say, "Yes, of course, we know that!" Yes, they know that in the sense that they have read something to that effect and nodded their heads while they read it--but then what? CCism offers an answer to the "but then what?" question. It is understandable that many folks would not be on board with every alternative, but what has been so frustrating and, at times, infuriating about the anti-crunchy response is the intimation that CCism's core critiques are basically unfounded or savour of anachronism, nostalgia or merely narcissism when they do not hint at leftie deviationism.

I think Tom has slightly misunderstood Rod's method of defining CCism and has then rejected the "dragooning" method he believes Rod and the others are using. Every transcendent truth is not dragooned as "crunchy." People who place transcendence high on their list of priorities, who shape their lives according to this, share convictions with one another that Rod has chosen to call "crunchy." The good, noble and true are not "crunchy" by definition--they are the good, noble and true. It is the attitude towards these things, which find their meaningful forms most in the traditional religion, which tends to be what actually motivates the crunchies to live in their countercultural way and the discussion of which forms the capstone of the entire book.

That brings me back to Bubba's observation, which is perfectly right (and one with which I doubt Rod or Caleb would disagree): "Personally, I think most of us -- crunchy or not, conservative or liberal -- are in serious opposition to what is good and true and beautiful, but that's because we fall so short of the standard of the Sermon on the Mount, not because we shop at Wal-Mart. I agree that rampant consumerism is bad, but I think it's a symptom of greater spiritual problems, and I doubt that we would accomplish anything substantial by trading fast food, strip malls, and suburbs for organic food, mom-and-pop stores, and convivial bungaloes."

Yes, merely changing superficial behaviours with no change in attitude would be meaningless. All of the things Rod criticises are symptoms of spiritual disorder. The particular problem he focuses on is that some of the very people who do or should recognise that man is fallen, prone to a sinful inclination of the will and in need of the spiritual therapy of virtue see relatively little amiss in a life of acquisition and consumption, as if these behaviours had little or no spiritual or moral significance. As Caleb has said numerous times (usually right before being lambasted as someone who wants to take over your lives), if CCism were just a lifestyle option there would be little to recommend it. In one sense, perhaps it is not thoroughgoing enough, because in some ways it does propose to treat symptoms. But especially in the chapter on traditional religion, which is the source of what motivates most of the crunchies in the book, there is a hint as to how the disease may at least be ameliorated if not cured (which cannot happen entirely this side of the Kingdom).

As for the method of searching out similarly-minded people and then, in some sense, inventing a term to describe the similar state of mind in many different kinds of people, I would suggest that it is methodologically no different than the one Kirk used in selecting, some might uncharitably say cherry-picking, certain aspects or strains of various writers' works, highlighting the selected bits, measuring them against his own set of standards (his ten principles) and declaring them "conservative" because he found them to be so. The founding intellectual act of modern Kirkean American conservatism was in some respects similar to what Rod was doing, but it was on the high plane of intellectual history and therefore considered serious and weighty, while Rod has done a sort of anthropological survey using most of the same principles that Kirk espoused. But Tom, apparently none too pleased with the findings, said: "That's a great way to generate reaction, but it's a backward way to
understand the world, and a hopeless way to develop a philosophy of life." Even if Tom were right about what the CCs were doing (which I still believe he has backwards), he would be indicting Kirk's Conservative Mind as well.

Daniel Larison | 03/17/06 12:45

Nathan wrote: "I think what bothers me is that this crunchy conservatism seems to consist of townies trying to emulate this lifestyle in a convenient manner. That is, eating the locally grown food but not growing it, and sharing home-cooked meals with friends but not with family. There is nothing conservative or 'crunchy' about that."

This is certainly a refreshing and different take on the whole debate. Nathan, there are probably some friendly to CCism, and some of the CCs themselves, who might agree that it would be better to live as you have done. But as you can gather from the reaction to just the moderate suggestions Rod has made, a call for full-on agrarian living for most people would be met with such unremitting contempt that nothing Rod was trying to say would get a hearing. As it is, the hearing is not going entirely well.

But this is probably the most serious criticism that can be laid at CCism's door: that the CCs, like everyone else, in some sense want to be able to "have it all," which is to try to be solid traditional folk but not have to sacrifice all that much. The CCs may be slightly more inclined to make a few sacrifices than their contemporaries (although I can imagine even this claim would elicit shrieks of disapproval from somewhere), but in Rod's own words there are definitely limits to how many he would make.

Nathan's standard is a very, very rigorous one, but one that makes a much more compelling and coherent challenge. Honestly, I have no good rebuttal of this challenge. Certainly I don't think I can go so far as to agree that there is "nothing" conservative or "crunchy" about what the CCs are doing or propose to do, but it is telling that there are some folks who find CCism too limited and superficial, an insufficient living out of the permanent things. That might suggest that CCism is at least headed in the right direction, even if it does not necessarily follow its own assumptions to their final conclusions.

Daniel Larison | 03/17/06 12:57

Bubba wrote: "And, an aside, I wonder just what you find nonsensical about the Sermon on the Mount. On a discussion about how we best order our lives according to Permanent Things, I'm not going to put much trust in anyone who fails to see the relevance and the wisdom and the truth of Matthew 5-7."

What I believe Michael was getting at with his remarks about your reference to the Sermon on the Mount was not that the Sermon on the Mount is irrelevant. It is supremely relevant, and Michael is not disputing that. For many of the families described in the book it would be part and parcel of the requirements of their religion, which in turn has inspired them to live in their particular countercultural ways. I think the reason why Michael found the juxtaposition of the Sermon on the Mount and shopping at Wal-Mart "extremely simplistic," and why he therefore dismissed your comment as he did, was that you seemed to making the CCs out to be saying that the alternatives of organic food and a nice gentrified house substituted for teachings of the Gospel in living a life according to the permanent things. This has undoubtedly not become clear on the blog yet, because the religion chapter will come at the end (as it does in the book), but much of the rest of the book serves as prelude to the chapter that explains more fully the role traditional religion has in inspiring people to live counterculturally. Shopping at Wal-Mart, for example, is simply an extension of an understanding of man and the purpose of human life that the CCs quite reasonably find profoundly at odds with traditional conservatism and also profoundly at odds with the Gospel. If a man could regularly shop at Wal-Mart and somehow not fall into the habits and mentality that encourage the passions, strengthen self-will and reinforce a sense of individual autonomy, CCs would find nothing amiss with it. If I understand CCism at all, they regard the very participation in mass consumerism as being in a very real sense spiritually deforming and morally enervating.

Daniel Larison | 03/17/06 13:09

Daniel,

I should stress that I do find much of what Rod seems to say in the book (I haven't read it) to be worthwhile and to be truly conservative.

I just think that him tying it to a somewhat superficial lifestyle was a mistake in that it was offputting to many conservatives who otherwise would have agreed with most of his points.

At the same time, the lifestyle tie-in may have been a smart marketing move on his part to sell more books. I think it also may have helped to offset the materialistic stereotype that some people attach to conservatism.

Nathan S. | 03/17/06 14:03

But if someone does first of all believe that a transcendent reality exists, that man is a spiritual being with obligations to the Divine, then I have a hard time seeing why he objects to the substantial claims of CCism.

And indeed I don't, at least insofar as those "substantial claims" match my good-willed interpretation of the Crunchy Con Manifesto.

But the more I read on the Crunchy Con blog, the less I find them to be making substantial claims of any sort.

It's certainly true that Rod "does not categorically and at all times reject" shopping at Wal-Mart, but I see that observation, not so much as being fair to his vision, as revealing his lack of vision. "Shopping at Wal-Mart is bad, except when it’s not," is not the sort of bedrock principle attention must be called to. Of still less value is, "Shopping at Wal-Mart is bad, except when it’s not, but even then it is, but we’re not speaking of anyone in particular, except suburbanites, but not all suburbanites, just those who are only forced against their will to live there, unless etc. etc."

And if they genuinely do see shopping at Wal-Mart as "being in a very real sense spiritually deforming and morally enervating," then they should have the courage of their convictions and simply say, "Shopping at Wal-Mart is bad."

If Rod were in fact merely writing of "an alternative vision that some folks are already pursuing" as a reaction against materialism, I'd say bully for him and offer to dig up my old issues of Caelum et Terra if Maclin Horton hasn't already shown them to him. But he's not writing about a vision, he's writing about the vision -- yes, even if he denies doing so. The first principle of his manifesto is that he "can see things that matter more clearly" than "the conservative mainstream." The very title of his book claims CCers are planning "to save America." The implication is that no one else will.

So which is it? Is eating locally grown food morally superior to eating other food? If so, let’s hear the arguments (and by "arguments" I mean arguments, not assertions). If not, then why is eating locally grown food being used as a marker for people who accept their obligations to the Divine –- and, for that matter, why is not eating it being used as a marker for being consumed by either materialism or hypocrisy?

As for "indicting Kirk’s Conservative Mind," I'll just say two things. First, I don't consider myself a conservative, and I wouldn't know Russell Kirk if he came up to me and said, "Hello, I’m Russell Kirk" (though I could see the irony of being haunted by that particular ghost). Second, I believe the fact that Rod is not acting "on the high plane of intellectual history" greatly contributes to the intellectual muddle he has made of his Crunchy Con project. He is acting with the clumsy excitement – and the hubris – of the new convert, and his thought has not matured to the point where he is able to express himself without resort to straw men, overstatement, hasty generalization, and almost-as-hasty backtracking.

Tom | 03/17/06 14:16

I think Bubba’s point is right on target, because he is pointing out the proper order of cause and effect in the creation of culture.

Materialists, who tend to also be utopian in outlook, see the material cause as utmost in importance. So likewise with cultures and with individuals who have lost their spiritual bearing, they also tend to see the material cause as utmost in importance.

Years ago, a FSSP priest, Robert Novokowski, once commented the Abortion is a spiritual problem, and so it is, so likewise with most issues to which we attempt to apply material solutions as if they are the solution and not an effects of the actual cause and solution.

What is most striking about these argument is how completely dead Catholic culture is, and how easily it was killed, and how difficult it will be to bring it back. And that it will only come back organically.

The Scholastic | 03/17/06 16:05

First of all, you'll notice I deliberately left opposition to day care off my list of Crunchy shibboleths. That's because I believe that the importance of stay-at-home mothers is indeed a tenet of traditional conservative thought, one that impeccably "mainstream" NRO-ers like Lowry and Frum have written on, and although Stegall could have been a bit more polite, he was basically on target.
Too often, however, Stegall seems to be making up the supposed tenets of traditional conservative thought as he goes along. For example, remaining in the town where you were born is a good thing, but is it really the only way to be a moral person? It's admirable that Kirk chose to return to the family homestead in Mecosta, but many of the other crunchy heroes, including Burke, Eliot, Tolkien, and Lewis, spent their adult lives far from their childhood homes. Eliot, of course, didn't just leave St. Louis, he turned his back on the entire United States! Was he "selfish?" There are times when Stegall seems to think that the only way to be a good person is to be just like Caleb Stegall, or rather, since it seems that Stegall still maintains his law practice, like the man that Stegall wishes he could be. I disagree, and I think (although I know I'll never get agreement from you on this point) that the critiques of Goldberg and Gallagher, unlike those of Podhoretz, are thoughtful and deserve to be responded to with reasoned arguments, not the shouting down that Stegall and even Dreher seem to prefer.

P.S. It's my real name.

James Kabala | 03/17/06 19:55

My thanks to you all who have added more comments. I would like to be able to address all of the points made since yesterday afternoon, but I will start with Mr. Kabala's remarks.

If there is anything that I feel confident that I can say about Caleb Stegall, it is that he does not make up anything as he goes along. Brief acquaintance with his writings at New Pantagruel will confirm that. In fairness to Caleb, I think what might seem like "making it up as he goes along" to some is the attempt to provide concrete examples of his vision of what a local community and family life should be and the ways in which Americans miss out on that life. These examples may seem random or scattershot (I confess that I have not found them to be so, but it may be the case) perhaps because he is showing any number of ways in everyday life that Americans have the wrong priorities, so he is picking those that seem most apt to illustrate his point at any given time, which thus might seem to skeptics to be somehow incoherent or based "merely" in a personal preference.

As he posts today at the CC blog, I don't believe he thinks of himself as a good person as such (nor would Rod engage in such pride, nor, I hope, do I engage in any such delusion), or that his way is the absolute only way. If it is the absolute only way, I am also in quite a lot of trouble as a graduate student who has been away from my hometown of Albuquerque (except for visits) for nine years since leaving for college. However, as someone who has been away from my hometown for nine years and in a sort of academic neverland, I can attest that it is very far from the best way to live and those who have stayed closer to home probably have much more sane and normal lives. I see the virtue in Caleb's prescriptions because I see the rootless life of graduate students as one example of a sort of spiritual disorder.

Tolkien had little choice in the matter about leaving South Africa, and it is true that he did not stay in the industrial sprawl where he grew up, but once he became settled he became very settled indeed. Likewise Lewis. So I am not going to kick C.S. Lewis and Eliot for not staying in Belfast and St. Louis respectively. But as respected and admirable as these men were and ought to be for their literary and intellectual achievements, and as much as we as conservatives rightly hold them in high esteem for their works, they also lived lives that were quite out of the ordinary, which, if imitated, would probably yield more upheaval, instability and misery for most people than flourishing and sanity. Was Jack Lewis a moral man? Yes, so far as I know. But which way of life is more likely to provide stability, sanity, balance and more likely to lead to a life of virtue: the life of the academic bachelor in the University town, or the life of the family man in the town where he or at least the town where his children grew up? Exceptional individuals who flourish in spite of their surroundings may always be found, but we already acknowledge that they are exceptional. What Caleb and Rod are pointing to is a kind of Rule (hence the reference to St. Benedict at the end of the book) that will help the most people to live the good life.

One reason why CCism can include Rod and Caleb at the same time, in spite of a number of differences between them, is that CCism is not a single template. So, no, I don't think Caleb would say that the only way to live morally and well is to live in your old hometown (or, at the very least, staying put in one place with your family from now on), but that doing this is a much more desirable and sane way to go. It is not that someone could never live a live of moral excellence in other circumstances, but it would be so much more difficult as to make it unadvisable. Parents know this when it comes to places they allow their children to go and what they allow their children to see. The same common sense applies to all of us.

Goldberg's article does put forward some reasoned critiques. However, I think many of these were answered some years ago in the original CC debate at The Corner, and have subsequently been answered again in the early days of the blog. He has claimed that CCism doesn't exist, that it is narcissistic, that it is ideological and that it sets up a strawman of other conservatives. The answers to these have been fairly straightforward. To the extent that Rod has found people of a fairly similar conservative mind, he has proven that what he calls CCism does exist; whether everyone would adopt the label he chose or not is immaterial. Finding these other people who agree on fundamental principles demonstrates that this is something more than narcissism, the "baptising" of his own tastes as a philosophy. The ideology accusation has been dealt with again and again, making it clear that it is not a program or a set of policies, nor is it in any Kirkean sense an "ideology"-as-abstract-theory at all but the antithesis of this, a set of principles derived from lived experience and prescription. (Whether social scientists would call it an ideology in the way that they tend to call any set of assumptions an ideology is really beside the point, as this is not how conservatives have used or are using the word ideology.) For proof that the mainstream "strawman" is not a strawman, I would direct everyone to the WSJ op-ed page for a solid dose of the sort of the materialist, slavishly pro-corporate and ideological lockstep GOP loyalism Rod critiques. In spite of these answers, which the CCs have offered on numerous occasions, Goldberg will reprise them in one form or another without doing much in the way of addressing those answers.

So the problem that Goldberg seems to have, and the problem that the CCs have consequently had with Goldberg, is that he keeps dusting off the same three or four objections and does not see that they have been answered. More recently, Goldberg has attempted to cast CCism as an immanentist ideology (he has been studying fascism, so he knows about these things,he tells us), and I have provided a (fairly reasoned) answer that Caleb quoted, and he again sought to link it with other forms of totalitarianism that, again, I answered and Caleb quoted on the blog. Caleb may have thought it redundant to reiterate what I had already said.

The response to these arguments? Blissful silence. That doesn't mean that Goldberg has dropped his objections, of course, but that he is simply not engaging in the debate to the same degree that the others are. I suppose he has other things to do, and that's fine, but if he's only going to skim the surface and make fairly superficial arguments he shouldn't be surprised if he receives terse responses.

If he has been "shouted down," as you say (which is not exactly how I have seen it), it is because he came into the room doing a fair amount of shouting himself. In fact, ever since the CC idea was born he has been full of sound and fury, mostly signifying nothing.

Ms. Gallagher made an argument about the book, but it was one, as I discussed in a post a few days ago, that entirely misread the book while also taking some unfortunate shots at Rod's religion. She subsequently said that she didn't mean to be insulting, and I accept that, but her response was hardly the penetrating reasoned critique to which you refer. She thinks the book is an appeal to be allowed at the "table" of conservatism, which is not the main thrust of the book and it is not what makes the book worth talking about, so much of what she had have to say that was reasonable was discussing an aspect of the book that it is minute and not very important (i.e., the place of CCism within the "movement").

Some of her phrasing, because she apparently didn't see or consider the larger questions Rod was asking, seemed to belittle the entire project as an appeal for belonging in the Big Tent of Republicanism (which it really isn't) and, viewed another way, came across as a mighty shrug of indifference to questions of principle because, as she claimed, the modern American way of life is inescapable and unchangeable, the "only available way." Mighty shrugs of indifference were precisely the last thing the CCs wanted to see, which led them to assume (perhaps a bit precipitously) that she, as a noted conservative columnist with strong social conservative credentials, saw nothing amiss in the "only available way" of life. This was the same for them as whistling past the graveyard. If they were therefore dismissive of her column's arguments, it was because they either mistook them for being indifferent to serious questions or saw her objections as focused on frivolous, marginal issues in the book.

It would be desirable to have more of the reasoned critique and more discussion, rather than the round-and-round sniping that has characterised much of the blogging between crunchy and non-crunchy on both sides. The sniping has consumed so much energy and defined so much of the "debate" that even I, who take a certain enjoyment from polemics, have found it wearying. (Among themselves, the crunchies have been carrying on quite nicely, it seems to me, offering a very interesting discussion for those who would like to participate.)

Daniel Larison | 03/18/06 13:14

I actually agree with the great majority of Mr. Larison's final comment. I think that the debates have shown the blog format at its worst, as the brevity of blog posts gives less room for nuance than lengthier articles do. Although Stegall has now retreated to a "Sheesh, people, I was just expressing my belief in original sin, and I'm not so great myself" position, there definitely was a time when, in his blogs, he seemed to be condenming the whole world and elevating himself to sainthood. But I've been moved by this discussion to go actually go read the New Pantagruel, and his articles there are indeed more nuanced and thoughtful. The same goes for his opponents - I think Goldberg and Geraghty and maybe even Podhoretz have useful things to say, but the blog need for snappy retorts pushes them into self-caricature.
All the parodies (whether the ones at Contra-Crunchy, Mr. Larison's post that started this whole discussion, or my own feeble attempts above) ultimately wear thin for the same reason.
Finally, I agree that Maggie Gallagher was wrong to use the word "pathetic" to describe Rod, and she ought to apologize.

James Kabala | 03/20/06 08:33

Also, I am impressed by the lengthiness of Mr. Larison's replies to me. I don't deserve it, but I thank him for it.

James Kabala | 03/20/06 08:34

T.S. Eliot spoke against 'mobility,' saying it was generally better for people to stay put. It is only a bizarre set of illogical assumptions that allows one to view this as hypocrisy or even inconsistent with his life. It seems very consistent to me. I credit more the insights that come from others' struggles and regrets.

DK | 03/20/06 11:38

Daniel,

I too appreciate your lengthy replies; it's given me a lot to think about. I've had a long weekend in the real world, and I have a busy week ahead of me, so I won't be able to respond in kind, but please allow me a brief point or two.

1) I'm not sure the non-crunchies are so critical because the crunchy conservatism hits so close to home. For me, what's been aggravating is that, while the crunchies seem to be very keen on noticing the problems with modern consumerism, their apparent solutions hardly seem any better -- and hardly seem significantly less concerned with where one lives and what one eats. For Jonah Goldberg, one of the big problems is that crunchies have apparently bought the left's stereotypes of mainstream conservatives. For others, it has been the Pharasaic arrogance often on display.

Generally, I don't put much stock in the suggestion that someone is speaking up because the criticism hits close to home; it's effective as rhetoric, but that doesn't make it accurate.

After all, that sort of argument lets someone make some rude insinuation about a person's mother and get away with it: if the person answers back, then one can say that the insult hit close to home. But, if the person says nothing, the critic can say that his silence is telling.

2) It's not that I want to see more "forthright assessment" (as you put it) from Caleb Stegall; if he is going to make what anybody can see is going to be a controversial accusation, he should back it up with evidence, but I would much rather see the evidence without the accusation and let us draw our own conclusions.

3) You write, "Shopping at Wal-Mart, for example, is simply an extension of an understanding of man and the purpose of human life that the CCs quite reasonably find profoundly at odds with traditional conservatism and also profoundly at odds with the Gospel."

Frankly I don't see it. I wonder how shopping at Wal-Mart is rooted in an understanding of humanity that people "quite reasonably" find to be "profoundly" at odds with the Gospel.

For one thing, what passages in the New Testament lead people inexorably away from shopping in strip malls?

I do think consumerism is a problem in this country, but I don't see merely shopping at Wal-Mart to be a symptom of that. If someone is shirking his duty to almsgiving (or, worse, even going into debt) to go to Wal-Mart and buy a flatscreen TV in order to be on the cutting edge of what's culturally hip, that is a problem; but if someone else is buying bulk packages of socks, tee-shirts, and cereal from Wal-Mart in order to give those items to a homeless shelter, is he engaging in something that is "in a very real sense spiritually deforming"? I don't see it.

In the New Testament, we have a lot about honesty, about controlling lust and hatred, about loving all people with whom we come into contact, and a lot about taking care of the poor. But we don't have much of a focus on what food is best to eat; on the contrary, Christ taught that food doesn't defile us, Peter had the vision that made clear that no food is unclean, and Paul wrote that it's okay to eat meat offered to idols.

It seems to me that crunchies want to show that their lifestyle choices have the blessing of the Gospel, but, while I admit I've not read Dreher's book and the blog hasn't covered religion, I don't see the connection to specific passages of Scripture. That worries me greatly.

4) Late last week, Caleb Stegall wrote a blog entry that was good and very much needed. He wrote, "I start from a basic assumption that we —- all of us —- are sinful. It does not strike me as at all outrageous to say that many if not most of the choices we make, my own included, are motivated by love of self above all else; it strikes me simply as a good place to begin. It would not offend me in the least to hear that I do not love what I ought to love because I know my own heart and I know that this is true."

Still, I think that too much of his writing up to that point has been with the attitude of "you are sinners," not "we are sinners." Others shop at Wal-Mart because of self-love, but if he questions his attachment to his lifestyle of convivial chicken coops, he hasn't done so in public in the blog.

There is, I think, a great risk of pride sneaking into this crunchy lifestyle, into buying into some form of salvation by works, or at least thinking much higher of yourself because you don't shop in the soul-destroying Wal-Mart and you don't live in suburbia like those cowards who do.


I guess my central criticism could be put this way: kosher living's been tried before. It has been quite effective in preserving a culture -- the Jewish culture, when their contemporary cultures from Roman (and even pre-Roman) times have all died out -- but it isn't enough to make men virtuous. If kosher living were enough, there would have been no need for a Messiah, and the religious leaders of the day would not have conspired to have the Son of God murdered.

In lieu of a restored relationship with God, a kosher culture rooted in tradition may well be the best way to preserve a culture, but that's only because it's the least bad of all alternatives. It doesn't lead to that Permanent Thing with most matters to the individual soul -- the restored relationship with God -- it can unfortunately become an idol just like any other lifestyle, and I believe the New Testament is clear that kosher regulations are no longer necessary.

It is why I fear that CC-ism isn't Christian; it's pre-Christian.

Bubba | 03/21/06 08:38

(Let me add that I believe that some of us are using different definitions for "consumerism." It seems many crunchies believe that the purchase of mass-marketed goods is inherently consumerist; I do not. I recognize that, for many goods, economies of scale exist, and I don't see an inherent spiritual problem with production or consumption that makes use of economies of scale. From my point of view, the problem of consumerism is an obsession with brand names, with having new things, with having the latest things, with having more things than the next guy, and being willing to go into debt to have these things. As Versailles and the Egyptian pyramids demonstrated, the wealthiest people on earth have always faced this temptation. Industrialization made the temptation more readily available to more people, but I don't think it's useful to pretend that the solution is to revert to pre-industrial living, because all lifestyles have their own pitfalls. Some may have fewer than others, but the solution to the sinful soul is not a lifestyle either chosen or imposed by others; the solution is salvation through Christ and growth into maturity as His disciples. Without that, most of us will embrace whatever temptations that our particular lifestyle offers; with it, we will be able to take up the metaphorical serpents of industrialization and mass communication and avoid being hurt by them.)

Bubba | 03/21/06 09:15

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