I have just finished Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons, and I am delighted to say that it exceeds all expectations. Dreher, formerly of National Review and now a reporter at the Dallas Morning News, is a young conservative who argues for a new– read, “older”– kind of conservatism, one that values land, nature, family, tradition, locality, and “smallness” more than unrestrained greed and the market. He quotes agrarian Wendell Berry at length and with approval, as well as leftish James Howard Kunstler and Buddhist economist E. F. Schumacher. He advocates bridge building instead of division (this alone may make his ideas threatening to card- carrying Republicans).
At first I was taken aback by the sometimes vitriolic response in the blog world to him, his ideas, and his friends. One idiot actually wrote in to call him a hippie, told him to “go back to his commune”, and bragged about his McMansion and his long commute, saying it let him spend more time away from his wife and children. Poor wife and children! (Or as Dreher noted, maybe they were better off with him away).
But then I realized what I suspect is going on: these guys are feeling guilty. Because, if you take Dreher’s ideas seriously and you are living a life of serial consumption, you have to change your life. They want to kill the messenger.
Constant themes in the book are eating well, consciously, and locally; living if possible close to your work; reducing your dependence on such things as TV; thinking about home- schooling your children; caring for the environment and practicing good stewardship; and realizing that beauty is real and important, not just a luxury. He and his family live by those rules, at some sacrifice, and have found them rewarding. On a “meta” level, he also decries our dependence on oil, and know it cannot last (yes, he believes global warming exists).
The other great point he makes is the importance of religion in his and many other “Crunchy Cons”” lives. He is a Catholic in an Eastern Rite parish, but he mentions and interviews Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Jews, and even a few self- desribed “secular humanists” who conform to his ideas. What he does insist on is that, whether one follows a particular path or not, that some sort of “.. active religious imagination– an ability to see the material world in spiritual terms”– is “key”.
I suspect he would say that it is much easier to make difficult choices if you do so from within a tradition. As one who has somewhat fallen away from my Catholic tradition but who is respectful of and intensely interested in (and convinced of the human importance of) religion, I think– hope– I qualify. Some of my best and most thoughtful conversations lately have been with my son’s Eastern Orthodox pastor.
One small thing I was worried about was that Dreher’s respect for (vegetarian) writer Matthew Scully might mean that he was uncomfortable with hunting and carnivory. I should have realized that a boy who grew up in rural southern Louisiana would have no such prejudices. Dreher is an enthusiastic meat eater– he only asks that animals be treated with respect and fed naturally. He explicitly endorses thoughtful hunting.
This book is “aimed” at conservatives, but I wonder if it might not resonate just as much (more?) with a lot of liberals disillusioned with trash culture and “Big Gummint”. I know I will get several loaner copies and spread them around– and I (a small “c” conservative if such labels mean a thing today) know that almost everyone I think will like it is nominally on the (non- moonbat) “left”.
One thing though Rod, if I may be permitted a bit of irreverence: lose the cover when you go– as you will– to paperback. A rusting VW microbus with a kayak (if that’s what it is) on top and a Republican elephant on the front, with a suited arm waving out the window, plays to the dumbest stereotypes of left and right. Your book is about breaking them among other things.
Related note: I am now reading James Howard Kunstler’s book The Long Emergency, about the impending crash of the fossil fuel economy, a subject that is ominously linked to Dreher’s. I may also get Richard Manning’s Against the Grain, about agriculture’s effects on humanity. Stay tuned.