February 21, 2006

Recentering Conservatism Around Virtue

Marc Comtois

I've mentioned the "Crunchy Con" idea before, and now it's chief proponent--Rod Dreher--has a book out on it and NRO is hosting a forum in which various conservatives will discuss and debate the book. I suspect that many will focus on the seeming incongruity (or stereotype-defying) idea of granola-eating, eco-conscious, art-loving conservatives, but the main focus should be on Dreher's central thesis, which he summarizes:

Crunchy Cons main premise is that something has gone wrong with the conservative movement in this country. We have become too fixated on materialism and consumerism, at the expense of the family and, in turn, the moral character of society. As E. F. Schumacher said, "the essence of civilization is not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character." The book calls for a reinterpretation of and return to the kind of traditionalist conservatism espoused by Russell Kirk and others, a conservatism that put culture and cultural renewal as distinct from economics at the heart of the conservative mission.
Dreher's thesis exposes a tension between "traditional" conservatives and "libertarian" conservatives. Touchstone's David Mills further highlights the difference:
...a traditionalist conservative or any other Christian might not think some version of libertarian economics superior to the alternatives. But he doesn't begin with a primary allegiance to "freedom" an infinitely elastic idea rather than virtue as a social good. He begins with virtue and all it represents and makes his economic decisions by its principles and on most matters, on which traditionalist principle does not direct one to any particular policy, prudentially. He might well advocate what the libertarian would consider "statist restraint."
It will be interesting to track the forthcoming debate. (By the way, Justin saw this one coming about a year ago).

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Perhaps I saw something related coming, but I'm highly skeptical about Dreher's project (from what I know of it). From the git-go, he appeared to me to be wrapped up in matters of style, not substance. Frankly, I don't think social conservatism requires dietary naturalism, so to speak, because I don't believe that God requires it.

On the specifics, I suppose I'd have to read Rod's book to speak fairly of it. But generally, I think Rod strains his thesis to the breaking point if he tries to position "Crunchy Cons" (which, even in the coinage, raises a dietary consumerist fashionalism)in opposition to libertarianism.

Posted by: Justin Katz at February 21, 2006 5:45 PM

I tend to agree with you, Justin, and--as I noted--it seems that much of the focus, whether by Dreher or others, will be on the "style" not the "substance." The forum is interesting reading, though.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at February 22, 2006 12:26 PM