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The Crux Project Archives: Literature

Peace, Love, and Traditional values

A review of Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher

by Bernard Chapin

The last few years have been propitious for those wishing to expand the jurisdiction of political conservatism. Sensible people now accept that citizens of all colors, religions, lifestyles, and body-piercings might share an aversion for government over-regulation and statist “solutions” to various problems. Distinctions made among conservatives are valuable and entertaining as they highlight the individualism so prevalent among us. Journalist Rod Dreher has added to this flourishing diversity by carving out a new subgroup he dubs the “Crunchy Cons.”

These are a crunchy, as in granola, type of rightist, a genus he first brought to our attention a few years ago in National Review. These people embrace organic food, homeschooling, the importance of family, and environmental causes. They now have their very own book, thanks to Mr. Dreher: Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Gardeners, Evangelical Free-Range Farmers . . . [there’s a whole lot more, but we’ll use the first two words as a point of reference].

The author is quick to point out that the average Crunchy Con does not mean to offer a political program different from that of other conservatives, although Dreher eventually provides one. The essence of the crunchy con identity is the possession of a particular political sensibility rather than a program. They are anti-material in focus, abhoring consumerism as much as they dislike socialism.

Dreher believes that there are a great many conservatives out there who fall into this category—yet he fails to prove to us that this is the case.

In fact, proof, or a lack thereof, is a major problem with Crunchy Cons. Throughout the book, little evidence is presented, as most of Dreher’s positions are supported by the recapitulation of conversations with friends and associates. No doubt these anecdotes advance our overall awareness of the crunchy con mindset, but real research and citations of any kind are sorely missing from these pages.

The book’s lack of endnotes and bibliography in particular weakens many of the author’s claims, such as when he takes for granted the existence of global warming and the alleged human causes behind it. Particularly dubious is Dreher’s belief that most conservatives don’t take environmental problems seriously enough. I can’t speak for everyone, but the conservative position in general is that before embracing radical “solutions” we must first be certain they address real problems and have a good chance of being effective.

Dreher offers up few solutions himself, it should be noted, but that’s not to say that there is any deficiency of description in the book. Numerous lifestyle issues are discussed from the viewpoint of the crunchy con. Food, for example, is clearly a great passion for them. The breed certainly does not subscribe to the “quantity over quality” school of eating. For these ladies and gentlemen, dinner is a delight and a gift from God, as opposed to a “let’s get it over with and get back to what we were doing” activity. That’s nice. These conservatives embrace the Slow Food movement and get their produce from community-supported agricultural co-ops, which is fine if you like to pay more for your food.

However, the explicit agrarianism of Dreher’s outlook, and his wish to force it on others, cannot be ignored. Dreher views the small farmer as a breed in need of both celebration and pity. Although undoubtedly individual farmers possess a great many admirable qualities, it is silly to deny that modern technology has made many of their jobs redundant. The answer is not to give them charity or subsidies but to encourage them to embrace more economically viable vocations. The growth of our quality of life, and capitalism itself, is contingent upon giving customers what they want, and overpriced food is not on the agenda. FDR is long-dead. Free economies are dynamic, and we must not let emotion drive decision-making. When the author writes, “Cheap chicken is not worth a compromised conscience,” we know his choices are not rationally driven.

My biggest complaint with the book is the overall attitude Dreher takes towards his fellow conservatives. He spends more time eviscerating his peers than he does the Left. When he states that tax cuts are something everybody in America favors provided that we don’t have to cut government programs, one longs to ask him how many people he knows. True, many citizens regard taxes as being a tithe to goodness, and they feel self-righteous and virtuous when they pay them. This is a sick state of affairs, but it is precisely the reason why taxes continue to grow.

Similarly, Dreher’s claim that “Conservatives today have gotten to be as politically correct as the liberals we sneer at” is utterly fallacious. There are definite differences between the attitudes of the left and the right, and Dreher would do well to explore them.

The leftward tilt of his beliefs is all too evident in the last chapter, where he offers up a political agenda sure to make any real rightist gag. For example, Dreher would like conservatives to “[m]ake commonsense environmental protection a legislative priority.” And what would that be? How could such vagueness be made law? More to the point, that kind of vagueness in the law is precisely what has caused so many environmental and economic problems already. What a modern judge can do with a word like commonsense makes one shudder. Any law featuring the word is interpreted by the courts as meaning intrusive, all-encompassing, and coercive.

Dreher would also like to reform regulations so that small farms are favored over large ones, which would of course necessitate more socialist action on the part of government. That, again, is pure leftism. If small farms can’t make it, they just can’t make it, and no amount of leftist wishing will make it so. We shouldn’t punish efficient producers just so a crunchy conservative can relocate his family to a Norman Rockwell painting.

Laws favoring small businesses over big business are also on Dreher’s agenda. I have a better idea. Let’s tell the government to mind its own business and stay away from the situation. There’s no good reason for the Leviathan to barge in and penalize or support particular companies in any way. It is here where one longs to change “crunchy” to “progressive,” to better describe the author’s vision. When Dreher advocates tougher laws against pornography, he announces that “libertarian” is a word he’d have to look up. Yeah, we kind of figured that out.

Unlike the numerous South Park Republicans, there are undoubtedly but a small number of crunchy conservatives out there. However leftward or odd they may appear, my advice is to humor them as much as possible. We should thank all thirty- or forty-odd souls for remaining on our side. Let us be tolerant and support their quirks—and make a point of waiting until they leave the room before laughing at them. •

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