Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Crunchy Cons: Next Buzz Book?

Over at OpinionJournal, George H. Nash reviews Crunchy Cons, a statement of conservative dissent by Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher. To SWNID, this looks like an interesting read.

What does it mean to be a "crunchy conservative," a la Dreher? It means eschewing the libertine tendencies of liberalism, but also embracing environmentalism, organic farming, the New Urbanism (the movement to fight sprawl and develop communities where people walk places and talk to their neighbors), and other communitarian notions. It is a kind of conservatism that is more committed to humanity than to commercial activity.

Or more precisely, it is a book that takes a strong stand on one side of the conservative movement, the Tory side, as opposed to the dominant one, the libertarian side. As Nash puts it:

It is a reminder of the enduring tension on the right between those for whom the highest social good is freedom--the emancipation of the self from statist restraint and oppressive custom--and those for whom the highest social good is virtue: the formation of character, the cultivation of the soul.

Dreher sees such conservatism as entirely theo-centric. It is a conservatism that is grounded and focused on religious orthodoxy. Nothing else can direct the path to common virtue.

We are intrigued and hope to read said book. We confess skepticism on some points, e.g.:

We have an intuition that organic farming, if carried out on a wide scale, is bad for the environment, as it necessitates more acreage in agriculture, leading to the destruction of habitat and the polluting of waters with organic agricultural runoff.

We have an intuition that environmentalism is often bad for the environment, as the best protectors of the environment tend to be those with a commercial interest in its preservation.

However, the book still looks worthwhile.

And it illustrates what we have said repeatedly on this blog: these days, ideas are coming from conservatives.

4 comments:

Calus The Great said...

I've been described as "crunchy."

JB in CA said...

I think it's okay, Calus, as long as you don't sound crunchy.

By the way, I'm still waiting for your expose on Bertrand Russell. I'm not getting any younger, you know.

JB in CA said...

I think SWNID is right to draw attention to the sort of thing that Dreher is talking about. Unfortunately, Dreher is wrong to imply that communitarianism is a kind of conservatism. Communitarians can be either conservative or liberal in their outlook, depending upon the specific issue at hand. (Dreher's own comments on environmentalism should have alerted him to that possibility.) The reason for his error, I suspect, is the result of his (and our!) tendency to treat liberalism and conservativism as the default categories of moral/social/political thought. Often, the categories of individualism and communitarianism are much more instructive. Whereas individualists base the notion of value on the needs, desires, plans, etc. of the individuals within society, communitarians base it on the social structures and institutions that precede, and therefore (in part) give value to, those individuals. (As Aristltle might have put it, a piston has no value apart from an engine.) Hence, individualists tend to be more interested in rights (since the protection of individual rights is what gives them the freedom to pursue their own personal notions of the good), whereas communitarians tend to be more interested in the common good (since pursuit of the common good is what enables them to live more virtuous lives). The question, of course, is which comes first, the chicken or the egg, the right or the good? (In case you're wondering, I throw in my lot with the latter, though I have to admit, I'm not entirely immune to the seductive lure of individualism.)

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Of course, I agree with the impeccable argument of jb in ca. But I will say in mild defense of Dreher that I believe he uses "conservative" in the antique sense of "seeking to conserve what is best about traditional ways of life." Hence, communitarian views are "conservative" in that they preserve the historic virtues of common life. However, it might be better just to scuttle altogether the term "conservative" in this connection.