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Alistair McConnachie published Sovereignty from July 1999 to its 120th consecutive monthly issue in June 2009, and he continues to maintain this website.
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Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher
Alistair McConnachie reviews Crunchy Cons. This article was published originally in the April 2006 issue of Sovereignty.

Rod Dreher, is a writer and editor at the Dallas Morning News and is married with two children. He's coined a phrase "Crunchy Conservatism" -- "crunchy" as in "earthy". This is not a political programme, but "a practical sensibility based on what the wisdom of tradition teaches is best for families and communities."

In a country where, politically "both sides posture, but they are fundamentally content with the way things are", Dreher is searching, for authentic conservatism.

The "Birkenstocks" of the sub-title are a type of sandal, and what he ends up finding could be described as a coming together of the sensibilities of some of the Okie's from Muskogee where "beads and roman sandals won't be seen" with some of the "hippies out in San Francisco" -- as Merle Haggard famously sang.

The Crunchy Con Sensibility is summarised as a "manifesto":
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we see things that matter more clearly.
2. Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
3. The free market is the superior economic organising principle, but the economy must serve humanity, and not the other way round. Big business deserves as much scepticism as big government.
4. America's wealth and liberties will not survive a culture that no longer lives by Russell Kirk's "Permanent Things" -- those eternal moral norms necessary to civilised life, and taught by all the world's wisdom traditions. In this sense, culture is more important than politics or economics.
5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility and good stewardship -- especially of the natural world -- is not fundamentally conservative.
6. Small, Local, Old and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New and Abstract.
7. Beauty -- appreciation of aesthetic quality -- is a key to the good life and is more important than efficiency.
8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty and wisdom.
9. We share Russell Kirk's conviction that "the institution most essential to conserve is the family."
10. Politics and economics will not save us. If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving those ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life. In this sense, to conserve is to create anew.

In response to the question, "What can I do?" Dreher's response would be, "Live sacramentally".

In reference to the crunchy con sensibility, attitude and fundamental stance towards reality, he says: In religious language a sacrament is a physical thing -- an object or action -- through which holiness is transmitted…at the risk of sounding pompously metaphysical, for people who adopt a sacramental way of being, everyday things, occurrences, and exchanges provide an opportunity to encounter ultimate reality -- even, if you like, divinity.

He explains that it means, simply that actions and objects convey spiritual meaning…and you do not have to be formally religious to grasp the concept.

That is, to live sacramentally is to live a life where one's thoughts, words, actions and choices are in practical accord with one's beliefs and what one wants to see happen in reality. It is to live with meaning.

It is similar to Ghandi's advice to, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

The word, "practical" here is important. The danger with taking a sacramental life too seriously, whether from a religious or secular motivation, is that one becomes a neurotic, humourless wreck in one's efforts to be "pure" or "perfect".

Being too fundamental about things, especially when it is utterly impractical to do so, actually compromises one's ability to lead a fulfilling life. This would be a case of "religion devouring life" as an Episcopal priest, Robert Farrar Capon, is quoted as saying, and one can see this affliction in secular people too.

As Capon says, We were created to delight, as He does, in the resident goodness of creation. We were not made to sit around mumbling incantations and watching our insides to see what creation will do for us.

The book is divided into chapters on Consumerism, Food, Home, Education, Environment and Religion, with suggestions in each about what people can practically do.

This is perhaps the most controversial chapter. Dreher attacks the "disjunction between the ideals we profess to believe in as conservatives and the consumerist way of life we uncritically embrace."

"Man does not exist to serve the economy," he asserts, "but the economy exists to serve man."

He explains that, "Crunchy cons believe in the free market as an imperfect but just and effective means to the good society. When the market harms the good society, it should be reined in."

Maclin Horton is interviewed and puts this idea well: You don't ensure economic liberty for all by eliminating restraints on the accumulation of capital and market share any more than you ensure physical liberty by eliminating the police and the courts and turning everyone loose to sort out the pecking order on their own.

As Dreher explains, food, properly understood, is sacramental; it carries within it the care of the farmers who raised it and the merchant who sold it, the love and devotion of the hands that prepared it, and the happiness of the friends and family who share it.

Here Dreher promotes community supported agriculture (See Sovereignty, May 2003), the Slow Food Movement where he emphasises that if the crunchy con attitude to food is "merely dutiful and not fun, nobody's going to want to do it" and the importance of organic methods.

He accepts that local and organic can sometimes be more expensive, but considers that it may be possible to save money by living more frugally in other ways. Above all, he and his family, like being able to use the fruits of our labor to support the local economy, and specifically to make it possible for families like the Hutchinses and the Hales to live close to the land and raise their children the old-fashioned way. We prefer to buy our vegetables from local farmers, if possible for much the same reason. It helps to build a web of mutual care and obligation in our economic relations, teaching us that we are humans, not machines, training us to cherish the places we're from and the people who live there, helping us learn, in Edmund Burke's phrase, 'to love the little platoon we belong to in society.'

In this chapter, dealing largely with modern architecture and aesthetic values, Dreher examines the legacy of Englishman William Morris (1834-1896) and his Arts and Crafts Movement, whose, vision was that a society whose humanity had been deformed and degraded by industrialism and mass capitalism could be reformed starting in the home, where sturdy virtues that sustain families and communities against the forces of fragmentation and alienation could be lived and taught.

This was taken up by Gustav Stickley in the USA who started an architectural trend in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century called "Craftsman Homes" -- one of which Dreher and his family inhabit. Morris' legacy lives on through the architectural movement called New Urbanism -- the "ultimate crunchy con residential design dream".

He states: When people say they want prayer returned to the public schools, I think what they're grasping to articulate is not a wish for sectarian piety, but an anxious desire for public schooling to provide their children with a basic metaphysical framework to help them live meaningful lives with a sense of purpose.

The Dreher's search for this meaningful life has led them to homeschool. This involves finding outside help to teach higher-level maths, science, and foreign languages, sometimes in small classes with other homeschoolers -- which helps to build "authentic community".

Consequently, it is to be hoped that: When these kids enter mainstream society in large numbers, we could see the beginning of a quiet cultural revolution. And if not, at least the space in which American children can grow up protected from and trained to resist the predatory popular culture and the commercialization of childhood will have been expanded.

There is also much comment around the role of the family. A woman will not want the risk of children if she fears the man will not be around to help her raise them.

In that regard, Dreher notes that, "for a woman to have the confidence to put her own career aspirations on hold for two decades or more to raise and educate children requires a heroic leap of faith in her husband -- particularly in a society that offers so little support for marriage."

As Julie, his wife commented to him: I wonder sometimes if a lot of women who work are doing it because they worry that their husbands won't be there for them. This is where faith comes in. I have faith in you because we share the same vision of what life is all about…If you left me, things would be very, very bad. And that affects a woman's decision making. If you're a woman who really wants to stay at home and take care of your kids, there is this voice saying, 'What are you going to do if something bad happens, and your husband leaves you? What are you going to fall back on? If you're in a shaky marriage, it's going to be hard for you.'

Animal welfare is a concern of crunchy cons and Dreher highlights Matthew Scully's Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy which is a powerful condemnation of factory farming.

As Scully has stated about animals: "We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don't; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us."

Scully's book was also the cover story of the May 23, 2005 issue of The American Conservative -- perhaps the closest to a crunchy con magazine available in America. (PO Box 9030, Maple Shade, NJ 08052-9030, USA, $70 for 24 issues Sovereignty is probably the closest such magazine in the UK.

In relation to conserving the environment he highlights the role of Teddy Roosevelt, "perhaps the only true conservationist we've had as our president" who believed that America could not be strong if it did not prudently steward its natural resources.

He argues that environmentalists regularly allow "the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and in so doing have made themselves captive to the Democratic Party."

Dreher is a practising Catholic and devotes a whole chapter to religion. We're told that the evangelical Christian movement is "the backbone of the Republican Party, especially in the South." The book's subtitle tells us it's aimed at saving the Republican Party, so Dreher is clearly pitching at this constituency.

In his experience, most crunchy cons are religious because it gives them the spiritual impetus to orient the whole of their lives towards a higher end -- serving God, not Self. He's got something here, when he talks of the necessity for a spiritual impulse.

Man is a spiritual being, in the broad sense of the term.

However, practical and spiritual inspiration can also be found in a variety of non-religious ways. For example, we may be inspired by our loved one, our family, or our nation -- that is, our extended family -- or even concepts of "King and Country", "the President", "the Flag", "the Constitution", or "a future for our grandchildren".

The Mexicans, presently flooding into the US, are spiritually inspired, very fruitfully, by La Raza -- the Race! Meanwhile, the US Catholic Church, presumably inspired spiritually by their conception of God, is at the forefront of supporting this movement of huge numbers of their co-religionists. Hey, guys, check 1 Timothy 5:8!

Secular concepts of "justice", "liberty" and "equality", have also proved inspirational to many who want to change the world!

All in all, this is an exciting and original book. Here in the UK, if David Cameron is serious about developing the Conservative Party in interesting new ways, then he may well benefit from visiting some of the authentic conservatism found here. Indeed, he should purchase a copy for each of his MPs, and make it required reading for all his prospective candidates at the next General Election!

CRUNCHY CONS by Rod Dreher,
(New York: Crown Forum, 2006), Hardback, 260 pages.

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