Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Crunchy Conservatism": Still Not for Me

I'm not exactly sympathetic to Rod Dreher's crunchy conservatism project to begin with, and his snide words today don't help:

The fact is that there are lots of conservatives who are traditionalists, and who take the kinds of ideas championed by Russell Kirk and his circle seriously, and who are actually interested in participating in conservative conversations about first principles and the way we live today, versus the usual Republican jibber-jabber about how awful the liberals are. There should always be conservatives asking what it means to live an authentically conservative life, and beyond that, what it means to live an authentically human life in a mass consumer society where it's harder than ever to hold on to tradition. . . . I think it says something about where the conservative movement in America is today that some can't bring themselves to mount much more than frat-boy sneering at the kinds of ideas, concerns and questions that used to be front and center for our tribe.

Let's take a closer look at this.

The fact is that there are lots of conservatives who are traditionalists, and who take the kinds of ideas championed by Russell Kirk and his circle seriously . . .


What, and the rest of us don't take Kirk's ideas seriously? Come on. In any event, since when is Russell Kirk the founding father of modern conservatism, the one whom we simply must take seriously or else are not conservative? As anyone who knows George Nash's Conservative Intellectual Movement in America as well as Dreher claims to, the present-day movement owes a great deal to Kirk, but also to Friedrich Hayek, Frank Meyer, and William F. Buckley, to name but a few who had libertarian strains of varying strength. Especially in its early days in the 1950s, conservatism was a rather fractured, fractious movement, with rival groups frequently at intellectual war over what a conservative was. Only anti-Communism united the disparate elements, and when conservatism grew more intellectually unified thanks to Buckley's National Review and Meyer's attempts at fusionism and to the conservative-embracing Republican Party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, it shed traditionalism's harder, more authoritarian edges, particularly the more eccentric and Eurocentric of Kirk's beliefs, many of which, let's face it, are of limited value in addressing the realities of modern American life.

If Rod Dreher and his fellow crunchies wish to return to that pre-Reagan, pre-Goldwater, pre-National Review traditionalism, that's great -- and they'd be welcome to a place in the conservative fold, as far as I'm concerned. But they have no business coopting the label and believing themselves the true conservatives. (Neither do the rest of us.)

. . . and who are actually interested in participating in conservative conversations about first principles and the way we live today . . .

Right, we cretinous "mainstream" conservatives simply aren't interested in these kinds of debates. Never mind that NRO, the internet vessel of mainstream conservatism's flagship publication, is hosting the crunchy blog. Never mind that Jonah Goldberg wrote a long, masterful, respectful critique of crunchy conservatism (which was mostly ignored in the blog). Never mind that Rod himself has scoffed at the idea of having a "discussion of right-wing tribal politics."

. . . versus the usual Republican jibber-jabber about how awful the liberals are.

As opposed to the usual crunchy-conservative jibber-jabber about how awful "mainstream" conservatives are?

There should always be conservatives asking what it means to live an authentically conservative life, and beyond that, what it means to live an authentically human life in a mass consumer society where it's harder than ever to hold on to tradition.

But what is "an authentically conservative life," and who gets to define it? As Nash wrote in the introduction to his classic book, "attempts to define conservatism abstractly and universally or in terms of one peculiar set of historical circumstances have led many writers into a terminological thicket. . . . American conservatives themselves have had no such agreed-upon definition." Is there even such a thing as "an authentically conservative life"? Well, let's have the debate, let's ask and inquire and seek, but let's also be wary of those who insist they have the one true conservative way.

I think it says something about where the conservative movement in America is today that some can't bring themselves to mount much more than frat-boy sneering at the kinds of ideas, concerns and questions that used to be front and center for our tribe.

Just how is a person supposed to respond to favorable citations of Marxists, other leftists, and anarchists?

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