National Crunchy Cons day

1400050642 01 LZZZZZZZThere’s no way around it.

This does seem to be national Crunchy Cons day among conservatives of a certain ilk and, yes, I was planning on mentioning the long-awaited release of Rod “Friend of this Blog” Dreher’s book. After all, a major theme of this blog is the complexity of some of the “liberal” and “conservative” labels that journalists toss around all the time.

If readers wish to do so, click here to flash back to a crucial GetReligion post on themes that are very close to the heart of Dreher’s hilarious and serious book.

But let’s start with this from a reader:

TMATT, did you see today’s OpinionJournal article on Rod Dreher? The author states that “… consumerism and conservatism are, for him [Dreher], incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp.” I think Dreher is the one with the “grasping” problem. He is obviously not an economic conservative — I may not like strip malls and such, either, but I believe in free choice. According to the article, only Rod Dreher’s “countercultural” priorities are truly conservative. Wow. Welcome to the communalistic world where you must share Rod’s vision to be a conservative. May I suggest that Rod use his talents to come up with a new name (other than the modifier “crunchy”) to describe his movement, instead of stealing the term “conservative.” And please quit describing him as a social or economic conservative when he is obviously neither.

Posted by Scott Allen at 2:24 pm on February 21, 2006

Actually, the Wall Street Journal article stresses that Dreher — a columnist and editorial-page scribe at the Dallas Morning News — is a conservative in a very old-fashioned tradition, a conservative who is more interested in preserving old values than building new shopping malls. Forced to choose between the church and the mall, or the home and the corporate tower, Dreher is going for the home and the church every time.

This is, of course, the battle at the heart (or the soul) of the modern Republican Party, as described by President Bush’s scribe Michael Gerson and others.

I will not try to sum the book up, in large part because the essay by conservative historian George H. Nash does such a good job of doing so. He is right that Dreher is trying to find a path between (or away from) two competing brands of Libertarianism, a way between the political “Party of Lust” and the political “Party of Greed.” Here is a crucial part of his essay on Rod’s work, a statement that points toward the Godbeat story hidden in this book:

In Mr. Dreher’s view, consumer-crazed capitalism makes a fetish of individual choice and, if left unchecked, “tends to pull families and communities apart.” Thus consumerism and conservatism are, for him, incompatible, a fact that mainstream conservatives, he says, simply do not grasp. He warns that capitalism must be reined in by “the moral and spiritual energies of the people.” It is not politics and economics that will save us, he declares. It is adherence to the “eternal moral norms” known as the Permanent Things.

And the most permanent thing of all is God. At the heart of Mr. Dreher’s family-centered crunchy conservatism is an unwavering commitment to religious faith. And not just any religious faith but rigorous, old-fashioned orthodoxy. Only a firm grounding in religious commitment, he believes, can sustain crunchy conservatives in their struggle against the radical individualism and materialism he decries. Nearly all the crunchy cons he interviews are devoutly Christian or orthodox Jewish believers who are deliberately ordering their lives toward the ultimate end of “serving God, not the self” — often at considerable financial sacrifice.

If this sounds more like Russell Kirk, the author of The Conservative Mind, than Rush Limbaugh, then there is a reason for that. Which is the higher social good, freedom or virtue?

03 06 2005 ned 06roddreherNEW GV21IKO0C 1We will not argue about that here. I am more interested in knowing if GetReligion readers see any interesting feature stories in the weeks ahead that explore any of these themes. I may write about it for Scripps Howard News Service in a few weeks, with the obvious confession right out front that Dreher is a friend (and, besides, I own more pairs of Birkenstocks than the whole Dreher clan put together, including a pair purchased in 1979).

Besides, if you want to argue with Dreher, then by all means do so. Folks are blogging about his Crunchy Cons manifesto over at the Dallas Morning News opinion page. Also, you can read one of his original National Review essays from 2002 and then weigh in at the new Crunchy Cons blog at NRO.

And Rod has already started responding to those who want to toss him off the ship of conservatism. But the bottom line is easy to see: He is a moral and cultural conservative, more than a political and economic conservative. Or, as he just posted on NRO:

Where the Right Went Wrong
[Rod Dreher 02/21 11:38 AM]

… (The) book has its intellectual roots in the traditionalist camp of postwar conservatism, as distinct from the libertarian camp. Both were united in opposing the behemoth state, but whereas libertarians were more concerned with economic liberty, traditionalists were more focused on virtue. It seems to me that modern conservatism, in the main, pays lip service to virtue, but is really more wrapped up with economics and libertarian concerns. Do you agree? If so, where, and why, did the Right lose touch with traditionalism?

Here’s a line from the first chapter that speaks to this concern: “Both mainstream liberalism and conservatism are essentially materialist ideologies, and we should not be surprised that both shape a society dedicated to the multiplication of wants and the intensification of desire, not the improvement of character.”

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • BL

    I wondered while reading this, do you consider yourself a crunchy con TMATT? Why or why not?

    Put another way, what’s the difference in a Crunchy Conservative and a pro-life Democrat such as yourself?

  • Pen Brynisa

    Thanks for posting this. I didn’t know about the existence of “crunchy conservatism”, and I’ll definitely put Dreher on my reading list.

    Frankly, I’ve never understood why self-identified conservatives and champions of family values in my own city don’t generally support things like traditional neighborhood development, sustainable growth, etc. I get the idea that a “crunchy” conservative would support them.

  • dk

    Short answer, Pen: a solid work ethic gives conservatives a positive no-BS attitude that inclines them to dislike the contemporary metropolitan hives of inefficiency, waste, insecurity, and madness. So they like to delude themselves that sub/exurbia is not the same. There are more people and political leaders like them out there.

    Aside from the rich entrepreneur type, urban conservatives are usually working class whites who are working to leave the city and middle to upper class whites thinking about leaving the more taxes go up, as they get married, have kids, get mugged, know someone who was mugged or shot, hear about a nearby mugging/shooting/decapitation, and see daily examples of the massive dysfunction of the ghettoes of despair, our own American tax ratholes exploited by servile minority demogogues and their white-guilt liberal paymasters.

    There are also enormous cultural pressures to leave. These concern responsibility and belonging and mostly center on schools and churches. Urban public schools have a mostly well-earned bad reputation, and the old ethnic white neighborhoods that settled most northern cities centered on churches with their own schools. These went to the suburbs. When you bring the churches and choice schools back into the city, conservatives follow. And some of them learn to exchange the largely cosmetic sense of expansive health, wealth and security in the suburbs for a street-savvy ability to discriminate good from bad blocks and thugs from idiot kids in ball-caps who only half-admire real thugs.

  • tmatt

    The GOP kicker on the book’s cover is rather strange. It’s clear that, for Dreher, voting Republic is painful at times and it would be just as painful, on a different set of issues, to vote Democratic. I feel the same way.


    For some reason, all the formatting vanished. You can still get the point. This essay was written for, but it was, I guess, the wrong kind of diversity.

    So, yes, I am a crunchy.

  • Stephen A.

    The rape-the-environment and end-mimimum-wage voter (who also is most likely a open-borders, anti-responsible-speech, free-love/open-marriage voter) is NOT a “conservative” and never has been. It sounds like Nash is right in naming that voter as a LIBERTARIAN, and it’s pretty far from traditional conservatism, both politically and economically.

    For the Liber, the answer to “Which is the higher social good, freedom or virtue?” is obvious, and it speaks volumes.

    My view has been that for Republicans to be overly influenced by the laissez-faire view of morality, the environment and employment rights that this faction has been foisting on them is suicide.

    So in short, “crunchy” label or not, this author is onto something.

    I’ve heard a lot of conservatives condeming rampant commercialism, especially around November and December for some reason. I’ve always found it ironic that left and right seem to be talking past one another on this issue, though saying largely the same thing. The left uses this as one more weapon in their “anti-Western society” arsenal, though the right’s position seems only nuanced a bit from this same message.

  • Matt

    If you don’t like the “crunchy con” label, how about “Bull Moose.” TR was my kind of Republican… he didn’t have any problem wielding his big stick against the industrialists (monopolists) who built our modern consumer society (although by his time it was already a rearguard action).

  • http://BUSY Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I’m really surprised noone has mentioned-in reviews or blogs–the similarities between many of Dreher’s ideas and the ideas of Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker movement (Day may be canonized a saint according to some reports).
    Aside from her strict pacificism much of her Worker movement aspired to a strong type of old-fashioned anti-consumerist conservative way of life which seems to have been forgotten in her being so co-opted by the left. I have always admired her life-style and willingness to stand up for her beliefs rooted in a radical version of traditional Catholicism. It seems to coincide with a lot of Dreher. But maybe there aren’t enough Catholic-history savvy in the media to catch the similarities.

  • BL

    That kicker at the end almost makes you wonder if saving the Republican party is more important than saving America. Or a reasonable next best option.

    Maybe the title just wasn’t long enough and the cover designer needed to fill a little more space.

  • Harris

    If the battle is between the libertarianisms of the left and right, and that of a decision for virtue, then Dreher would seem to be part of the same story we saw earlier with Jim Wallis (God’s Politics). Both, from their respective positions are dissenters from their putative party’s orthodoxy. Both also take their cues from religious faith.

    As things go on, I suspect we’ll find that our “crunchy cons” come in a variety of flavors, and some of those flavors will have strong “liberal” overtones (i.e. concern for poor, social justice and like). Meet the Bull Moose indeed — or at least start talking with Ed Kilgore.

  • dk

    Dorothy Day and CSD have come up in the Crunchy Con discussion. Of the participants, so far it is all Catholics except for two, and one of those is Orthodox.

  • dk

    TMatt said: “The GOP kicker on the book’s cover is rather strange.”

    Not really. Look at Rod’s career and his venues. And for someone who is putting his orthodox Catholic identity out front, it wouldn’t do to suggest the dogmatically pro-abortion Democratic party is OK now and then. Plus, anyone who thinks that is seriously wrong about moral equivalence.

  • Marv

    TMatt’s WORLD article shows he was quite wrong in his negative predictions about Bush. (Not that there aren’t many negatives, they’re just not what TMatt predicted.) And it shows that remaining a Democrat in name only has been a bit of cosmetic identity differentiation. Someone who votes for impossible write-in candiadtes for years (rather than legitimate 3rd parties) is playing games. Fine grist for articles about one’s Great Suffering Soul, but this is naivete and narcissism of the first rank.

  • Daniel

    Doroth Day was concerned about inequaltiy, poverty, and the disempowered. Cruncy Cons appear to be much more self-oriented, concerned about how things impact themselves and their families, and seem oddly uninterested in issues like inequality and poverty. Maybe that’s why they remain conservatives.

  • tmatt


    Name the legitimate third party for a crunchy con who is an Orthodox, traditional Christian believer on moral and social issues? I must have missed that one.

    It has been hard. However, you’ll need to read Rod’s book to see where folks of our ilk struggle with the GOP as well as the Democratic Party.

    And, Daniel, is your statement on CC materialism based on reading Rod’s views?

  • Daniel

    Tmatt, yes they are. Being anti-materialism in a sort of trickle-down ethos of values is a fairly conservative approach to things. What’s suprising in reading all of the discussion of Crunchy Cons is the almost total absence of a discussion of inequality and race. Being concerned about Darfur and fetuses doesn’t respond to the inequalities on your own, gentrified block or at your local high-priced organic market.

  • Marv

    Why not the Greens? Or whatever Pat Buchanan is up to? If you’re waiting around for some part of perfect agreement with your views, you don’t understand politics. Writing in Casey is tantamount to writing in Mickey Mouse or simply not voting, which some politics-as-fashion Puritans and Great Above-it-all Souls like to do in a very public way.

    Daniel doesn’t know what he’s talking about maybe because he simply wants to bash “conservatives.” As dk said, Day, Catholic social doctrine, etc. have been in that NRO blog discussion. I think Matera said something about the need to push a kind of Catholic/Christian Democratic social agenda. But if you know anything about these conservative and catholic philosophies, they reject as a false dichotomy thinking of family vs. society. Family is not about self except in a broken-down individualist society. THese people think of self in terms of others starting with family extending to neighbors and community. People who think this is not “socially minded” enough are likely atomized individuals with dessicated local and familial commitments so they compensate by the politics of concern, limited volunteerism, and charitable donation. This kind of social concern remains on the level of good intentions, treating symptoms and ignoring root problems.

    As I see it, what separates crunchies from bobos on the left and the right is the focus on marriage , children, community and rootedness through these concrete, mundane realities.

  • Daniel

    Actually, Marv, you may want to revisit your reading on Dorothy Day. She lived every day focused on the needs of the poor and foresaken, on peace and justice. From my reading of the crunchy con philosophy, it’s worlds apart from that kind of sacrifice and motivation.

  • Marv

    Have you read Rod’s book, Daniel? His blog hasn’t broached race yet on the second day of a project 2 month run. They’re going thematically chapter by chapter. But if nothing will satisfy except a book saying conservatives (or whoever) need to live EXACTLY like Dorothy Day, well…you’re too righteous for this world. THeir discussion so far DID talk about class and income and if “crunchy” is/isn’t just for high income bobos.

  • Daniel

    I didn’t read the book, but have read lots of the press and have read Dreher’s writings here and elsewhere. Notably absent have been discussions of poverty, inequality, and race. Which, as I said, isn’t surprising. Conservatism is less concerned about these issues than liberalism is, since responding to inequality is one of the cornerstones of American liberalism even if they are rarely succesful at addressing it.

    People don’t have to live like Dorothy Day, but my fellow Catholics often use her name to justify lots of beliefs that aren’t consistent with the Catholic Workers and Day’s work. She was much more than being anti-materialism and any comparison to her requires a discussion of inequality and poverty.

  • Scott Allen

    TMATT, thank you for addressing my concerns in your primary post. At the end, you ask “if GetReligion readers see any interesting feature stories in the weeks ahead that explore any of these themes.” I re-read the preceding section and the themes seem to skip around a lot…sorta like the comments others have made. I think we all make “lifestyle choice” decisions on schools, churches, what sort of community to live in, when is work eating too much into personal/family time, etc. Perhaps Mr. Dreher brings up some novel aspects, or his emphasis is needed by some people who over-do materialism or “success.” Other commenters choose, in turn, to compare Mr. Dreher with more “sacrificial” characters like Ms. Day. If I have a point, it’s that I find the whole matter pretentious. Mr. Dreher is telling an entire group (“conservatives”) that they are not truly conservative unless they are “countercultural.” What arrogance. Crunchy arrogance, if you will.

  • Rod Dreher

    Oh, for pete’s sake. What is “pretentious” about trying to figure out what is really worth conserving, and how to live by those principles? If you don’t subscribe to conservative beliefs, then the discussion probably doesn’t interest you. But don’t get all upset because you don’t understand or have any interest in what’s at stake here. We had a good exchange on the Crunchy Con blog today about how one can’t avoid making value judgments; the question is, then, which values do we judge superior? Which values are merely private, and which have public implications? These are important to discuss. You seem to want to privatize all morality, to remove any lifestyle choices from the realm of public judgment, or even commentary. As one reader wrote to the Crunchy Con blog, someone may have the right to let their kids sit in their bedrooms watching TV all day, but that doesn’t mean it is a good thing to do, or that everyone else has to shut up on the point.

    Anyway, here’s a perfect example of why this is an important debate for conservatives to have. Today’s Wall Street Journal headlined a story: New Network Will Showcase Greed, Lust, Sex. It was a piece about how News Corp’s new cable channel will feature lascivious content, dished up in an innovative way. Hey, the market demands it, so who are we to judge whether this is right or wrong? Does it matter that the man responsible for this is that noted conservative Rupert Murdoch? I say it does.

  • Pingback: CaNN :: We started it.

  • Thomas C. Bonin

    I consider myself a CrunchyBronsonChestertonCon as we need to rediscover both G. K. Chesterton and Orestes Bronson. Big business and big government are bad for the family and the culture.

    Mother Teresa said the U.S. was the most spiritually poor nation in the world because of our rampant materialism.


    tom bonin MD

  • Scott Allen

    Rod, you’re trying to impose your own personal definition for what is a “conservative” on an ENTIRE POLITICAL MOVEMENT. That is arrogance.
    It would be accurate to say that you represent a subset of conservatives. But that’s not what I gather from reviews of your work, or your post here.
    You tell me that I “…don’t understand or have any interest in what’s at stake here.” Wow. This assumption shows how truly arrogant you can be. It also shows you do not know how to READ.
    I said “I think we all make ‘lifestyle choice’ decisions on schools, churches, what sort of community to live in, when is work eating too much into personal/family time, etc.” These are not new issues. It is pretentious for you to act like you are doing something novel or special. You are recycling old thought under a new label.
    You mention Murdoch starting a new TV network. Obviously I would face a dilemma in microcosm if I accepted a job with this network. Or decided to advertise on the network. Work for a lottery or sell porn at a 7-11 I own. We face moral decisions in our employment all the time. These are worthwhile questions. You are certainly entitled to advocate a certain course of action, in fact you may be morally obligated to do so. But to think you can or should re-define the term “conservative” to exclude folks like Murdoch is egotistical. I could easily exclude George Bush, Ronald Reagan, or William F. Buckley if I invented my own “countercultural” standard for what it takes to be a “conservative.”
    You’re a writer, let’s see some skill. Invent a new term to replace “conservative” instead of trying to purge people who don’t agree with your priorities.

  • Scott Allen

    Extract from a post by Jonah Goldberg from
    entitled Sensibility Versus Philosophy
    “…the relentless invidious comparisons between “mainstream conservatives” and Crunchy Conservatives in which the CCs come out as noble and good while mainstreamers fit Rod’s strawman stereotypes certainly amount to something more than a “sensibility.” Or at least they must be read that way if we’re going to have an argument about any of this. Otherwise, the entire enterprise boils down to a debate about Rod’s feelings and whether or not they are the yardstick of political and moral virtue. And I can tell you right now, they aren’t.”
    Absolutely right, Jonah. And Rod, presuming TMATT has accurately described you as a Christian, I’m fine with your advocating Biblical priorities. You can advocate your viewpoint as an important subset, or re-prioritization, for the conservative movement. But to re-define entirely what it takes to be a true conservative is hijacking, not persuasion. Jonah’s conclusion was a nice way of saying that you are being arrogant. Since I’m not in the commentator’s club I can afford to be more direct. As a writer you have to be a bit provocative, that’s fine. You’ve coined a new term and can make some dinero from it, good for you. Challenging our assumptions is healthy for the conservative movement, and even better, for the lives of real people. That’s great. But there’s a fine line between talking about moral issues and talking down to people.
    Re-read Jonah’s comments. Does he take you to be a people-person, like a coach or teacher, truly interested in a healthy discussion? When he says that “…the CCs come out as noble and good while mainstreamers fit Rod’s strawman stereotypes…” he is saying that you are labeling those who disagree with you as bad guys, right? I gather you want conservatives to be “people oriented” instead of materialistic, but do you think Jonah would look to you for advice on how to handle people? Your writing style & content lack the very sensibility you are advocating. Wake up.