instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On balance, more pro than con

I've never been very sure that "Crunchy Conservatism" was much more than an example of how prejudices can be wrong, with the strong emotional relief of self-described Crunchy Cons at learning that there were others like them an indication, not of a significant but inchoate subspecies of conservatism, but of how hurtful prejudice can be.

However, Rod Dreher has seen his initial observation through to a book -- and as a bibliophile and erstwhile writer, I congratulate him on that -- and provided what he calls "A Crunchy Con Manifesto". And if neither granola nor political conservatism hold much interest for me, I find enumerated sets of principles irresistible.

The italicized statements are the manifesto; the rest are my comments:
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

Right away, it's clear he's not talking about me, since I'm not a conservative. As Amy Welborn puts it, "It's not my identification, it's not my circle, as if I even have a 'circle', and while there is a lot about modern political conservatism that just drives me batty, much of which Rod touches the end, my self-identification and loyalties are elsewhere."

But the "standing outside the mainstream implies clearer vision" is tendentious, to say the least. It may well be that Rod sees things that matter more clearly than mainstream conservatives; if so, though, it's not because he's standing outside the mainstream, but because of where, specifically, he stands.

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.

I suspect this is true, though I don't know whether it's a characteristic of conservatism per se, or of the fact that conservatives are human beings. It does seem fair to say that conservatism has a much more positive view of wealth and wealth creation than does liberalism.

3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

I'll buy that, though I'd phrase it, "Big business deserves skepticism as much as big government," since I'm not interested in figuring out exactly how much skepticism big government deserves.

4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.

Amen! (Recognizing that "more important than" sets the ordering of these interrelated things, and that "less important" doesn't mean "unimportant.")

5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship -- especially of the natural world -- is not fundamentally conservative.

Well, okay, that's for people who debate what "conservative" means.

6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

While I'm sympathetic to the spirit expressed here -- it's sort of a Principle of Cultural Subsidiarity -- that "almost always" makes it an empirical statement I don't know how to even begin to determine the truth of.

I think I'd want to change it to, "to the extent that Small, Local, Old, and Particular are more personal than Big, Global, New, and Abstract, they are more human," and then kick that around some to see a) whether it's true, and b) whether it means anything.

7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.

Absolutely, in an absolute sense. When you're trying to solve a problem -- like, say, evacuating houses as a wildfire approaches -- you might not define success in terms of aesthetics.

8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

I agree.

9. We share Russell Kirk's conviction that "the institution most essential to conserve is the family."

Okay (in what I take to be the political context Kirk had in mind).

10. Politics and economics won't save us; if our culture is to be saved at all, it will be by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, conserving these ancient moral truths in the choices we make in our everyday lives.

Not much to dispute there. (There might be a hint that saving our culture is a good to be sought for its own sake, but if it's saved by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, then it would be something worth saving for its own sake (though not, of course, as the final end we seek).
That makes me, though certainly not a Crunchy Con, generally sympathetic to the manifesto. Whether it represents a real movement or bloc or phenomenon -- whether, in fact, it's really any more than political conservatives who think there are more important things than politics -- is for others to hash out, but I'd say it has to be a good thing for conservatism to order itself according to the Permanent Things.