Rejecting Modern Materialism: The Rise of the Crunchy-Conservatives

Over this past weekend, I had the opportunity to read Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Cons. This is a book that has been stirring up conservative circles since its release this past winter. Dreher is a popular Generation-X conservative writer and a convert to Eastern Catholicism. He has worked for a number of publications, including the National Review, the New York Post, and the Washington Times. He is now a full-time writer and editor with the Dallas Morning News.

A Manifesto for the Family

In Crunchy Cons, Dreher sets out to chronicle how “Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).” What Dreher has tapped is a lively coalition of conservatives who believe that family and community ought to come before unrestrained free-market capitalism.

In fact, Dreher’s nine-point “Crunchy Con Manifesto” includes the following long recognized by social and paleo-conservatives: “3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government”; “4. Culture is more important than politics and economics”; and “9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that ‘the institution most essential to conserve is the family.’” In defending these points, Dreher takes aim at the culture of lust and greed undermining American society in our day.

“Sex and commerce are fine things, but man cannot live by Viagra and the Dow Jones alone,” Dreher writes. “A life led collecting things and experiences in pursuit of happiness is not necessarily a bad life, but it’s not necessarily a good life either. Too often, the Democrats act like the Party of Lust, and the Republicans the Party of Greed. Both are deadly sins that eat at the soul, and crunchy cons believe that both must be resisted in our personal and communal lives.”

Putting Families Back Together

Throughout the book, Dreher provides several examples of how lust and greed undermine American society and what crunchy conservative families are doing to counter this perverse influence. “Strong, healthy individuals and strong, healthy societies cannot be made without strong, health families,” Dreher states in defense of homeschooling families. “Kids today marinate in a sexually aggressive popular culture that teaches them that life is supposed to be an erotic free-for-all.”

In a chapter explaining how modern architecture dehumanizes its occupants, Dreher notes the reason why children are often left to marinate in public schools, daycare facilities, and the popular sewage that passes for culture. The answer, to the shame of conservatives and progressives alike, is greed. Parents confuse their wants with their needs. The pursuit of the McMansion, the annual family cruise and a third luxury vehicle means more time at the office for each parent, more time in a daycare facility for the child, and less actual family interaction.

Even home time is not necessarily family time in modern North America. “Each kid has a television and a computer in [his] room,” observes David Holme, one of Dreher’s crunchy correspondents. “There’s a six-foot TV in the living room. People just tend to sit in front of them and go to mush. The houses are so large that people go off in their own little area, and they don’t interact. You never run into anybody, so you never have to play a game with anybody. People get to be like strangers living at the same address.”

Thus Dreher draws a conclusion that many other conservatives find uncomfortable: “The undeniable fact is that free-market, technology-driven capitalism, for all its benefits, tends to pull families and communities apart by empowering individuals and encouraging — even mandating — individualism…. Civil society has been routed over the past thirty years.”

The Little Things Count

Dreher’s solution to this problem is simple: we must return our focus to family, our community and church. We must renounce the selfishness of lust, avarice and covetousness, and we must one again seek to be good stewards of creation over which God has given us dominion. Finally, we must pay attention to the needs of the soul and not just those of the flesh. “Politics and economics will not save us,” Dreher concludes. “If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving these ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life.”

Dreher chronicles how many families are living out their crunchy con convictions. From homeschooling to organic and family farming, from turning off the television to turning on the oven and enjoying a good home-cooked meal, crunchy cons are doing little things to restore a more natural pace within the family. For at its essence the crunchy con philosophy is about living in harmony with the natural world as wise stewards entrusted by God with the care of His creation.

This last point has escaped Dreher’s critics in my opinion. Their most common complaint is that Dreher never gets around to presenting a plan for moving the crunchy con ideology forward. He does not have to present some grand plan; rather it is the little things that move crunchy conservatism forward. As Dreher repeatedly points out in his book, big things happen when enough people look after the little things.

“Maybe I’m too optimistic,” Dreher writes, “but I think there’s a growing army of crunchy-con homeschooled kids, not only learning academics at a higher level than most of their conventionally schooled generational peers, but also learning how to think — and, moreover, learning how to think independently and counter-culturally. This is especially true if their primary teachers — their mothers and fathers — make certain that the core convictions of their faith are the sun around which all the academic learning orbits. When these kids enter mainstream society in large numbers, we could see the beginning of a quiet cultural revolution.” And since many of these children come from Republican families, as Dreher painstakingly chronicles throughout his book, the GOP is more likely to be the political vehicle used by these young crunchy cons to bring about this quiet counter-cultural revolution. But if so, it won’t be the Republican party of today, it will be the one they rebuild.

© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and a Catholic author. He recently co-authored Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Catholics Ask About Canon Law (Servant Books) with Michael Trueman and More Catholic Than the Pope (Our Sunday Visitor) with Patrick Madrid. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

A version of this article originally appeared in Wanderer magazine.

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