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Crunchy Cons
Cover of Crunchy Cons
Crunchy Cons
The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots

When a National Review colleague teased writer Rod Dreher one day about his visit to the local food co-op to pick up a week's supply of organic vegetables ("Ewww, that's so lefty"), he started thinking about the ways he and his conservative family lived that put them outside the bounds of conventional Republican politics. Shortly thereafter Dreher wrote an essay about "crunchy cons," people whose "Small Is Beautiful" style of conservative politics often put them at odds with GOP orthodoxy, and sometimes even in the same camp as lefties outside the Democratic mainstream. The response to the article was impassioned: Dreher was deluged by e-mails from conservatives across America--everyone from a pro-life vegetarian Buddhist Republican to an NRA staffer with a passion for organic gardening--who responded to say, "Hey, me too!"

In Crunchy Cons, Dreher reports on the amazing depth and scope of this phenomenon, which is redefining the taxonomy of America's political and cultural landscape. At a time when the Republican party, and the conservative movement in general, is bitterly divided over what it means to be a conservative, Dreher introduces us to people who are pioneering a way back to the future by reclaiming what's best in conservatism--people who believe that being a truly committed conservative today means protecting the environment, standing against the depredations of big business, returning to traditional religion, and living out conservative godfather Russell Kirk's teaching that the family is the institution most necessary to preserve.

In these pages we meet crunchy cons from all over America: a Texas clan of evangelical Christian free-range livestock farmers, the policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, homeschooling moms in New York City, an Orthodox Jew who helped start a kosher organic farm in the Berkshires, and an ex-sixties hippie from Alabama who became a devout Catholic without losing his antiestablishment sensibilities.

Crunchy Cons is both a useful primer to living the crunchy con way and a passionate affirmation of those things that give our lives weight and measure. In chapters dedicated to food, religion, consumerism, education, and the environment, Dreher shows how to live in a way that preserves what Kirk called "the permanent things," among them faith, family, community, and a legacy of ancient truths. This, says Dreher, is the kind of roots conservatism that more and more Americans want to practice. And in Crunchy Cons, he lets them know how far they are from being alone.

A Crunchy Con Manifesto

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can 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. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

4. Culture is more important than politics and 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 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."

From the Hardcover edition.

When a National Review colleague teased writer Rod Dreher one day about his visit to the local food co-op to pick up a week's supply of organic vegetables ("Ewww, that's so lefty"), he started thinking about the ways he and his conservative family lived that put them outside the bounds of conventional Republican politics. Shortly thereafter Dreher wrote an essay about "crunchy cons," people whose "Small Is Beautiful" style of conservative politics often put them at odds with GOP orthodoxy, and sometimes even in the same camp as lefties outside the Democratic mainstream. The response to the article was impassioned: Dreher was deluged by e-mails from conservatives across America--everyone from a pro-life vegetarian Buddhist Republican to an NRA staffer with a passion for organic gardening--who responded to say, "Hey, me too!"

In Crunchy Cons, Dreher reports on the amazing depth and scope of this phenomenon, which is redefining the taxonomy of America's political and cultural landscape. At a time when the Republican party, and the conservative movement in general, is bitterly divided over what it means to be a conservative, Dreher introduces us to people who are pioneering a way back to the future by reclaiming what's best in conservatism--people who believe that being a truly committed conservative today means protecting the environment, standing against the depredations of big business, returning to traditional religion, and living out conservative godfather Russell Kirk's teaching that the family is the institution most necessary to preserve.

In these pages we meet crunchy cons from all over America: a Texas clan of evangelical Christian free-range livestock farmers, the policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, homeschooling moms in New York City, an Orthodox Jew who helped start a kosher organic farm in the Berkshires, and an ex-sixties hippie from Alabama who became a devout Catholic without losing his antiestablishment sensibilities.

Crunchy Cons is both a useful primer to living the crunchy con way and a passionate affirmation of those things that give our lives weight and measure. In chapters dedicated to food, religion, consumerism, education, and the environment, Dreher shows how to live in a way that preserves what Kirk called "the permanent things," among them faith, family, community, and a legacy of ancient truths. This, says Dreher, is the kind of roots conservatism that more and more Americans want to practice. And in Crunchy Cons, he lets them know how far they are from being alone.

A Crunchy Con Manifesto

1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can 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. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

4. Culture is more important than politics and 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 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."

From the Hardcover edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One Chapter One

    What Are Crunchy

    Conservatives?

    When we were young, the countercultural people had long hair, no socks, and didn't trust anyone over 30. Now, we are the countercultural people. —John Buck, Arkansas psychologist and crunchy conservative

    A few summers ago, in the National Review offices on the east side of Manhattan, I told my editor that I was leaving work early so I could pick up my family's weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables from the neighborhood organic food co-op to which we belonged.

    "Ewww, that's so lefty," she said, and made the kind of face I'd have expected if I'd informed her I was headed off to hear Peter, Paul and Mary warble at a fund-raiser for cross-dressing El Salvadoran hemp farmers.

    Lefty? Moi? But on the subway home to Brooklyn, I had to admit she was right.

    A taste for organic vegetables is a left-wing cliche, and here I was, a writer for the premier conservative political magazine in the country, leaving my post on the front lines to consort with the liberals in my neighborhood as I filled my rucksack with the most beautiful and delicious broccoli, carrots, greens, and whatnot in the city. What's up with that?

    And come to think of it, what's up with those Birkenstock sandals on my feet? It just about killed me to buy them the summer before, given what Birkenstocks symbolize (you know, patchouli, pot, and ponytails on men). But New Yorkers walk a lot, and my sensible wife persuaded me that durable, comfortable Birks made sense for hot summer sidewalks. She was right. So that's how a pair of hippie shoes found their way onto my right-wing feet, which—alas!—had begun marching to a different beat than many of my conservative chums. Funny, I didn't feel any more liberal.

    The summer before, I had been just like my editor, making fun of my wife's friends from her neighborhood moms' group for going once a week to a local church to pick up their vegetables driven in from farms in rural New York State. Just like liberals, I thought, having to have their politically correct eats. And then one day, one of Julie's friends told her that we could have her family's delivery that week, because they would be out of town. Julie and I were knocked flat by the freshness and intense flavors of the co-op's produce. Who knew cauliflower, the Sansabelt slacks of vegetables, could taste so good? I had always thought of it chiefly as a delivery platform for ranch dip and cheese sauce.

    We were no doubt responding to the just-picked freshness of the produce, not its organic status, but no matter. At some point, I started hearing more about the kind of lives the farmers who supplied us were living, and the values of simplicity, community, and self-reliance they honored. In all candor, these people were probably to the left of Ralph Nader, but they reminded me of the kind of older farmers and gardeners I grew up around in rural southern Louisiana—deeply conservative folks whose last Democratic presidential vote likely went to JFK.

    As city people who nevertheless dislike factory farms, shopping malls, cookie-cutter chain stores, and all the pomps and works of mass consumerism, we admired what the scrappy New York farmers were trying to do. In my Louisiana hometown, some farmers spent the go-go nineties selling their pastures to developers, and the torrent of cash caused McMansions to pop up like toadstools after a summer rain. It's hard to blame folks for cashing in, I suppose, but the community in which I was raised was...

About the Author-
  • Rod Dreher is a writer and editor at the Dallas Morning News, and a conservative journalist who has worked for National Review, the New York Post, and the Washington Times. He bought his first pair of Birkenstocks in 2000 and never looked back.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 19, 2005
    What do you call people who vote for Bush but shop at Whole Foods? Crunchy cons. And according to Dreher, an editor at the Dallas Morning News
    , they're forming a thriving counterculture within the contemporary conservative movement. United by a "cultural sensibility, not an ideology," crunchy conservatives, he says, have some habits and beliefs often identified with cultural liberals, like shopping at agriculture co-ops and rejecting suburban sprawl. Yet crunchy cons stand apart from both the Republican "Party of Greed" and the Democratic "Party of Lust," he says, by focusing on living according to conservative values, what the author calls "sacramental" living. Dreher makes no secret of his own faith in Christianity, and his book will resonate most with fellow Christians. His conversations with other crunchy conservatives—e.g., the policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection, a Manhattan home-schooler, the author's wife—are illuminating, but the book fails to offer any empirical evidence to connect these individuals to a wider "movement." Instead, it works best as an indictment of consumerism and the spiritual havoc it can wreak. While his complaints about consumer culture are similar to those advanced by liberals, Dreher frames his criticism of corporate America in explicitly conservative terms, painting rampant consumerism as antithetical to true conservatism.

  • Wick Allison, former publisher of National Review

    "Rod Dreher is stirring a controversy that has been too long in coming. He has climbed to the top of the ivory tower and started clanging an alarm bell. It is a wake-up call that all who care about conservative ideas should heed."

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The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots
Rod Dreher
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