Tuesday, October 16, 2007

crunchy cons

Whether by references from his friend Frederica Mathewes-Green, podcasted interviews, or an old blog entry I ran across while browsing, Rod Dreher and his book Crunchy Cons have been drifting in and out of my awareness over the past few months. It sounded like it might be vaguely interesting, so I finally broke down and requested it from the library. Ever since, it's been hard to put it down.

It's not so much that I'm learning new information here. Quite to the contrary, it seems like Dreher and I have similar reading lists: The Geography of Nowhere, Fast Food Nation, Small is Beautiful--the list goes on. What I've been finding through other channels is all wrapped up here in one, neat package. I've been finding myself difficult to classify in social and political terms, but this may be about as good a fit as any.

It's kind of a weird experience to find this kind of resonance in one source, especially on what we might lazily call the right end of the political spectrum. I started out a fairly mainstream conservative, at least from the earliest time when I thought in such categories. I was a ditto-head in high school, who loved to antagonize my liberal teachers. I protested outside abortion clinics, joined the county committee of the NYS Conservative Party, and voted for mostly Republican candidates. Throughout seminary, I lost interest in politics along with most facets of real life. I would still have considered myself conservative, although my outlook was shifting a bit more Anabaptist, in that I saw a stronger biblical argument for staying out of politics altogether.

Toward the end of seminary and into grad school I started learning about more radical politics by way of ideological literary criticism and such overtly political music groups as Rage against the Machine and System of a Down. My interest in this area accelerated when I finished my coursework and started paying attention to social issues once again. Particularly, I found myself siding with the Palestinian cause against Zionism. Reading in this area led me to look more critically at Western imperialism in general and to explore a wide range of sources on both left and right, which were united in their opposition to current U. S. policy in the Middle East. On issues of personal morality, I still found myself leaning more conservative, but I sympathized a great deal with the left on larger-scale issues like economics and the environment. I saw some hope of fitting in with the religious left of Ron Sider and Jim Wallis, but their approach didn't seem radical enough to me. I found much that I liked in the populist anarchy of Howard Zinn and the monarchist anarchy of Matthew Raphael Johnson.

During this time, I voted for Ralph Nader, when I didn't abstain from voting altogether. Of course, I knew he'd never get elected, but I just couldn't stomach the alternatives. My second choice was Pat Buchanan, which may seem like a contradiction, but not as far as I was concerned. I flirted for a while with the idea of joining a local group to protest the war in Iraq, but I didn't figure they'd much care to have me. (When you're already engaged in activities that some would call anti-American, you generally try to avoid anyone who's in favor of violent revolt as a principle.) In general, I felt like I didn't fit anywhere politically, nor could I exactly define for myself what kind of political creature I was. I knew I was outside the mainstream, but beyond that, I couldn't say much about it.

What Dreher calls a "crunchy con" is someone who values permanent things--tradition, family, the environment, religion, etc. I may not agree on every particular (I don't think he expects me to), but in general, I think I identify with the major points. I like the idea of conservationism (vs. environmentalism), and the push toward smallness makes a lot of sense to me. I'm certainly more comfortable classifying myself as a conservative on issues of personal morality. Plus, I've tended to see where there might be room for someone like me in classical conservatism anyway, as distinguished from the unbridled economic libertarianism and imperialistic madness that seem to pass for conservatism these days.

One area that concerns me, though, is his take on Islam, which isn't a large element in the book but comes out more in his other writings. Perhaps it's not an integral element of crunchy conservatism anyway. I don't have a clear stance myself at this point, but I do tend to recoil from what seems like a high level of paranoia in some groups. Conservatives aren't the only ones. I've seen the same thing--perhaps even stronger feelings, though to some degree justifiably--in Greeks, Serbians, and other Orthodox groups of the former Ottoman Empire. There's a lot of jumbling of religion and politics in this area, and I don't profess to have it all sorted out myself. I guess I tend to react with a high level of political pragmatism. I disagree with Western imperialism, so I sympathize with those who are trying to stand against it. If there's a threat of Islam taking over the West, I see it mostly as a problem we've created for ourselves. Maybe it's a force that does need to be dealt with, but it's hard for me to side with secularism over against a traditional faith (even if it's not my faith).

But assuming there's room for disagreement in that area, I think I'm pretty comfortable calling myself a crunchy con. It still doesn't give me anyone to vote for, but it's nice to know I belong somewhere.

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