Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What Is True Conservatism?

As one who considers himself mostly conservative but who has some problems with the unabashed worship of the free market that resounds from the right, I found this review of Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons quite interesting. Dreher rejects spiritually damaging consumerism on both sides of the political aisle and calls for true conservatives to live a more fulfilling “sacramental” life.

Specifically, Dreher calls for a return to a simpler lifestyle and a focus on that which is wholesome spiritually, physically, economically, politically, culturally, and ecologically. He calls for people to buck the current system for a counterculture lifestyle that he says represents true conservative principles. He says that true conservatives, which he calls crunchy conservatives, live more by principles than by policies. I can buy that.

While Dreher “reports on the amazing depth and scope of this phenomenon,” Publisher’s Weekly says, “the book fails to offer any empirical evidence to connect [featured] individuals to a wider "movement."” Dreher wants crunchy cons to become a major cultural and political force, but presents only anecdotal evidence of such a groundswell.

I found a number of principles that I can agree with in his Crunchy Con Manifesto (included here among several editorial reviews and a book excerpt). The rejection of the culture of greed and accumulation, a call to exercise a good stewardship over our blessings, proper recognition of beauty and wisdom, and a conviction of the family as the most essential institution of society all resonate with me.

On the other hand, if the mass market is such a bad thing, why is Mr. Dreher marketing his book through all of the major mass market outlets? And is a hippie lifestyle with a conservative bent really as beneficial to individuals, families, and society as he claims?

I will put the book on my to-read list. It obviously has some provocative arguments. I engage in primitive camping with some frequency, but it’s going to take a lot of persuasion to make me want to give up the modern conveniences that the free market has brought us. Is it impossible to live a fulfilling sacramental life while living in the modern world? If so, how far back in history does one have to go to get to the ideal lifestyle?


Prof. Wright said...

I'm curious as to how you define worshipping the free market.

Prof. Wright said...

Regarding the ideal lifestyle, people should be free to decide that for themselves. So to the extent that Dreher pursues his "crunchy conservatism" individually, I'm all for him. Somehow, though, I doubt he'd oppose the government "encouraging," shall we say, his idea of the ideal life.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Roy, thanks for your comments. I think it's obvious that the capitalist system is a major improvement over any other major economic system that we have actually seen in practice. However, I believe that flaws in the free market system are readily observable. It is not a perfect system, despite the utopian picture painted by the gospel of Libertarianism.

Economic efficiency is not necessarily the greatest virtue, although, many of my fellow conservatives beat this drum nearly to the exclusion of all else. In our pursuit of capitalism, we must be careful not to squelch other important virtues.

I suppose I see the free market sort of like raw energy that must be properly harnessed for the benefit of all stakeholders. Don't read too much into that statement. I merely feel that society has a duty to smooth out some of the free market's rough edges.

I think you're probably correct in suggesting that Dreher wouldn't mind the government imposing his "crunchy conservatism." I will have to do more research to know for sure.

Prof. Wright said...

However, I believe that flaws in the free market system are readily observable.

Could you give some examples?

Scott Hinrichs said...

Hoards of resources abound that describe the problems with capitalism. A very rudimentary essay can be found here. I realize that utopianists refuse to see any of the problems, or at least they see the problems as an acceptable tradeoff. The latter is actually close to how I see it. But it does not mean that we should not work to address the problems.

Prof. Wright said...

Firstly, that link specifically discusses capitalism, not the free market. I notice that you've also shifted to talking about capitalism. The free market and capitalism are not synonymous. There are many economic systems commonly called "capitalist" (including our own in the U.S. at present) that a serious free market advocate would reject.

That being said, after a cursory glance I see little in your link that I would consider a legitimate criticism. Could you briefly say which one of these criticisms (or another) you consider to be the most important? I'm just trying to get a feel for where you're coming from.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Sorry I couldn’t get back to this sooner. I was unavailable yesterday. You have indeed caught me in a semantical twist where I have not distinguished between the free market and capitalism. A free market apologist takes on many of the regular criticisms of the free market in this interesting essay.

After thinking about it, I realize that my thoughts on the matter are more directed at cultural issues rather than at the actual economic system involved. Indeed, the things that bother me can exist in any economic system.

I feel that in our culture there is too much worship of greed, materialism, and selfishness. We do a poor job of exercising proper care for the least fortunate and least able among us. However, as the author of the above cited essay notes, these things are not caused by the free market, but by what exists in the hearts of individuals.

Rob said...

Nobody asks for God's conservative blessings now do they?

Prof. Wright said...

Radley Balko just posted a nice little critique of Dreher's brand of "conservatism" here.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Roy, thanks for that link. Balko certainly shines an interesting light on Dreher's crunchiness.

Rob, I appreciate your willingness to peruse my site, despite my conservative views.

Scott Hinrichs said...

Jonah Goldberg has written a fairly long detailed criticism of crunchy conservatism here. While acknowledging the good stuff in Dreher's book, he specifically, issue by issue, discusses the things he has problems with.