Right Goes 'Crunchy'; Stereotype-Busting Conservatives Spur New Counterculture

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Stacy McCain, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The conservative movement in America has fallen prey to a materialism that reduces everything to market values, Rod Dreher argues in "Crunchy Cons," a new book whose lengthy subtitle summarizes his case: "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)."

A Louisiana native and now a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, Mr. Dreher has worked for the New York Post, The Washington Times and National Review. The following are excerpts of an e-mail interview with Mr. Dreher, who lives in Dallas with his wife and two children:

Question: In your book, you say Hillary Rodham Clinton was right when she said, "It takes a village to raise a child." You also praise Jimmy Carter's 1979 "malaise" speech. Isn't that pretty much career suicide for a conservative writer?

Answer: Well, let's hope not. I was being intentionally provocative with those comparisons, because I think we on the Right (like the Left) fall into intellectual ruts that prevent us from seeing when the other side has a good idea, or at least something worth debating. If by "it takes a village" Mrs. Clinton meant "it takes more government programs," well, count me out. But if by that she meant that parents can't raise good children alone, that they need the support of a strong, healthy society, she's right. ...

When Carter proposed oil conservation as a patriotic duty, people jeered - and subsequent presidents learned from this. Defense hawks like Frank Gaffney and Jim Woolsey are now making the same kind of arguments a generation later that Carter made in that speech.

As much as I hate to say it, if we had taken Carter more seriously then, we might not be in the mess we're in now.

Q: You also give "aid and comfort" to environmentalists. What's up with that?

A: It drives me nuts that conservatives have ceded environmentalism - or as I prefer to say, conservation - to the Left. We ought to be concerned, as postwar conservative intellectuals like Russell Kirk and Richard Weaver were, with treating the land God has given us with a sense of piety, which includes good stewardship.

I reject the absolutism of mainstream environmentalists, who never met a tree they didn't want to hug. But I also recoil from the attitude too many on the Right have, which is to make fun of environmentalists, and to see the natural world as something merely to be exploited. ... I grew up in a rural culture where men hunted, and I tell you, some of the most committed conservationists I've ever known are hunters. ...

Q: Why do you view the home-schooling movement as a countercultural force in America today?

A: Because home-schoolers by and large are giving their kids a grounding in history, theology, ethics, literature, you name it, that public schools and many private schools just cannot or will not give them. And as we know, ideas have consequences.

My kids are young yet, but we hope to home-school them, in part because my wife and I don't want them to be socialized to the prevailing norms in many government schools. But mostly because we want them to learn about Western civilization and its sources - and to therefore be ready to defend their cultural, religious and intellectual heritage against the deracinating forces of our postmodern market society.

Q: "Crunchy Cons" is very critical of consumerism, individualism and free-market economics. Isn't it possible to have economic freedom without the kind of ostentatious, brand-conscious tackiness that has come to characterize the American consumer lifestyle?

A: Sure it is, but it requires a level of vigilance and thoughtfulness that's hard to pull off consistently. …