Crunching towards Byzantium

Thanks once again to our friends at the Claremont Institute and the Claremont Review of Books for affording us the privilege of rolling out a few of my favorite pieces from the new issue. Everything I think I know about American politics I’ve learned from the folks affiliated with the institute and the CRB. The magazine also has friends in high places; thirty copies of each new issue are sent out via overnight mail to the White House upon publication. Subscriptions to the CRB are only $14.95 a year; subscribe here.

Rod Dreher originally coined the term “crunchy con” in a piece for National Review, now expanded into a book. The subtitle of Dreher’s Crunchy Cons provides the flavor of what he means by a “crunchy conservative”: 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). In the new CRB, Douglas Jeffrey shows how “crunchy” conservatism falls short of the real McCoy. Crunchy conservatism is “about returning to tradition” in various ways. But Jeffrey asks:

To which tradition(s) should we return? The obvious conservative answer is “ours.” Here, American traditionalists bump into the unsettling fact that our tradition was born of revolution; confounding their dilemma, it was a revolution based on abstract principles that are incompatible with many, albeit certainly not all, traditions.

Jeffrey finds in crunchy conservatism a strange, even boastful, ignorance of the American tradition and, indeed, an animus against America that extends sometimes to Western civilization itself. To begin to remedy their ignorance of America and their anti-political inclinations, Jeffrey recommends that crunchy cons pick up “the speeches of Calvin Coolidge (who spent his spare time translating Dante and Cicero into English; as Dreher might say, ‘How crunchy con is that!’)….” The properly educated crunchy con “would discover that Western civilization and America are not so indefensible; that we have come through times as difficult as these before; that what it takes is more and better politics, not less; and that the key is education….”

Dreher’s book is a trifle, and in a sense Jeffrey’s review breaks a butterfly upon a wheel. However, I admire the manner in which it opens into an examination of first principles. Jeffrey’s review is “Soft in the middle.”

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