Late last winter and into the spring this weblog was dominated by discussion of Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons. This was only natural: not only did the book discuss many things dear to Caelum et Terra readers, but it also quoted our own Maclin Horton at length, and he spoke well indeed.
If you recall, I had to wait a while for the book to come in on interlibrary loan, and in the meantime I investigated this Rod Dreher fellow, whose name was new to me.
I was not impressed.
A former employee of National Review, I found his writings to be pretty standard expressions of Republican orthodoxy, more of the usual polemics.
So I was skeptical.
But also hopeful: from what I was hearing of his book it sounded like he was a man in transition, questioning many of his conventional conservative presuppositions.
So when the book came in I read it with a mixture of suspicion and hope.
And annoyance, beginning with the title. If someone has the luxury of self-designation, why on earth would he choose such and infelicitous term as “crunchy con”? To do so is to beg for wisecracks and bad puns.
The book has many shortcomings, not least the “gee whiz” tone; Mr. Dreher fancies that he is the discoverer and proclaimer of a new phenomenon, a synthesis of conservative ideology and earth-friendly, granola-crunching aesthetic wholeness.
Then there is his caution, his tenacious insistance that he is a conservative no matter what. He may strain at the leash but he dare not break free.
I am not, as I have said, a conservative. But I have many conservative friends, Catholic and otherwise, who live earthy, look funky, grow their own vegetables, make soap, throw clay pots and otherwise defy the buttoned-down, wingtip right wing stereotype. And have done so for decades.
Indeed, I would guess that a plurality at least of C&T subscribers fit this description, and endured the magazine’s occasional forays into more radical territories in light of a shared lived praxis.
So there was not much new in Mr. Dreher’s discovery, except to him.
Still, as I said at the time, there was more good than bad in the book. I even said, in a bit of hyperbolic praise, that Crunchy Cons was perhaps a signpost on the road to a new populism, or something like that. I said this as a sort of olive branch, as it prefaced an unflattering comparison of Mr.Dreher’s book with Bill Kauffman’s, and I realized after I wrote it that it was one of
the dumber things I have ever written: whatever its merits, Crunchy Cons appeals to instincts that are anything but populist. Listen to this, the first of the ten statements in the book’s “Crunchy Con Manifesto”:
1) We are conservatives who stand outside the mainstream; therefore we can see things more clearly.
Huh? Elitist in sentiment, the claim is utter nonsense. The Aryan Nation volk are outside the conservative mainstream; do they therefore see things more clearly?
And so my mixed feelings about Mr. Dreher and his project endured, until a couple of weeks ago, when I ventured onto his Crunchy Con blog at Beliefnet.
There had been a Crunchy Con blog at National Review Online after the book’s publication, which discussed and argued its thesis. After conventional and crunchy cons had beat each other silly that site was retired and Dreher launched his independent blog.
This site does not limit itself to discussing the book, but in more typical blogger fashion discusses all and everything.
I wonder how these people find the time to do this. Don’t they have jobs? Families? Dogs to walk?
And Rod Dreher the blogger reveals more of himself than Rod Dreher the author ever did.
There is a lot of typical Republican carping, in spite of the occasional wistful nod to the need for a politics that transcends the Right/Left dichotomy.
I am not too hard on him for this; it takes time to overcome longstanding bad habits, after all. I always said that Rod Dreher seemed like someone on the first steps of a journey on the way to he knows not where. And who among us consistently conforms to his higher aspirations?
However, it is when his attention turns to foreign affairs, especially in light of the recent conflict in Lebanon, that my annoyance turned to alarm.
To Dreher, the situation is stark: Israel is good, Muslims are evil.
In his manichean world there is no mention of Israel’s abysmal human rights record, no acknowledgement of the suffering of the Palestinians, no nod to the idea that the thing is other than high melodrama. All nuance is lost, and in Dreher’s words, “the terrorist fanatics of Hezbollah launched a war that is destroying Lebanon.”
To give some feel for his tendency to demonize Muslims, I note a recent post entitled “How do you say ‘Sieg Heil’ in Arabic?”
This post was a reaction to a photo in Time magazine last week that showed a group of young Hezbollah recruits extending their hands in an open-palmed salute.
Now when I saw this photo my first reaction was “Geez; that looks like the Nazi salute.” Unlike Dreher, who took that initial reaction and created an inflammatory post, I had a second thought:”Wait a minute; I really don’t have enough knowledge to draw any conclusion”. Perhaps the young Arabs in the photo did mean to emulate a fascist salute- itself an adaptation of the Imperial Roman salute- or perhaps not. I rather doubt a Muslim would consider himself a Nazi,
with that ideology’s weird mix of pseudo-scientific racialism and Nordic myth. Perhaps the gesture had a different meaning within Shi’ia culture. I once saw a commentator, after all, who described a group of charismatic Christians, their arms outstretched in blessing, as offering a fascist salute!
Or take another example: if I saw a photo of a man holding up two fingers in a “V” shape how do I know if he is giving the Churchillian “victory” sign, the sixties “peace” sign, or merely indicating the number “two”? I don’t, if I don’t know the context.
I have googled “Hezbollah salute” and found a lot of people jumping to conclusions and precisely no one offering information about the actual intentions of the militants in the photo. In fact, it turns out that this is how Shi’a pray, just like penecostals raise their hands.
But no matter, it is grist for the mill, fuel for the fire.
But it gets worse.
While most of the debate over Israel’s recent attack on Lebanon revolves around the question of whether or not bombing cities and killing civilians by the hundreds- so far- is a disproportionate response to Hezbollah’s capturing and killing a few Israeli soldiers, Dreher will have none of that: “I see a disproportionate response from Israel as justifiable in principle.”
He links to an article by Washington Post writer Richard Cohen, which he captions “Proportionality is Madness”, where Cohen argues that the idea of proportionality should be scrapped, that total war is justified. (Cohen, who seems to me the epitome of the dumb ugly wing of the Left, might seem an unlikely presence on a conservative blog, crunchy or no, but then war makes
Dreher links, too, to Charles Krauthammer, who argues the same, justifying indiscriminate killing by invoking Hiroshima: “That’s what it took with Japan.”
And Dreher quotes neoconservative bigshot John Podhoretz at length on the lesson of the Second World War: “Didn’t the willingness of [American and British] leaders to inflict mass casualties on civilians indicate a cold-eyed singleness of purpose that helped break the will and back of their enemies?
“What if the tactical mistake we made in Iraq was that we didn’t kill enough Sunnis in the early going to intimidate them and make them so afraid of us they would go along with anything? Wasn’t the survival of Sunni men between 15 and 35 the reason there was an insurgency and the basic cause of sectarian violence now?”
Allow, for a moment, the ramifications of that last sentence to sink in.
God spare us from cold-eyed singleness of purpose.
And God spare us the sight of Jewish pundits constructing a rationale for genocide.
That Rod Dreher, who only recently, in article 7 of his “manifesto” stated “Beauty is more important than efficiency” now invokes the efficiency of indiscriminate slaughter, of total war, reveals the shallowness of his crunchy conversion.
That the guy who not so long ago invoked Dorothy Day and Wendall Berry and who writes for the antiwar American Conservative now beats the drums of war and death and oils the engine of Empire with such glee shows a density of soul that is stunning.
Mr. Dreher: you may eat your vegetables, wear funny shoes, and live in a bungalow, but if your critique of the mainstream you claim to eschew does not go beyond such superficialities you are part of the problem.
In one recent post you criticized the Holy See’s measured response to the crisis in the Middle East; in others, you, a Catholic, want to jettison the Just War principles, at a time when the Church is trying to tighten them. If such moral heresy is not a justification for terrorism and genocide I don’t know what
is. To espouse such a thing is what a Thomist would call formal participation in mortal sin.
You claim to have second thoughts about Iraq and regrets for your support of that War, but you are apparently no wiser; indeed you seem to have grown in folly.
I have long thought that “crunchy con” sounded like some sort of swindle, a scam. Now I know it: when it comes to moral principle and foreign policy a crunchy con is just a neocon in sandals.