Claremonts Douglas Jeffrey takes Rod Dreher to the woodshed (which I assume is a kind of crunchy thing to do). A taste:
Crunchy Cons now and then touches on an important and compelling question: Does the tremendous wealth and prosperity that we enjoy in America today make it harder to cultivate virtue? Does the lack of necessity in our lives make it harder to remember our obligations to God, our families, and our fellow citizens? The supreme irony is that in counseling a retreat from politics into a comfortable private life at a time of great danger to our country and our civilization, Dreher becomes Exhibit A in his own indictment of America.
In its discussion of food, Crunchy Cons quotes a nutritionist: "Our food is a sign of what weve lost in general. I think if we could start…rebuilding the quality of our plates, we could start rebuilding what weve lost in our culture." There is no equally strong statement in the much briefer discussion of education, which deals only with the virtues of home-schooling and of teaching religion (both fine and good, as far as they go). For reasons by now clear, Dreher does not address citizen education, education in politics and history, or higher education, which Americas founders understood first and foremost as the education of statesmen. Elsewhere in the book, Dreher indulges in a "thought experiment": he imagines himself a presidential speechwriter who draws on Jimmy Carters infamous "malaise" speech (1979), which he has come to admire. He writes for a president who is a scold: "The truth is, we Americans have lost our way. We used to believe in hard work, in family, in our communities, and in sacrificing, when necessary, for the greater good of all…. But our power and prosperity have made us spoiled and self-indulgent, and we have given ourselves over to the idea that we can find our greatest happiness in unbridled consumption."
Compare this imaginary presidential speech to a real one delivered in 1923, by Calvin Coolidge—whose portrait Ronald Reagan, the only conservative Dreher criticizes by name in his book, ordered placed in the cabinet room of the White House in 1981:
It is necessary always to give a great deal of thought to liberty. There is no substitute for it…. Unless it be preserved, there is little else that is worth while…. Individual initiative, in the long run, is a firmer reliance than bureaucratic supervision. When the people work out their own social and economic destiny, they generally reach sound conclusions. This is by no means saying that we have reached perfection in any province; it is merely a consideration of some of the things that the liberally educated ought to do to promote progress.
We have reached the antithesis of the asceticism of the Middle Ages. There is no tendency now to despise self-gratification or to hold what we call practical affairs in contempt. To adjust the balance of this age we must seek another remedy. We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen. It is on that side of life that it is desirable to put the emphasis at the present time. If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself…. The success or failure of liberal education, the justification of its protection and encouragement by the government, and of its support by society, will be measured by its ability to minister to this great cause, to perform the necessary services, to make the required redeeming sacrifices.
Rod Dreher comes across in Crunchy Cons as a good-hearted man. He loves God and his family above all. He has many sensible concerns about our country. One suspects that if he would read more about our tradition—and given his concerns, where better to begin than 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!")—he 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, which is what makes a writer more than a writer, and his books worthwhile.