Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Hibbs on Dreher

Thomas Hibbs reviews Crunchy Cons, spending some time comparing CCs to bobos, a thought once suggested to me by another wise man.

On the surface, both groups long for a kind of romantic authenticity and risk turning their way of life into a new trend in shopping, precisely the thing the crunchies profess to abhor. And yet the crunchies depart in striking ways from the bobos, nowhere more dramatically than on the topic of religion. For the bobos, religion must be measured by its contribution to the expansion of the self; thus, bobos engage in the (at best paradoxical) task of erecting a “house of obligation on a foundation of choice.”


Not all readers will be moved to imitate the sort of choices made by the crunchies, but one at least can admire the sacrifices made and especially the sense of missionary devotion to the family; for example, giving up a lucrative position in business to run a local farm or sacrificing a second income to homeschool kids. They also demand a great deal of time and imaginative energy. It is not surprising that these choices either result from, or lead to, profound changes in self-understanding. One interviewee after another speaks of realizing a “calling.” Far more than the bobos, the crunchies and their children will be prepared, to the extent that anyone can be prepared, for tragedy.

I think there’s something to this, but I wonder to what extent the choice that precedes the calling also continues to condition it. There remains a distance between someone like Dreher, an "American ’church shopper’ who’s made a stop with the Catholics and now thinking about switching over to the more incense-ridden Orthodox" , and, say, Nicholas Wolterstorff, who has written (and spoken) very movingly and profoundly about his "induction into the tradition" and would, I think, qualify as a crunchy lib with not a bobone in his body.

Hibbs offers another sharp observation:

Do the crunchies want to save America or the Republican Party or, having acknowledged the short-term irreversibility of civilized decay, do they plan to “retreat behind defensible borders”? Of course, Dreher and most of his crunchies are somewhere between these two options, just as the contemporary Republican Party is between social conservatism and libertarianism. To the extent that the crunchies aspire to opt out of the wider culture, they are vulnerable to the free-rider objection: that of creating little enclaves that are nonetheless dependent on the society that they have abandoned for services and protections. As I say, this is clearly not Dreher’s ideal, but it is a difficulty the crunchies should face squarely.

I wonder how Dreher will answer this question; Hibbs says there’s room for another book. Dreher, thus far, has just noted and quoted the second paragraph of the review, before it gets interesting.

Discussions - 11 Comments

To the extent that the crunchies aspire to opt out of the wider culture, they are vulnerable to the free-rider objection: that of creating little enclaves that are nonetheless dependent on the society that they have abandoned for services and protections.

By this standard Cluny, Citeaux, and the foundations of the Carthusians could all be accused of being "free riders." Indeed, Western Civilization was saved by men with the discipline to erect some "defensible borders." What such a characterization overlooks is that these foundations contained precisely what was worth preserving and protecting in the culture of their day, at any cost.

There is a lot to object to in Dreher’s book, but this particular objection is absolutely silly. No one is being yoked to strip clubs, television, and unhinged consumerism so Ron Dreher can parasitically read books and eat organic food. Indeed, no one has any moral obligation to participate in our wretched culture if they don’t want to, and those who make the effort to step away from it should be commended for their effort.

The last sentence of Hibbs’ review about the limits of bourgeois virtue is also worth quoting. For anyone who cares about this rrunchy controversy, my crunchy comments (mixed) will appear in the July TOUCHSTONE, with some crunchy rejoinders. It’s also worth comparing cunchiness and manliness, which I’m now trying to do. There’s more overlap than you might think; the Crunchy are certainly more manly than the Bobos (that’s ambivalent praise, but praise nonetheless). Wolterstorff (sp--he needs a literary name) is a more manly than Dreher, though, and certainly worth checking out, both in print and in person.

Hibbs’ last sentence is: "The bourgeois virtues may satisfy the needs of the political order, but they will never satisfy the longings of the human soul."
I would change it thusly: "The bourgeois virtues AND vices are necessary to maintain our (inescapably liberal democratic) political order, but they will never..etc." Such is our dilemma, and Hibbs is right to point to Tocqueville as providing a moderating correction to Dreher, one which takes more seriously the present era’s political limits and the perennial moral failings of humans. Finally, as an evangelical who came near to converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, I think that Brooks’line about a "house of obligation built on a foundation of choice" is one that will continue to haunt us, as more and more Americans turn to traditional Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and perhaps schismatic Episcopalianism in the future. It has an undeniable weightiness that the rest of his religion discussion does not. The American "giveness" of evangelicalism’s "Old Time Religion" remains one of its most powerful assets, and despite all its faults, it might remain the secret glue necessary to hold our Experiment together. Such is the conclusion my thoughts lead to, although I’m not entirely happy with it.

Allegedly (and I may have the wrong literary agrarians here, but it doesn’t matter): When Marion Montgomery told Andrew Lytle that he was thinking about becoming Orthodox, Lytle responded: "But you not from ’over there.’" Maybe the Schistmatic Episcopalians should start an American Orthodox church? But of course we’re not TRADITIONAL enough, and we don’t have a QUEEN--and we’re too postmodern to actually FOUND a church with PATRIARECHS. (But if the American Orthodox started worshipping with the sacred text of the Declaration of Independence, maybe lots of readers of this blog would join.) Maybe a Southern Orthodox church? But that would have worked only when the South (briefly, but we still remember) was something like a nation. Insofar as there is a distinctive American religion, Carl is right, it is Calvinist and evangelical. But if that old time religion and bourgeois virtue aren’t good enough for you, then...

Peter, I really do not understand your point. Do you need a Queen to have an Anglican or Orthodox Church?? Do you mean orthodox/traditionalist believers who find themselves trapped in the "church of the groovy nonjudgemental Jesus" should just shut up and stay there? Are Evangelical Churches the only genuinely American denominations? Can only Evangelical churches accept converts while other faiths, like the Saducees, should dutifully discourage converts?

I only mean that it’s tough to be Orthodox or Anglican in America. But the reasons--theological and psychological--for wanting to be are genine and powerful. All Christian churches are or should be evangelical, of course. Those that have become so nonjudgmental as to be non-evangelical are toast.

You are right - it is tough.

I should add, in the interest of an Anglican stiff upper lip, not as tough as it is in China, or any nation with a majority Mulsim population. Cultural struggle is a pleasant diversion when compared to the sort of persecution a Copt in Cairo or a Baptist in Beijing encounters.

Well, of course, and we shouldn’t slight the amount of present-tense real persecution in the world. But Walker Percy did say (during the Cold War) that "dissident" American writers suffer from Solzhenitsyn envy. At least his criticisms were taken seriously by the Soviets! And, we can add, they had a huge effect.

I always thought it was Gahndi envy - most of the "intelligentsia" said nasty things about the "mystic" and "reactionary" Solzhenitsyn.

Ghandi is the favorite of our genuinely non-dissident, posturing intellectuals, the alienation-fakers. All they think they know about Solzhenitsyn and Percy is vaguely negative: They’re too orthodox and uncrunchy to be cool. A leading conservative journalist once called Ghandi the most overrated man of the 20th century. It’s an observation that’s more than a bit dubious until you start giving it some thought.

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