CrunchyCons

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The National Review has launched a new blog CrunchyCons [hat tip: Gnu]. This really attracts me for a number of reasons. It's a kind of conservatism that seems to me to avoid much that I don't like about conservatives (particularly the National Review types) while retaining what seems to me to be the heart of conservatism. For more detail on what they're all about, see the CrunchyCon Manifesto. I'm going to have to check this out when I get some more time (which isn't really any time soon). Most exciting for me is, perhaps, the involvement of Frederica Mathews-Greene, who can write a book arguing for a robustly pro-life position and still come out with NOW and NARAL leaders praising her (and it's not in any way because she soft-pedals the pro-life view; it's because she frames it in a way that they can understand). Anyone who can achieve that is really worth hearing out.

I do have to register reservations with several points in their manifesto. Beauty may sometimes be more important than efficiency, but I'd rather have a beat-up looking minivan than a sports car. It holds the whole family, costs a whole lot less, doesn't tend to attract police officers looking for speeders, and does what we need it to do. The primary motivation for having a sports car instead seems to me to stem from the kind of thing CrunchyCons want to distance themselves from (and #2 in the manifesto is a clear indication of this: "Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.")

I also think a Christian should have a hard time with the last two points. As important as the family is for Christians, it isn't higher than the God-appointed means of spreading the good news that is Jesus Christ. What Christians do for a culture is far more crucial, on the Christian view, than what families in isolation from what a family grounded in Christ ought to be should be for a society. The last point is good for pointing out what won't save, but it's too eager to replace it with something that also won't save. Only repentance will ultimately save. I think they're trying to be vague enough to include that sort of thing, but I don't think it does it for me. On the whole, though, I really like this list and certainly consider it far better than what your standard Republican in government is going to come up with.

2 Comments

I dunno. I understand the sentiment, but some of the axioms are just a little too... axiomatic.

#1 reminds me of when the techie drama people would tell me they were better than the acting drama people.

#3 needs an argument. Big government is bad because it forcibly takes my money away and supports things I don't like or haven't got a clue about. Ultimately, big government is invasive. Is big business invasive? I thought big business was merely sluggish and slow to respond and likely to be overrun by smaller, more innovative companies.

#4 is difficult because I find it hard to separate the two. How can you have a common culture and differing politics and economics?

#6 strikes me as just plain silly. I'm not sure what they're getting at, and I can't think of a single case where it holds true. Seriously, if you're for this one, could you please explain it?

On #1, I think it's generally true that those who stand outside a larger community can see things about that community that those in the community are missing. Anyone who has spent time in another culture and then returned to their own can testify to this. This has to be counterbalanced by admitting that conservatives outside the conservative mainstream are going to miss out on things that those in the mainstream will be clued in to, but that doesn't minimize the first point. Since the conservative mainstream has much more of a voice, the #1 point is more important of the two.

#3 doesn't say that everything bad about big government is bad about big business, just that both deserve skepticism. Several things are common to both, including bureaucracy, decision by committee, decisions made on a large scale that reflect insensitivity to the needs or desires of the individual or the little guy, the possibility of hierarchy to lead to abuse of power, and so on.

The one thing you do say is bad about big government is exactly one of the things I would distance myself from. I think it can be morally justified to take tax money for people in exchange for providing benefits and then to use that money for things that are in fact good but not liked by some who it's being done for or to. Doing what's right is far more important than doing what's popular, which is why the founders didn't make this a democracy but had elected representatives who make decisions, ideally taking into account knowledge of greater details of situations and a deeper reflection on moral issues. That doesn't always happen, but I think that kind of view is what conservatives should distance themselves from, and it's one thing I find refreshing in CrunchyCons.

I think what #4 is getting at is that larger cultural issues are more worth preserving and fighting for (and more in danger of loss) than the focus on economics and politics among conservatives would lead people to believe. What goes on in people's lives, the values they hold, the interaction families have with other families, and so on is key. This is something Aristotle would wholeheartedly agree with. He'd distinguish between those who gather for economic or political need and those who form the polis. If a city is just a collection of people who gather for mutual benefit on an economic or military level for protection from invaders and mutual benefit financially and in terms of external goods, then it's not really a city or polis as he conceives of what a city ought to be. It's social institutions that contribute toward people's being good people, toward having a life of excellence, fulfillment, and well-being that are most important. If what people participate in leads to the their flourishing and others' flourishing, then it's fulfilling the proper function of a city. I think Crunchy Con Manifesto #4 is saying much the same thing.

#6 strikes me as so obvious that it's going to be hard to explain why it's true, but I'll try. Small is better than big, because big involves loss of connection. When we finally get around to moving to a new area when I finish my degree, we'll have to look around for a congregation to be part of. Unless there's no other option, we're not going to be interested in any large congregations, where you simply can't know the congregation. Small is clearly better. In music and art, less is more. I've been part of many musical attempts that didn't work out because too many people were involved. Unless you want to remove any sense of real interaction by having every note scripted (which isn't a group of musicians but a group of scripted robots), musicians are going to be interacting and producing something together. That's best done with a smaller group. When a company or government gets bigger, it brings all the problems with big business and big government that I mentioned above.

There are better things about global than local, but some of the most important things can be done only locally, interpersonal relationships chief among them. Moral development is very difficult in a larger sort of setting. It needs to be keyed to the particulars of the situation. There's something good about diversity of culture, and lots of good stuff gets lost when you Hellenize, Romanize, or Americanize, even if there is gain. Any opponent of big government should want decisions to be made as much as possible at the local level.

Old tends to be better than new, largely because there's nothing new under the sun. New ideas that come forward tend to be old ideas that didn't work the last time they were tried. There's such a thing as the tried and true, and I think we should hesitate to remove things that have been successful for thousands of years without a really good argument. Age tends to result in more wisdom. This is a thoroughly conservative principle, but it seems to be ignored too often by those impressed with the newfangled, thinking more efficiency will come with computers when it really just seems to require more time spent fixing problems with them, installing things on them, and so on. You can achieve more with them, but there's something to be missed about the time when there weren't any.

As for particular and abstract, I think this is true, but I think many people will disagree. I do think particulars are important. People inclined toward abstract principles are the sort who flatten important distinctions, the reductionistic sort who ignore important differences that their abstract principles don't take into account. This has to do with big business and big government again, because such larger scale endeavors tend to simplify in order to appeal to as many as possible (or simply to treat as many as possible in the same way). This tends to ignore when differences are relevant, treating every situation and every person as if they are the same.

Such results (in all four cases) are truly unfortunate, and I can see exactly why someone would seek to call conservatives toward valuing the small, the local, the old, and the particular.

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