Friday, May 12, 2006

Crunchy Conservatives?

My Colleague Lawson Stone (prof. of OT at Asbury) shared the following with me. While some of this I would certainly disagree with, there is much worth pondering



Am I really the last person to discover Rod Dreher’s book Crunchy Cons? He means, of course, Crunchy Conservatives. I have always felt a little funny in business-as-usual conservative politics, and this book has come the closest of anything I’ve read to “ID-ing” my political and social convictions. Below I reproduce, verbatim, Dreher’s “Crunchy Con Manifesto” for your pondering:

A Crunchy-Con Manifesto
Rod Dreher, Crunchy Cons, Crown Forum, 2006
1. We are conservatives who stand outside the contemporary conservative mainstream. We like it here; the view is better, for we can see things that matter more clearly.
2. We believe that modern conservatism has become too focused on material conditions, and insufficiently concerned with the character of society. The point of life is not to become a more satisfied shopper.
3. We affirm the superiority of the free market as an economic organizing principle, but believe the economy must be made to serve humanity's best interests, not the other way around. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.
4. We believe that culture is more important than politics, and that neither America's wealth nor our liberties will long survive a culture that no longer lives by what Russell Kirk identified as "the Permanent Things" -those eternal moral norms necessary to civilized life, and which are taught by all the world's great wisdom traditions
5. A conservatism that does not recognize the need for restraint, for limits, and for humility is neither helpful to individuals and society nor, ultimately, conservative. This is particularly true with respect to the natural world.
6. A good rule of thumb: Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global and New and Abstract.
7. Appreciation of aesthetic quality-that is, beauty-is not a luxury, but key to the good life.
8. The cacophony of contemporary popular culture makes it hard to discern the call of truth and wisdom. There is no area in which practicing asceticism is more important.
9. We share Kirk's conviction that "the best way to rear up a new generation of friends of the Permanent Things is to beget children, and read to them 0' evenings, arid teach them what is worthy of praise: the wise parent is the conservator of ancient truths .... The institution most essential to conserve is the family. "
10. Politics and economics will not save us. If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things, preserving these ancient truths in the choices we make in everyday life. lnthis sense, to conserve is to create anew.


thegreatswalmi said...

very interesting Ben, and like you said, not all agreeable, but certainly all interesting. I'd love to hear your take on it.

Jeremy said...

For more on this book you can read the (numerous) posts at a now closed Crunchy Con blog at National Review. Dreher also has a blog going now at Beliefnet.

Ben Witherington said...

My critique of this philosophy, which I would deem modified populist philosophy is that it is too individualistic, it is too focused on the physical family and its needs rather than on the family of faith, that it is naive to think our nation will remain 'blessed' if it just remains moral, and it ignores that 'free market capitalism' is an oxymoron. There is nothing very free about it, and its pretty much dog eat dog. Its 'the consumer and sales are always right'philosophy is, if not an immoral philosophy, at least is not a Christian philosophy of property. In my view the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, and so none of us are owners, only stewards of the earth and its goods. At least I do see in this philsophy a hint of concern about and respect for the environment and other creatures.


Chris said...

Interesting, and not too far from where I stand personally (despite the criticisms).

Sadly, over the years I have often found Russell Kirk more spiritually edifying than much of the written material my denomination produces.

KentF said...

Coming from someone who has voted Republican 98% of the time over the past 25 years, but who is really, REALLY tired of Jim Dobson, and the whole, scary Conservative movement -- I'd say this is beginning to sound more like me today. I haven't moved to the extreme left, and probably won't any time soon, but I'm very far removed from the far right as well. And, please don't call me confused ;-)

Michael Kruse said...

I am pretty much a Crunchy Conservative. One of the things that I always find perplexing and frustrating is that nearly universal deprecation of free markets by theologians. As someone who has worked in business and economic development all my life, I have been coming to the conclusion that is precisely this deprecation that has led to such a sad state of materialism and environmental abuse.

All that is in the earth is the Lords and we are but stewards of it. Yet clearly the Old Testament law taught about the importance of private property. Half the laws are about the proper use and exchange of private property. Yet there are also provisions about not harvesting to the edge of the fields and setting aside some production for the benefit of the Levites. Certain community values trump private ownership. Private property and community shalom are both central to the Law.

The opposite of the free market is controlled markets. They are both information systems. In free markets, purchases send real time signals about how much to increase or decrease production. Suppliers are tapped into a non-stop stream of information signaling how much to make and at what price. In controlled markets, a person or small group, estimates what they think demand will be and then supplies goods accordingly. Demand is nearly always misestimated leading to shortages (meaning people can’t get what they want) or overages (meaning resources have been wasted.) Free markets are far and away (though clearly imperfect) the best distributors of resources at the best prices.

Free markets are not equivalent to unbounded exchange. Free markets assume certain legal provisions and institutions that give boundaries to exchange practices and use of resources. Chaos is detrimental to free markets, long term planning, and capital formation.

Free markets are not equivalent to consumerism or greed, though they will reflect these values if they are brought into the marketplace. Greed is not caused by free markets or capitalism. It is caused by the human condition of sin. Greed is present in every society. However, in free market economies, you can be as greedy as you want but you still have to provide a good/service that people will buy versus what a competitor is offering. It channels greed in productive directions. In controlled economies, greed is accomplished by leveraging the power of the state to line your own pockets at the expense of others. It channels greed in unproductive and corrosive ways.

This brings me to my main point. I think many theologians are looking for an economic SYSTEM that will create a just world. It doesn’t exist and won’t exist until the New Jerusalem. A free market approach has the benefit of being the system that most accurately and efficiently reflects the economic values of the players. The key for justice is for the players to bring the appropriate values into the marketplace. The church has for decades devalued, if not vilified, those God has called to be market place ministers. We do not teach authentic stewardship in our churches and thus it is not reflected in the marketplace, so we turn around and blame the economic system for not reflecting the solid moral values we are not bringing to the marketplace. (Kind of like blaming telephone technology for not giving you the person you wanted to talk to when you dialed the wrong number.)

The proffered solution is more controlled economies with more regulation and compulsory behavior. Any use of government is by definition as use of power (through taxation or regulation). It is necessary because there must be certain boundaries to prevent certain kinds of exploitation. However, each behavioral outcome we compel is one more virtue we have eliminated. People can no longer choose to do what is virtuous. They are compelled to do a behavior. They seek to do the minimum to avoid negative consequences instead of internalizing virtues and being driven by them. The less virtue is internalized the more need there is for control, and downward the spiral goes.

The answer to me seems to be markets flooded by people with solid stewardship values that embraces free markets (the greatest wealth generator ever developed by humanity) to produce the outcomes of biblical shalom. Instead, theologians and pastor’s marginalize and ostracize market place ministers, directly or by implication, with endless dismissals of the most effective economic system ever conceived.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks Michael, this is a good and thought producing post. The issue of course is complex, and its not just a matter of free markets of course. Its also a matter of free trade which we do not have anywhere in this world. Everyone has their embargos, and protectionist tariffs. So of course there is less and there is more free market and free trade. The problem with your analogy with OT laws is that those laws were set up for a covenantal people to abide by, not a secular government, and it is not at all clear that the analogy works.


Michael Kruse said...

"Its also a matter of free trade which we do not have anywhere in this world. Everyone has their embargos, and protectionist tariffs."

Absolutely! This raises the curious debate by some that what we need is “fair trade” not “free trade.” When I ask what fair trade means, often (not always) I am told that fair trade means eliminating protectionism. In other words, they want freer trade but they are opposed to “free trade.” I feel like I am conversing with Yogi Berra.

"The problem with your analogy with OT laws is that those laws were set up for a covenantal people to abide by, not a secular government, and it is not at all clear that the analogy works."

Clearly the specific laws do not apply. (Lest there be any question, I am not a Reconstructionist.) But it seems to me that the general principles of private ownership wedded with community shalom, all in a posture of stewardship before God are applicable for today. If you have time, I’d love for you to elaborate on this a little more. In what sense might the covenant law inform us about economic issues today, if at all? Am I over reaching?

yuckabuck said...

I have been wondering if I was becoming a "crunchy con," as I have become disillusioned with much of modern politics on the right, due to some of the discussion on this blog and elsewhere. I think Michael makes some excellent points about free markets. I liked this quote:

"The key for justice is for the players to bring the appropriate values into the marketplace."

I was intrigued by the "communism" of the early church in Acts, and how it was not commented on again in the Bible after the Ananias and Sapphira incident. I did a study of some of the 19th century religious communities (Shakers, Oneida, etc.) that were based on a socialistic "everything in common" idea, and found that while these efforts had fallen apart for various reasons, even the best communities seemed to fall apart due to a selfish individualism among its members. (Note I am NOT saying that Luke's intention in Acts 5 is to show that due to selfishness like Ananias and Sapphira, the church should never do the "all in common" thing again.)

My point, like Michael's, is how the outcome of economic systems, whether socialism or capitalism, depend on the values that people bring to it. Perhaps a people in a less individualistic culture (or a people full of the Holy Spirit, like the early church in Acts 2) could function well in a more socialistic-type system?

Makeesha said...

Ben, have you read Mustard Seed Versus McWorld by Sine?

Makeesha said...

I have to laugh at the term "crunchy". I highly doubt most people who agree with these statements would be considered much more than soggy granola by those who are truly "crunchy"...but I suppose it's a start ;)

pdug said...

Often fair trade mean elimiating "their" protectionism, or making everyone's protectionism equal (making "them" have rules as stringent as ours, etc)

The Crusader said...

The biggest problem I have with Dreher is when he says he believes something "because the Pope said so". This leads him to unscripural and liberal positions on the Death Penalty and other issues. There is a reason that Prostestant nations succeeded and Catholic nations fell behind. Rational inquiry is better than "The Pope says so".

K.W. Leslie said...

I have a lot of problems with the manifesto, mainly with the great lapses in logic, and lack of understanding of human nature.

Fr'instance, "Small and Local and Old and Particular are to be preferred over Big and Global and New and Abstract." In my experience, small business and local government is often just as corrupt, and much less accountable, than big business and big government. Small and local does not automatically mean noble. Old and particular ideas can be just as evil as new and abstract ideas.

Or, "Appreciation of aesthetic quality... is not a luxury, but key to the good life." No, it's the appreciation of the inherent goodness in an object. Beauty is superficial and misleading, which is why Satan appears as an angel of light.

Lastly, "If we are to be saved at all, it will be through living faithfully by the Permanent Things...." No, if we're to be saved, it's through Jesus Christ and a relationship with Him, not by following the Permanent Things, or the Tao, or the Law -- which kills.