Crunchy Cons: The Growth of Granola Conservatism
by Joe Katzman at February 28, 2006 08:18 AM
There are neo-cons, who began as leftists disillusioned with the left's "Hate America" aspect. They quickly morphed into a comprehensive critique of leftism that emphasized the value of liberty, drew on rather than rejected social science research, and revitalized the GOP in the late 1970s. There are paleo-cons, classical conservatives who see themselves as guardians of tradition and our Western heritage. There are theo-cons, evangelical conservatives who are fighting back against what they see as a hostile state and media culture. There are right-libertarian, or economic conservatives. Heck, there are even PersiCons these days. It's a big tent, as any majority party must be. Use these terms, and folks generally grok what you're talking about.
But Granola Conservatives?!? What do you call those - "Crunchy Cons?"
I've referred to my resonance with the term "granola conservative" a few times before on Winds: in July 18 & 19, 2002 roundups; in an August 31, 2002 article about "Sustainable Development and Industrial Ecology"; and in M Simon's Guest Blog of February 5, 2003: "Energy Efficient Vehicles; Getting There" (looks like Callimachus got there). Winds of Change.NET, which runs regular briefings like "New Energy Currents," is shaped in part by these sensibilities.
So, just what is a "Granola Conservative," anyway? And how do birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party)? Glad you asked...
What Is A Granola Conservative?
Rod Dreher's "Birkenstocked Burkeans" article in the July 12, 2002 National Review offered the initial sketch of the phenomenon. His Sept. 30, 2002 follow-up, "Crunchy Cons," developed it further. Some excerpts:
Dreher realized he was on to something when his e-mail inbox began filling up with "Me, too!" notes. But why? By their books shall ye know them:
This sometimes results in seemingly odd alignments, and an orientation that believes modern conservatism may have become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff:
You may want to read the rest of that one.
Crunchy Cons: "Save the Environmentalists!"
Yet the biggest and most obvious cleavage between "crunchy cons" and their fellows on the right lies in their approach to the environment. They're not economic illiterates, and their approach leans hard toward the free market. But there's something else at work here, and their books noted above provide a clue. Catholic blogger Mark Shea got one aspect of it when he wrote "The Cheapness of Granola Conservatism" in July 2002:
The result is an important service to environmentalism, at least if one's goal is to raise environmental issues above their current vanishing point in political debate. It's an important service to the Republican Party, too.
After all, a political movement which is often in the spotlight working to block serious action against murderous dictators, and which alternates between sneering at and actively battling against anyone trying to take them on... such a movement deserves the label it will justly earn - as a shill for murderers and tyrants. A label that no amount of "framing" and spin can really fix. The Left has earned this label justly - and will keep it, unless they make behaviour changes with real substance.
Likewise, a political movement which is often in the spotlight working to block serious action toward corporate accountability in matters of the environment, safety, et. al., and alternates between sneering at and actively battling against those trying to take these issues on.... such a movement deserves the label it will justly earn - as a shill for big business. A label that no amount of "framing" and spin can really fix. The GOP has earned this label justly - and will keep it, unless they make behaviour changes with real substance.
One can remedy this situation without being in thrall to the Left's well-financed lobbies, or defined by the Left's failed shibboleths. Indeed, one must if real progress is to be made on the issues.
For an fine illustration of why, look no further than the sterile discussion we had here with Tom Volckhausen over an August 2005 Winds article re: the endangered Tigers of India. Before he was done, Tom had proposed as the solution the very component that was failing in the real world, referred to the free market as "mythical," and placed his faith instead in a lack of corruption among government officials - all in a poor area where illegal trading in tiger parts is hugely profitable. As I eventually noted:
Nor am I alone, and that impression is having real effects. As evidenced by the recent "death of environmentalism" memo that first circulated in 2004 at the Environmental Grantmakers Association conference. Not to mention New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, who wrote that:
Crunchy-con Stephen Hayward is also quick to note that environmentalism's decline, and the accompanying negative reactions on the right to many Crunchy Con traits, aren't co-incidence. As he explained to a mostly-puzzled crowd of lefties at at the Philanthropy Roundtable Meeting in Big Sky, Montana on June 20, 2005:
In "Conservative Environmentalist" an Oxymoron? How to End Environmental Policy Gridlock, Hayward looks at how this happened, what we're facing, and what might be done on both the left and right to restore environmentalism to relevance and move it forward. I recommend his article highly, and if you've read this and followed some of the links, all of the "Granola Conservative" themes discussed here will jump right out at you.
Conservative blogger Orrin Judd also threw out a few ideas in his 2002 essay "Towards a Conservative Environmentalism," then closed with this:
One hopes so. We'll see.
On The Bus...
While it may provide the clearest example of cleavage and the greatest opportunity for a different and productive approach that moves public policy forward, it should be remembered that true environmentalism is only one aspect of the CrunchyCon world view. Family, Beauty, and Culture also matter a great deal - and just as they reject the left's failed domestic "Environmental War" approach, they reject the right's failed "Culture War" approach as well:
In both cases, therefore, they favour a more human approach that emphasizes stewardship values, greater local control, and the primacy of involvement that leads to real local improvement as the goal rather than political commitment. From higher levels, they look for a combination of no-nosense enforcement, plus incentive patterns that promote local virtues rather than actively undermining them. To ask for more would be to expect too much from government, which is at least as flawed as big business in institutional terms.
There's considerable overlap here, and even socio-cultural commonality, with the neo-liberal Communitarian worldview promoted by thinkers like Amitai Etzioni. While that group may be very much on the eclipse within the Democratic Party, its adherents haven't gone away and can still point to "Third Way" successes in areas like welfare reform. See The Communitarian Network's web site, the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies, and especially Amitai Etzioni's 1992 "A Communitarian Platform" [PDF format] in the DLC's New Democrat magazine.
A very interesting liberal-conservative discussion may be about to develop.
Having said that, "Granola Conservatives" know their roots - and those roots are conservative. By drawing on those deeper roots, they may even find allies in places that outside observers would consider unlikely. If they do, the face of American conservatism is likely to undergo a second evolution - even as the left remains firmly stuck in the 1960s, and continues to drag the rest of the Democratic Party right back there with them. Absent all the fun parts, of course; they aren't into that any more.
Still, resonance is real in politics, and movements often have echoes across political lines. Depending on how things break, the result could be an intellectual current that's about to affect both of America's major political parties.
The ride ahead certainly promises to be interesting. Are You On The (hybrid) Bus?
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg rips the "Crunchy Cons" concept - and some of his criticisms are valid. But it's still worth paying close attention to, and here's why.
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Granola Conservatism: Ripping the Crunchy Cons
by Joe Katzman at March 5, 2006 07:23 AM
Winds of Change.NET's recent article described the "granola conservative" outlook, and explained the niche it filled. Now Jonah Goldberg has a piece up in National Review, ripping the "Crunchy Cons" (NR was where the concept was first aired, and hosts the Crunchy Con blog). Many of his criticisms are valid. His dismissal of the phenomenon is not.
It's one thing to notice a trend. Another to go "hmmm...," wonder what it means, and begin to define its outlines. And something else entirely to offer a coherent explanation and program that gives it both coherent form and real weight in the political sphere.
Here's what I think is going on...
There's usually a difference between the person who discovers and coins a social phenomenon, and the person who really groks and defines it.
Rod Dreher is still in the early stages of noticing something, and defining its outlines. It shows. "Granola conservatives" are mostly an anthropological phenomenon, not a political one... yet. Rod's book begins to explore it, but in the end it's just Rod's viewpoint - and my personal take is that it's a viewpoint coloured pretty heavily by who Rod is. That may not necessarily be who the movement is.
His take on "Crunchy Cons" going to be tested hard in debate, as it should be. As it needs to be. That will temper it. It's also likely to attract conservatives (the potential resonance with evangelicals, for instance) and independents (like Communitarians) in for a look, whose presence and influence will change the very thing he began talking about. Which is another reason why Rod may not, in the end, be the person who really defines it.
Does Rod's work have a tendency to adopt a caricatured picture of mainstream conservatism? Guilty, and Jonah is right to take him to task for it. Avoidance of the "compassionate conservatism" strain of thought that bears more than a few overlaps with Dreher's ideas, and failure to grapple with its successes and failures? Guilty. Weak on the economic foundations even as it discusses economic subjects? Not surprising in a mostly anthropological book, but a weakness nonetheless. A bit of boomer narcissism? Yah. Jonah Goldberg:
Valid criticisms - and again, all of these attributes are pretty much what one would expect in a mostly anthropological book.
Where Jonah and I part company is in my belief that it would be a big mistake to dismiss the concept itself.
I think Rod is on to something, for a whole bunch of reasons. Trends like these toward "voluntary simplicity" are real. Straus and Howe's "Generations" work strongly suggests that many Crunchy Con themes around The Permanent Things, a different approach to community and duty, et. al. are already at work - and more than a few surveys of younger people these days suggest that they're right. Design/policy philosophies like "New Urbanism" are making themselves felt. Key environmentalist tenets are getting a strong rethink in some quarters, in ways that could make it less of a voodoo cult and more of an ethic that conservatives could once again hold proudly. Energy prices are already changing public attitudes, and will change them still more in ways that go beyond our energy use. Etc.
Then there are the responses Rod has received, and that we have seen here. Too many people are coming back with relieved messages of "thank goodness, I'm not the only one!" for me to dismiss this.
I've said before that the 60s are dead - and so are the 80s. The tension between the worldviews they represent has governed most of our political lives. Both have lessons to teach - but both are also inadequate to our future. As I noted:
When politics begins filling up with independents, and demand rises for independent voices as partisanship accelerates, that's a clue.
What Rod is talking about is interesting to me for a number of reasons - not least its attempt to find a worldview that synthesizes the 1960s and 1980s in a conservative way, rather than accepting their permanent polarity. Major tensions are appearing in both parties' coalitions, and Strauss and Howe's "Crisis Generation" thesis looking better and better by the day. If it's hammered out well, concepts like "granola conservatism" offer the right both a potential resolution of conflicts the culture is stuck in, and ideas that resonate with the shape of a very possible future in ways that can appeal to aging bomers as well as the younger "Millenials." A fine letter from a reader makes a very worthwhile point:
And the ability to do that reminding in a way that is rooted in religion, but not tied to any given one, is critically important to the age we currently live in.
All of which is really just a more thought-out explanation of a visceral reaction I had to Rod's "granola conservatives" at the time, and still do on considered reflection.
Be patient with it, Jonah. Walk down the road with it a bit, and see where it might lead you. Once you accept that the participants are kind of feeling their way around the elephant blindfolded rather than articulating some new thought-out political vision, you can just accept that and notice as interesting stories and ideas pop out.
For instance, I liked Bruce Frohnen's bit about animals having an inherent integrity rather than rights per se, for instance, a concept that extends beyond animals to things and communities, and explains why the little choices we make every day matter. Rod's experiences with a (liberal-leaning) builder friend in Texas who has a business refurbishing old places rather than tearing them down was also good, and worth it just for the observation at the end.
Overall, the Crunchy Cons blog at National Review is getting better after a shaky start. It's a bit less of a group wank now, and a bit more of a serious grappling with ideas and criticisms. They'll need more of that, because there's a lot of work to do before the "Crunchy Cons" concept goes from political anthropology to an influential movement with a realized worldview.
If folks like Rod and myself are right about the trends, that's exactly where it will have to go eventually. It will take time for The Bus to get there - and listening carefully to criticisms like Jonah Goldberg's is a good way for folks like Rod to make sure they're still On The Bus when it does.
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One thing about grainola bars, get rid of the fruits, flakes and nuts and you have nothing left.
I just don't feel like reading right now.
You really should get that checked...
An interesting article, if you've ever been involved with and "environmentalist" group.
I am pretty conservative in my values but I belive we need to look after the land when we can. Just apart of good house keeping.
I did not read any of the articles, but I will when I have time.
Oh and I may have Berkenstocks but I also have 3 AR15's.
Also known as Log Cabin Republicans.
God I hate this shit. I thought the whole topic was dead and gone but Rod Dreher brought it back up again.
Your aesthetic tastes are more typical of liberals, but your politics arent. Wow. Fucking fascinating.