A case in point is Rod Dreher, the self-styled "crunchy con." He represents a conservative element that embraces environmentalism and the small-is-beautiful ethic. His conservatism isn't concerned solely with making the world safe for entrepreneurs.In "Becoming Barbarians," Dreher critiques a conservative tendency to build defenses against theoretical "barbarians at the gates" while ignoring a decline into barbarism within their gates in which they're complicit.
"Do I need to believe in the imminent arrival of the barbarians to avoid the hard, tedious and not especially rewarding work of trying to come up with a livable conservatism in the present uncongenial age?" Dreher asks. He had believed that conservatives ought to adopt what he called the "Benedict Option," after St. Benedict of Nursia: dropping out of mainstream society and forming enclaves to preserve traditional culture. He now questions this approach because it presumes that "the barbarians" are always on the outside, or can be kept on the outside. It may be no more that "Romantic escapism masquerading as monastic-tinged cultural survivalism." That doesn't mean that there isn't "an astonishing and astonishingly rapid cultural collapse" under way, but that "my frantic concern about the barbarians, and what was to be done about the catastrophe we were living through, was distracting me from the kind of thought that could truly renew and restore a culture lost to itself[.]"
This seems to be the kind of thought Dreher has in mind:
Conservatives have worked so hard over the past few decades to fight for civilized standards against a short checklist of modern barbarisms -- abortion, gay marriage, political correctness, and so forth. What we failed to consider was that we had become barbarians ourselves.
The barbarians of the Roman era wandered and marauded aimlessly. We accepted rootlessness as the modern condition. We defended our unrestrained consumer appetites by spiting those who would counsel limits as freedom's enemies. Despisers of communism, we worshiped capitalism, naive to its revolutionary power to dissolve bonds we ought to have cherished and things we ought to have conserved. Though we like to think of ourselves as apostles of excellence preaching against the depredations of Hollywood trash and academia's political correctness, we have reduced ourselves to sneering at the concept of elitism and celebrating ignorance and vulgarity as signs of authenticity.
We cast aside the sense of temperamental modesty, of restraint and of fidelity to honorable traditions that have been conservatism's philosophical patrimony, and exchanged it for a pot of ideological message.
Dreher may discredit himself for some readers by recounting at length a dream he had in which the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy rebuffs his appeals for advice about the barbarians by asking him to admire the bells of a local church and a bottle of locally-made beer.Before the dream, Dreher had never read Cavafy but knew him as the author of a poem about barbarians. He later found that Cavafy had written: "And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians?/They were, those people, a kind of solution." As Dreher reads it, obsessing over "the barbarians" is a way to distract ourselves from dealing with our own decadence. The way to deal with it, he now thinks, is "to retreat from the passions of the moment" and embrace a sort of spirituality rooted in love of local things like church bells and beer bottles. These things are real, while the ideological and partisan obsessions of modern politics are "destructive illusions," according to author Claes G. Ryn. Dispelling those illusions requires not just spirituality but also an artistic temperament dedicated to exposing "the great illusions of our age...for what they are so that they will start to lose their appeal."
Since Dreher is a conservative, however crunchy, his approach will probably include Christianity, if not religion in general, more than I'd like. But when you consider what it does not include you may see a purgative process under way in which American conservatives liberate themselves from their anti-communist obsession with capitalism and an idolization of it as the ultimate form of civilization. If that happens, people on the "left" may discover that they can work with "conservatives" on many fronts, regardless of religion. If the ties linking cultural conservatives like Dreher to entrepreneurial fanaticism can be broken, political realignments on a larger scale might be possible. Here's hoping.