While I was writing Crunchy Cons, I hoped it would give voice to an overlooked segment of American conservatives-men and women who count themselves as part of the Right but who don't quite fit in with the mainstream Republican Party. And I hoped my little book could show why the narrow and exhausted ideological nostrums that characterize the political debate today cannot adequately address the challenges facing America. It seemed clear that many Americans had become dissatisfied with the country's direction. Crunchy Cons, I believed, could spark some interesting conversations and perhaps even inspire a renewed focus on the practical virtues of faith, family, community, and domestic traditions.
What I didn't count on was how a series of events would bring into sharp focus the themes explored in Crunchy Cons. Consider:
In late summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast. As the people of New Orleans waited for help from a bumbling government bureaucracy incapable of handling mass catastrophe, the city descended into anarchy and chaos. Just weeks later, another hurricane, Rita, annihilated much of coastal southwestern Louisiana. There, however, the small-town and rural Cajun people of southwestern Louisiana instantly pulled together. The difference? In Cajun country, the ties of family and community were much stronger than in New Orleans. This point is central to Crunchy Cons: For the sake of communal self-sufficiency, we must recommit ourselves to building up family and social networks. Right now, joining the volunteer fire department or a local farmers' food co-op might be more authentically conservative than joining the Republican Party (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
In the autumn of 2005, the President's Council on Bioethics reported that our aging society does not have the resources or the mechanisms to care for our elderly. The only way to cope with this problem, the report suggested, is to revive the bonds of family and community care. New York Times columnist David Brooks said the report "is a rebuke to the economic individualism of the right and to the moral individualism of the left." So is Crunchy Cons. To conserve the things we care most about, we must strengthen human relationships and move beyond the stale categories laid down by current political discourse.
Even as the Democrats remained divided and bereft of ideas, the American public saw the GOP's idealism of yore compromised by scandals, out-of-control federal spending, politics-as-usual Beltway gamesmanship, questions about the war in Iraq, and more. With the Republican Party adrift and at war with itself, now is the time for a fresh conservative vision, and a new kind of conservative to step into the public square.
As you'll read, crunchy conservatism is not a political program but a practical sensibility based on what the wisdom of tradition teaches is best for families and communities. Its countercultural aims are modest but fundamental-and achievable by the "little platoons" of civil society that Edmund Burke, the founder of modern conservatism, taught were the real glue that holds society together.
When you meet the diverse conservatives in the pages of this book, you'll see that the kinds of things we crunchy cons talk about are ideas that offer a new and hopeful way to think about our lives together and new directions in our politics and our culture. I use the word "new" advisedly. True, much of this will sound peculiar in a conservative context to those for whom conservatism begins in 1980, with the election of Ronald Reagan. Yet readers who know their conservative history will find that what follows comes straight out of the traditionalist school of Richard Weaver, Peter Viereck, Russell Kirk, and other seminal thinkers who helped spark the postwar renascence of intellectual conservatism. It's high time for a revival of their kind of conservatism, because today, we are living out the fulfillment of Kirk's 1954 warning about na´ve libertarian optimism of the sort to which too many of us on the Right have succumbed. Kirk wrote that "once supernatural and traditional sanctions are dissolved, economic self-interest is ridiculously inadequate to hold an economic system together, and even less adequate to preserve order."
Whether you are on the Right, on the Left, or in the middle, I hope you'll agree that crunchy conservatism is a fine old idea whose time has come again.