Crunchy Conservatism

By Graham Glover

It’s been 10 years since the nationally syndicated columnist Rod Dreher penned, ‘Crunchy Cons: How 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)”. I was a fan of the book when it was published and am an even bigger proponent of the ideas Dreher is advocating today.

Yes, I am a Crunchy Con. And you, the readers of The Jagged Word, should be as well.

First, let’s be honest. The conservative movement – at least the conservative movement as we have known it since 1964 – is dying, if not already dead. We may not know how this year’s election will turn out, but one thing is certain, nothing will ever be the same. The successful campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have radically transformed the American electorate (the former more than the later). When the dust settles in November, the conservative movement and the party it chiefly represents, the GOP, will be fundamentally altered.

So, now what? What can/should the conservative movement do? Although not a Republican, I am a conservative and what Dreher outlines in his book and the “Crunchy Con Manifesto”, is how I think the conservative movement can best succeed in the years to come.


Below are the 10 points of the Manifesto, with my commentary bracketed in-between.

  1. We are conservatives who stand outside the conservative mainstream; therefore, we can see things that matter more clearly.

[For the past 50 years, it has been hard, if not impossible, to separate the conservative movement from the GOP. If this year’s election has proven anything, it is that this paradigm in significantly shifting. The mainstream has been tremendously unsuccessful this election cycle. Conservatism is bigger and broader than mainstream Republican politics.]

2. 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.

[Just listen to what most conservatives campaign on and talk about and then consider what they ignore.]

3. Big business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

[Big government may not be the answer, but neither is big business. Conservatism must sever its unbounded loyalty to big business.]

4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.

[Perfectly stated.]

5. A conservatism that does not practice restraint, humility, and good stewardship – especially of the natural world – is not fundamentally conservative.

[One need to worship “Mother Earth” to be an environmentalist, but since when does being a conservative mean that one cannot be an environmentalist? The earth is ours, to be sure, but it is also a gift and creation of the Lord. We are wise to tend it with care.]

6. Small, Local, Old, and Particular are almost always better than Big, Global, New, and Abstract.

[Focus on the local. Focus on the community. Focus on things that transcend time.]

7. Beauty is more important than efficiency.

[Life is not all about productivity. Nor should our politics or econcomics.]

8. The relentlessness of media-driven pop culture deadens our senses to authentic truth, beauty, and wisdom.

[Says the one who is writing for an on-line blog. But still, the point is well taken. What we perceive by our daily bombardment with media-driven pop culture to be good and true is in fact bad and false.]

9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.”

[Not government. Not business. The family.]

10. Politics and economics won’t save us; if our culture is to be saved at all, it will be by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, conserving these ancient moral truths in the choices we make in our everyday lives.

[Can I get an, “Amen”?! The Law never saves. Only the One who is and ever will be the very essence of the “Permanent Things”.]

Who’s with me?! Who’s ready to embrace the Crunchy Con Manifesto?!


19 thoughts on “Crunchy Conservatism

  1. There are some noble sentiments in these points. But nothing is improved by sentimentality.

    “4. Culture is more important than politics and economics.”

    It is necessary, in my opinion, to define “culture” before asserting this. Either the movement is cultural or counter-cultural. I assume that counter-cultural means toward another culture. there is also a strong Anabaptist or medieval monastic slant toward perfectionism in believing that moral people are better people and there is a strong undercurrent of such thought in Dreher. By that logic, the Pharisees had it all over Christ and His little band. Sounds more like saying we should be good monks, nuns, and Amish brethren in order to avoid sinful lives and risking the sins of other contaminating us.

    “9. We share Russell Kirk’s conviction that “the institution most essential to conserve is the family.””

    “Family” needs to be defined. For many (think the loud Borderer culture in the US), a child born out of wedlock to a teen needs to be raised by “blood kin”, and adoption into a “traditional” mother and father household is frowned upon. Is there some structure which defines a family? How does the “right” culture view divorce? Birth control?

    “10. Politics and economics won’t save us; if our culture is to be saved at all, it will be by faithfully living by the Permanent Things, conserving these ancient moral truths in the choices we make in our everyday lives.”

    Again, define the culture being saved? We, as Christians, are saved. That is accomplished. If morality does not make better people (we are all equally sinful and equally saved), what is the relevance of this culture?

    In the end, we ought to live according to God’s Law because we have been saved. Those who have not been saved are not going to be redeemed by moral living. Even if they, to all appearances and in practice, hold to the Law better than we do, they are not saved. The dominant Christian cultures, the world over, focus on individual behavior as a cooperation in salvation, if not the deciding factor, and Dreher’s Eastern Orthodoxy is no exception is it’s theosis. Are you proposing we supplant the works-based grace of Methodism, Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, the morality of evangelicalism, Mainline Protestants, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Muslims, with something else? Perhaps a baptized culture which falls short in its awful culture, politics, economics, terrible stewardship, love of enemies, love of neighbors, and love of God? A culture which can only return, again and again, to the grace offered in Word and Sacrament? Good luck. Even Dreher doesn’t seem to hear that message.

    Christ was born into the midst of our muck and dirt and sinful depravity. Those of us who are in Christ are still in the midst of it. Heaven forbid that someone should look at our lives and decide they are worthy lives because we are moral people following a moral teacher or that we love in order to gain favor with others or with God! No, a clear faith is one that must repent, that must receive absolution and, so, it must be in a person who is not secretly sinful. We and this world are headed for perfection when Christ returns. We’re already on the right path and the end is inevitable.


    1. HLewis, good insight above. I wouldn’t read too much into Dreher’s manifesto, his book, or my post. If one believes the conservative movement to be in good political shape, with a focused message, then I guess nothing needs to change. However, if you think, as I do, that the political landscape is drastically changing, then I think Dreher gives us some good things to consider.

      Obviously no political manifesto will solve all. No platform will bring eternal peace. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try.


      1. The way I see it is that there has been no change in the political landscape since the economic stupidity of the Reagan administration. That swung the argument way off any moral track. what you are seeing in “conservatism”, now, is the inevitable continuation of the Reagan Revolution. Profit is held sacred and those laboring least earn the most while those laboring the most get blamed for being poor (venom against attempts at raising wages or unions). Facts speak otherwise on both a national and global scale but the “right” is convinced otherwise. profit is not longer an incentive but an entitlement while the basic necessities of life are considered neither rights nor entitlements. Rather, they are seen as incentives to bow to corporate employers who actually have the right to have workers check their constitutional rights at the door. Those are the values we are seeing trump all arguments and I’ll throw in the number of fallacies being preached against scuttling the for-profit healthcare system. Fact, such programs work everywhere else and results are better than her in the rest of the industrialized world. Pharma, the insurance companies lose here and it’s all over for their ride. Only suckers pay more for medication than any other nation when all the public and university-sponsored research into the medications are being done in that country. Insurance companies hire half a million people to deny claims and doctor’s offices spend inordinate amounts of time fighting denials. People are being directed into medical billing as and actual job sector. No civilized nation thinks that caring for others is a wrong thing and that individuals are responsible only for them and theirs. What nation goes into a near permanent state of war that began with a hokie search for WMD’s and didn’t bother to address the 9/11 attacks. BTW – the medical bills for the NYC firefighters and rescue workers involved fall on families and charity collections because even uniformed service doesn’t get you enough. Then there’s food stamps – a corporate welfare program funneling money from our taxes to WalMart. And WalMart even manages to keep enough of their employees poor enough to make sure the pipeline keeps flowing. How about military families on welfare and food stamps? or the fact the largest public housing project for the poor is prison. Instead of spending $70K/ year incarcerating a petty criminal, you could, for a fraction of that in stipend prevent the crime. Of course, what would you do with the for-profit prison system, then? How about believing that “the People” = “each person” and misreading the 2nd amendment so you can preach that arms proliferation makes the world less violent? There is no merit in the Reagan/ Goldwater strain of politics or economics and even less in their dreams for society.

        The rich own the government and they own both major parties and they control both sides of the debate with their press. that’s why programs for the poor enrich the rich and keep the poor on the hook. That’s why people are taught to resent the poor but still venerate the rich who they don’t even see as the real beneficiaries of spending. oh, by the way, the rich own all the national debt and collect the interest payments. Yet, they want us to vote their cronies in to manage the debt. Do you think they’ll allow it to go against their interest? Those trade deals? corporations haven’t been hurt. they’ve done well. Stockholders and bondholders are fine. It’s only the workers that feel the pain. But then, how have Republicans and conservatives insisted that the smarter and more worthy are the rich? So, no complaining from the peanut gallery, grab your bootstraps, retrain, relocate, and start panning for gold somewhere else. It’s a blessing to live in a country that thinks this is fair!

        In the end, we can do what is right, in each individual situation – we can feed, house, clothe, serve, help people financially, and bring them Christ. If we want to change the government or society in any meaningful way, shatter the idols – individualism, profit, wealth, privilege, militarism, concentrations of power, the bully. Replace them with interdependence and community, stewardship and generosity, peace (we can be secure in our power if we refuse to be baited), greater local democracy and deliberate dissolution of large banks and corporations (it can be done), ignore the Trumps and moralizers. Remember, the entrenched interests are uncompromising. Good Luck!


  2. I like the points listed in the manifesto, but I’m not necessarily on board with the Crunchy Con label. I’m neither rich enough, nor trendy enough to be a gluten-free, organic, free range crunchy anything. Can I still sign on if I just like regular old hamburgers and a Coke?

    What if there were a “I’m just a regular dude, who wants politicians to use common sense” manifesto? I’d sign on to that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Big seldom means better, and yes I would agree, big business (not all big businesses, but big business in general) make big government look great.


      1. I think I’m with Cain on this one. I work for Big State government here in California. Why do you think I spend so much time on the Jagged Word? The state hires way too many people to do way too little work. No one here is really busy. Most people pretend to be busy to justify the existence of their position, but if you actually see what they do, it is 95% a waste of tax dollars.

        Look at the VA scandal. I tried getting my injuries treated at the VA when I came home from Iraq and soon afterwards hit my ETS date. Luckily, I was young enough to use my parent’s insurance, otherwise it would have taken years to get my injuries treated. I heard a recent story about how the wait times are actually worse today than they were when the story first broke. Most Americans have just forgotten about it, while veterans with serious injuries and PTSD cannot get the care they need… and some people want the government to run healthcare for all of us!?

        The amount of money we throw away on useless programs, combined with the bloated staff size, and the inefficient processes… we’re taking money from tax payers under the auspices of serving their needs, yet we’re throwing most of it in the toilet. This is the 3rd state agency I’ve worked for over the last 6 years, and I can tell you that the problem is ubiquitous across the board.

        When I worked for CalEMA, now known as the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, we were responsible for handing out federal dollars to state agencies and California cities. There was a huge public records request and they discovered millions and millions of dollars of wasted spending. The article below is great. Check it out. I saw it first hand.

        I remember one of my coworkers started a wall of shame where he would hang receipts for bottles of chianti, steak dinners, doggy chew toys, etc. The city of Los Angeles had millions of unspent funds from prior years, yet they were getting approved for another billion in the upcoming year. They were getting so much “homeland security” money from the feds, they couldn’t spend it fast enough.

        Bureaucracy is killing America more than just about anything else. If the bureaucratic system was run efficiently, we could cut taxes without forfeiting a single public service. Instead, we’re going deeper and deeper into debt, destroying our credit rating, and increasing the rate of interest that we pay. Now it costs more money to get out of debt, yet we keep racking it up, which will inevitably lead to future downgrades of our credit rating. Eventually, it will spiral out of control. More debt leads to higher interest rates, which leads to more debt, which leads to higher interest rates, which leads to what? Printing currency? Defaulting on our debt? China comes a knocking, demanding we pay? It’s a bad situation and it needs to be solved.


      2. Here’s another article about government waste that is pretty good. The guy profiled, Eric Steen, used to be a friend of mine and in a lot of ways discipled me in the faith. He has sort of cut ties with me since I left my old non-denom church for the Lutheran tradition, but his experience with the state bureaucracy is telling. We’ve had many conversations on the topic.


  3. This is all pretty squishy stuff. I didn’t notice anything but opinions, most of which I have some argument with. Conservatives are failing right now to gather a political force, not because they are acting conservatively – conservative though they may be in ideology – but because they do not pursue conservative goals. It is faithless to what it says is good, and therefore is treated thus. Neither government nor business is overall corrupt, but those without scruples are free to be corrupt, and so many reach for corrupt goals, which are not the true goals of either enterprise.

    I think it would be helpful if everyone would hold to what is true and good, but they don’t. And so it is the purpose of government in the hands of understanding citizens to restrain what is corrupt. Right now that isn’t happening either, for the most part. Understanding citizens are finally getting that straight in their heads, and are disciplining the people in government – although somewhat indiscriminately.

    Family is central to most things, but has little power to control what is in authority over it, except by the gathering of citizens doing what is needful. This layout seems a little stylish and silly to me.


    1. Don, I don’t think (nor do I suspect Dreher thinks) that a simple 10-point manifesto or his book for that matter, will solve this riddle of our politics. The point I was trying to make is that how the conservative movement has defined itself for the past 40 years has to change. The left-right paradigms that we have come accustomed to in America over this time period are going away. So, the question is, now what? I simply put forth Dreher’s manifesto as a way.


      1. The redefinition is not, I think, actually a redefinition. It is the great sign in the sky from voters that conservatism among politicians has not been accomplishing anything, because politicians have not been doing what conservatism demands, for whatever reason. Political conservatism as an ideology hasn’t got much wrong with it (I know, an opinion), but the people that have been espousing it to get elected have spent a lot of time avoiding the tasks that are necessarily attached to it. The only redefinition I can see that is needed is a how conservatism is carried out by elected officials. I can’t imagine why a true ideology would need redefinition, if it is believed to be good. And, of course, it follows that if it isn’t believed to be good by those advocating it, they aren’t conservatives except in a chosen name. Redefining it, to make it politically palatable, makes it NOT conservative anymore. I suppose it becomes crunchy. I’ve seen lots of techniques with a similar agenda to change Christianity to suit. The same exact thing applies.


  4. Don, fair enough. It sounds like you are and will remain a Republican-Conservative, at least as that party and movement has been defined since 1964 (I have in mind the rise of Goldwater and then Reagan conservatives).

    Out of curiosity, who on the national scene do you think best fits your mold of conservatism? I know nobody is perfect, but help me understand what type of political vision appeals to you.


    1. It’s hard to say how I will react over the long haul about Republicans, in general. I’m pretty unhappy with the people that have been elected, but won’t do what is necessary. That’s true of Democrats, too, of course, but at least it appears that they believe what they do is right (clearly there must be exceptions on that – Hillary Clinton, maybe). I’m more upset with Republicans because they feign helplessness in this, when they just refuse to do what the Constitution avails them. They seem to be more afraid of elective consequences than they are of the consequences of accepted policy. If you refuse to fight for what you believe is good, especially when it is obviously terrible to accept what is happening, you are no good to me in elective office.

      That said, I believe that the most conservative of the proffered Republicans right now is Ted Cruz. More than that, he has shown his willingness to do battle for what he believes. That is important to what I am saying. On the other hand, he has also shown his willingness to listen to political handlers in order to win. By that I mean, he says what he is told is going to work best for him to gain power. He stays remarkably well within his belief system, but it is apparent to me that he trusts politics more than he trusts the truth. You can see that in his careful speech and in his repeated (probably unspoken atmosphere) acceptance of purely political tactics from his own workers and his PAC supporters, even when they do what he doesn’t like. He even accepts the tactics that will help him unseat Trump, but then betray him later, politically. In the end, he’s a slave to the in-place system to get him elected and to get the work done, once he’s elected. He’s already proven his helplessness to do either with reasonable legitimacy, even by his own standards.

      All that said, Trump is nowhere near PC – doesn’t care about that at all, and expresses himself all out that way, whatever the consequences. He has no consultants for what he should say – that mystifies those experts, and irritates them. He thinks out loud, no matter the consequences, to arrive at a decision and a viewpoint that is acceptable to him alone. He rarely talks about specific approaches to problems he hasn’t worked out yet, because he is no position to begin dealing with the real-time problems involved. Ultimately, all he says is what he thinks. That is mostly what he wants as an outcome for the country, not for him personally getting power. He has no real good reason to run for this office. If anything it is antithetical to his nature to do this stuff, and it is obvious enough to any observer. He just wants to fix the problems that are messing up his country, by what he does every day – good deals for his company (his country, in this case). He is not an ideologue in the usual political sense, thus the obvious differences with politicos. He doesn’t particularly work as a conservative or a Republican. But, for all the motivation I can see in him, he just wants his country to be great again. He thinks he can do that, and he doesn’t want or need the political engines to do it. He’ll deal with them like anyone else to do the deal. I’m for Trump because of that.

      Having said that, I don’t even know how that will come out. I just think that’s the best way for me to pursue a good outcome.


      1. Don, I can respect that. While I’m not a fan of Cruz, I agree, he is a principled conservative Republican. That may work as a U.S. Senator (I don’t think it does), but his inability to compromise on anything will never work in the White House. That being said, he is probably the most purebred conservative Republican out there.

        As for Trump, well, wow, hmmm, do I really want to go there? On that I’ll simply ask, how exactly does he plan to make America great again and to that end, what’s so not great about it now?


      2. I’m pretty sure Cruz could deal responsibly with the rest of government as a president. What I don’t believe will happen is his ability to create movement on important stuff from within the system he is voluntarily stuck with using to do it. It is rather apparent that the system is intransigent, whether people there are trying to do it right or not.

        As for Trump, I know he’s a pretty saucy when he’s fighting with opposition, and publically enough to be hard to swallow for people who believe themselves too civilized to take it. I’ve heard, “He’s not presidential,” and that is probably true by the PC standards of the day. On the other hand, that hasn’t worked for anyone who gets things done effectively – not even Lincoln. How’s he going to do it? I don’t think he even knows the specifics about that – which frustrates the heck out of issue-oriented people and consultants alike. When I listen to him, he is concerned with getting something done by the chosen goal and finding a process to get there, both effectively and favorably to his goals – not useless and unfavorable compromise. He knows how to do that with good choices of experts and good decisions along the way. I am not certain of this in Trump, but in my experience, people like him do get things done, even with knuckleheads opposing him. And he will likely get to his goals, whether anyone likes his methods or not. All that makes me hopeful, where that is not so much true with the others.

        What’s not great about our country is complex, but obvious. Too many people are not working, and want to. Too many people are getting food stamps, and don’t want to be stuck with that. Too many people are coming into our country, or staying illegally, without much effort or even desire to stop it. We are almost completely useless in international affairs, and what is not useless is mostly bad. Our enemies are more numerous and more powerful than they should be because of that very thing. Our trade treaties, our tax structure, and our unions are making it nearly impossible for even a scrupled business to operate here and do it profitably, so they are leaving and hurting American people’s livelihood. Our education system is horrible and very expensive by world standards. Our military is vulnerable, shorthanded, and underpaid, AGAIN. Our health care system is being systematically gutted, hurting businesses and the people that should be gainfully employed by them, and of course the actual quality of care that is being made available for a price (which is increasingly absurd because of disruptive regulation). I can’t even talk about how bad the moral standards of this country have been devastated, how much more vulnerable good people are when they stand on their religion to do anything, and how much that hurts everyone – even those who see it differently.

        This country is the best ever founded, but is also far from what it is capable of being in so many arenas because of bad government at every level, but mostly at the federal level. These things are debated by many, but I can see no reason to be dissuaded about any of them. There are many other issues that I haven’t brought up, mostly less obvious or significant to public policy. If something of this can be corrected, people will be better off overall, the most vulnerable among us will be helped, and our security will be better assured. We need someone who wants to do that, and can do that effectively.


  5. Ken, completely agree that there is A LOT of waste in government. As often as I forget, I am a Federal employee and I see waste all the time.

    We may be splitting hairs here and I’m not sure the argument really matters that much, that is, which is worse: big government or big business. I think they both have a lot of faults. The point is simply that big is not always better and that small, local, can and I think often is, preferable.


Comments are closed.