This book is a classic that I finally got around to reading. Maybe it’s strange to say a book less than ten years old is a classic, but Dreher is the foremost exponent today of what might be called “alternative conservatism,” and he would call the “Benedictine Option,” but what most people would call “traditional conservatism,” which has considerable overlap with certain viewpoints on life commonly attributed to liberals, or more accurately to hippies and similar “alternative lifestyles.” He nicknames it “Crunchy Cons,” a term which has passed into the general modern conservative lexicon.
Dreher is in essence popularizing and making into a broad program, rather than a pure philosophy, the thinking of a long line of 20th-century conservative thinkers. He acknowledges this, of course. Dreher’s thought has much in common with Russell Kirk, of course, whom he repeatedly cites, as well as less known thinkers such as Robert Nisbet, particularly in his The Quest For Community.
In essence, Dreher issues a call, cutting across party lines (despite the subtitle of the book, more on which below), for a return to a community-oriented conservatism. His primary target is consumerism and the consumption-based life in general; within that he focuses in separate chapters on, among other things, food (less factory farming; more respect for the process and its community implications); homes (less exurban living; more urban living, or New Urbanist at least); and education (home school preferred). He also focuses on the environment (don’t view it through a consumption lens) and religion (strongly suggested, though not essential). Dreher’s primary vehicle for this is specific examples of individuals and families taking a countercultural approach to each of these matters.
Crunchy Cons was published in 2006; the Kindle edition contains an afterword in which Dreher pessimistically notes, in essence, that the Republican party is never going to be the party of Crunchy Cons, despite his 2006 belief that might be a way forward for the party. Dreher thereafter came to “doubt it’s worth saving in its current form,” and therefore nowadays focuses more and more (as you can read in his current blog at The American Conservative magazine) on the “Benedict Option”–a quasi-separation from society, creating new communities to carry culture through coming troubles. In fact, in the afterword he even adds to the general manifesto points in the core book a “Benedictine-inspired Rule adapted for modern countercultural living.”
Much more could be said about this short book, but it’s worth reading, for the thoughts in the afterword alone, in fact. (It also contains strong autobiographical elements, tied to the points in the book, which some readers will find interesting, and others distracting.) Dreher is one of the few original thinkers anywhere on the political spectrum today, and while I’m sure some of his own thought has changed since this book, it’s both thought-provoking and a good place to start thinking about the modern political philosophy of conservatism, taken beyond the facile kneejerk reactions (spending good! Military action good! Terrorism bad!) that tend to characterize present-day conservative thought.