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Friday, July 8, 2011

Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots by Rod Dreher

Neat idea but bad follow through

I grabbed Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots on impulse as I was leaving the local purveyor of books. You see, I am a "Crunchy Con" of sorts, being an avid recycler. But, this book really failed to reach me. In fact, I felt like I was being preached at with certain topics being outright hammered into my skull due to their repetitive re-occurrence.

Pluses:

-The book addresses the fact that the conservative movement is not monolithic and their are a variety of reasons for people to espouse conservatism.

-Embraces a belief in buying local - something I try to do when I go out to eat or shop whenever reasonably possible.

-Points out how silly it is to apply big business agricultural regulations to family farms.

Negatives:

-What the heck is "crunchy"? Search the internet and you may get a reference to "Crunchy granola", which basically means being hippie-like. Or, you may get a reference to this book, or you may get a reference to some sort of street drug.

-Dreher gets too preachy, too mystical about the virtues of organic farming and quaint old neighborhoods that time forgot in the inner city. Plus, he goes on and on for dozens of pages about these topics with multiple interviews that do little but reinforce the points already made.

-Dreher repeats the old worn line that we in the West should be more like the East: "...in the West, economics is built on philosophically materialist assumptions, but in the East, the whole person is taken into account." (p. 49) Really. The East, home to the Khmer Rouge, sex slavery, the caste system and foot binding. Besides, which "Eastern" philosophy are you going to follow? Confucianism? Daoism? Sikhism? Samuari Bushido? There really is no "Eastern" philosophy. Let's admit it - no society, East or West has all of the answers.

-Dreher's answer to the un-competitive nature of organic farming is a decidedely un-conservative one, have the power of the federal government choose in favor of the organic farmers "and encourage through tax incentives the development of small-scale, locally based agriculture." (p. 86) This is especially odd considering his prior exhortation: "We object to the idea that there's nothing wrong with our country that a new tax or a government program can't fix." (p. 10)

-Dreher waxes poetically about home-schooling. Page after page we hear about how his family does it and how others do as well. He drags up quotes from the 1800s and the 1920s about how the philosophical underpinnings of public schools are inherently anti-family. He offers two choices: A) immoral public schools who are only out to indoctrinate your children (pp. 136-139) or B) perfect family homeschoolers. Now, to be fair, you should know that I am a public school teacher - one that believes in vouchers and does not believe in the inherent goodness of public schools (or any other human institution, for that matter). I've seen families do home-schooling right (some of our family's best friends do it right), but I've also seen it done incorrectly and have had kids come to school functionally illiterate, having been "taught" by parents who can barely read themselves(I've had great homeschooled students - ones that do A+ quality work and I had students who were pulled from school in order to "homeschool" because the counselors were concerned they were being abused). Dreher compares the worst about public schools to the best, idealized homeschoolers. C'mon, not only is it not fair, it is insulting to the readers.

While sympathetic to many of his points, the most I can say about this book is "disappointed."

I rate this book 2 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on October 13, 2008.

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