He is right, and this is really at the heart of the disagreement. Does anything matter? Really matter? I asked yesterday the Augustinian ethical question: What do we love? Lying behind that question may be the question: Is there anything out there worth loving? Too many conservatives simply give in to the tide of cultural nihilism as Gallagher does at the end of her review. If the choice is between a careful reevaluation of what is really worth pursuing with our “moral imagination” as Kirk called it, even at the risk of being called a narcissist, a romantic, pretentious, intellectually immodest, sentimental, a puritan, a jerk, or even quirky, on the one hand, and adopting the false sophistication of the cultural nihilists on the other, it seems clear which road, bumpy as it might be, provides a possibility of recovery. ~Caleb Stegall, Crunchy Cons
Maggie Gallagher’s review of the book just reminded me of a slightly different, but related post of mine from a few months back. Jeffrey Tucker at the Mises.org blog wrote this dismissive post about the agrarianism/small town issue of Chronicles from last autumn:
It’s fine and great to love the eternal verities, be in awe of baroque churches, listen to the music of Josquin, master ancient poetry, recite poetry in Middle English. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use a cell phone, know Html, listen to a podcast, and spend your free time improving Wikipedia entries. We do not have to choose between modernism and antiquarian affections. Capitalism allows us to have it all.
Now compare with Gallagher’s dismissive remark:
Is there room at the great conservative table for people who love God, family, Arts and Crafts architecture, ancient liturgy, Birkenstocks and organic chickens?
Sure, Rod, I’ll dine with you anytime. But is this really a very important question?
Taken one way, Ms. Gallagher shows all the signs of Mr. Tucker’s “you can have it all” mentality. In this world, there are limitless choices–you do not have to sacrifice anything. Except, of course, for the traditional way of life that you may actually want to have. That is the one thing that is off the “table” for both Tucker and Gallagher. You can, like Mr. Tucker, pay lip service to eternal verities while paying relatively little attention to their consequences or, in Ms. Gallagher’s view, browse the buffet of tradition and still live in the suburban sprawl and pursue a life of endless acquisition because it is the “only available way.” You can have it all, and you have no other options. Choice abounds, and you have no other choice except to embrace this expansively narrow and stifling way of life.
But perhaps when Ms. Gallagher asked if it was an “important question” she thought she was saying that it wasn’t an important question whether “there was room at the great conservative table” for “crunchy” cons. I suppose she thinks there is room at “the table.” Great. But that was never the main issue as far as Rod was concerned (I suppose it was a tangential issue to the extent that he describes a basic disagreement between “crunchy” and mainstream conservatives). He had been saying, more or less, that people similar to those of the crunchy disposition have been sitting at the table for a very long time (in fact, some of them were the craftsmen who made the table by hand), and that it was high time for the other conservatives to start paying attention to the craftsmanship of the table and the values that stand behind it and taking those things seriously.
Perhaps because she completely misunderstood what the book was trying to do (which was not to justify the place of “crunchies” at the table, but to say that the other conservatives have stopped sitting around the table and have opted for the fast-food drive thru instead), she was talking about an entirely different “question.” Because she did not perceive the very important questions Rod was asking (how she did not perceive them is a bit mysterious, but there it is), she concluded (I suppose reasonably) that Rod was asking a fairly silly question: “Can I please sit at your table?” He wasn’t asking that, but apparently she thought he was. She phrased it so awkwardly and had otherwise understood the book so poorly that it was difficult to see that the first time around.