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Wendell Berry: A Real Conservative

Christopher Caldwell, a columnist and editor for The Weekly Standard, riffs off of Wendell Berry’s NEH Jefferson lecture in his Financial Times column today. He says that the one thing the mainstream right and the mainstream left have in common in this country is a refusal to accept the idea of limits. This is something Berry has long said. It’s something that I said in my 2006 book “Crunchy Cons.” Here is a Caldwell excerpt:

Mr Berry’s anti-plutocratic vision has been applauded in “paleo-conservative” blogs and magazines, such as the American Conservative. It is not surprising: gay marriage and abortion arise from this doctrine of human limitlessness as surely as do mountaintop coal-mining and credit default swaps. In almost every country in the world, it is a mix of conservatives and the far left who are most receptive to the idea – central to Mr Berry’s thought – that our essential mistake has been to ignore “propriety of scale”. Globalisation is disempowerment. This view wins the allegiance of a third of Frenchmen, if we add the votes of Jean-Luc Mélenchon to those of Marine Le Pen. In the US, however, there is no political outlet for a conservatism that fears bigness in the private sector as much as in the public sector.

Republicans are now the party of the traditionalist, pious lower middle class. That is not the demographic group that built Reaganism. While the voter base remains uncomfortable with big government, it has rejected, bit by bit, the corollary of the cold war years, that the only alternative to big government is the unregulated free market. Something similar happened in the last decade, when the Iraq war revealed that Republicans were not the unanimous supporters of military action that their leaders assumed. Opening its ears to Mr Berry’s style of conservatism will not guarantee Republican victories. But it would be an advance on the odd and obsolete idea that the natural carriers of the conservative message are venture capitalists.

I appreciate Christopher Caldwell recognizing Wendell Berry’s contribution, and the fact that The American Conservative has become a leading advocate of Berry’s sort of countercultural conservatism. Let me take this opportunity to suggest to you readers that if you support an alternative conservative vision, and want it to have a voice in Washington and among thought leaders nationwide, please subscribe to TAC, or donate to the non-profit foundation that supports our work. We need, and appreciate, your support.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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