Crunchy Conservatives and Civic Activity

I’ve mentioned the conversation going on at the National Review Online about the book “Crunchy Conservatives” as couple of times here. This week there has been a very interesting (or at least I found it very interesting) conversation about civil society and how we engage in a culture we see as hostile and corrupted. A letter was posted there from someone basically saying “you guys are too doom and gloom – get out there and get involved. Be a positive influence in the community.” After thinking about it, I sent the following to Rod Dreher (the gentleman who wrote the book this discussion is based on). It has been posted on the “Crunchy Con” board, but I thought I would share it here as well:
I wanted to respond quickly to your friend Mike regarding being active in the community. I think that a huge part of what is simultaneously driving much of the “doom and gloom” and the small scale community involvement which comes with being a “crunchy con” is that we have lost faith in much of what has been thought of as civil society. Our schools, our political parties, county boards, chambers of commerce and many of the other avenues by which we’ve often been encouraged to “get out there” are so corrupted that fighting them or even expecting anything good out of them seems to be a lost cause. So yes, we’re active, but we’re not doing it within organizations which are often looked upon as being essential to a civil society. I think it’s the reality of the failure of the basic structures of our civil society on top of the disintegration of our cultural/moral framework which is driving many people to simply withdraw and seek out places where we really can influence our worlds. So we homeschool because we cannot change the school system, we support crisis pregnancy centers because we can’t influence the laws or change the larger culture which is driving the problem, we join garden clubs because we can’t stop the county board from paving everything over and so-on and so-forth. I think part of what makes a crunchy con a crunchy con is that we don’t buy into the idea that we can do much in the larger world of politics, education and culture. So we are retreating into smaller worlds where we can influence things for the better. Hopefully, in time, we can gain enough influence in these small areas that we’ll start being able to influence some of the larger structures of society. In the meantime, I’m not holding my breath.
Actually, the second to last sentence really ought to say “Hopefully, in time, people will get sick enough of the status quo to start looking for alternatives. Should this happen our small, fulfilling communities may well be able to be central to a renewal of civil society.”
I’ve gotten myself a bit out of sorts this week by spending too much time “out in the public square” looking at what people are saying about our local elections which are coming up, as well as in the larger world where we’re arguing over immigration, marriage, parenting, the war in Iraq, the role of religion in our society and on and on. It all feels so futile. Congress will continue passing laws which don’t reflect sanity (or the desires of the people), the local school board will never fix the fundamental problems of public schools, our local governments will always be involved in things they have little business messing with, the courts will do whatever they please, people will continue to say and think things which are demonstrably false and damaging rather than change their minds. So I come again to where I always do when faced with the discouraging reality of what passes for civil society – I’ll pull back into the world where I can make things better, be a little light in the darkness and find others who are trying to do the same. It’s not grand and gloriously self-gratifying – I’ll never be honored in the public square, but it sure beats banging your head against walls and tilting at windmills!

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