What’s Right With the Right

One of the things I found dissatisfying about George Packer’s recent “fall of conservatism” piece was its establishment bias. He can’t be accused of talking only to neocons and movement thralls — Pat Buchanan was in the mix alongside Rich Lowry and David Brooks — but Packer only spoke to established names, when the most interesting developments on the Right are taking place on the margins. Most of the conservatives he interviewed (Mr. Buchanan excepted) are ready for embalming.

The Ron Paul movement is one obvious sign of new life on the Right. Just consider this recent New York Times piece on the Paul movement. (And take note: the NYT banishes Ron Paul to the Style section, while Brooks and Bill Kristol occupy the op-ed pages.) What’s important is not just the number and energy of the Paul converts, but their youth and radicalism. Not all of these young people will remain politically — and more important, philosophically — engaged, but those who do will, I suspect, count for a heck of a lot more than the yuppies who descend on Washington to take jobs in the conservative establishment. The latter have access to much greater resources. But they serve a dead and discredited orthodoxy.

What’s also impressive about the Paulists is that theirs is a confident and positive movement. As corny as it may be, the “rEVOLution” slogan tells us something important about the movement: it’s not fueled by resentment. For good or ill, angry white men were indispensable to the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and to the Buchanan campaigns in 1992 and 1996. But that style of politics has long since burnt out, as the fate of Tom Tancredo’s mock presidential campaign shows. The Paul movement is hopeful.

The other encouraging development on the Right is similarly forward-looking. It’s harder to give this trend a name, because it’s not centered around one person or book, but Rod Dreher and his “crunchy cons” idea are a touchstone. It’s a new direction in traditionalism, away from post-industrial angst and toward a post-industrial way of life. It includes raw-milk enthusiasts and conservatives against animal cruelty; there’s also a real effort — or so it seems to me, anyway — among these conservatives to think locally and act locally. There’s a religious element to it, but it’s very different from the tired cant of the Falwells and Dobsons. And it’s brightest lights, unlike many traditionalists of old, are not anti-market.

I don’t know how big this second movement is; my sense of it comes from bloggers like John Schwenkler and Lee McCracken. You might call it the Wendell Berry-Michael Pollan Right. Like the Ron Paul movement, it’s antiwar, decentralist, and relatively hopeful. The Paulists and crunchies alike are “Hippies of the Right” — or Franciscans of the Right? — in that sense.

An article focusing on these trends would have been a lot more interesting than Packer’s survey of the usual suspects droning on about the usual Republican politics.