This should be a moment of triumph for organized conservatism in America. We have a Republican in the White House, Republicans are in control of both houses of Congress, and the forces of political liberalism are in disarray. As one woebegone Democratic strategist wrote in the Wall Street Journal, the leaders of his party in Congress don't look like they could fight a parking ticket, much less terrorists or Republicans. It's a good time to be a Republican, all right ... so why do I feel so lousy as a conservative, and so uneasy about America's future?
For all our successes at the ballot box, the trajectory the country is on does not inspire confidence. A few years ago, livestock scientist Temple Grandin discovered that many cattle being led to slaughter in a conventional straight-line chute would act up on the way to their demise, but that if you presented them with a bovine via dolorosa in the form of a long, gentle curve, they'd move along without protest. The idea is that they couldn't see far in front of them, and thought they were progressing safely.
That, I think, is an apt metaphor for where we are in our country today. For most people, things seem solid, and there doesn't appear to be reason to worry; certainly not to protest or otherwise stand against the flow of contemporary American life. But can we go on like this forever? Can we really keep borrowing money against future generations to finance our consumerist lifestyle without the bill coming due in a brutal way? Could our economy, which depends on relatively cheap fuel to transport goods long distances, survive a serious oil shock? Has the loss of neighborliness and traditional familial and communal bonds that we've endured over the past two generations resulted in a society prepared to withstand the trauma and stress of a catastrophic terrorist attack of the sort that could destroy our national economy? Are we willing to sacrifice our individual desires for the greater good? Are we still the kind of people who can take care of ourselves and one another?
I don't think so. And I don't see that conservatives, in the main, are in much better shape today than anybody else.
Look, I'm as guilty as the next guy of not living up to my ideals. But there comes a time when we conservatives have to ask ourselves just who we think we're fooling. We have to ask ourselves honestly how long we as individuals, families, and as a society can continue down this path. Will unlimited economic growth, spectacular advances in science, and GOP presidents and Congresses stretched out into infinity deliver us from alienation and anxiety? And if the answer is no, then we should start thinking seriously about why we have become the richest and most free society ever to exist, yet our wealth and personal liberty have brought us so little happiness.
The answer is not to be found in a set of policy prescriptions, but in a considered critique of the assumptions on which mainstream American life is built, and a secession of sorts from the mainstream - all to conserve those things that give our lives real weight and meaning. Every one of us can refuse, at some level, to participate in the system that makes us materially rich but impoverishes us spiritually, morally and aesthetically. We cannot change society, at least not overnight, but we can change ourselves and our families.
Rod Dreher is a writer and editor at the Dallas Morning News, and a conservative author. His views are excerpted from his new book, "Crunchy Cons - How Burkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party)." Reprinted by permission from Crown Forum, a division of Crown Publishing.