In response to a column last month, a Charleston City Paper reader took me to task for calling Ralph Nader more conservative than mainstream Republicans. Here’s the paragraph I wrote that seemed to upset him the most:

“Given the choice between Republicans like [Mitt] Romney and [John] McCain, who call for open borders, stagnant wages, lost jobs, corporate welfare, and more wars, or a man of the left who wants to stop illegal immigration, save jobs, end Washington bailouts, and would prefer to spend tax dollars on Americans instead of Iraqis, I would gladly show Nader my Green card.”

After questioning my conservative credentials, the irate reader finished his e-mail with “Nader’s a stupid liberal — get a clue!”

Inspired, I’ve since been gathering many clues in an attempt to shine the light on conservatism in unusual places. Nader’s in good company.

While for decades conservatives have championed the family as the basic unit of society, Kentucky writer Wendell Berry takes it a step further by promoting the family farm as an economic ideal. Berry argues that both the welfare paternalism of big government and the reckless urban sprawl of big business have disrupted traditional patterns of community.

The man who raises his family on his own land and earns his living from that land is more at liberty to “pursue happiness” than the man who never gets to see his family and works for a corporate boss whose only stake in any patch of soil is the bottom line.

“Land” becomes “real estate,” “father” becomes a paycheck, and apple pie becomes Applebee’s, where Dad might be able to afford a brief family dinner, so long as Wall Street remains healthy.

In such an environment, argues Berry, capitalism becomes the enemy of liberty, not to mention the Christian concept of stewardship and respect for all Creation.

While in contemporary politics any criticism of capitalism is categorized as leftist, Berry’s agrarian outlook differs little from that of Thomas Jefferson, the Twelve Southerners (including author Robert Penn Warren) who defended the Old South in the infamous 1930’s manifesto “I’ll Take My Stand,” and conservative founding father Russell Kirk.

Indeed, if writing in 1950, Berry would be heralded as a thoughtful, southern conservative. In 2008, Fox News probably wouldn’t even let him in the building.

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