rosted window panes, candles gleaming inside, painted candy canes on the tree. Santa’s on his way, and has filled his sleigh—with some good book recommendations from friends and colleagues of the Claremont Institute…
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The Claremont Institute
Joseph Tartakovsky, The Lives of the Constitution
Joseph Tartakovsky brings that rarest of combinations: a writer who has studied the law in a demanding way, but also seen the law through the prism of moral and political philosophy—and then writes in the most graceful and illuminating manner. In this book he has given us a different entry into the study of the Constitution by giving us the parts of the Constitution that came into view, at different moments of crisis, in some notable "lives lived." Most of those lives involved some of the most interesting and penetrating jural minds in our history. And so he has fine studies of James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton, of Daniel Webster and the grand Stephen Field, and in our own time, the urbane Robert Jackson and the feisty, adamant Antonin Scalia. But Tartakovsky shows how the issues of the Constitution became threads in the lives of some notable figures who were not lawyers (eg., Alexis de Tocqueville and Woodrow Wilson), but also people who were not even politicians in the strict sense. He offers an illuminating chapter then on Ida Wells-Barnett, one of the most gifted black writers and journalists, who became in effect the successor to Frederick Douglass.
But to these figures Tartakovsky brings an historical knowledge of persons and things that will often deliver news. And so, Justice Kennedy, in the Boumediene case in 2008, managed to find a "right" of jihadists to habeas corpus when caught on the battlefield. As he invoked the Founders in arguing the high standing of this right, Tartakovsky recalled one member of the Founding generation, Thomas Jefferson, as Secretary of State during the war against the Barbary pirates. Jefferson suggested, as Tartakovsky reminds us, that "Muslim raiders (not the worst analogue to today's jihadists) be sold in retaliation in the Maltese slave market."
Christopher Wolfe, ed., Natural Law Today: The Present State of the Perennial Philosophy
I'm not usually drawn to collections of essays, but Christopher Wolfe has done a remarkable job of recruiting to this project an ensemble of writers who have been veterans of the movement to restore natural law, along with some younger scholars with angles of their own. Altogether it makes for sparkling and thoughtful essays, which are bound to convey news—or new perspectives—to readers who have come to know of natural law mainly through the caricatures cast up by its adversaries. And along with everything else, there is an Afterward by the late, great Ralph McInerney ("A Natural Law Man at the OK Corral"). This book should be used in any course that seeks again to teach natural law, especially to a new generation of lawyers.
James Wilson insisted that the purpose of this new government under the Constitution was not to invent new rights, but rather to secure and enlarge those rights we already had by nature. And yet, it's curious as to how many writers in our own time fail to see that cardinal point that the protection of natural rights supplies the telos or purpose of the government, in all of its branches, every day, the Executive and Congress as well as the judiciary. Thomas West is one of the few writers who takes that point seriously—and sets out to remind people, precisely, of the logic of those natural rights and how they show themselves in our policy and laws every day. West's book is a release of last year, but should never be out of season, especially, in conservative circles, to keep reminding ourselves of that book, and encourage others to read it. We often wonder: who among the students of Harry Jaffa have advanced his work by bringing his perspective to bear, in serious books, on the American Founding and our public policy. Tom West supplies here one of those key books to add to the Jaffaite shelf.
Douthat has become a familiar name in his columns in the New York Times and his many writings in conservative journals. What comes out here is the mind of a serious Catholic, well versed in the substantive teachings of the Church, and an evidently close watcher of the politics of the Vatican. He takes as profoundly serious the dangers posed to the teachings of the Church by a Pope who seems so curiously untethered to them.
R.J. Snell and Robert George (ed.) Mind, Heart & Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome
A collection of interviews with some notable writers and public figures who came into the Church as converts in their mature years, even against the currents of the time and the academic circles in which they lived their lives. The accounts are stirring in different ways, and they often bring surprises: on the one hand of people we didn't know were Catholic and, on the other, of people we thought surely had to have been Catholic all their lives. And so we have, among the converts, Fr. Thomas Joseph White, Timothy Fuller, Adrian Vermeule, Kirsten Powers, Matthew Schmitz.
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Larry P. Arnn
President, Hilldale College
Vice-Chairman, Board of Directors, The Claremont Institute
I have been teaching a course this term on totalitarian novels. We read On Tyranny (Xenophon, Strauss, Kojeve, and Vogelin; Darkness at Noon (Koestler), 1984 (Orwell), Brave New World (Huxley), That Hideous Strength (Lewis), the Introduction to Witness (Chambers), Chapters 19 and 20 of In the First Circle (Solzhenitsyn). We also read two essays by Churchill, "Mass Effects in Modern Life," and "50 Years Hence." These readings are interesting in themselves and because they are roughly contemporaneous, except Solzhenitsyn, and because all the authors except Solzhenitsyn knew or knew of each other. Several of them wrote about the works of others. Huxley taught Orwell at Eton. Lewis wrote a review of 1984, which we read. We also read some of the correspondence between them.
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Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics
Fellow, AWC Family Foundation
The Heritage Foundation
A Year with Houellebecq
This year I set out to read all six of Michel Houellebecq´s novels (I have finished four so far). Even before the release of Submission in 2015, Houellebecq was well-known in France and in literary circles. The fateful publication of Submission on the day of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris brought him international renown.
The premise of Submission—a moderate Islamist party takes power in France and begins to implement shariah—captured the popular imagination, but the book is really a critique of Western spiritual exhaustion. For Houellebecq, “atheistic humanism” is not a viable foundation for a nation: it cannot inspire devotion and sacrifice. It does not produce sufficient numbers of children. It must therefore give way to a more demanding and life-affirming faith. Houellebecq seems to think that a return to Christianity is not possible—at least not in France. The narrator, a middle-aged bachelor dissatisfied with a life of consumption and casual sex, does try to convert to Catholicism but cannot bring himself to it. He ends up embracing Islam.
The critique of contemporary Western society figures prominently in his first three novels, Whatever (a strange translation for Extension du domaine de la lutte), Atomized (the best of the four I read), and Platform. All deal with the loneliness and emotional misery of the men and women who came of age after the sexual revolution had extended the ruthless logic of markets to sex. In this bleak world, some have many sexual partners. Others have none. Ultimately, all end up alone, the possibility of genuine love having been destroyed. As youth fades, all that is left is “bitterness and disgust, sickness and waiting for death.” According to Houellebecq, the logic of hedonism inevitably leads to suicide. His is a bleak worldview. We need not share his pessimism to learn from his incisive diagnosis of the West’s spiritual malaise.
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Fletcher Jones Professor of Political Philosophy
Claremont McKenna College
Those who worry about the current state of American politics might read Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s Shattered, which reports on Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Its dispiriting account of our current electoral politics is countered by the invigorating surprise of her well-deserved defeat. One could then turn to Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses S. Grant, Grant, for a serious account of a typical yet atypical American. Would our increasingly stratified and unforgiving country allow such a man ultimately to flourish and succeed?
Our concerns about the current state of American conservatism and liberalism continue to call for renewed study of the philosophical source of our way of life, John Locke. Studying his work will help to remind us of the fundamental liberalism that we should be attempting to conserve. For those familiar with his political writing, it is now time to study his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Leo Strauss’s preface to the translation of his Spinoza’s Critique of Religion discusses his intellectual roots in a failed liberal democracy, Germany’s Weimar Republic. One way to approach the thought of the central young academic figure of that time, Martin Heidegger, is through his Zollikon Seminars, discussions he conducted with psychologists after the Second World War.
The classical roots of democracy and of just politics generally are clarified most thoroughly in Aristotle’s Politics, above all in his discussion of regimes in Book III. This analysis bears repeated study, in which one can now be aided by the imminent publication of the late Delba Winthrop’s Aristotle: Democracy and Political Science.
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The Fortnightly Review
A little list for the extended-family Christmas:
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes by Adam Rutherford. Fun with deoxyribonucleic acid! Who would have thought? Adam Rutherford, for one. Now that you can get a DNA test with fries at your local drive-thru, getting a cross-section view of the family woodpile is cheap and easy. So this little book may be just in time. Didn't know about those Sino-Estonian cousins? Now you do, but, sadly, it still doesn't explain so much about why you are the way you are—or why your crazy brother is so congenitally nutty.
The Prehistory of the Mind: A Search for the Origins of Art, Religion and Science and After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC by Steven Mithen. Mithen is an archaeologist who teaches at the University of Reading and has made genealogical overreach a fascinating field for those curious to know why our species was practically born struggling to find a means of expressing ideas as our idea of ideas blossomed and flourished.
Cave Art by Bruno David. A beautifully illustrated book in Thames and Hudson's "World of Art" series. But "art" may be misleading. Yes, the aurochs and bison in Lascaux and elsewhere underground are gorgeous and disturbingly modern, but what if we saw them not as art but as literature? Want to create an inspiring epic about the brave chap who girded himself in a loincloth, picked up a sharp stick and went out on an impossible hunt to feed his kids and clan? Write it on the wall and hold the torch close while you read it to the family. Presto: paleo-PowerPoint.
End of the Bronze Age: Changes in Warfare and the Catastrophe ca 1200 BC by Robert Drews. Imagine a cataclysmic global collapse of civilization and all it means. It's happened before — and more than once — even before Trump's election. The most recent such event happened around 1200 BC, when, in a heartbeat, all the cities and towns in the Greek world depopulated, crashed and burned. The chaos helps explain the martial logic of the Iliad. But why? What made the world give up hope and fall into a coma? Drews and other academics, including Eric H. Cline (1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed) are sifting through the evidence, but so far, nobody knows, making the late Bronze-Age collapse a very compelling detective story, just one in the 50,000 years or so that we've been taking notes and writing them on rocks, mud, papyrus and pulp.
Finally, a stand-up and read-aloud classic: Screwtape Proposes a Toast by CS Lewis. Next time you're tempted to provide a little sitting-room oratory, try this sequel to the more celebrated Letters by Lewis: "The scene is in Hell at the annual dinner of the Tempters' Training College for young Devils…"—this could describe many a family gathering, I suspect. Okay not very seasonal, but more fun than a lump of coal—and with a smaller carbon footprint, too.
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Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies
University of Illinois, Springfield
Lewis E. Lehrman, Lincoln & Churchill: Statesmen at War
Few men have more profoundly affected modern history than Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. This original study not only sheds a bright light on their remarkable achievements but also helps deepen our understanding of the nature of statesmanship. How two leaders of such radically different backgrounds and temperaments managed to lead their nations to victory in war — and thus vindicate government of the people, by the people, and for the people — is an inspiring story, told with great skill.
Ron Chernow, Grant
The celebrated biographer of Hamilton, Washington, and Rockefeller offers a highly readable, fresh look at the much-praised-general-and-much-maligned-president. Like several other recent authors, Chernow finds a lot to admire in Grant's White House years, especially his willingness to protect the civil rights of African Americans. He also presents a sophisticated analysis of Grant's alcoholism.
The fearless author of The War on Cops provides a devastating analysis of such academic follies as affirmative action, the microaggression farce, and the campus rape myth (among others). She concludes with an eloquent meditation on the true purpose of higher education.
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Last spring, driving towards Mount Wachusett in Massachusetts, I saw a sign for Redemption Rock and slammed on the brakes, an impulsive decision that would lead me on a reading side-trip of several weeks’ duration.
Redemption Rock is where the housewife Mary Rowlandson was ransomed in 1675. She had been taken hostage along with her children in the course of a murderous Indian raid on the town of Lancaster, and then brought on a forced march through the icy hills of central New England for eleven weeks. Her narrative of the ordeal, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (1682), became the first American bestseller.
That was a grisly episode in King Philip’s War. Douglas Edward Leach’s Flintlock and Tomahawk (1958) is a solid history of the war’s tactics and allows one to glimpse its causes. In brief, the war was the Indians’ last-ditch effort to avoid subjugation by European settlers whom their parents had welcomed, tolerated, or tried to ignore.
The Maine historian Herbert Milton Sylvester’s three-volume Indian Wars of New England (1910), never reprinted, is full of moral fervor and homespun historical speculation. Sylvester uses the language of his time. He calls the Indians “savages.” But his insight into the civilizational predicament that confronted the New England tribal leaders is empathetic and timeless:
“They valued their lands lightly, but looked with childish admiration upon the gauds and ornaments and some common utensils which the English offered them; and without thought or regret they accepted the latter for vast areas of lands; nor had they come to a realizing sense of their condition, by reason of this impoverishment of natural resources, until the situation was beyond their recall.”
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The Hoover Institution
My three picks have no common theme, but are all wonderful reads that are accessible to non-specialists.
A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul.
Naipaul, the Nobel Laureate who passed away this year, was arguably the most important writer of the last half century, and certainly one of the most important, if iconoclastic, conservatives as well. A Bend in the River is arguably his greatest novel, an echo of Joseph Conrad based very loosely on Naipaul’s own journey into the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1975. Its discussion of colonialism, race, migration, and identity are even more relevant now than when Naipaul wrote about them almost four decades ago.
Cheap Sex: The Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy by Mark Regnerus
As a happily married father of five, I’m very interested in the development of the relationship and marriage markets, and why both younger adults and presumably my kids who will eventually follow them, have such a difficult time forming the sort of pair bonds that have traditionally characterized western societies. Regenrus uses both public data and his own studies to argue how various technological trends from online dating to pornography, have lowered the cost of sex and as a result raised the price of commitment.
As women have become disadvantaged in the sexual marketplace both men and women suffer in the marriage market as a result. Many of these trends can also be used to partially explain the boom of gender plasticity in American society. The book’s thesis is fascinating, multifarious, and disturbing—and Regenrus doesn’t offer easy ways out of our predicament. But with so much cant and nonsense written today about sex, gender, and the relationships between men and women, Regenrus’s book stands out as a monument to clear, bold, and original thinking on the subject.
The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon Wood
Really, one could picked almost any book by Wood, the dean of American historians of the revolutionary era, but I’ll choose this, one, which won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize and was my introduction to Woods oeuvre. It is a brisk, readable and breathtaking account of what made America’s founders and our revolution so different than anything that came before it. It treats the ideas of the American revolutionaries seriously without descending into mere hagiography, and while it certainly focuses on the biggest names, many less important but illuminating characters also take the stage. It discusses just how radically the revolution transformed American society and the consequences of that change for our country today.
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The Claremont Institute
Roberts has made Adam Smith’s other masterpiece, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments, completely accessible and completely understandable. In doing so, he has provided us with a profoundly revealing examination of the theory of human nature according to the American founders: man the social being, endowed with moral sentiments, with a moral sense. The founders were focused on their political enterprise, not moral philosophy, but Smith’s ideas, beautifully expressed by Roberts, provide us with deep insight into the vision of human nature the founders shared.
On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding by Michael Novak
If you want to learn more about the importance of religious faith and religious learning to the American Founding, then this is the book for you. Novak tells us he spent “some forty years…fighting through a great deal of conventional (but mistaken) wisdom” to be able to write the book. He will convince you that John Adams spoke for the founders when he said in 1798, “Our constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
At the outset, Novak stakes out a claim to a pair of themes: “The founding generation moved easily between faith and practical, common-sense reasoning, indeed mounted upwards on both those wings in unison.” However, common sense gets little attention, few pages, and is nowhere fully developed. The faith theme holds Novak’s attention. If the title is somewhat misleading about what is found in the book, it nevertheless deserves praise for making a profound and correct statement about the founding generation. Reading this outstanding work may whet your appetite to learn more about the role of common sense in the American founding.
Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman
Sherman’s treatment of the great subject of peace and war in America is a rousing, delightful read. Sherman is a master story teller, and what a story he has to tell! By the time you reach the Civil War, you will have traveled with Sherman to a near-pristine Florida, sailed around Cape Horn, and enjoyed an up-close and personal portrait of California before and during the Gold Rush—and all that is just the warm-up.
I recently re-read it and can report it offers real relief from the anti-Americanism of the Democrats and the media in our time. It is an inspiring portrait of America during the time of Lincoln, telling the story of the enormous, heroic effort by an astonishing generation to save the Union and complete the work of the American founders.
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MAKING DYSTOPIA: The Strange Rise and Survival of Brutalist Architecture, James Stevens Curl, Oxford University Press
Any non-specialist who nevertheless has a strong perception that the European urban environment has been comprehensively wrecked (nowhere to a greater extent than in Britain) by modernist architecture, and a suspicion that this has been done knowingly and deliberately, will find chapter and verse in this polemical, amusing, alarming but scholarly book by the author, a summation of more than sixty years’ deep study of architecture.
LE CORBUSIER, THE DISHONEST ARCHITECT, Malcolm Millais, Cambridge Scholars
That Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, was a nasty little fascist (in the most literal sense) should have been obvious from his writings and his buildings. Millais dots the is and crosses the ts.
TYRANT: Shakespeare on Power, Stephen Greenblatt, W.W. Norton
A fascinating mixture of clear literary exposition and misleading analogy.
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Nonresident Senior Fellow
Looking back nearly four decades, what a lucky duck I was during my graduate studies in government (aka, political science) at Harvard. I got to know well and work closely with numerous intellectual giants, from my dissertation advisers James Q. Wilson and Samuel P. Huntington, to my dear teachers including Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. and Robert D Putnam, plus others. But in two of the graduate seminars I took, I had the almost undivided attention of a scholar who quite arguably was the most intellectually incisive of them all, and whose work deeply influenced several of my other teachers, Edward C. Banfield.
I say “almost undivided” because, in the one seminar, there was just one other student, and in the other seminar, there was just that same one plus another. Ideologically, by 1980, Banfield, who began his career as a government official and a New Dealer, had for nearly two decades been excoriated as an arch-conservative (or worse). And, methodologically, his Aristotelian (he preferred Burkean) brand of scholarship had long since fallen out of fashion and favor.
Earlier this year, I re-read two of Banfield’s classics back to back, and then dipped anew into a few of his essays regarding the limits of the so-called social sciences. Sixty years ago, in The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (1958), and a half-century ago in The Unheavenly City (1968), Banfield illuminated how empathy and self-control define character, shape culture, and promote or retard civic virtue. In The Moral Basis of a Backward Society, Banfield described a Southern Italian village in which individuals limit their empathic impulses to “the immediate, material interest of the nuclear family,” and how the same people do not save, invest, or otherwise take care for the future, believing as they do that their welfare “depends crucially” not on future-oriented “thrift, work, and enterprise,” but on “the favor of the saints” or “luck.” With characters low on both empathy and future-orientation, the people in that Southern Italian village shared a shallow civic culture that Banfield baptized “amoral familism.” As “prisoners” of a perversely “family-centered ethos,” as people unwilling to plan ahead and “act concertedly in the common good,” their “amoral familism,” he concluded, had been, and would likely continue to be, “a fundamental impediment to their economic and other progress.”
In The Unheavenly City (1968), Banfield analyzed the plight of America’s least well-off urban dwellers through virtually the same conceptual lens that, a decade earlier, he had used to examine the plight of those Southern Italian villagers. Class “cultures,” he posited, could be distinguished mainly by “the individual’s orientation toward the future,” or, more specifically, by the “ability to imagine a future” and by the “ability to discipline oneself to sacrifice present for future satisfaction.” The “lower classes” in urban America, he argued, had a culture that was more highly present-oriented and less other-regarding than the cultures of the “upper, middle” and “working” classes. “The lower-class individual,” he noted, tends to be one that “feels no attachment to community, neighbors, or friends…He is a nonparticipant: he belongs to no voluntary organizations…”
In 1980, when I first met Banfield, he gave me a copy of an essay he had drafted in which he described himself as a “vintage Burkean.” Published as “Policy Science as Metaphysical Madness,” the essay began with a quote from Edmund Burke’s “Speech on the Petition of the Unitarians”:
A statesman differs from a professor in a university; the latter has only the general view of society; the former, the statesman, has a number of circumstances to combine with those general ideas, and to take into his consideration. Circumstances are infinite, are infinitely combined, are variable and transient; he who does not take them into consideration is not erroneous, but stark mad—dat operam ut cum ratione insaniat—he is metaphysically mad.
Banfield gave no quarter whatsoever to the notion that the social sciences, whatever their statistical analysis progress or prowess, and however high their quality on all other counts, could truly enlighten us about crime or other social problems, let alone ever craft public policy in ways that significantly ameliorated or solved social problems. In 1990, in his preface to the reissued edition of The Unheavenly City, he wrote:
I must acknowledge that in recent years there has been an enormous increase in the amount and quality of information and analysis that have been brought to bear upon all these problems. I make no claim to be abreast of this literature. I am, however, willing to risk expressing my strong suspicion that, eye-opening as some of the revelations may be, the next twenty years still will not find “solutions” that are both feasible and acceptable. Some serious problems may go away of their own accord, so to speak, or they may simply be overshadowed by others that appear more pressing.
Although he could never get this unreconstructed Democrat to agree with him in full either on public policy matters or on what he called “the inutility of economics” and the policy sciences, the older I get, the wiser Professor Banfield becomes.
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Associate Professor of History
Sam Houston State University
Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution (1990)
Perhaps the greatest narrative history written in the last century, The Russian Revolution is a chronicle of villainy. Here was a country lost in a bad war it had done too much to foster desperate for a chance to extricate itself from the horror and begin a path toward a happier world anew. Russia had a fair chance for this outcome but for the extraordinary persistence, stoked by ambition and no small quantity of criminality and hatred, of the scarcely countable members of the fringe Bolshevik party and their leader, Lenin. When in 1917 Germany arranged to send Lenin in as its agent to seize control of the popular movement that had forced an end to tsarism and aspired to hold a constitutional convention on the order of America’s in 1787, in came an “epileptic” of revolutionism that made his opponents striving to guide Russia toward a reasonable fate appear as “paralytics” in comparison.
Susan Braudy, Family Circle: The Boudins and the Aristocracy of the Left (2003)
The “hoggishness” Walt Whitman found to dog those with superior motives finds an ensemble cast in the saga of the Weathermen, from their origin in the remnants of the Trotskyist left among the debutantes and the Seven Sisters colleges of the East to their coming of age via an arsenal of explosive devices and guns that wreaked havoc—and killed people—from the late 1960s into the early 1980s. Twisted high-mindedness comes to a new level of perfection in this central story in America’s cultural and political revolution of the 1960s—one whose protagonists are a nearly unbelievable set of undeviating women.
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Founding Director, The Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence
The Claremont Institute
As the Director of The Claremont Institute’s litigation shop, the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, I tend to spend most of my reading time reading briefs and Supreme Court decisions. But it is always good to keep some long-term perspective on things, so this year I picked up a terrific book published back in 2015 that is a stark reminder of the stakes at issue in our current fight against Islamic terrorism. Bruce Ware Allen’s The Great Siege of Malta: The Epic Battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Knights of St. John. The Siege of Malta in 1565 is the precursor to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 (which should be well-known to Diplomacy fans because of the Lepanto opening strategy for Italy!). Together, these battles marked a turning point in the Ottoman Empire’s designs on Europe.
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Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought
The Heritage Foundation
Here are two books for the holidays, one new and one old but all worth reading and even rereading:
The Point of It All by Charles Krauthammer. Not a collection of old columns and essays from yesteryear but a selection of prime Krauthammer by the man and his son Daniel in the last year of his life. It includes an essay about the ism we are struggling to cope with—populism.
The Roots of American Order by Russell Kirk. What is America all about? Where did it come from? What are its roots? All these and many other questions are answered in this brilliant work by Kirk who points us to five cities—Athens, Jerusalem, Rome, London, and Philadelphia.
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James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions
The most astonishing and fast-moving political change of the last three years has been brought about by the movement for “transgender rights.” The most comprehensive and powerful book on that movement and on the issues it raises in law, politics, morality, and medicine is Ryan T. Anderson’s When Harry Become Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. Naturally, wherever his book has not been attacked in the mainstream press, it has been ignored. Anderson’s book is feared because it is fearless, hated because it is loving, and mocked as ignorant because it is grounded in scientific truth. It is, in short, indispensable, as I explained in my review in Public Discourse.
The best book in political philosophy that I read in 2018 was by my late friend Leslie Rubin. Her posthumously published America, Aristotle, and the Politics of a Middle Class revised my understanding of Aristotle’s Politics, broadened and deepened my grasp of the American founding, and refined my appreciation for the role of the middle class and its middling virtues in determining the character and health of our republican government. I thought it an even better book than did Ken Masugi in his review for the CRB, but my friend Ken rightly paid tribute to the book’s insights and seriousness of purpose. Like Ken, I too wish Leslie were still here to discuss the themes of her wonderful book.
A book I’ve had the privilege of seeing as a manuscript in progress is Robert Louis Wilken’s Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom, which will be published in May 2019. The dean of early Christian history tells an episodic story of religious freedom’s intellectual and political origins as the fruit of Christian theology and experience, from Tertullian and Lactantius in the third century to various actors both famous and obscure in the Reformation period. Those who think religious liberty is a project of the secular (or anti-Christian) Enlightenment have another think coming.
Speaking of the prevailing secular philosophies of modern times, their deficiencies are wisely, concisely, and wittily brought to light by the late Ralph McInerny of Notre Dame in Characters in Search of Their Author. Published in 2001, these Gifford Lectures given in Glasgow in 1999 and 2000 are the best introduction I know to the subject of natural theology, the manner in which we can know something of God by reason alone. Lord Gifford, the nineteenth century philanthropist who endowed these annual lectures given at Scottish universities, explicitly desired them to take up the subject of natural theology, “the knowledge of God.” While many Gifford lecture series have strayed from that purpose, McInerny homes in on the heart of the Gifford project, demonstrating how it is that materialist presumptions and hostility to metaphysics have stultified much of modern philosophy.
I cannot now recall who first recommended H.F.M. Prescott’s 1952 novel The Man on a Donkey to me, but I offer my thanks, whoever you are. This long and absorbing story, set in Henry VIII’s England, follows various characters—an ambitious and worldly abbess, a village cleric who becomes a radical Protestant preacher, a holy fool of a country woman, and above all Robert Aske, the one true character from real history, who led the Pilgrimage of Grace in the north of England in protest of Henry’s despoiling of monasteries and other Church property. Hilda Prescott was evidently a devout daughter of the Church of England, but she unflinchingly depicts the disruption, fear, and violence that characterized these times, and the portrait of Aske, the tragic Catholic hero, is the most sympathetic one in the book.
I have previously had occasion to mention the Overlook Press’s uniform “Collector’s” edition of the complete works of P.G. Wodehouse. For those of us who regard “Plum” as the master of twentieth-century English prose, the opportunity to round out our collections has been a great boon. Moving from the familiar works on Jeeves and Wooster or the Blandings Castle set to lesser-known Wodehouse books, I’ve found some real gems. Probably the most unusual of all so far has been The Coming of Bill (first published in the U.S. as Their Mutual Child in 1919). This novel is notable not only for its unusual length (more than 300 pages, half again as long as the typical Wodehouse novel), but for its seriousness. It moves from courtship to marriage to the birth of a child (the Bill of the title), to a real crisis in the marriage of the protagonists. Still suffused with Wodehouse’s trademark wit, Bill has some of the most vivid, beautiful depictions of the sensations and sentiments of love, heartache, resentment, and betrayal that one could wish for, coloring a plot that has death, disease, penury, turns of fortune, and—for this is Wodehouse, after all—the intrusions of a meddlesome aunt. Does the drama really work in combination with Wodehouse’s famous light touch with dialogue and description? Read and decide for yourself. Wodehouse always seemed to care deeply for his principal characters, and may for that reason have generally kept the tone light, the humor quotient high, and the situations absurd. Perhaps he regarded Bill as a failure, or perhaps writing the book was too wrenching an experience for him, but Wodehouse never wrote another book that plunged right into the turmoil and grief of love, marriage, and parenthood. Today Bill stands out as a fascinating early experiment by Wodehouse, never again attempted.
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The Claremont Review of Books
There’s an old Latin saying, “Beware the man of one book,” but I am pretty sure it didn’t apply to Christmas Reading Lists. So, if many of your friends are people who admire Plutarch’s Lives and the American Constitution—and if you’re reading this the odds are good that they are—lift their sights and their spirits with a copy of Joseph Tartakovsky’s The Lives of the Constitution: Ten Exceptional Minds that Shaped America’s Supreme Law.
Tartakovsky’s Lives brings the Constitution to life in ways the Father of the Constitution would appreciate.
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Poet and Author
Starting with a favorite classic of mine, Country of the Pointed Firs, an 1896 novel by Sarah Orne Jewett, sketches out life in a small coastal Maine town from the point of view of a visiting woman writer. She combines humor, detail, and quiet insights to make the residents of the town and its surroundings seem very real, even today.
The Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon contains what I think is the finest metaphor about socks ever written. Her poetry is often set in rural New Hampshire, where I live, and uses attention to detail in even the smallest items—a thimble, a clothespin—to talk about all the largest ideas, God, depression, love, and death.
Still somewhat rural, for relaxation I enjoy the mysteries of Archer Mayor and his Vermont detective Joe Gunter. His latest is Bury the Lead, but you can start earlier in the series if you want to live through all the characters’ development.
Out of all the poetry I reviewed this year, I’ll put James Najarian’s Goat Songs at the top of the list for the marvelous poems about, well, yes, goats.
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The Claremont Institute
I would be remiss in my obligation to my publisher (Encounter Books) if I didn’t plug the new paperback edition of my own book, Patriotism Is Not Enough, which goes on sale December 18—just in time to be the perfect stocking stuffer! The paperback edition has an all-new preface, which goes into more detail the role of the Claremont Institute and its teachings in understanding the arrival and significance of Donald Trump.
Andrew Roberts’s new biography, Churchill: Walking with Destiny, lives fully up to its glowing reviews. Even the New York Times says that it is “the best one-volume biography of Churchill ever written.” I didn’t think we really needed a new Churchill biography, or, having read so many, that I would find a new one catching up my attention, but Roberts proved me wrong. In addition to new source material, Roberts’s judgments about Churchill, and his keen selection of the most salient details about Churchill thought and action, are superb.
Whatever book Roger Scruton has published this week—they do seem to come out that often—go out and get it. And if you can’t figure out which is more recent, or are overwhelmed with the 50-plus titles he has on offer, just throw them all into a hat and pick one. But if you want my recommendation (Scruton for Beginners?), get his charming memoir Gentle Regrets, or his most recent defense of conservatism, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition.
Speaking of great traditions, over the summer quite spontaneously I was drawn into a thorough re-reading of Edmund Burke, and decided I owed it to myself to consider more carefully Yuval Levin’s gem, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left. This book could almost be called Crisis of the Enlightenment Divided, if you catch my reference. If you haven’t read Yuval’s lively treatment, put it on your reading list. There will be a quiz.
Ronna Burger and Patrick Goodin have edited a nice tribute to a philosopher we shouldn’t let slip from memory: The Eccentric Core: The Thought of Seth Bernadete. Contributing essayists include Harvey Mansfield, Laurence Lampert, Heinrich Meier, Richard Velkley, Stanley Rosen, and Mark Blitz.
From the sublime to the ridiculous: for your humor quotient, get Ammo Grrrll Hit the Target: A Humorist’s Friday Columns from Power Line. What do four boring middle-aged white guys need to liven up their group blog? A regular Friday humor column from former standup comedienne Susan Vass, that’s what. And these are the best.
With “nationalism” under attack as a code word for racism, bigotry, and high cholesterol diets, Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism is an essential antidote, even if some of his arguments are wildly heterodox.
For anyone with a wonk-fetish/handicap like mine for energy, Richard Rhodes’s newest offering Energy: A Human History is must reading, though Vaclav Smil’s book from last year, Energy and Civilization: A History, gives Rhodes a run for his money.
In a similar vein, everyone ought to have on their shelf Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons Why We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Rosling, who passed away last year before his time, is the rare person who can make demography completely riveting (look him up on YouTube some time), in large part because of his capaciousness in connecting seemingly disparate facts and trends. This posthumously published book is a great tribute to his imagination and optimism.
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Few holiday gifts are as classy as a poetry book, and if you are constrained by your budget you can thank W.W. Norton for releasing Emily Wilson’s best-selling translation of The Odyssey in an affordable paperback version. She has recently, and rightly, become a major literary figure by rendering classical texts both faithfully and poetically.
The godfather of New Formalism, William Baer, has two new books. His poetry book is Formal Salutations: New & Selected Poems (Measure Press) and his novel is New Jersey Noir (Able Muse Press). Both offers are ones you should not to refuse.
I don’t buy Barbara Ras’s claim that Daniel Tobin’s Blood Labors (Four Way Books) “weaves the deep-world time of Charles Olson with the Irish Catholic lyricism of Seamus Heaney,” but Tobin’s poems offer craft and depth while remaining accessible to a careful reader. Given its title, slip this book under the trees of friends and family, but consider wind chimes for your boss.
Rachel Hadas’s Poems for Camilla (Measure Press) offers many of the same kinds of pleasures as Blood Labors, but with a sensibility rooted in classical literature. Nicholas Friedman’s first book, Petty Theft (Criterion Books), won the New Criterion Award; it skillfully embraces the great, but largely forgotten, early twentieth-century poet E.A. Robinson while rejecting the tiresome clichés of postmodern poetry.
The great Dominican-American poet Rhina Espaillat continues a streak of remarkable work with Agua de dos riós/Water from Two Rivers: Poemas, prosas y traducciones: una collection bilingüe (Obsidiana Press).
Finally, for that eccentric cousin of yours who is so intense about poetry, there are two valuable—but not revelatory—additions to the letters of twentieth-century major poets: Philip Larkin: Letters Home 1936-1977 (Faber) and The Letters of Sylvia Plath Volume 2: 1956-1963 (Harper)
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The Public Interest Fellowship
The debate around campus speech continued to rage throughout 2018. No work is more often cited on this issue than John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. Mill is a great defender of free speech but his vision of the society devoted to free speech may strike some readers as cold and even heartless. In any case, it's certainly worth going back to the source since Mill's name is cited so often in our contemporary debates.
After reviewing The Storm Before the Storm by Mike Duncan earlier this year, I turned back to Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon is a master story-teller as well as a very thoughtful commentator on politics and policy. The strongest motif throughout his story (to this reader's eye, anyway) is the relationship between the devotion of the Roman people to their country, on the one hand, and the policies promulgated under the reign of the Caesars, on the other. Gibbon's account is a kind of inquiry: How does civic devotion relate to public policy?
Speaking of devotion and policy, Martin Mosebach's excellent The Heresy of Formlessness gives a very compelling account of why the Extraordinary Form of the Catholic Mass (the Traditional Latin Mass) is richer, more beautiful, and more worthy of attendance than its newer cousin. Mosebach is a novelist; his account is an attempt to discover how the human heart is bent toward gratitude and piety through a certain kind of worship. Underlying his poetic account is the conviction that great forms of spiritual human activity build up organically over the course of history, and that it is our luck to inherit those forms — and our great privilege and duty to protect them.
Finally, as 2018 closes, President Trump has the best unpublished book in the world. Four of his speeches since January 2017—his Inaugural Address, the Warsaw Speech in 2017, his speech at the United Nations in September 2018, and his address to the World Economic Forum in January 2018—demonstrate that his consistent theme is citizenship, loyalty, and patriotism. They're great speeches because they clearly articulate how patriotism or love for one's nation leads to national flourishing and prosperity, and how national flourishing and prosperity are good for the world. Someone should consider publishing these four speeches in a volume.
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Professor of Naval and Military Strategy
Naval War College
It is probably time to take a breather from American politics, but I will mention one older book that has startling contemporary relevance: Jean Raspail’s novel The Camp of the Saints, originally published in French in 1973. This apocalyptic vision of a flotilla of tramp steamers disgorging tens of thousands of destitute Third Worlders on the beaches of the Riviera says all there is to say about the misplaced humanitarianism of western democracies, and provides a most sobering commentary on the attitude of many Americans to the “caravans” currently targeting our southern border. Be warned: it isn’t a pleasant read.
The subject of language is endlessly fascinating. I recently discovered H. L. Mencken’s marvelous The American Language (1921), which is not only amusing, as one would expect, but remarkably erudite. Also highly recommended is Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World (2005). Good companion pieces to this monumental work are Azar Gat’s Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism (2013) and Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism (2018).
Finally, anyone who thinks he understands the Italian Renaissance will be gobsmacked by The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican, by (Rabbi) Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner. A New York Times bestseller when it was published in 2008, this book makes a compelling case that the Sistine ceiling incorporates an elaborate mockery of Pope Julius II as well as a rather heterodox celebration of the Old Testament.
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Daniel J. Mahoney
Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship
For students of Aristotelian political science there is no better guide than the late Delba Winthrop, a cherished friend who taught me much about Aristotle, Tocqueville, Solzhenitsyn, and many other thinkers and issues over the years. ARISTOTLE: DEMOCRACY AND POLITICAL SCIENCE, just released by the University of Chicago Press, is an example of "Straussian" interpretation at its very best. Winthrop's doctoral dissertation from the 1970's, it provides a stunning reading of Book III of the POLITICS that is equally attentive to the political and to the ontological, to wholes and parts, and what philosophy can learn from politics and not just the other way around. Harvey Mansfield's "Introduction" is instructive and at times luminous. Recommended to all who have an interest in the greatest book of "political science" ever written, which should be all the readers of the CRB.
I strongly recommend two books just released by the University of Notre Dame Press: Remi Brague's THE KINGDOM OF MAN, a remarkably erudite study of the inability of the "modern project" to give a coherent account of itself: Brague cogently establishes that "exclusive humanism" cannot finally ground liberty and human dignity or give a persuasive account of why the human adventure ought to continue. The book is ably rendered into English by Paul Seaton. The second volume from Notre Dame that I recommend is BETWEEN TWO MILLSTONES, the first of two volumes chronicling Solzhenitsyn's twenty years of forced exile in the West, eighteen of which were spent in America. These "sketches of exile" cover the years from 1974 to 1978 and illumine the great Russian writer's dual struggle against the "Soviet Dragon" as he calls it, and a decayed and decaying Western liberalism. The reader is struck by Solzhenitsyn's growing sense that many of his ostensible allies in the West opposed Russia more as "geopolitical space" than as a bridgehead of an inhuman Communist totalitarianism, and thus saw Russia as the "hereditary enemy" of the West. The contemporary relevance of that insight cannot be overstated. Solzhenitsyn's deft treatment of the largely unhinged reaction to the 1978 Harvard Address is worth the price of admission. This forceful and energetically written book is introduced by yours truly.
Those who admire Solzhenitsyn might consider purchasing the 50th anniversary edition of THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO (the book was finished in April of 1968 but released in late December 1973) just released by Vintage in London and readily available in a handsome paperback edition at amazon.co.uk. This authorized abridgement (first released in 1984) contains a wonderful new "Foreword" by Jordan B. Peterson that shows how Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece is equally relevant in an age of moral relativism, facile nihilism, and identity politics. This new edition also includes a valuable place and name "Index" and a list of witnesses whom Solzhenitsyn drew upon in his searing critique of applied ideology. Must reading for all who care about liberty and human dignity and the sustenance of the soul against the twin dragons of totalitarianism and moral nihilism.
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Professor of Government
Devin Stauffer, Hobbes’s Kingdom of Light (University of Chicago Press, 2018). A foundational study of Hobbes: if Machiavelli is the Prince of modernity, Hobbes is the King.
Delba Winthrop, Aristotle: Democracy and Political Science (University of Chicago Press, 2018). Another foundational study, this one for students of Aristotle (and who is not that?) and for all those who want to learn the full meaning of interpretation—I am proud to say, by my late wife.
Bruno Maçaes, The Dawn of Eurasia; On the Trail of the New World Order (Allen Lane, 2018). On the integration of Europe and Asia and its geopolitical significance, by an adventurous Portuguese writer with a Harvard PhD.
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Claude R. Marx
As events of the day often cause frustration and despair, those wishing to escape to an earlier time have much to choose from. Many of these provide the ingredients for what Robert Bork famously called an intellectual feast, and some are elegantly written to boot.
There is much debate about what the founders would, and wouldn’t think about contemporary issues. Fortunately, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood doesn’t speculate, but in Friends Divided he provides a masterful look at the complicated relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. You get great insights into the ideas and personas of these giants who were friends, rivals, and intellectual sparring partners.
Those eager for a dual biography of two more recent president would do well to read John Milton Cooper’s The Warrior and the Priest. Cooper paints a vivid intellectual and political portrait of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The presidents’ competing views of progressivism are still shaping contemporary events, and are frequent targets of conservative criticism.
Cooper subsequently wrote an interesting, if overly laudatory book, about Wilson, Woodrow Wilson. There is no shortage of books about Roosevelt, but one of the best is Henry Pringle’s 1931 book Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography. The book, for which Pringle won the Pulitzer Prize, brings TR down a notch and deals with his flaws, more than many other biographies do. It helped set the stage for TR’s less- than-stellar historical legacy that only started to be reversed by the subsequent works of John Morton Blum, David McCullough and Edmund Morris.
Those wanting to go beyond the United States for their looks back would do well to read two books by British statesman and scholar Roy Jenkins. His eloquently written biographies of two of his country’s most important leaders, William Gladstone and Winston Churchill, are detailed, nuanced and relevant today. Jenkins also has the advantage of having held some of the same jobs that his subjects and helps the readers understand what it is like to have the responsibility for making decisions. While both Gladstone and Churchill are about 1,000 pages, they are fast paced and Jenkins is laudatory without being hagiographic
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G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty
University of Oklahoma
Some of the most beautiful and penetrating writing on the moral condition of our decaying culture has come from the pen of Anthony Esolen, a spectacularly gifted writer whose powers of observation and ability to draw upon the works of the Western literary tradition would be exceptional in any time, but in ours are almost unknown. His latest book, Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, bears a slightly banal title, but do not be fooled: it is a profound exploration of the great Homeric and Biblical themes of exile and return, a vindication of nostalgia as something far more than sentimentalism, and a rebuke to modernity’s attempt to replaces nostos with utopia.
Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars is essential reading, as is everything he writes, but few works of history better capture the enormous scope of its subject. Combining an expert account of strategy and tactics on all sides with clear and adept analysis of the role of politics and economics and technological innovation, of manufacturing, supply, and logistics, it captures the overwhelming scale of this greatest of human conflicts, and gives the lie to the historical profession’s smug conviction that military history is the province of narrow and rather unsavory specialists. This is history at its most sweeping.
I might be accused of rank prejudice in this one, but my Oklahoma colleague Kyle Harper has produced a pathbreaking and surprisingly beautiful book in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire. Following in the path of historians like the great William McNeill and his environmental-historian son J.R. McNeill, it combines a mastery of the details of Roman political and social history with a deep immersion in what we know (from an astonishing variety of fields) about the environmental history of the region, illuminating the ways in which the achievements of Rome involved constant struggle against the polymorphous implacability of Nature, omnipresent and relentless, yet invisible and incomprehensible. Harper has the range to present reams of data in intelligible form, while framing the story in prose of soaring and audacious insight. Contemplating the spectacle of man’s war against his invisible enemies, I was often reminded of Gloucester’s great line: “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.” Substitute “pathogens” for “gods,” and you will have the idea.
The pathogens of the ancient biosphere were one thing; but there are also pathogens operating in the present-day digital world, and Bill Gertz’s iWar: War and Peace in the Information Age is an eye-opening account of them. Gertz is arguably the best national-security journalist in the American daily press, and when he asserts that America is already at digital war with its rivals, even if it refuses to recognize the fact, we had better stand up and take notice.
On a more everyday note, all honor to Salena Zito and Brad Todd for The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics, the book that everyone should read to begin to get a handle on what is happening to American politics. On a more theoretical level, the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko from the Jagellonian University in Krakow has produced, in The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies, a book of high Tocquevillean insight, a pungent reminder that liberal democracy suffers from its own set of pathologies, against which those of us who value liberal democracy must needs be on our guard.
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John J. Miller
Director, Dow Journalism Program
The English scholar M.R. James (1862-1936) used to write ghost stories for Christmas Eve, when he’d read them by candlelight to his students at Cambridge. Tales such as “Count Magnus” and “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” are masterpieces of the form. (Find both in Collected Ghost Stories, part of the Oxford World’s Classics series.) James always understood that he was writing into a tradition, and he admired forerunners such as Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873), author of “Green Tea,” a short story that served as the subject of my Great Books Podcast for National Review just before Halloween. My guest on that show was Jack Sullivan, whose out-of-print books Elegant Nightmares and Lost Souls are the best introductions to the genre.
I mention this largely for the sake of presenting Lady Stanhope’s Manuscript and Other Stories, by Dale Nelson, a retired professor of English. His appreciation of the old-fashioned ghost story and his own Christian faith combine on these pages to deliver my favorite new book of 2018. (We podcasted here.) In the future, stories such as “Rusalka” and the title piece may find their way into anthologies of the best ghostly literature, alongside the work of Le Fanu and James, plus Robert Aickman, Russell Kirk, and just a few others.
If you think ghost stories are silly, check out Jane Austen’s early novel Northanger Abbey. (I prefer the annotated edition from Harvard University Press.) Austen seems to have enjoyed the Gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe and her ilk, but she liked even more to poke fun at their clanking chains, sinister secrets, and fainting heroines. Also, there’s nothing quite like reading a great book with a great teacher, such as Lorraine Murphy, my colleague at Hillsdale College. Try her online course The Young Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey.
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James W. Muller
Professor of Political Science
University of Alaska, Anchorage
Not to be missed is a tour de force of Aristotelian political science which won the APSA award for the best book of the year in American political thought. Forrest A. Nabors’s first book, From Oligarchy to Republicanism: The Great Task of Reconstruction, (University Press of Missouri, 2017), builds on Harry Jaffa’s work and the author’s considerable historical research to show that Southern planters founded an oligarchy in defiance of the republican regime established by the American Revolution. With encouragement from John Calhoun and the connivance of Northern allies, they began to revolutionize the federal government along the same lines as the constitutions of the Southern states. Nabors shows that statesmen of the new Republican Party were alive to the danger and revives their understanding of what was at stake in the American Civil War.
The long-awaited biography by the British historian Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (Viking, 2018), will deservedly shoulder aside many single-volumes lives of the statesman in this crowded field. Drawing on new sources, Roberts breaks some new ground, but what distinguishes his book is its judicious treatment of every important question relating to Churchill’s life and career. Readers may not agree with every one of Roberts’s conclusions but cannot fail to be impressed by his wide-ranging research and his sympathy and comprehension of his subject, which are evident throughout the book’s 1100 pages. Taking advantage of his window into Churchill’s mind, Roberts does much to deepen our understanding of the statesman’s character and achievements.
New specialized books on Churchill have not ceased to appear: we have more than ever. Pride of place among them this year goes to a book by Piers Brendon, Churchill’s Bestiary: His Life Through Animals (Michael O’Mara, 2018). Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary Soames wrote that in her father’s “scheme of things the animal creation was always to hold a prime place.” Inspired by untiring research and unremitting wit, this book by the former Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre, a Fellow of Churchill College, unfolds the astonishing range of Churchill’s experience of animals and enhances our appreciation for the richness and variety of their kingdom. So far published only in England, the book is to be published next summer in America by Pegasus; but eager readers on this side of the ocean can order the British edition, a particularly handsome book whose cover shows Churchill shaking hands with a slightly taller but equally well-fed bear.
Although people with a new interest in his life wonder which book about Churchill to tackle first, they really should postpone reading any biography till they have read Churchill’s autobiography, My Early Life: A Roving Commission, the statesman’s most charming book, first published in 1930 and never since out of print. The current American edition is a Simon and Schuster paperback. Skip the introduction by William Manchester, which is tendentious and has odd mistakes, including the wrong date for Churchill’s birthday (he was born on November 30), and jump right into an adventure story to rival Mark Twain. Pay attention to Churchill’s preface, which points out that he has described the “vanished world” of his youth, and keep in mind his dedication “to a new generation,” curiously left out of this edition, which points to his reason for writing the book.
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Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics
Claremont McKenna College
Joanne B. Freeman, THE FIELD OF BLOOD. Most readers are probably familiar with the infamous 1856 incident in which South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks severely injured Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts by beating him with a cane. This splendid book explains that the caning was hardly a one-off. In the years before the Civil War, Freeman writes, Capitol Hill took on the aspect of gang territory. Lawmakers threw punches, brandished knives and pistols, and threatened one another’s lives. Slavery was at the core of many of these fights. As Freeman writes: “The nation didn’t slip into disunion; it fought its way into it, even in Congress.” With luminous prose and prodigious research, this book is a major contribution to our understanding of congressional history.
Zachary Courser, Eric Helland, and Kenneth P. Miller, PARCHMENT BARRIERS. Although American political conflict is nowhere near the levels of the Civil War, political polarization is surely more intense than it was a few decades ago. The excellent essays in this book contemplate whether the current conditions of polarization are affecting the constitutional system in ways that ought to alarm us. Some of the chapters suggest that the constitutional design is under strain. In the concluding chapter, however, Joseph Bessette writes that a polarization that “clarifies the threats to American constitutional democracy … might be the very thing that is most needed.” From different viewpoints and in different ways, all of the essays in this terrific volume are thought-provoking and valuable.
Donald R. Wolfensberger, CHANGING CULTURES IN CONGRESS. The author, former staffer director of the House Rules Committee, knows as much about the workings of Congress as any living American. He tells how congressional culture evolved from an emphasis on legislating to an emphasis on campaigning at the expense of deliberation. Since the 1990s, party control of the House has changed hands several times. On each occasion, he notes, the new majority pledged to be more open and democratic than its predecessor, only to slip into the bad old ways. This insight is particularly valuable at this moment, as Paul Ryan prepares to hand the gavel back to Nancy Pelosi. Perhaps her next speakership will bring an era of genuine reform, but after reading this splendid volume, readers will have reason to be skeptical.
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The American Mind
Tech, China, and crime. It's hard to find a story this year that doesn't involve one or more of those subjects. If you're looking to get a quick grip on what's happening, who gets it, and why or why not, here's a good way to start:
Joe Studwell, How Asia Works: This methodical study of which Eastern nations have thrived economically (and which haven’t) is a few years old, but its conclusion — following the dictates of the West's financial elite led to big debts, weak currency, and corrupt banks — gives it renewed relevance today.
Misha Glenny, McMafia: Ever wonder how organized crime managed to swamp the planet? Glenny, a longtime Balkans expert, reveals how a bungling foreign policy establishment turned our post-Cold War victory into a field day for the criminals who filled the power vacuum in the post-Communist world. Trotting around the world and tallying the costs of amateurish idealism, Glenny delivers a narrative with all the punch and gravitas of a prestige TV adaptation — which, sure enough, the book has spawned.
Peter Pomerantsev, Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia: This is the deep dive into the real new Russia you didn't know you needed. Playing cultural catch-up, Moscow's new rich run cultural scams on their countrymen that we in America have already burned out on. They're laughing all the way to the bank, but the spiritual abyss below sucks in billionaires and their escorts alike.
Kai-Fu Lee, AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order: Google's former China chief, whose venture fund now manages $2 billion, follows a clearsighted examination of what's at stake in the tech race with a sadly quaint plea for the old-fashioned one-world togetherness the digital age has made obsolete. Anyone who thinks one world order is in the cards is either confused or wishcasting. But when someone at Lee's level gives in to the globalistic temptation, it's worth the time to trace the place where the logic goes off the rails.
James Williams, Stand out of our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy: There's one more former Googler with whom you should be familiar. Williams is an ex-ad strategist who's gone on to earn (and brandish) an Oxford philosophy degree. Hellbent on showing that what was cool when the Rolling Stones lacked wrinkles — rock music, consciousness expansion, and the planetary mentality you (ostensibly) get from seeing the planet from space — Williams labors to prove that "resistance" (yes, that word again) is the best way to wrest back our squandered attention from the social media giants. He's sure the woke tech bros have turned against the electric kool-aid acid culture near and dear to his heart, but in fact, it's increasingly clear they're both behind the times. Common sense, not revolutionary playacting, will keep us free in digital times. Hoover up Williams's criticism — and leave his would-be solutions behind.
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Jack N. Rakove
William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies
Omer Bartov, Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz. This is a book that historians of the Holocaust have long been awaiting: a study not of the industrial slaughter of the Jews in the death camps, but of the outbreak of almost casual mass murder in a Polish-Ukrainian-Jewish-Ruthenian community in Galicia that was also the author’s mother’s home town before her family left for Palestine. Bartov tells a grim tale of the circumstances that made Jews the main but hardly sole victims of communal violence, since nationalist Poles and Ukrainians were happy to slaughter each other, too. Bartov’s painstaking scholarship is a reminder that any event, no matter how grim or disconcerting or agonizing, deserves to be reconstructed on historical grounds (an argument that is also made in the late Inge Clendinnen’s brilliant meditation, Reading the Holocaust).
Jonathan Gienapp, The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era. I hope readers will not object to my hearty endorsement of a brilliant work of constitutional history written by my younger Stanford colleague, Jonathan Gienapp. Everyone knows that the working definition of a constitution, American-style, treats the written text as supreme fundamental law that simultaneously empowers but also limits government. But that definition, and more specifically, the means of interpreting such a document, did not emerge suddenly or fully formed as soon as the Constitution was ratified. It involved a further set of discussions that were far more political than judicial in nature that accompanied some of the key political disputes between the somewhat obscure debate over the removal power of the president in June 1789 to the spring 1796 clash between the House of Representatives and President Washington over the implementation of the Jay Treaty. Gienapp carefully traces the successive rounds in “fixing” the nature of the Constitution that had to be interpreted. All those who purport to favor an originalist interpretation of the Constitution will fail the qualifying exam unless they master Gienapp’s argument.
Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution. This is a captivating, thoroughly provocative, and highly idiosyncratic history of the Bolshevik movement—that favorite subject of CRB readers—that pivots on the residents of the famous “house on the embankment” (described in an important novel by Yuri Trifonov) more or less opposite the Kremlin where much of the party leadership resided. At a mere 980 pages of text, it is reportedly a slimmed down version of an even heftier earlier draft. Give yourself a few weeks to read it—but if you do, you will find yourself wrestling with a brilliant examination of Bolshevism. In one key early chapter, “The Faith,” Slezkine proposes that the best way to think of this history is to regard Bolshevism as a religion. Make of this chapter what you will, it helps to convey the intellectual power of Slezkine’s analysis.
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During the past several years, I roamed widely in my reading in preparation for writing a book on the genealogy of the ideas that made the American founding possible. Here are a few of the treasures I came across, though not all were directly relevant to my topic.
Due to my Catholic parochialism, I had completely missed the staggeringly great work by the Anglican divine Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity (1594), which he wrote to refute the Puritans. In doing so, he saved the English Reformation from itself by restoring to it the works of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. In its opening, Hooker stated that he wrote in order "that posterity may know we have not loosely through silence permitted things to pass away as in a dream.” As I was reading, I had to rub my eyes to make sure that I was not in a dream and had not discovered a lost work of theology and philosophy by William Shakespeare; such is the fineness of its language! Clement VIII exclaimed: “There is no learning that this man hath not searched into. This man indeed deserves the name of an author; his books will get reverence by age, for there is in them such seeds of eternity, that if the rest be like this, they shall last until the last fire shall consume all learning.” Hooker had a major impact on John Locke and directly on the American founding through James Wilson.
The best book on Hooker that I found is Alexander Rosenthal’s Crown under Law: Richard Hooker, John Locke, and the Ascent of Modern Constitutionalism, Lexington Books, 2008. He not only offers significant insights into Hooker and Locke, and the influence of the former on the latter, but critically assesses what he sees as Leo Strauss’s misunderstanding of Locke.
Another gem is Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker’s Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture, 1300 – 1700 (Herder and Herder, 2013). From its title this book might seem to appeal to a fairly narrow audience. I only read it because Wiker, when he learned the subject matter of the book I was working on, suggested that I do so. I’m so glad I did because it contains critically substantive, highly perceptive treatments of William of Ockham, Machiavelli, Luther, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke, among others, in its nearly 600 pages. This is really an excellent work of political philosophy, and I suggested to Wiker that he retitle the book as such and send it out to the wider audience it deserves.
If you are interested in political philosophy at the level of Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, you must read Charles McCoy’s The Structure of Political Thought: A Study in the History of Political Ideas. McCoy can say in a few elliptical sentences what others take books to set forth. It is easy to spend a day on a single page. I would not have recommended this 1963 book since it has been out of print for so long and was virtually unobtainable, but Transaction Publishers brought it back into print in 2017. Next you will want the collection of his essays, On the Intelligibility of Political Philosophy, The Catholic University of America Press (1989), edited by the great Fr. James Schall, who first brought McCoy to my attention, for which I will be forever grateful.
Now for something completely different. To retain or regain my spiritual equilibrium, I often turn to P. G. Wodehouse. I have been rereading, probably for the fourth or fifth time, Uncle Dynamite, a lesser-known but nonetheless equally delectable feast of sublime silliness in the Wodehouse oeuvre. In its opening pages, this dialogue takes place:
“How is Lady Ickenham?”
“Fine… she is taking a trip to the West Indies.”
“No, she went of her own free will.”
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Lehrman Institute Lecturer
New-York Historical Society
George Morton-Jack’s The Indian Empire at War is a superb history of the Indian Empire in the Great War, a sepoy’s-eye-view from the more than one million Indians who fought valiantly for the British Raj.
Robert Hardman’s ‘Queen of the World’ explains how Queen Elizabeth II exerts soft but undeniable power for Britain and the Commonwealth, with a wealth of fascinating new information about her.
Tirthanka Roy’s A Business History of India: Enterprise and the Emergence of Capitalism from 1700 is the latest of a series of revisionist economics and history books by distinguished Indian writers—Roy is a professor at the LSE—that emphasize the symbiotic relationship that imperial Britain had with the sub-continent, which are overturning the old Sixties Marxist myth about exploitation.
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Special Assistant to the President and Assistant Director of Strategic Initiatives
St. John’s College, Annapolis MD
This year we have the opportunity to celebrate a marvelous array of works on classical political philosophy, especially those of Xenophon. To start, I’d recommend Xenophon’s Shorter Writings edited by Gregory McBrayer. Leo Strauss began and ended his career writing on Xenophon and though he has a reputation for being inaccessible, boring, or apolitical, Xenophon is a deeply ironic and at times comedic writer.
The new translation of Hiero by David O'Connor with a terrific essay by David Levy provides a further excuse to revisit or visit for the first time Strauss's On Tyranny.
For the more scholarly and adventurous, I'd recommend Tom Pangle's magnum opus, The Socratic Way of Life: Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and Devin Stauffer's Hobbes's Kingdom of Light: A Study of the Foundations of Modern Political Philosophy. It is hard to think that either of these books will be surpassed on their respective topics.
Finally, since last year was the year in which Trump fully came into his own as president, it would behoove Claremontsters in particular to revisit some classics of presidential studies to see whether they can make sense of him. I'd suggest, in particular, wrestling with Jeff Tulis's wide-ranging attack on Trump as the first elected demagogue-president in his recent Afterward to his Rhetorical Presidency. As Tulis points out, the beginning of Trump's presidency saw an eclipse of constitutional rhetoric and instead saw the elevation of an appeal to the wisdom or sovereignty of the people as final and unimpeachable. This reminds, of course, of Jackson's similar appeals, but Tulis shows how such comparisons are inapt—Jackson's constitutional understanding was much more robust and elevated than Trump's.
As a companion piece, I would also suggest what I regard as the best essay on populism in the presidency and in the system as a whole, Herbert Storing's "American Statesmanship: Old and New." Written at the cusp of the Reagan presidency, it elaborates on what are the two greatest dangers that threaten us today: populism or extreme egalitarianism and relativism masquerading as scientific management.
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Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Directors
The Claremont Institute
In his drive to conquer the world, Aristotle’s student Alexander the Great is said to have carried his Iliad everywhere. He looked to himself—not to a Stanford geneticist—and claimed he had Achilles’s blood in him. Very likely no one questioned him. Probably also Alexander, being Greek, would have balked at reading his Iliad in English. All the same, in order that he appreciate Achilles in full, I’d have urged him to read Joe Sachs’s new translation. Sachs is the esteemed translator of Aristotle, of Alexander’s teacher’s teacher Plato, and of their teacher Homer. He is now emeritus but for over thirty years at St. John’s College, Sachs taught the Iliad and other of the ancients’s great books. More than likely native English-speaking peoples, even those who know Greek, would enjoy and beneﬁt from Sachs’s translation, introduction, and notes.
Hillsdale College’s motto virtus tentamine gaudet might be translated (at least by me): virtue enjoys an essay — with essay being understood as a literary form as well as an attempt or trial. In my youth I heard praised The Complete Essays of Montaigne translated by Donald Frame. I then got distracted for forty-ﬁve years and proceeded to become a happy-go-lucky senior citizen getting a dollar or two off every movie ticket I buy to see Colin Farrell playing Alexander the Great. Only now am I getting around to essaying Montaigne’s Essays.
Here are some of my discoveries. Montaigne was mayor of Bordeaux and friend and advisor to the king of France; at age 38 he retired to write. Like Machiavelli, Montaigne was a modern who did not simply subscribe to Aristotle’s understanding of philosophy and politics. Unlike Aristotle but like Machiavelli, Montaigne knew of Jesus Christ and the holy, catholic and apostolic church the Nicene Creed speaks of. Permit me to pause here to say I discovered the preceding things while reading Montaigne’s Essays together with two insightful books written in clear prose by Ann Hartle, professor emeritus at Emory College: Michel de Montaigne: Accidental Philosopher and Montaigne and the Origins of Modern Philosophy. I thank Ann Hartle, and I resume. Unlike Machiavelli, Montaigne was open to the possibility of the high and sacred showing themselves in the low and familiar. Montaigne’s openness and essays reward readers interested in what makes society civil, in knowing themselves as humans, and in educating their judgment. C.S. Lewis admired Montaigne and held him up as an example of “the freeborn mind.” Nietzsche was right when he said of Montaigne, “The fact that such a man has written truly adds to the joy of living on this earth.”
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We’re going to do something a little different with this year’s Christmas reading list.
I primarily examine books written on history, politics and economics. One of my unusual areas of interest, however, is animation and comic strips. There have been several exceptional titles I wanted to tackle, but couldn’t place or arrange in time. So, here are my recommendations of three comic strip collections I wasn’t able to review…until now!
The Complete Peanuts Vol. 1-26 (Fantagraphics) is one of the finest collections ever assembled of a single comic strip. It brings together the 17,897 Peanuts dailies created over fifty years, including roughly 2,000 that its creator, Charles M. Schulz, had consistently refused to reproduce. Each book is beautifully designed, includes a wide array of introductions from Walter Cronkite to Whoopi Goldberg, and contains an index for research purposes. The twenty-fifth volume includes the entire run of one of Schulz’s other comic strips, Li’l Folks, and the twenty-sixth volume is dedicated to comics and stories, including his contributions to the Saturday Evening Post, advertising firms, and comic books. You’ll need to devote a fair amount of shelf space to house this collection, but it’s well worth it.
Polly and Her Pals Vol. 1: 1913-1927 and Vol. 2: 1928-1930 (IDW Publishing/Library of American Comics) are two exceptional volumes of one of America’s unique comic strips. Released as oversized “Champagne Editions,” each book contains a concentrated overview of Cliff Sterrett’s amusing tales about a pretty young flapper, Polly Perkins, and her Maw, Paw and other assorted characters. The cartoonist clearly admired Cubist and Surrealist painters, and his strips reflected this love of art. You’ll savour every morsel of this century-old strip, which is still as fresh as the days it ran on the funny pages.
Sam’s Strip: The Comic about Comics (Fantagraphics) contains the entire run of a comic strip that was light years ahead of its time. Mort Walker, the mastermind behind Beetle Bailey, teamed up with writer/cartoonist Jerry Dumas to devise a strip that was owned and operated by a scheming pen-and-ink character, Sam. Along the way, he met dozens and dozens of legendary comic strip characters, including The Yellow Kid, Krazy Kat and Ignatz, Blondie, Happy Hooligan, Pogo and Charlie Brown. The strip broke the fourth wall when it came to cartooning, thought balloons and comic strip panels. While it was under-appreciated during its brief run (1961-63), this volume helped establish a permanent legacy.
We all need a break from reality every so often. Maybe Santa Claus will be kind enough to bring you some of these books this holiday season. Merry Christmas!
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The Claremont Institute
The political philosophers on your Christmas list will thank you for Daniel J. Mahoney’s latest reflections on The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity. Just when you thought you knew almost everything about the two-hundred year war against the Christian foundations of the West, Mahoney will give you something new and profound to ponder.
The same holds true for one of the great teachers of our era, the admirable James V. Schall, S.J., who is still going strong in retirement at age 90. He published a wonderfully readable collection of essays earlier this year, The Universe We Think In. That most worthy publishing house, St. Augustine’s Press, will publish two other Schall collections in a matter of days, On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Philosophical Essays and At a Breezy Time of Day: Selected Schall Interviews on Just About Everything. How can one resist? Do a friend a favor and buy all three.
Two can’t-miss biographies should be on everyone’s list. Andrew Roberts, who knows how to make big books engaging despite their length, has done it again with Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The great man himself would find it praiseworthy; so will you. Richard Brookhiser, who has given us a valuable mini-library of works on great Americans, has also done it again, this time with John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court.
Feed the literary imagination of the ten-plus crowd with Mr. Mehan’s Mildly Amusing Mythical Mammals, which will give them (and you) one poem, one painting, and one mythical mammal for every letter of the alphabet, along with multiple laughs on every page.
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C. J. Wolfe
Assistant Professor of Politics
University of St. Thomas, Houston
I have two suggestions for the Claremont Christmas reading list this year. The first book almost everyone will have heard about; the second will be less well known.
First, I would like to echo many others in recommending Tom West’s Political Theory of the American Founding: Natural Rights, Public Policy, and the Moral Conditions of Freedom. I’ve already published one review recommending it, but in particular I want admonish the audience of the CRB to read it. Many audiences will learn from the book, but students of American founding who have some exposure to the writings of Leo Strauss (i.e., the Claremont audience) will learn the most. Some scholars draw a “republicanism/liberalism” distinction among the Founders do so for historical reasons; Bailyn and Wood fall into that category. Others want to draw that distinction for philosophical reasons, to avoid where they think “liberalism” goes. West’s book annihilates all of those these artificial distinctions, but is most effective in addressing the political philosophers. Historian-types probably won’t be able to appreciate West’s extended discussion of how the Founders promoted assertive virtues (and thus escape Friedrich Nietzsche’s criticism of “herd morality”), but Straussian political philosophers will! The Political Theory of the American Founding belongs on your shelf and in your mind as much as Crisis of the House Divided and New Birth of Freedom do.
Second, I would like to recommend a book by an analytic philosopher at the University of Chicago, Jonathan Lear. His 2006 book, Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation, is a must read for students of the virtue of prudence and John Ford Westerns. It's a philosophical commentary on the story of how an Indian Chief, "Plenty Coups," reinterpreted the meaning of courage and other virtues after his Crow nation was destroyed by the US army. Lear writes: "There are two features of Crow warfare that deserve comment: the planting of a coup-stick and counting coups… A fundamental principle of warrior honor was this: if in battle a warrior stuck his stick in the ground, he must not retreat or leave the stick. A Crow warrior must hold his ground or die losing his coup-stick to the enemy." The interesting question is: what to do with the coup-sticks when there are no more battles and you’re living on a reservation? What does one do “after virtue” (as Alasdair MacIntyre might ask), after military virtues (for example) are no longer relevant to a good life in times of peace? Lear argues that Chief Plenty Coups successfully channeled the old warrior spirit of his tribe into public service for America and duty to family. What was key for Chief Plenty Coups was that he acted with hope to get through unbelievably challenging circumstances, circumstances where it looked like his ethical world was falling apart. Just as Claremont’s Mike Uhlmann recommends looking for ladders out of the abyss rather than staring at it, I recommend Plenty Coup’s answer about how to live over some “Benedict Option.” Jonathan Lear gets this point, and the philosophy of his book is rock-solid.
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Professor of Government and Gary M. Pendy, Sr. Professor of Social Science
First, a few books with a Roman theme:
The Families Who Made Rome: A History and a Guide, by Anthony Majanlahti, (Pimlico, 2006)—If, when reading The Prince you have wondered who the Orsini and Colonna were, or how the great Roman families, e.g. Farnese, Barberini, Farnese, and Della Rovere, among others, came by their position and wealth this book is for you.
Roman Pilgrimage, by George Weigel, with Elizabeth Lev and Stephen Weigel (Basic Books, 2013)—If Christmas is near, then Lent cannot be far behind. If you are thinking ahead to Lenten meditations, accompanied by lively descriptions of the sumptuous art and architecture of Rome’s pilgrim churches, look no farther. The book is a treasure, and not only Catholics.
Metamorphoses of the City: On the Western Dynamic by Pierre Manent (Harvard, 2013)—The battle between the ancients and the moderns tends to short shrift Rome. Manent does not, and his analysis has far-reaching implications for our present political situation.
Montesquieu’s Liberalism and the Problem of Universal Politics, by Keegan Callanan (Cambridge, 2018) Explores Montesquieu’s objections to abstract universalism, and shows how his liberalism can not only be reconciled with particularism, but actually requires it.
And finally, The Eccentric Core: The Thought of Seth Benardete, eds. Ronna Burger and Patrick Goodin (St. Augustine’s Press, 2018), a series of essays by Benardete’s former students and friends exploring key themes in his writings. A useful accompaniment to Encounters and Reflections: Conversations with Seth Benardete, ed. Ronna Burger (Chicago, 2002) Benardete’s taped conversations that are by turns hilarious and profound, but not always easy to follow.
I am also eagerly awaiting my copy of Dan Mahoney’s The Idol of Our Age.
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Associate Professor of Political Science
Boise State University
The pull of politics is strong, so all political people need somehow to keep their eyes on the permanent issues of life and human happiness that politics must, in some measure, serve. To do that I find it necessary to keep at least one eye in great novels and literature at all times. And this means reading the Russians, the greatest of the novelists. Perhaps these novels actually allow us to appreciate politics in a deeper, more comprehensive way, as opposed to the unending day-to-day fights over the future of our country.
Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground. A most difficult short novel from, and one of the Russian master's greatest. It is a novel in two parts, the first part is an internal dialogue between the unnamed narrator and respectable gentlemen on how modern science undermines human happiness, while the more engaging second part shows how the aspiration for personal independence itself undermines manners and happiness.
Turgenev, Fathers and Sons. One of the great novels of the Russian tradition, Fathers and Sons concerns the difficulty of handing down one's ways to one's son. Modern ideology, as it is institutionalized on the university, makes this always difficult job even more so. But this novel has a most unRussian happy ending, as the widower father and his son each find a suitable match and find contentment in a Neo-traditional life.
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina. For my money, the best novel ever written, by one of the greatest psychologists ever. The contrast between the unfaithful, vicious Anna, and her sister-in-law Dolly, is every bit as vivid as the contrast between the different hum-drum men of the modern bureaucracy and the hero Levin. Perhaps Levin is more than a little insufferable by the end of the book, but that hardly detracts from Tolstoy's deep investigation of the ways people react to the modern understanding of honor.