All posts filed under: Book Reviews

Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name (Leah Libresco)

Creating a social movement is hard.  Creating a social movement of conservatives is even harder, since for the most part progressives derive much of life’s meaning from social action, while conservatives just want to live their lives.  For three years now, Rod Dreher has rung the alarm bell of his Benedict Option, warning that the hour is late, and Moloch is within the gates.  Many are listening and receptive, even eager.  But the Benedict Option faces challenges, of which the first is inertia, since conservatives find it hard to act to change their lives when not directly impelled.  In response, Leah Libresco here outlines an excellent plan to overcome that inertia.

My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company (Cal Turner)

In 2002, the law firm for which I worked was involved in the Dollar General debacle, helping clean up the mess after the company restated financial statements due to massive accounting fraud.  I didn’t know much about Dollar General at the time.  But I do remember that a firm partner told me that one of the company’s directors had succinctly described their business model to him.  “We sell shit, to poor people.”  Cal Turner, Jr., has written this book to explain that business model and his part in it.

Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals (Tyler Cowen)

Finally, the age of sophisters and calculators has fully arrived, and its herald is Tyler Cowen.  He, economist and blogger, is here to tell us the purpose of life.  It is to die with the most toys.  Well, that, plus maximum freedom to do whatever we want with our toys while we are still alive.  Stubborn Attachments is just about the sort of thing you’d expect from a left-libertarian philosopher, namely a clever and partially accurate construct that is internally coherent, but floats free of human reality and ignores any human value other than that found in the box labeled “Approved By John Stuart Mill.”

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Mark Sedgwick)

This book is an academic study of an obscure movement, Traditionalism.  The name has a specific meaning; it does not mean traditional forms of belief, that is, generically, conservatism.  Rather, “Traditionalism” is a type of Gnosticism, holding that a core of hidden knowledge, contained within all true religion, is the cure for what ails the modern world.  I certainly think that the modern world needs curing, though I don’t think that Traditionalism is what the doctor ordered.  Still, the pull of Gnosticism across time and space must mean something.  But what?  Mark Sedgwick’s book helps us begin to answer that question.

Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 (Wolfgang Schivelbusch)

This book, a brief work of cultural history, outlines four parallel aspects of three political systems: the American New Deal, Italian Fascism, and German Nazism.  The point of Three New Deals is that these political systems shared core similarities in certain programmatic manifestations.  The author, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, fortunately does not claim that the three systems were essentially the same.  He offers, instead, a discussion of the interplay between the governed and the governors in each of these systems—how each shaped the other, in ways that can be compared and contrasted across systems.  The result is a book of modest interest from which, perhaps, something more can be spun.

The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed (F. H. Buckley)

Along with left-wing books decrying the supposed Trump-driven decline of democracy, I have been reading right-wing books about the supposed Trump-driven realignment of politics.  They have mostly been tedious, and this one, Frank Buckley’s The Republican Workers Party, has not improved my mood.  It is poorly written, unoriginal, blinkered, simplistic, and annoying.  Worst of all, reading the book is like watching a spastic jumping frog.  It lurches from half-covered topic to half-covered topic, never settling on anything.  Don’t waste your time.

Gun Control in Nazi Occupied-France: Tyranny and Resistance (Stephen P. Halbrook)

This is an academic monograph, rather than a work of propaganda or political inspiration. Those looking for a rabble-rousing polemic in the style of today’s mass-popular conservative authors, or of a Wayne LaPierre speech, will be disappointed.  What the reader gets instead is far more valuable:  an understanding of modern history as it relates to gun control, and illumination of how gun seizures may work in practice if our own government turns criminal.

The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (Tim Wu)

As the ideological tectonic plates shift in America, many apparently settled matters have become unsettled.  This creates, at the same time, both conflict and strange bedfellows, though I suspect the latter will become used to each other soon enough.  Such once-settled matters include hot-button cultural matters like nationalism, but also dry, technical matters of little apparent general interest that are of profound actual importance.  Among these are the place in our society of concentrations of economic (and therefore political) power, the subject of the excellent Tim Wu’s awesome new book, The Curse of Bigness.  What Wu is hawking is “Neo-Brandeisianism,” and I am buying what he is selling.

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (Laura Spinney)

Since I am an apocalypse monger, but a practical one, I do not worry about alien invasions or the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, but I do worry about pandemics.  This book, Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider, is a recent offering in the pandemic literature that has become popular in the past twenty years.  It focuses on the only known pathogen likely to create a future pandemic, the influenza virus, through its greatest past outbreak, the Spanish Flu of 1918.  I read books like these partially for history knowledge and partially to understand what to do in a similar future situation, and Pale Rider is useful for both.

The Enemy: An Intellectual Portrait of Carl Schmitt (Gopal Balakrishnan)

Carl Schmitt, preeminent antiliberal, is that rare thing, the modern political philosopher relevant long after his time.  The simple remember him only for his grasping embrace of Nazism, but the more astute, especially on the Left, have in recent times found much to ponder in Schmitt’s protean writings.  He did not offer ideology, as did so many forgotten political philosophers, but instead clear analysis of power relations, untied to any specific system or regime.  So, as the neoliberal new world order collapses, and the old dragons of man, lulled for decades by the false promises of liberal democracy, rise from slumber, such matters are become relevant once more, and Schmitt informs our times, echoing, as they do, his times.