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Category: Political Discussion & Analysis

Book Review: Discourses on Livy
(Niccolò Machiavelli)

Niccolò Machiavelli is known today for two things: the adjective “Machiavellian,” and the book from which that adjective is derived, The Prince, which provides advice for monarchs who accede to power.  But Machiavelli wrote more than one book, and his second-most-famous book is this one, Discourses on Livy.  In it, he provides advice for the founding, structuring, governing, and maintenance of republics, along with advice to individuals holding power, and a good bit of practical military advice.  All this he extracts primarily from the extant writings of the historian Livy (64 B.C.– A.D. 12) on early Roman history, although he also brings in much other matter, including his own personal experiences and then-current events (Machiavelli wrote Discourses about 1517).  Thus, this book is part history, part mirror of princes, and part advice to those holding power in a republic on how not to get killed.

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Book Review: The Third Reich at War (Richard Evans)

Reading this third volume of Richard Evans’s massive study of the Third Reich, scenes from the TV show The Man in the High Castle kept flashing before my eyes.  That show (based on a Philip K. Dick book) posits a Nazi victory in World War II, and depicts how the postwar Greater German Reich affects the people who live under it.  The problem with Evans’s book is that it fails to paint such scenes for the actual Third Reich.  Rather, it is an endless litany of dead innocents and how they were killed, mixed with occasional talk of political and military happenings, along with a tiny bit about daily life for average civilians.  And while listing how millions of innocents were killed is certainly a task that could fill many, and longer, books, after a while it becomes a chronicle of atrocity, not a work of synthesized history.

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Book Review: How to be a Conservative (Roger Scruton)

English traditional conservatives today exhibit a depressed passivity.  They ruminate, probably with a glass of claret in hand, on how good the past was and how little can be done about today.  Doubtless this enervation has to do with living in The Place Where Great Britain Used To Be, which is, like most of Europe (other than Hungary and Poland), a den of thought suppression and self-hatred, cursed with leaders who are mealy-mouthed, emasculated men and women of no use or value.   Caught with wine glass in hand, the prolific Roger Scruton, who somehow manages to combine the highest quality thought with constant output, offers us a combination of worthwhile philosophy and worthless enervation.  At best, this combination is unsatisfying.  More importantly, this book is not timely, because it is inwardly focused and passively philosophical, in an age when too much focus on philosophy, and too little focus on brute action, has, like Judas Iscariot, betrayed conservatism into the hands of its enemies.

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Book Review: The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker
(Katherine J. Cramer)

In the past few years, a variety of liberal academics have adopted a Gorillas in the Mist sensibility when trying to understand conservatives.  Like Dian Fossey, they creep, wearing a ghillie suit, through thick and steamy jungles alien to them, hoping to grasp what it is that makes these creatures tick.  Sometimes they become fond of these primates, and in their own clumsy way, try to improve their lives by protecting them from threats they appear too dumb to see.  Like Fossey, most of them are obsessives with tunnel vision, bound in chains by premises invisible to them.  Katherine Cramer, author of The Politics of Resentment, fits right into this model, even if Wisconsin is a long way from Rwanda, and a lot colder.  She offers us a book that is half morality play, half sociology study, and all clueless.

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Book Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Jonathan Haidt)

In today’s world, discussion about morals is a lost art.  In part, this is because stupidity is on display everywhere, and encouraged to be so, even though most people’s thoughts and opinions are less than worthless, as a glance at Facebook or The New York Times comment sections will tell you.  More deeply, it’s because America is dominated today by the nearly universal (but wholly unexamined) belief that the only legitimate principle of moral judgment is John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle”—that no restriction on human action can be justified other than to prevent harm to another.  The Righteous Mind is an extended attack on the usefulness of the harm principle as the sole way to understand and justify human morality, combined with detailed explanations of the much broader ways in which people can and do view morality.  The author, Jonathan Haidt, uses this framework to understand political differences, and to plead for an increase in rationality and civility to arise from that understanding.

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Book Review: Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right (Ken Stern)

Republican Like Me belongs to a certain phenotype, which we can call the “anti-jeremiad.”  Whether on the Left or the Right, people of good will sometimes write a book after discovering what they did not earlier know about their political opponents.  They make those discoveries by exposing themselves to opposing thoughts and attempting to understand the people who hold them.  Thus enlightened, they attempt to find common ground, lamenting the polarization of today’s American society.  Probably because the educated Right necessarily is necessarily continuously exposed to the thought of the educated Left, and not vice versa, such anti-jeremiads can mostly be found by authors from the Left.  A classic of the genre is Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, which largely parallels Ken Stern’s book, although Hochschild offers more focus on the personal likeability of her political opponents, and Stern’s voyage of discovery offers more focus on the plausibility of their arguments.  There is always room for another, though, and this genre has rarely been as well done or as timely as in this book, written by a man who was, about ten years ago, the CEO of National Public Radio.

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Book Review: Augustus: First Emperor of Rome (Adrian Goldsworthy)

This review will combine something very old with something very new.  The very old, of course, is the title character, the Emperor Augustus, and his times.  The very new is a continuation of my thoughts on reaction as a modern political movement.  You will see how these things fit together, and in fact are much the same thing, for today, more than ever, everything old is new again.  And I will begin to distinguish “conservatives” from “reactionaries,” as I recently promised I would.

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Book Review: The Shipwrecked Mind (Mark Lilla)

Let us talk of many things, as the Walrus said, but primarily, of neoreaction.  What follows is the start of what I hope to make an extended exploration of this line of thought, for which I have much sympathy.  I embark on this project for four reasons.  First, to amuse myself.  Second, in order to make my own thinking coherent, for confusion already stalks the land, and why add to it?  Third, in the hope that what I say may bring value to others, since a man should not bury his single talent.  And fourth, so that in some small way, in a manner yet to be revealed, this combination of analysis of others and thoughts of mine will help to either forge the future, or smash and remake the present.

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Colloquy: On Whether Identity Politics Defines Today’s Democrats

[This is a colloquy resulting from my earlier review of Mark Lilla’s The Once and Future Liberal.  Italics are my interlocutor, a partner in a noted opinion research firm with strong Democratic connections.]

Charles, I appreciate you calling my attention to this volume. It’s a slim volume and a breezy read, its central argument delivered with vigor and confidence, briskly unencumbered by evidence or data. It reflects a line of argument that has been quite popular on the right in recent months, with a handful of adherents on the left, and one in need of rigorous analysis and discussion — which this book does not provide.

But let me start with areas where Lilla and I agree; there are several. Like him, I am a liberal – and like him, I would like liberals to be more effective in accomplishing their policy goals. With that goal in mind, Lilla makes two observations with which I wholeheartedly agree.

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Book Review: The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe (Rita Chin)

I oppose the theory and practice of Euro-multiculturalism as both stupid and suicidal.  Thus, when I read Pankaj Mishra’s recent review of Rita Chin’s book in The New York Times, it struck me that, in order to be fair, I should read it.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull and narrow boy, after all.  I was not a fan of the most recent pro-multicultural book I read, James Kirchick’s The End of Europe, but I figured that maybe the second time would be a charm.  It was not, but this book was interesting, and not dreadful, which is really all one can ask of any pro-multicultural book, since it necessarily has to fight an uphill battle against facts and reason.

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