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Category: Political Discussion & Analysis

Book Review: Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy
(Jonah Goldberg)

I think this book is meant as a #NeverTrumper manifesto, an attempt to create intellectual backbone for that wispy band of conservative holdouts, who crouch behind the crenellations in their National Review fastness, wondering why the final assault on them has yet to begin—not realizing it is because everyone has forgotten about them.  Strictly speaking, though, I have no idea what the point of this book is, because it’s a jumble of thoughts, anecdotes and superficial facts, strung together with no clear audience and only the most simplistic of analysis.  It’s a boneless mess.

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Book Review: American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Bradley J. Birzer)

Charles Carroll, once famous as the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence and the last signatory to die, is no longer much in the public consciousness.  If asked to name a signatory, most people would say “John Hancock,” since he wrote his name in big letters.  Thomas Jefferson would also come to mind; perhaps also John Adams, Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin, especially for those who watched the John Adams miniseries on HBO a few years back.  Not that long ago, though, Charles Carroll would also have sprung to mind, and Bradley Birzer’s goal is to, if not restore Carroll, at least clear away some of the dust that has covered his memory.

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Book Review: Infantry Platoon And Squad ATP 3-21.8 (United States Army)

As will surprise nobody who is paying any attention, I am preparing for war.  Why hide it?  Although only a fool or someone with a distorted moral sense would actually wish for war, what we wish has little to do with it.  Intermittent war is the natural state of man, whatever Steven Pinker may say, and as Trotsky said, more or less, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”  What follows today’s Age of Stupid will, we can be certain, not be endless tides of more stupidity, because that is impossible.  And to get from here to there, whatever “there” is, will most likely requiring passing through what the Chinese call “interesting times,” in which hot, flying metal will play a prominent part.

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Book Review: The Revolt of the Masses (José Ortega y Gasset)

Oh, but this is a fascinating book.  Written in 1930 by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, it is one of those books that is occasionally mentioned, especially recently, but rarely actually read.  1930, in Spain, was the hinge of fate, and it has been nearly a hundred years since Ortega wrote.  That means we can see where he was wrong, and where he was right, and what he wrote says to us today.

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Book Review: Republics Ancient & Modern, Vol. 2: New Modes & Orders in Early Modern Political Thought
(Paul Rahe)

To my surprise, I found this to be an extremely topical book, even though it discusses only people long dead.  It bridges, or at least brings more clarity to the framework of, recent bestselling books such as Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed and Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now.  The former claims that the Enlightenment was a mistake and is now playing out its bitter end.  The latter, conversely, claims that the Enlightenment continues to make everything better, and will do so forever.  This book, twenty-five years old, makes no such claims about the future.  Rather, it tells us how we got here—how and why the West abandoned the Ancient Greek focus on virtue and political participation as the prime goals of a good life.  And the book addresses, without really meaning to, a current obsession of mine—to what degree is our current material prosperity, such that we not only have giant flat screen TVs, but, much more importantly, that we do not spend our days removing live Guinea worms slowly from our flesh, necessarily tied to the Enlightenment?  That is, in an alternate reality where the Enlightenment never happened, and we all lived in a West with the values, political and otherwise, of the High Middle Ages, what would our material lives look like?

3 Comments

Book Review: Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America
(Cass Sunstein, ed.)

Cass Sunstein has gathered an ensemble cast of today’s intellectual Davoisie (several of whom taught me in law school) to tell us, in seventeen separate essays, whether Trump is the harbinger of American structural doom, and if so, how.  It is illuminating to read this book immediately after having read Glenn Reynolds’s The Judiciary’s Class War, with its distinction between the ruling Front-Row Kids and the ruled Back-Row Kids. This is because ultimately nearly all the authors presented here believe that “it” can’t, or is extremely unlikely to, “happen here,” because they expect the Front-Row Kids to be able to stop “it.”  That is, in different ways but with the same result, the authors expect that people just like them will continue to rule, Trump and the peasants be damned.

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Book Review: Lenin: The Man, the Dictator, and the Master of Terror
(Victor Sebestyen)

When we think of the Soviet Union, we mostly think of it as a fully realized totalitarian state.  We think of Stalin, of World War II and of the Cold War.  Lenin is a shadowy figure to most of us, usually lumped in with the chaos that preceded and surrounded the Russian Revolution.  As a result, biographies of Stalin and histories of the Cold War are a dime a dozen, but there are few objective biographies of Lenin.  Lenin, though, was the true author of Soviet totalitarianism, and, more importantly, he, and he alone, was the indispensable man to the creation of Communism as a realized state, even if he did not live to see it.  His life, therefore, is important, in that it illuminates history, and also in that it provides, in some ways, an instruction book for those seeking change today.

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Book Review: The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook (Niall Ferguson)

This book, by the always fascinating Niall Ferguson (though his main product for sale is always himself), analyzes capsule summaries of episodes from history, in order to negatively contrast spontaneous, networked action (the “square”) with hierarchical control (the “tower”).  Two theses flow from this, one stated early on, the other only explicitly presented at the end.  The first is that our networked age is not unique; in fact, it is the second such age, and lessons are to be gained from this, including that, from a historical perspective, networks are too often ignored in favor of focus on hierarchies.  The second is that networks with actual power are mostly anarchistic poison.

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Book Review: The Betrayal of American Prosperity: Free Market Delusions, America’s Decline, and How We Must Compete in the Post-Dollar Era
(Clyde Prestowitz)

For decades, “free trade” has been the American orthodoxy across the mainstream of both Left and Right.  Some recent erosion has occurred, though, with the Bernie Sanders Left dividing from the neoliberal Left on this issue, and with the reactionary and Trumpian segments of the Right dividing from the corporatist Right.  However, cogent, clear-eyed intellectual support has been thin for the position that wholly unfettered and unguided free trade is not necessarily a wonderful tonic for every economy.  This 2010 book provides such support, and was an early entrant in a field that will, perhaps, become more crowded over time.

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Book Review: Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Christopher Caldwell)

This book, published in 2009, shows its age.  It was written before the mass immigration to Europe of the past few years, and also before the increase in Muslim terror.  While nothing the book says is wrong, and its analysis is sound enough (though it nowhere justifies, or even attempts to justify, the echo of Burke in its title), its problem is that nearly everything it contains is outdated.  The future has arrived, and it is much worse than Caldwell pessimistically predicted, though at least we can now look forward to a fresh future for Europe that will be even farther downhill.

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