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Category: Reaction

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?

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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: The Judiciary’s Class War (Glenn Harlan Reynolds)

In this brief book, or rather pamphlet in the old political, Tom Paine-ish use of that term, law professor and well-known blogger Glenn Reynolds offers some thoughts on how the class structure of the judiciary affects judicial decisions.  Rather than focus on the general class divide in American society, Reynolds focuses on that divide in the judiciary, which he shows is deeper than that in America as a whole.  He believes the judicial divide is especially pernicious to our political system, and he offers some constructive solutions to the problem, although I think that those solutions both would be ineffective in practice and that the problems are deeper than Reynolds believes.

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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.


Book Review: The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics (Mark Lilla)

Mark Lilla’s books are all polished gems, perfectly and fluidly written, brief yet complete within the ambit Lilla sets for each of his works.  This book, The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics, was written about a decade after the collapse of Communism.  From its title, the casual browser might think it was a general attack on intellectuals.  It is not that at all—Lilla is nothing if not an intellectual himself, and he sees a lot of merit in the world of ideas, if he also sees its limitations.  Rather, this is an examination of why brilliant men and women of the modern world so often willingly dance with tyranny, and an attempt to draw a distinction between mere intellectuals, who often toady to raw power, and true philosophers, who pursue virtue.

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Book Review: Why Liberalism Failed (Patrick J. Deneen)

Poor Francis Fukuyama.  He has been a punching bag ever since he unwisely declared the End of History, more than twenty-five years ago.  Fukuyama, of course, meant that the globe had, at the end of ideologies, reached an equilibrium, an even, calm sea of liberal democracy, and all that was left was cleanup.  Patrick Deneen is here to kick Fukuyama some more, and to announce that not only is liberalism a defective ideology, it is doomed just as were the other, more flash-in-the pan ideologies.  The systemic failure of liberalism is on the horizon, or underway, and Deneen’s project is to offer thoughts on how we got here, and what is next.  Thus, Why Liberalism Failed fits squarely into my current interest, Reaction—the call for the creation of a new political order built on the ashes of the old.


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: 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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Book Review: Captain Blood
(Rafael Sabatini)

Captain Blood, to the extent it is mentioned today, is remembered as a 1935 movie that made the career of Errol Flynn.  The story was originally this novel, published in 1922.  It is the story of an Irish physician who, in the late Seventeenth Century, settles in the southwest of England, in Somerset, after wandering the world for a decade.  He is caught up in the Monmouth Rebellion, in which a bastard son of Charles II rebelled against James II and lost the 1685 Battle of Sedgmoor, the last battle fought on English soil.  Captain Blood (his name is Peter Blood; the title is not a nickname, as one might think of a pirate novel), treats a man wounded in the battle.  He is therefore dealt with as a traitor, even though he took no part in the rebellion itself, but his death sentence is commuted to being sold into slavery in Barbados.