“Liberal Fascism” is really a history book, not the book of political analysis I expected it to be. I didn’t love this book (written in 2007—apparently a 2009 version is updated to include talk about Obama), even though it’s famous among conservatives. I’m not sure why I didn’t love this book. Maybe it’s because despite the book’s aggressive thesis, it is over-careful not to give offense. Maybe I think its thesis is overstated. Maybe it’s because the strain of combining a complete history, intellectual analysis, and polemic regarding the American Left for the past century shows, in lacunae in the book. Or maybe it’s because the style of writing, which I would call “unflashy expository,” just isn’t compelling to me. Nonetheless, I still think the book is very much worth reading, because the history it relates is valuable to know.
“The Fractured Republic” is a fantastically original book. It is very optimistic, yet clear-eyed, which is a rare combination. Most optimistic books about modern politics are also simplistic. They typically consist of vague and belligerent paeans demanding the recapture of America’s past. Yuval Levin’s book, on the other hand, is the very opposite. It is precise and even-handed. And far from demanding recapture of the past, Levin explicitly rejects any such attempt. At the same time, Levin believes that we as Americans, liberal and conservative, can jointly renew our society without retreading the past, and in this age, such optimism is no small thing.
Like Daniel Burnham, Francis Fukuyama makes no small plans. “The Origins of Political Order” aspires to be nothing less than an all-encompassing explanation of how human beings created political order. This book carries Fukuyama’s analysis up to the French Revolution; a second volume carries the story to the modern day. This volume is mostly taken up with creating and discussing a coherent framework that explains political order before the modern era. Much of what Fukuyama discusses here is non-Western societies, which makes it particularly interesting.
I read this book because it seemed like it would be an interesting companion to James Burnham’s “Suicide of the West.” Burnham’s book explains and analyzes the ideology of American liberalism, circa 1960. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” in a sense continues that story; it explains how that liberalism discovered the Critical Theory leftism of the Frankfurt School, and like Gollum discovering the One Ring, did not benefit from the discovery. “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace” is, indeed, somewhat interesting. But it generally fails at explanation and analysis, instead being mostly a rambling diatribe preaching to the converted.
Since I was a small child, I have read science fiction, and lots of it. For decades, I’ve read all types, from H.G. Wells through 1930s pulp through 1950s “golden age” through 1970s trippy through modern (the latter in all its broad range from “hard” to “socially conscious”, i.e., culturally leftist stories lacking the “science” in “science fiction”). I suspect science fiction has materially shaped my own world view. I don’t know why I like science fiction, particularly—perhaps just taste, like some people like Westerns or detective stories, or maybe it’s the wide-open possibilities that science fiction tends to envision.
“The Diversity Myth” is a twenty-year-old book that nobody would remember, despite its many virtues, were it not for that its authors (and many of the young figures in its pages) have since then become highly-visible billionaires, and, in the case of Peter Thiel, prominent public intellectuals. None of them knew that then, though (presumably!), which makes the book even more interesting.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book is compelling. But too frequently it relies on unsupported, and in fact unvoiced, assumptions. And like a stick figure with one leg, the result is instability.
“Dreamland” is about opiate addition, and about an America most of us don’t see. Those most affected by the explosion in opiate use chronicled in “Dreamland” are members of the white underclass, a group with no champions and no power, and therefore little focus on its problems. To the extent it affects those not in the white underclass, the addiction is frequently hidden. Either way, we see little of it. Quinones forces this America forward and explains it. And he simultaneously shows how this America is the bastard child of unfettered welfare and private greed, midwifed by the decayed culture of our time.
This is a deeply pessimistic book. Charles Murray warns, Cassandra-like, of the ill effects that are resulting and will result from the economic and cultural divergence between the upper and lower classes. Even so, he tries to be optimistic, and he succeeds in being optimistic himself, but he doesn’t succeed in convincing the reader to be optimistic.
“Defying Hitler” is one of those relatively few books (available widely in English at least) that are contemporaneous memoirs of events relating to the Third Reich. Any book, memoir or not, written after the war necessarily suffers from hindsight perception, so contemporaneous material is particularly interesting. (The classic modern example is Victor Klemperer’s diaries, which cover the war and pre-war period.) “Defying Hitler” was written in 1939, covering events in 1933, and was only published after the author’s death in 1999. The title of the book is a misnomer, because Haffner didn’t defy Hitler at all (which is his point).