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.
I stay away from the shouters, such as Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin. Sure, they’re right in their conclusions, most of the time, but the lack of nuanced thought annoys me. There are plenty of ways to get easily worked up today, without seeking out more that don’t offer a corresponding benefit. Angelo Codevilla is not a shouter, but this is at least a half-shouter book, as shown by that Limbaugh wrote the Introduction. As is the case with most books of conservative woe, it has nothing of substance to offer about how to fix the problems it identifies. Still, it has one interesting insight, and one cautionary lesson. And I am here to offer the solution to the problem Codevilla talks about. It’s not even radical!
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.
This is a forty-year-old biography that is as fresh today as it was in the 1970s. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is the best-known of modern biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, although it only covers his life up to his accession to the Presidency, in 1901. It wholly warrants its reputation—the writing is clear and compelling, the facts are relevant and interesting, and the author, Edmund Morris, treats the man through the lens of his time, not with any jarring ideological overlay imported from today. The reader feels like he is practically living in the time, and that is a hard trick to pull off, especially for eight hundred pages.
Some years ago, I lived for a time in Oak Park, Illinois. Oak Park has for decades been filled with rich white liberals, who live just across the street from a City of Chicago neighborhood, Austin, that is filled with poor black people. Yet, for some reason the citizens of Oak Park simply can’t fathom, people from Austin almost never move to Oak Park. Who can say why? Well, Richard Rothstein can. His book, The Color of Law, shows all the ways in which the racist government of Oak Park, and innumerable other government functionaries across the nation, have aggressively worked for decades to keep black people in inferior, segregated housing. Rothstein’s service is to precisely set out why this happened, how it was done, and what exactly the effects today are.
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.
Arlie Hochschild has gone the extra mile, and then some, to understand conservatives. I would say that she exemplifies the (pseudo-) Indian saying, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins,” except that is not politically correct, so I will not say it. Nonetheless, Hochshild has spent a lot of time and effort genuinely trying to understand a group of Louisiana conservatives, and the result is a very interesting book. Sure, it’s not perfect, in part because Hochschild, like most of us, can’t fully overcome her own biases that sometimes lead her to engage in unsophisticated analysis. But she is never once contemptuous or patronizing of these people, whom she seems to really regard as her friends, and she never caricatures the individuals, who actually vary from each other quite a bit. This enables her to, overall, do an excellent job (and a better job than Joan Williams in the more recent White Working Class, which covers very similar topics in an obtuse way).
This book is just not very good. I was excited to read The Rise and Fall of American Growth; it was extensively and positively reviewed and it promised to illuminate an important topic by giving extended, specific analysis. In particular, I wanted to learn about changes in productivity over time. Instead, I first got an interminable, plodding exposition, which repeated commonly known facts ad nauseum for its first 600 pages. But I soldiered on, knowing that the last 100 pages were analysis of current problems and of future productivity. I should have cut my losses—those last 100 pages are exemplars of rank illogic and incoherence. It didn’t end there, either—the book is then, at the last, capped by shrill, unsupported demands that America ingest a massive dose of insufferable and, at best, non-effective, leftist nostrums, considerably more pernicious than the 19th Century patent medicines the author unoriginally decries. When I finished this book, I had to drink a fifth of cheap whiskey just to dull the pain, but now that the hangover is gone, I …
Administrative law—the delegation by the legislature of legislative and judicial power to the executive—is the backdrop of every American life, but very few people realize this. Fewer still realize that this backdrop is less like a fine wallcovering, an aesthetically pleasing but minor element, and more like a sticky web that, not seen until it’s too late, entraps prey prior to its being devoured. To remedy this lack of knowledge, Phillip Hamburger has written this outstanding book, which explains how we got here, where we are, and why that is bad.
“What Washington Gets Wrong” shows, by polling statistics, what we all know already. Namely, that those who run the government, from Capitol City—sorry, from Washington—not only think differently from Americans as whole, but also have different policy priorities and have deep contempt for most Americans. This isn’t a surprise, because this is the nature of every bureaucratic ruling class throughout history, though ours is both less monetarily corrupt than usual, and more ideologically corrupt than usual. But these basic facts are interesting and useful to see proven and quantified, and even more interesting, to me, are some of the authors’ suggestions to alleviate the problem—which I think don’t go far enough, but would at least be a start.