What will the future look like? Not much like our stupid present, certainly, but complaining about the present is easy, while offering a coherent positive vision of the future is hard—especially given the degradation of our present. Yes, the Age of Ideology is over, though its zombie corpse may stumble through the brambles of reality for a few more years, until someone shoots it in the head. But what will replace it will be an organic thing, its exact form hard to predict. In Retrotopia, John Michael Greer narrates an optimistic vision of a renewed America, or part of America. It’s fiction, but it inspires a variety of thoughts, among them a topic of great importance to both Greer and me: is technological progress the enemy of tomorrow’s human flourishing, or its ground?
In their eternal quest to remake reality, a perennial target of the Left is the family: man, woman, and children, the bedrock of all human societies. The family, by its existence and by what it brings forth, mocks the Left project, and so the Left has tried to destroy it for 250 years. But only in the twentieth century did this effort gain real traction, when our elites became converts to the fantasy that sex roles as they existed were artefacts of oppression, not organic reality. What followed was mass indoctrination in falsehoods about men and women, in which this infamous book played a key role. If you see a sad wine aunt (they are all sad), and you see them everywhere, you see a small part of the resulting social wreckage.
I have always been aware of the great Shawnee Indian war chief Tecumseh. I grew up within walking distance of the site of his confederacy’s defeat, by William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and often visited the battlefield as a child. Tecumseh himself wasn’t at the battle; he was far away, trying to raise Indian allies. The battle was instead lost by his inconstant brother, Tenskwatawa, known as the Prophet, with whom Tecumseh had a fraught, but close, relationship. In this book, Peter Cozzens expertly and evocatively traces the lives of these once-famous brothers, the last of the eastern woodlands Indians of North America to mount an effective challenge to the expanding United States.
A disease is going around. No, not the Wuhan Plague. This malady only affects the Right, and I name it Scrutonism. The symptoms of Scrutonism are a razor-sharp ability to identify one’s enemies and to understand their plans to destroy us, combined with a complete inability to imagine any way in which those enemies can be defeated. For a sufferer of this disease, his headspace is occupied by nostalgia and fear, in varying proportions—mostly the former in the late Roger Scruton’s case, mostly the latter in Rod Dreher’s case. Scrutonism’s harm is that it makes sufferers ignore the only question that matters for the Right today: what are you willing to do, given that your enemies are utterly committed to destroying you and yours?
Philosopher Matthew Crawford’s third book is ostensibly a book about driving, but as with all Crawford’s works, that is merely the jumping-off point. Crawford expands our minds by exploring a range of related ideas, usually through concretizing abstractions, tying them to work done by real people in the real world. Why We Drive uses this structure, as did his first two books, Shop Class as Soulcraft and The World Beyond Your Head. Such writing is not for everyone; the payoff can take some time to arrive. But it’s worth the modest effort required, and offers insights into critical modern problems, most of all the pernicious vice of safetyism.
Michael Anton’s latest, half analysis and half prophecy, is simultaneously terrifying and clarifying. As I have said before, I align very closely with Anton in both core politics and attitude toward politics, so naturally I am enthusiastic about a new Anton book. But in this very fluid time, he writes as nobody else seems able, making manifest where we are and where we are going. It proves his talent that in the mere two months since Anton wrote his Preface, more than one of his predictions has come true. Maybe he sold his soul in exchange for the gift of prescience, or stole a palantir. Whatever the reasons behind its no-holds-barred insights, this is an excellent book to which we all must pay close attention, to navigate the coming chaos and come out whole on the other side.
A few weeks ago, I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Quentin Tarantino’s movie delivered to me what I have been seeking. Namely, the exact point America careened off the path to flourishing, abandoning our long, mostly successful search for ever-increasing excellence and achievement. It was 1969. As the shadows lengthen and the darkness spreads, perhaps it does not matter when twilight fell. But why twilight fell does matter, and much of the answer can be found in the pages of Amity Shlaes’s new book, Great Society, which narrates the decade’s massive expansion of government, and of elite power, all in the service of the Left, that we were told was certain to give us Utopia, but instead destroyed our civilization.
I am skeptical of those who predict the future by looking at the past. It’s not that history follows a random walk, like the stock market. Quite the contrary—it is easy to show certain patterns in history. But predicting how and when those patterns will yield any particular result in any given society seems like astrology. Peter Turchin, however, offers a very convincing, and very well-supported, tying of patterns to data. I’m still not sure it’s not astrology, but I’m half convinced. And this is a good book to read in January 2020—because right now is when Turchin predicts, in America, the swelling discord of the title.
Much modern popular history is mendacious, written with an ideological agenda that deliberately distorts, or omits, or simply lies about, the truth. Sometimes, therefore, reading history written in the past can offer better information. Earlier historians were often more objective, ideology being less prevalent. Their biases, if they have any, are usually obvious. Thus I thought that Only Yesterday, a semi-famous history of the 1920s, published in 1931 by a mass-market journalist/intellectual of the time, Frederick Lewis Allen, might teach me something new about that decade. But I found, to my sorrow, that I learned little new, and I was instead again reminded of how early the rot in America’s ruling classes set in.
I have long known in my gut that usual measures of social wealth, most of all GDP, are fraudulent, in that they falsely identify value where there is none. I have intuited we were all being lied to, and that those who assured us that ever more value was being generated by our society by what appear to be objectively valueless activities were, at best, hiding something. This outstanding book, by left-wing economist Mariana Mazzucato, explains what is being hidden, what hard truths are being avoided, and what she thinks we should do about it. And while I don’t agree with all her prescriptions, or with her rosy view of government competency, the first step on the path to self-improvement is admitting you have a problem.