All posts filed under: Book Reviews

The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (Christopher Lasch)

Christopher Lasch died before this, his last book, was published, twenty-six years ago. Lasch was a man out of time, a refugee leftist who nonetheless refused to embrace what passed for conservatism in the post-Communist false dawn, the main feature of which was idolatry of the invisible hand. No surprise, his message was rejected by its intended audience, America’s intellectual class. Now, however, every one of the problems with our society he identified has grown monstrous, far beyond the power of any dragonslayer to kill. Thus, this book is, at least now, less prescription and more an intellectual history of how we failed as a nation.

Political Romanticism (Carl Schmitt)

To my excitement, Carl Schmitt is coming back into fashion, or at least into notice. Last week, for example, an excellent piece by the Swedish renegade leftist Malcolm Kyeyune received wide attention. It revolved around Schmitt’s concept, from The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, that when a regime must prove its legitimacy empirically, it is doomed. Kyeyune concluded that, just as the “bourgeois kings” of Schmitt’s analysis were doomed because they had lost intrinsic legitimacy, so has, and is, our own regime. Now I wish I had thought of and made that point in my own recent review of that book. Ah well. Instead, today you will have to be satisfied with my reflections on another book, Schmitt’s first, Political Romanticism.

The Bear: History of a Fallen King (Michel Pastoureau)

Symbology is a key element of any successful modern political movement. Animals are rarely modern political symbols; certainly modern mass ideologies, from Communism to National Socialism, have eschewed such symbology. Living creatures, whose exalted metaphorical political use was once widespread, are now usually mere lowbrow holdovers from the more distant past—elephants and donkeys, for example. Yet America, when it was America, used the majestic bald eagle with great success, and I think that when we seize the future, we need outstanding symbology. In this light, I am working on the symbology of Foundationalism, and this interesting book helped me focus my thoughts.

The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom (James Burnham)

The American Right, like all outsider political movements, has long been susceptible to Gnosticism. This usually manifests as the belief that a small group of wise initiates can see through rationales for political action and find hidden knowledge, of the real reasons men and societies act as they do. Sometimes those reasons are the machinations of the Illuminati, or the Freemasons, or the Lizard Men. More often, they are prosaic, and although economic Gnosticism is the most frequent type, another common gnostic belief is that power is the only real driver of the actions of men, and all other rationales in politics mere epiphenomena, lies designed to conceal the hidden centrality of power. The Machiavellians is James Burnham’s exposition of this latter Gnosticism.

The Victorious Counterrevolution: The Nationalist Effort in the Spanish Civil War (Michael Seidman)

My goal is winning the future, and to win, we must utterly and permanently defeat the Left. In this effort, we can learn many lessons from Spain in the years from 1930 to 1940 (and in the years beyond, but that is a discussion for another day). These lessons are not just about war, or just about kinetic politics. As The Victorious Counterrevolution demonstrates, winning requires those who lead a struggle for dominance to maintain a functioning economy that satisfies the average man. Nobody can go hungry, and to avoid that, ample production, orderly markets, and fiscal stability must be maintained. It is to Nationalist success, and Republican failures, in these areas that Michael Seidman ascribes Franco’s victory, and he makes a compelling and instructive case.

Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs (Camilla Townsend)

I have long admired Hernán Cortes, conqueror of the Aztecs. He may not have gotten to Heaven, though who can say, but he exemplified the spirit of the West, that which from Charlemagne to Frémont drove the world forward. Fifth Sun would have us stop and shed a tear for the Aztecs, considering them on their own terms. It’s a modest request, and when done is modestly interesting. But we should remember that unlike the Spanish, the Aztecs never accomplished anything notable, and never would have accomplished anything notable. Which raises the question—what price glory?

The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind (Gustave Le Bon)

For eighteen months, I have been infinitely puzzled that most responses to the Wuhan Plague have been irrational. Lack of rationality dominates the discourse and actions of the majority, from individuals to governments. This irrationality has innumerable manifestations, the most obvious being belief in plain fictions, recently the made-up threat of the new “Delta variant,” no doubt not the last in a very long list of fairy tales. The irrationality shows itself in many other ways, both secular ones such as the total rejection of cost-benefit analysis, and quasi-religious ones such as belief in strange new gods, saints, and rituals. I have racked my head trying to understand this very strange phenomenon, and made no progress.

Freedom (Sebastian Junger)

This slim book, a companion of sorts to Sebastian Junger’s earlier book Tribe, is about philosophy derived from life. Junger has made a career out of undergoing risks and hardships, then distilling his experience to insight based in reality. It doesn’t really work here, though; Freedom is too unfocused. It’s quite interesting in spots, but rambles and jumps around, even more than Junger’s earlier offerings. If you’re going to get anything substantial out of this book, you’ll have to do the heavy lifting yourself.

Where Death and Glory Meet: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry (Russell Duncan)

I suspect that very few people under forty know who Robert Gould Shaw was. Those older may remember the 1989 film Glory, which told his story. That movie could never be made today (and will probably soon be disappeared, as has been 1964’s Zulu). After all, Shaw’s is an out-and-out “white savior” story, and now that everyone has been educated that the African reality is actually Wakanda, we realize that black people don’t need, and have never needed, a man such as Shaw. Yet even though the Left has racialized all of American life and shrieks ever louder for a race war (something I failed to predict, silly me), I will only touch lightly on race in this review, and will focus on heroism, the traditional center of Shaw’s story. To race, we will return another day.

The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (Carl Schmitt)

Ah, Carl Schmitt, Carl Schmitt! No man like him exists today. Political philosophy in our time is, and for many decades past has been, largely the domain of intellectual pygmies and outright morons; the age of gold has degenerated into the age of brass, or of plastic with yellow paint. Schmitt is dead, but his work is not, and this, one of his series of books published during the early Weimar period in Germany, illuminates much of our own present condition. That’s not to say The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy is an easy read. Like much of Schmitt’s writing, it is somewhat elliptical, alternating great insight with moments of “where are we going with this?” But the payoff is worth the effort.