All posts filed under: Book Reviews

The Religion of the Apostles: Orthodox Christianity in the First Century (Stephen De Young)

Myths about Christianity abound, and some myths even pass as common knowledge. One myth is that Christians, after Jesus Christ started a new religion, worshipped in a very simple manner, revolving around undeveloped doctrines of love and sharing. Only later, we are often told (by both devout Protestants and by unbelievers, advancing different agendas) was this plain worship larded up with new doctrines and liturgies, which are encrustations on true Christianity. Stephen De Young works hard to explode all parts of this myth, explaining in The Religion of the Apostles that the beliefs and worship of the first Christians were essentially identical to those written down some years later, and were not, in most important ways, new at all.

First Do No Harm (Paracelsus)

A review by me of this book has been published in the excellent journal IM-1776. The first paragraph, and a link to the entire review, and the journal itself, can be found below. America is already a low-trust society, and with good reason societal trust is rocketing further downward. Yet Americans still, by and large, trust medical institutions — perhaps more than any other set of entities. The pseudonymous Paracelsus, a practicing physician, in his book with the deliberately ironic title First Do No Harm, narrates how we are foolish to trust the medical profession, what is really the medical industry. Published by Calamo Press, First Do No Harm tells us, in short, that the two words that characterize American medicine are not “health and healing,” or even “science and rationality,” as one might think, but rather “corruption and oligarchy.” . . . Read more at IM-1776!

Underwriters of the United States: How Insurance Shaped the American Founding (Hannah Farber)

A review by me of this book has been published in the outstanding quarterly American Affairs, to which everyone should subscribe. The first paragraph, and a link to the entire review, and the journal itself, can be found below. Property insurance is everywhere, but it is rarely prominent in the public mind. Its internal workings are obscure, full of technical language, esoteric customs, and mind-numbing legalese. Most people give it little thought beyond what is absolutely necessary. Nonetheless, as Hannah Farber’s Underwriters of the United States makes clear, property insurance is a powerful social force in any complex economy. And surprisingly, this excellent academic analysis of underwriting in the American shipping industry, up until 1860, has much to say about America today. Most of all, it makes us consider how corporate entities, and more generally concentrations of private wealth and power, can and should interact, and be permitted to interact, with the rest of the nation. . . . . Read more at American Affairs!

Roman Catholicism and Political Form (Carl Schmitt)

If, as Carl Schmitt asserted in Political Theology, “all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts,” what does that imply for political forms? This book, written immediately after Political Theology, addresses that question. Schmitt analyzes a political form that originated as theological but has adopted many different secular roles—the Roman Catholic Church. I have to say that Roman Catholicism and Political Form, even by Schmittian standards, is a difficult read. Nonetheless, it rewards close attention and thought, because what Schmitt says is, as all things Schmitt are, surprisingly relevant to our situation today.

A Gallop in Ethiopia: Wax, Gold & the Abyssinian Pony (Yves-Marie Stranger)

It has been a long time, a millennium and a half, since Ethiopia was a relevant player on the world stage. But I sometimes wonder if, as the present age grinds to its stupid end, the time of Ethiopia, with its ancient, self-confident Christian civilization, has come round again. Out of the corner of my mind’s eye, I see the Ethiopians sweeping northwards to dominate the Middle East, then replacing much of what is left of the decayed Europeans, perhaps linking up with their Orthodox brethren, expelling the Turks, and returning most of Eurasia to the Christian fold, igniting a new syncretic civilization. Probably not, but why not? That’s what we’re going to explore today.

The Managerial Revolution: What is Happening in the World (James Burnham)

Who rules? That’s what we all want to know. The Managerial Revolution, James Burnham’s still-influential 1941 book (the subject, for example, of recent pieces by Aaron Renn and Julius Krein), gave that eternal question a fresh answer. Broadly speaking his was, we can see eighty years later, indisputably the correct analysis. Burnham agreed that capitalism, private enterprise as the engine of the ruling class, was dying, the usual opinion in that tumultuous time, but made the entirely new claim that what would replace it was not, as most assumed, socialism, but a new thing. Namely, the ascent of managers, a new ruling class, who would hugely expand government and use it to mold society into new forms for their own benefit.

Fitzpatrick’s War (Theodore Judson)

Fitzpatrick’s War, a prophetic 2004 work of fiction, which I read on a whim, has, somewhat to my surprise, stuck deeply in my mind. Not only does the book echo events that have happened since its publication, it also bids fair to predict the broad outlines of the immediate future. What is more, Fitzpatrick’s War caused me to think about two other topics that interest me, which as it happens are the central themes of this book. First, as our civilization falls backwards in confusion, can we arrest and reverse apparently-inevitable decline? And, not obviously related, but in fact necessarily related, what will God’s judgment be on violence, even arguably-justified violence, that is the certain result of civilizational upheaval?

The Fate of Empires (John Bagot Glubb)

What Americans need now is a cheery book that assures us how our global power and hegemony are destined to last, if not forever, for a good deal longer. This is not that book. The Fate of Empires is an obscure work, by an obscure man. Yet it apparently still has a following today, because quite frequently, I am asked to read and discuss it, most of all the relevance of its analysis of empire to the present American moment. And to be sure, as America flails impotently in a doomed effort to maintain global preeminence, a discussion of how empires end seems particularly timely. So I figured, why not?

On the Marble Cliffs (Ernst Jünger)

As the twenty-first century grinds on, with history returning in spades, Ernst Jünger, German warrior and philosopher, grows more relevant every day. This book, On the Marble Cliffs, I view as his third book in an unrecognized trilogy advising us how we should conduct ourselves under different types of tyranny. It fits with two other books, more famous, The Forest Passage (1951) and Eumeswil (1977), which also parse freedom and oppression, each with a different focus and tone. This book, fiction both dreamlike and phantasmagoric, is lesser known and even harder to grasp than the other two. Yet it serves the same purpose: to instruct us how an individual in society should act when threatened by, or subsumed by, tyranny.

Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment (Stephen Kotkin)

How will our current regime fall? That’s what we all want to know. For those who have eyes to see, it is obvious the American regime is extremely fragile. It awaits only the inevitable crisis for it to collapse. I am staking my reputation, such as it is, on this claim. But because we cannot see precisely how this will come to pass, many believe, against all evidence, that our regime can grind on for decades. Reading Stephen Kotkin’s analysis of how Communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989 offers us insights into our own immediate future. Uncivil Society does not offer total clarity about the future, for nothing can do that, but it confirms many of my own thoughts, and so it must be an excellent book.