Among the many gaping holes in American historical knowledge is any grasp of the French Revolution (and that includes my own knowledge). As an abstract matter, this is unfortunate, but nothing notable, given that the historical knowledge of modern Americans is essentially one large gap. As a concrete matter, though, it is a real problem, because in our own troubled times, the French Revolution offers critical, universal lessons, which we forget to our peril. Nowhere is this more true than with respect to the Terror, the rule of the twelve-man Committee of Public Safety, from 1793-94, the subject of this classic 1941 work.
Billed as a continuation, this book is really the chiral image of Michael Walsh’s earlier book, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. That book was an attempt, with limited success, to outline and discuss the poisonous Frankfurt School of political philosophy, Critical Theory, through the prism of art. This book, on the other hand, aims to discuss art, with Critical Theory as the subtext. It is a largely successful attempt to outline and discuss the unparalleled genius of Western art, in its historical context and with its historical implications, and thereby to “restore Western culture to its proper place.” That restoration is necessary for our culture to cauterize the venomous bite of the Frankfurt School, whose view of art as politics, and of Western culture as worthless and evil, must be rejected if the West is to regain its path.
My project here is to analyze, in the detail required for all necessary understanding, the thought of Curtis Yarvin, who wrote under the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug. Yarvin is the most prominent figure of what has been called the Dark Enlightenment, one thread of modern reactionary thought. My short summary is that he offers mediocre analysis with quite a few flashes of insight. Even so, his thought is mostly worthless, because his program for political change is silly, since it fails to understand both history and human nature, and is ultimately indistinguishable from the program of the Left. Overall I was very disappointed, and this write-up is shorter than I expected when beginning my project, since there is not all that much interesting to talk about.
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!
This isn’t a great book, but it’s a starting point for discussions that are worth having. Richard Reeves gently flogs his own class for their sins, an act he thinks is very daring, though he uses a thin, silken cord and doesn’t put any muscle into it. The upper middle class, he says, is pulling up the bridge to the Castle of Success, protecting its own sons and daughters from the dragons outside, at the expense of the peasants milling about on the other side of the moat. He thinks this is bad, although he is confused as to exactly why that should be, since it seems “unfair,” but he can’t say what that is with any precision, and, after all, isn’t personal choice the most important thing of all? So this book mostly goes nowhere, but it can tickle the mind into some genuine thought.
Exhaustively documented, and in some ways just exhausting, though at the same time exhilarating, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is a towering achievement. It synthesizes centuries of history and multiple avenues of thought to analyze how we arrived at certain negative aspects of modernity. Gregory’s claim is that we got here as the result of the unintended consequences of choices made in response to “major, perceived human problems.” Those choices were, initially, the Reformation’s religious choices, which ran counter to the entire worldview of medieval Christianity. But the Reformation did not solve the problems—it made them worse, in a declining spiral, accelerated and exacerbated by subsequent secularization, itself partially the result of the Reformation. The result is a world in which the ability of humans to find meaning in their lives has been crippled, rather than enhanced. We would, implicitly, be better off with something more like the High Medieval synthesis destroyed by Martin Luther.
This book was once famous, but was mostly forgotten when Communism died and so-called liberal democracy seemed ascendant. It is increasingly famous again, and relevant, in these days of a new creeping totalitarianism, this time in the West itself. Such timelessness is the signature of a classic work, so my goal today is to explicate Václav Havel’s thought, and to show why its time has come round again.
William Lloyd Garrison is one of those nineteenth-century American figures about whom most people know a little, realizing they are important to American history, but whom few can discuss with expertise. Into that same category I’d put men like Henry Clay, John Fremont, perhaps even Stephen Douglas, and quite a few others. Garrison is probably more neglected than those figures. But this book is an excellent corrective, not only showing the importance of Garrison for his time, but showing us how his principles apply today in a similarly fraught moral climate, and offering lessons in how society’s powerful approach, or fail to approach, moral issues, then and now.
I think this book is meant as a #NeverTrumper manifesto, an attempt to create intellectual backbone for that wispy band of conservative holdouts, who crouch behind the crenellations in their National Review fastness, wondering why the final assault on them has yet to begin—not realizing it is because everyone has forgotten about them. Strictly speaking, though, I have no idea what the point of this book is, because it’s a jumble of thoughts, anecdotes and superficial facts, strung together with no clear audience and only the most simplistic of analysis. It’s a boneless mess.
[Admin’s Note: This is a guest post by Jared, who is most definitely not a lawyer, nor a historian.] Henry Sumner Maine was an Englishman of the High Victorian era, i.e., the late 19th century. His Popular Government, a book discussing the properties and deficiencies of broad-suffrage democracy, is often recommended by reactionaries in the vein of Mencius Moldbug. He included Popular Government in a list of three books constituting the canon of his so-called “Froude Society” (of which I am apparently a deacon). But while Maine’s work has reactionary implications, it is never polemic. Maine was a sober-minded jurist and historian. The present book, his Ancient Law, is probably his best-known work, and the one most representative of his broader oeuvre. Maine tends to be a bit of a dry writer, but he never fails to deliver on the subject matter, and the book is a pleasure to read.