All posts filed under: Social Behavior

Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline (Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson)

Anybody who has been paying attention has long grasped the truth: underpopulation, not overpopulation, is our problem. This will soon be true on a global scale, it is already true in most of the developed world. Empty Planet explains why this is undeniably so. Unfortunately, the explanation is shrouded in confusion and ideological distortion, so the authors are never able to provide a clear message. Instead, they offer rambling, contradictory bromides combined with dumb “solutions” until the reader throws his hands up in despair, as I did. But then I got a stiff drink, finished the book, and now am ready to tell you about it.

A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (Wilhelm Röpke)

This classic book, by a long-dead and almost-forgotten German economist, is suddenly relevant again. I have had a copy on my bookshelf for thirty years, never read, and I was startled by how timely A Humane Economy is. Today, elements of Left and Right are ganging up to kick neoliberalism when it’s down, aiming to break the long-dominant alliance between the corporatist Left and Right, and thereby to overturn the instrumentalist view of humans as fodder for an economic machine. We are simply awaiting the next crisis to see what will emerge. Wilhelm Röpke foresaw the problems we face today, because he lived through their early days—though I am not sure his solutions are practical, at least until a lot more chaos first sweeps across the land.

The Language of the Third Reich (Victor Klemperer)

Victor Klemperer is famous today for his diaries covering the Nazi era in Germany. But those were published in 1995, thirty-five years after his death. The only book he published in his lifetime was this one, in 1947: The Language of the Third Reich. Its original title, Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen (i.e., Notebook of a Philologist), with the Latin evoking Imperial Rome, is more precise and informative, but I suppose we’re too uneducated today for that title to be used. Either way, this book is fascinating in its description of the twisting of language by the Nazis, who, like all ideologues, turned words to their own ends of power.

Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name (Leah Libresco)

Creating a social movement is hard.  Creating a social movement of conservatives is even harder, since for the most part progressives derive much of life’s meaning from social action, while conservatives just want to live their lives.  For three years now, Rod Dreher has rung the alarm bell of his Benedict Option, warning that the hour is late, and Moloch is within the gates.  Many are listening and receptive, even eager.  But the Benedict Option faces challenges, of which the first is inertia, since conservatives find it hard to act to change their lives when not directly impelled.  In response, Leah Libresco here outlines an excellent plan to overcome that inertia. When I first started writing this review, I thought I would discuss as well as second challenge—the enemies of the Benedict Option.  But after thought, it is not quite correct that enemies are a challenge that will rise to meet the Benedict Option.  It is more accurate to say that virtue and goodness have enemies and the Benedict Option will be one of their …

Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals (Tyler Cowen)

Finally, the age of sophisters and calculators has fully arrived, and its herald is Tyler Cowen.  He, economist and blogger, is here to tell us the purpose of life.  It is to die with the most toys.  Well, that, plus maximum freedom to do whatever we want with our toys while we are still alive.  Stubborn Attachments is just about the sort of thing you’d expect from a left-libertarian philosopher, namely a clever and partially accurate construct that is internally coherent, but floats free of human reality and ignores any human value other than that found in the box labeled “Approved By John Stuart Mill.”

The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (Tim Wu)

As the ideological tectonic plates shift in America, many apparently settled matters have become unsettled.  This creates, at the same time, both conflict and strange bedfellows, though I suspect the latter will become used to each other soon enough.  Such once-settled matters include hot-button cultural matters like nationalism, but also dry, technical matters of little apparent general interest that are of profound actual importance.  Among these are the place in our society of concentrations of economic (and therefore political) power, the subject of the excellent Tim Wu’s awesome new book, The Curse of Bigness.  What Wu is hawking is “Neo-Brandeisianism,” and I am buying what he is selling.

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (Laura Spinney)

Since I am an apocalypse monger, but a practical one, I do not worry about alien invasions or the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, but I do worry about pandemics.  This book, Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider, is a recent offering in the pandemic literature that has become popular in the past twenty years.  It focuses on the only known pathogen likely to create a future pandemic, the influenza virus, through its greatest past outbreak, the Spanish Flu of 1918.  I read books like these partially for history knowledge and partially to understand what to do in a similar future situation, and Pale Rider is useful for both.

On the Subjective Mental State of Liberals

In 1974, philosopher Thomas Nagel famously asked “What Is it Like to be a Bat?”  Nagel rejected reductionism, the idea that all consciousness can be reduced to simpler components identical for all sentient beings.  Instead, he held that for each type of conscious being, there is a unique mindset embodying what it feels like to be that type of being.  These subjective experiences are called the “qualia” of consciousness, the internal viewpoints inherent to a sentient creature.  Nobody can say what the qualia of a bat are, but I am here to analyze a closely related question:  what are the qualia of a liberal?

Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (Chrystia Freeland)

From the cover, I expected this book to be a lightweight documentary version of Crazy Rich Asians, offering painfully amusing stories about the foibles of the super-rich, accompanied by cautions about the negative effects of such behavior upon the rest of America.  Plus, the picture of private jets in the driveway attracted me as a vision of my hoped-for future, since I am comfortably in the 0.1%, and much of my time is spent struggling to reach yet higher.  Instead, this book is a pretty dense, though rambling, web of analysis, with no funny stories at all.  Still, it’s modestly worthwhile in itself, and it has the additional benefit that it sheds light on today.

The Forest Passage (Ernst Jünger)

Ernst Jünger was one of the more fascinating men of the twentieth century.  Remembered in the English-speaking world primarily for his World War I memoir, The Storm of Steel, he was famous in Europe for a range of right-leaning thought spanning nearly eighty years (he lived from 1896 to 1998).  His output was prodigious, more than fifty books along with voluminous correspondence, and not meant or useful as a seamless ideology, although certain themes apparently recur.  This book, The Forest Passage, was published in 1951, and is a compelling examination of how life should be conducted under modern ideological tyranny.