Due to anticipated events which cannot be canceled or rescheduled, UR will take a short break. You all probably need one anyway. I certainly do. Also, this may allow me to deal with my inbox, which is in a state that can only be described as wretched and inexplicable degradation. When I return, I will also try to be better at responding to comments.
From somewhere deep in the Laotian jungle, reader Nick Taylor sends his excellent travel blog, very Paul Theroux. Don’t miss his story of being held hostage by touts on a houseboat in Kashmir. Nick also points out that, even deep in the Laotian jungle, it took him about fifteen minutes to decode my actual identity. He clearly has strong fu, but it’s obviously not that hard. Feel free to repeat the experiment, but please don’t leave the result where Le Goog will find it.
The great modern aphorist Deogolwulf has received hostile notice. I would like to think UR is one of the Web’s top anti-democracy blogs, but surely above me are Deogolwulf and the formidable Carter van Carter. That is, if you don’t count Udolpho. In any blog contest that includes Udolpho, Udolpho is the winner. Unless the contest is for financial blogs, in which all are denied but Macro Man and Cassandra. But it’s also worth noting Rebel Economist, who I thought was really off his rocker the first time he suggested that the US should counter BWII reserve accumulation by simply mirroring the purchases—a brilliant idea, of course—and the invariably thoughtful Steve Randy Waldman. Readers may also appreciate frequent commenter Byrne Hobart, who is looking for work in the financial industry. Let’s hope Mr. Hobart is not struck by any falling stockbrokers as he heads in for his interviews. In the textual category, G.M. Palmer, editor of Strong Verse, also has his own new blog, and if you have not done so already, please visit Conrad Roth and pester him for the record.
I also must thank Michael Blowhard, for urging me to start this blog, and Brad Setser, for his tremendous patience with my often-trollish remarks. Other giants in the earth are Steve Sailer, Razib Khan and John Derbyshire.
Chris Lander of Stuff White People Like does not need your hits, but he probably has them already. “White people,” needless to say, are what here at UR we call Brahmins. Who of course come in all colors, shapes and sizes, and really, genuinely do not give a crap about each others’ DNA—sorry, Nazis.
Finally, Greg Cochran and I had another altercation about Iraq at 2Blowhards. I really take no pleasure in this sort of thing. Cochran has obviously lost a step or two—it’s like beating up an old man. In any case, expect more Iraq material later this spring.
Many people have requested reading lists. I’m afraid I have struggled somewhat in answering them, because I suspect that for almost anyone who reads UR it covers many subjects in which they have no interest at all. Perhaps the best thing is to prepare separate reading lists for progressives, conservatives, and libertarians, because they don’t always like the same books.
It is a special challenge to recommend reading for progressives. Progressives are convinced that they are people who do not believe in anything at all, like the nihilists in The Big Lebowski. In fact they believe in progressivism, which is something very specific. It is also a perfectly normal thing to believe in, at least by historical standards. It certainly does not make you in any way, shape or form a bad person.
Progressives can read books written by nonprogressives. But never without stress. Imagine reading a book written by someone you know is insane. You can be amused by it, interested even, but there is no way you could possibly take it seriously. And most likely you’ll just be annoyed, bored, or both. This is exactly how it feels when you’re a progressive and you just happen to stumble on some leaflet from outside the lib-o-dome.
Unfortunately for nonprogressives, progressives run the world, so there has to be some way to get a message to them. Unfortunately for progressives, they are quite unaware that they run the world. They believe it is run by their enemies, who oppress them or are at least trying to, and must be resisted with all their energy. If we could convince them that this was a misperception, we could convince them to stop being progressives. The matter is not without delicacy.
Therefore, I have compiled a special list of progressive-safe reading material, which is written by authors who either are progressives, or sensitive enough to write for progressives, and so can actually increase a progressive reader’s understanding of what in the heck progressivism is, where it came from, and why so many people believe it. If you are a progressive, I guarantee you will enjoy reading these books. If not, you can still recommend them to your progressive friends.
For hardcore progressives, a great place to start is Authoritarian Socialism in America, by Arthur Lipow. This was adapted from a Berkeley sociology dissertation, and Lipow was a student of Michael Harrington. Does it get more socialist than this? It does not. If Lipow is too academic for you, go straight to Richard Ellis’s Dark Side of the Left. Ellis may not be a socialist, but he’s certainly a liberal. If you’re wondering what Oliver Cromwell and Barack Obama could possibly have in common, Yale University Press has just blessed us with George McKenna’s Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, which is as readable as it is scholarly. Michael Burleigh’s Earthly Powers, almost as scholarly and even more readable, fills in the story on the other side of the pond. And don’t miss Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s Culture of Defeat (in which Schivelbusch, a German cultural historian, provides the best explanation of the Confederacy I’ve ever seen), and its oddly-unreviewed sequel Three New Deals. If these works have not convinced you that Communism is as American as apple pie, Charles Nordhoff’s Communistic Societies of the United States is an amusing curio. Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke is not out yet, but I can’t wait. Baker is somewhere to the left of Che Guevara, so there is no one better to start progressives on the long, ugly task of detaching themselves from the myth of the “good war.” A similar, if quite flawed, effort is Michael Lind’s What Lincoln Believed—of course, Lincoln was a politician, so no one has any idea what he believed, but Lind does fill us in on some of the things his audience believed. And for the reality of modern government, Richard Crossman’s diaries, which were the inspiration for the BBC series “Yes, Minister,” are unbeatable.
If nothing else, this little course will entitle you to sneer at Jonah Goldberg, a prospect that should please any progressive. Note, however, that you do not need to be a progressive to read and enjoy these books. (If readers have any other suggestions for material that is accessible to progressives while also enlightening them, please drop links in the comments.)
If you are a neoconservative, on the other hand, your principal problem is that you believe that history started in 1950. Well, okay, this is going slightly too far. You don’t believe that history started in 1950. You believe that politics started in 1950. History before that time is either (a) a list of facts and figures, or (b) a struggle between good guys and bad guys (the Civil War, the American Revolution, etc.). Either way, it is an abstraction to you. You may have some vague issues with the New Deal, but there is certainly no pre-1950 political movement with whose hopes and dreams you identify. (That would make you a paleoconservative.)
A good way to start moving this time horizon backward is to read books by conservatives of the ’40s. I recommend John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching, Freda Utley’s The China Story, and Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen’s Diary of a Man in Despair. Each of these very different books contains truths not found under heaven and earth at National Review—at least not at present. The first two are online and the third is simply essential, especially if you have any interest in “Hitler studies.” (Equally essential on the Hitler front is Victor Klemperer’s Language of the Third Reich—which everyone should read, not just neocons.)
For more philosophical depth and extreme goring of holy oxen, I have previously recommended Bertrand de Jouvenel’s On Power, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Liberty or Equality, and James Burnham’s rather hard to find The Machiavellians. An older work of this nature, still excellent and highly readable, is W.E.H. Lecky’s Democracy and Liberty. Lecky’s American Revolution is also an excellent way to rid the mind of parochial assumptions about this event.
Neoconservatives and progressives alike could also stand a good solid steeping in Austrian economics. While the economic analysis I’ve posted on UR is not precisely orthodox Austrianism, it is at most a minor variant on the creed. Pretty much everything there is to know about Austrian economics can be obtained by reading Rothbard’s Man, Economy and State. Rothbard is a fine writer and much easier to follow for the modern reader, but I confess a weakness for Mises’ original Theory of Money and Credit, the founding text of the 20C Austrians—and the first one I read.
The above are also good reading for libertarians, because they are not entirely in sync with the libertarian Whig instinct. The American tradition is, more or less, the Whig tradition. Yet no one could possibly be threatened by at least understanding the Tory tradition, since there are no Tories anywhere in the world today. Josiah Tucker’s Treatise Concerning Civil Government is an invaluable, and wonderfully “period,” counter to Locke. And Burke, of course, was a Whig, but he learned better—anyone of the anarcho-capitalist persuasion will be strengthened by grappling with his Reflections.
My fundamental disagreement with libertarians is ethical: libertarians see property rights (and human rights, which can be defined as property rights) as moral absolutes, whereas a formalist such as myself sees property as an instrumental means to the end of minimizing violence. Thus I am perfectly willing to concede that the US Government is the legitimate proprietor of the powers it exercises at present, regardless of the means by which it acquired these titles. To a libertarian, taxation is theft; to a formalist, taxation is rent.
Since we are in the domain of Humean oughts, this point cannot be argued. However, if you are a libertarian and you’re considering sliding toward formalism, the basic mental process involves letting go of one’s intense moral associations—bordering in many case on religion, which is no surprise, considering libertarianism’s Roundhead roots—with specific policies that sovereign entities may or may not follow. If you replace these Cromwellian strictures with a more consciously subjective, even aesthetic, perspective on the art of government, you may just find that your new worldview has room for everything that was in the old.
One way to approach this sideways is to read Michael Hart’s unusual Understanding Human History, which perhaps would be better titled “Understanding Human Prehistory” (it is certainly not very informative on the last 250 years). I mention this because to most libertarians, as to most anyone in the Whig tradition, the word “human” has what can only be described as theological connotations. A grasp of the actual biological realities behind the word can only lead the reader back to Toryism. I would not go so far as to identify Toryism with sanity, but it is definitely closer than Whiggery.
Perhaps you are a paleocon and you know all this stuff. The word “paleocon” essentially means that you are off the reservation. You pretend to swallow the pills, but you tuck them under your tongue and spit them out later. Your thoughts are your own, you agree with basically no one, and it is impossible to generalize or categorize you.
For paleocons, I have a special, hardcore, no-holds-barred course in British and American history. For the 18th century, read Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty (ultra-Whig), and Lecky’s History of England in the Eighteenth Century (ultra-Tory, at least by today’s standards). For the 19th, read Albert Beveridge’s lives of John Marshall and Abraham Lincoln, and Edgar Lee Masters’ Lincoln the Man. If this don’t put hair on your chest, I don’t know what will. If you finish all 17 volumes of the above—none of which, I guarantee, is boring— send me an email and I’ll come up with something else.
Finally, for intrepid readers who are interested in doing their own evaluations of questionable sources, I have three fun projects.
The first is J.R.T. Wood’s So Far and No Further, a history of relations between the UK and Rhodesia in the ’50s and ’60s, leading up to UDI. I have not read this book, and I’m curious as to whether it’s any good. Rhodesia was often described as a piece of the 19th century that somehow fell into the 20th. Since we have no other way of knowing what the former would make of the latter, any such living fossil is invaluable—at least, to historians.
The second is one of the most peculiar books I’ve ever seen, written by one of the century’s most peculiar writers—William James Sidis’s The Tribes and the States. Sidis, whatever his IQ, was obviously a weirdo, and many of his perspectives are just that—weird. At the same time, Sidis delivers the only treatment of the Articles of Confederation period (i.e., Washorg-1) that I’ve ever seen written from an uber-Jacobin, anti-Constitutional perspective. In what areas, if any, is Sidis reliable? Are there any more trustworthy sources on, for example, the subjugation of Rhode Island in 1790?
The third is a cute little paperback from 1963, issued by a publisher called “Western Islands,” which seems to have been associated in some way, shape or form with (gasp) the John Birch Society. The author is Hilaire du Berrier, the book is Background to Betrayal, the subject is Vietnam. Du Berrier was a supporter of one of the least-beloved regimes in modern Vietnamese history, the postcolonial French puppet state of the Emperor Bao Dai. As such his critiques of Ngo Dinh Diem and his supporters in the American liberal establishment are quite unusual, sometimes oddly mirroring those of Diem’s enemies to the left, and contradicting neocon revisionist work such as Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken. Amazon’s current price on this book is 99 cents, which has to be a bargain for anything so unusual. Who is most reliable? Du Berrier, Moyar, or Halberstam, Sheehan & Co.? Or do they all have something to offer?
Finally, please feel free to use this thread to raise general objections or questions about past posts at UR, or issues you’d like to see discussed when we return. One of the first things I’ll try to put together in April is a compendium of objections, but the easier this is, the better. Also, please feel free to email me—moldbug at gmail. A timely response is not guaranteed, as I expect my life to become quite busy quite soon. But I do try to answer everyone, and I’m almost impossible to irritate.