Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Summer Reading, Or Fall....

If a young whippersnapper came to me and asked what books would be useful to read - none has, nor is it likely - before entering college or even while in high-school, I would probably come up with a list that would assure the inquirer of being an academic outcast.

The first book I would recommend would be The Law by Frederic Bastiat, because it is both profound and simple. This little seventy-five page book has probably influenced more people's thinking than just about any other book on the subject in the 160 or so years since its first publication. This would be the first in order, with the others in no particular order.

Another book I really like for its simplicity and lucidity is Fugitive Essays by Frank Chodorov.  Anything by Chodorov is excellent, but Fugitive Essays gives a nice overview in one book. After my imaginary understudy has read that, he will probably want to read The Rise and Fall of Society; the income tax: the root of all evil; One Is A Crowd; and Out of Step.

Albert Jay Nock's Our Enemy The State is a good follow-up to Chodorov since they were friends and co-conspirators against our common enemy. Nock should be studied for his writing ability if for no other reason. He makes a distinction between "government," which is a negative concept that protects life and property, and "The State," which is an all-controlling paternalistic abomination such as we now have.

A book that I have never seen on "book lists" is The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods by A. G. Sertillanges, O.P. I have lent this book to several people and all thought it was brilliant. The author could have easily been writing about Nock or Chodorov when he wrote in his preface:

"When the world does not like you it takes its revenge on you; if it happens to like you, it takes its revenge still by corrupting you. Your only resource is to work far from the world, as indifferent to its judgments as you are ready to serve it. It is perhaps best if it rejects you and thus obliges you to fall back on yourself, to grow interiorly, to watch yourself, to deepen yourself."

Elsewhere: "To get something without paying for it is the universal desire; but it is the desire of cowardly hearts and weak brains."

In a chapter on virtue, Sertillanges puts his finger on why smart people aren't necessarily the solution to our problems: "The qualities of character have a preponderant role in everything. The intellect is only a tool; the handling of it determines the nature of its effects."

Someone commented in a review on AMAZON that The Machiavellians: Defenders Of Freedom is "...the best primer on political science ever written." I don't know if that's true, but I think the book has great merit.
It was a follow-up of sorts to James Burnham's earlier book The Managerial Revolution. It is out of print now, but available on audio and can be found at used book sites, but is usually pricey.

Burnham goes to great lengths to explain how politics works; not how people think it works. As an example: "In any case, whatever may be the desires of most men, it is most certainly against the interests of the powerful that the truth should be known about political behavior. If the political truths stated or approximated by Machiavelli were widely known by men, the success of tyranny and all the other forms of oppressive political rule would become much less likely. . . .Machiavelli says that rulers lie and break faith: this proves, they say, that he libels human nature. Machiavelli says that ambitious men struggle for power: he is apologizing for the opposition, the enemy, and trying to confuse you about us, who wish to lead you for your own good and welfare. Machiavelli says that you must keep strict watch over officials and subordinate them to the law: he is encouraging subversion and the loss of national unity. Machiavelli says that no man with power is to be trusted: you see that his aim is to smash all your faith and ideals.
Small wonder that the powerful – in public - denounce Machiavelli. The powerful have long practice and much skill in sizing up their opponents. They can recognize an enemy who will never compromise, even when that enemy is so abstract as a body of ideas.”  

After my understudy has completed these, it might be time for a little light reading, such as Flannery O'Connor's letters collected by Sally Fitzgerald under the title The Habit of Being. I have never found anybody who didn't find them highly entertaining. If you have read any of her short stories or novels and found them bizarre you can forget about that - this is everyday correspondence filled with profound insights, sound advice and hilarious anecdotes. They are probably funnier and more interesting to a southerner since they recall things that would be familiar to southerners living at that time, but just about anybody would find them interesting.

If my imaginary friend is thinking of joining the military to "get money for college,"  "see the world"  or "defend our freedom," I would suggest that he read Paul Fussell's book Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War. The subtitle makes it sound like it's some kind of psychology text book, which it isn't.
It is a highly readable account of the way things really are in the military - not what you might be told by the recruiter.

Two books that might be useful in gaining a grasp of American History around the War of Southern Secession are When in the Course of Human Events by Charles Adams and The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo. These two sort of overlap, but DiLorenzo's book is the better written, I think.

Charles Adams wrote another book called For Good And Evil: The Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization which has all kinds of interesting stuff from the message on the Rosetta Stone to why newspapers were printed on broadsheets.

Is Davis a Traitor? Well, no, but that's the title of a book by Albert Taylor Bledsoe, with the subtitle, Was Secession a Constitutional Right Previous to the War of 1861? The book makes it clear that secession definitely was a right. This was later reprinted under the title The War between the States and Bledsoe answers the question from every angle.

A book that points to many other books is Another Sort of Learning - Selected Contrary Essays on the Completion of Our Knowing or How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College, or Anywhere Else: Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in captivity to Be Found. The subtitle pretty much explains what it's about. It's what might be called a book about truth or the "permanent things." It is a useful book by James V. Schall who is, or was a professor at Georgetown. Some of the books he recommends don't coincide with my tastes, but others do.

The Revolution: A Manifesto by Ron Paul is a very good introduction to what is frequently referred to as "The Freedom Philosophy." It is written in a very simple style and is probably persuasive to those who are going to be persuaded. The back has a pretty good reading list for further reading. This is not a typical book written by a politician about "How I overcame adversity by keeping my nose to the grindstone and  judiciously employing my time and money to pull myself up by my own bootstraps." It's a book by a guy who has a grasp of immutable principles.

This list should keep my young friend busy for a week or two.

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