Conservatism 101

by John J. Miller on August 2, 2010 · 66 comments

in Blog Posts

  • SumoMe

On Wednesday, I’m speaking at the annual conference of the Young America’s Foundation on what books college students–especially conservative college students–ought to read. My co-panelists are Marji Ross of Regnery Publishing and author Benjamin Wiker.

What books should I recommend? Post your suggestions in the comments section.

I’ll offer my own ideas on Wednesday, but I’ll also direct my audience to this page. So these impressionable young people will hear from you as well.

  • Michelle

    The Great Books!

    http://www.angelicum.net/great-books-program/great-books-readings/

    These should really be read BEFORE college. College should be the time for debating the ideas of these books, not initial exposure.

  • michael schrage

    economics from the outside in:
    better than plowing

    james buchanan (nobel economist/public choice theory pioneer)

  • Shelby Gubin

    Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 , Christopher Collier $ James Lincoln Collier

  • Jack Jolis

    Since these days they’re not going to get taught any proper history, (if they get any history at all), no matter where they go to school, they should start with Paul Johnson’s MODERN TIMES, and then, if possible, go on to anything else they can by the marvelous 1-man history department that Johnson is.

    He not only Understands All, but he writes in a straightforward, accessible, almost conversational style that “young readers” will find convivial.

  • Michael Iachetta

    Raoul Berger, Government by Judiciary
    David Mayer, Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson
    Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum
    Thomas West, Vindicating the Founders
    James Ceaser, American Government

  • Nick Stuart

    There are a lot of books we all should read but never do because let’s face it, most of us don’t have the attention span, or whatever reason. So in addition to economists and political theorists, there are some great science fiction books that young conservatives will benefit from reading:

    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

    Kage Baker’s “Novels of The Company”
    *In the Garden of Iden (1997)
    *Sky Coyote (1999)
    *Mendoza in Hollywood (2000)
    *The Graveyard Game (2001)
    *The Life of the World to Come (2004)
    *The Children of the Company (2005)
    *The Machine’s Child (2006)
    *The Sons of Heaven (2007)
    *Not Less than Gods (2010)
    These contain a very interesting subtheme of a time in the future where vegetarianism is mandatory, use of any animal product (like cream for your strawberries) is prohibited, tobacco and alcohol are prohibited, &tc. And not because of some authoritairan right wing regime (a common SF trope) but because of leftist political correctness.

    John Birmingham’s “Axis of Time Trilogy”
    *Weapons of Choice
    *Designated Targets
    *Final Impact
    Likewise pokes sideways at politically correct orthodoxy.

    Some other advice you should dispense along with the reading list:
    *You don’t have to read a whole book to benefit from it. I never finished Wealth of Nations, but what I did manage to read of it has been very beneficial to my understanding of how economies work.
    *Don’t get too wrapped up in current events ephemera. I don’t want to single anyone out for a knock but a lot of conservative pundits make their living writing books. Nothing wrong with that, but most of these books have maybe a 6 month shelf life before events overtake the content. Nothing wrong with reading them, just don’t make them a steady diet.

  • Stanley Stolte

    The Divine Comedy would be at the top of my list.

  • http://therequiest.com Daron Lawing

    All the Dystopias (1984, Brave New World, etc. )
    Atlas Shrugged

  • RandomJackass

    I like the Fahrenheit 451 suggestion. Also of course anything by Ayn Rand is especially good for young skulls. Older young conservatives should read “The Road to Serfdom”.

    I suggest some books which have companion videos as well, since the younger generation is multimedia:
    “Commanding Heights” WGBH Boston video, book by Yergin and Stanislaw
    “The Ascent of Money” BBC/PBS video, book by Niall Ferguson
    “Guns, Germs and Steel” PBS video, book by Jared Diamond

  • Steve

    Agree with the dystopias. Would add Children of Men (the movie is garbage, book is awesome)

    Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism
    Shlaes The Forgotten Man

    Since no one studies Military History
    Gates of Fire by Pressfield
    The Coldest Winter by Halberstram
    The Forgotten Soldier by Sajev
    Lone Survivor by Luttrell
    Don’t Tread on Me by HW Crocker III (Very accessable)
    Anything by VDH, some are better than others. The Father of Us all and A War Like No Other being the most accessable

  • http://therightsphere.com/ Brandon Kiser

    “The One Thousand Year Leap,” for sure.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Devon-Dibley-His-Golden-Key/dp/1442101490/ Francis

    Devon Dibley and His Golden Key [allegory]… the story of how young people must become individual thinkers by moving beyond both self-limitation and group-think.

    It’s sort of a right-wing Harry Potter (minus the magic and about 700 pages shorter!). C.S. Lewis meets J.K. Rowling.

    http://www.amazon.com/Devon-Dibley-His-Golden-Key/dp/1442101490/

  • http://inscapes.blogspot.com Beth Impson

    Absolute required reading: Richard Weaver’s _Ideas Have Consequences_.

    To get a grip on technology’s potential for abuse, _Fahrenheit 451_ and Neil Postman’s _Technopoly_.

  • http://wherepoetrygoestodie.blogspot.com/ w.b. picklesworth

    Imperial Grunts by Robert Kaplan. It’s fairly earthy and provides a point of view into the military that they won’t get in college.

  • Derek McLeod

    Steve Hayward’s “The Age of Reagan,” both volumes I and II, and Robert Bork’s “The Tempting of America.”

  • Nick Stuart

    Machiavelli, The Prince (having the great benefit of being very short, you can read it over and over again).

  • Lisa Townley

    “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman is a book that has stayed with me. Friedman’s youtube videos are worthwhile too!

  • http://gradualdazzle.blogspot.com GradualDazzle

    Hayek, Hayek, Hayek!

    Jonah’s Liberal Fascism… Levin’s Liberty & Tyranny… Orwell’s Animal Farm… Rand’s Atlas Shrugged… The Federalist Papers… and THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

  • Steve Hill

    Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State
    William Voegeli

  • Megan Ritter

    Witness is essential.

  • http://www.amazon.com/DESTRUCTIVE-GENERATION-Second-Thoughts-About/dp/0684826410 Francis

    Destructive Generation by David Horowitz.

    I read this in college; it changed my life.

    http://www.amazon.com/DESTRUCTIVE-GENERATION-Second-Thoughts-About/dp/0684826410

  • Sofie Miller

    As an actual young person, I hope I can add to the discussion:

    The Law, Frederic Bastiat
    What Social Classes Owe Each Other, William Graham Sumner
    Common Sense, Thomas Paine
    Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
    Second Treatise on Government, John Locke
    Anthem, Ayn Rand
    The Road to Serfdom, FA Hayek

    And, to better understand the enemy: Liberalism and Social Action, by John Dewey.

  • Tony Ryba

    non-fiction:
    New Deal or Raw Deal by Burton Fulsom Jr.
    Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell

    fiction:

    A Song of Fire and Ice series by George RR Martin

  • Noah Glyn

    1) Thomas Sowell “Economic Facts and Fallacies”
    2) Milton Friedman “Capitalism and Freedom”
    3) Michael Barone, Richard Cohen, “Almanac of American Politics” (Any edition. You can buy the 2008 edition for less than $1)
    4) George Gilder “The Israel Test”
    5) Jonah Goldberg “Liberal Fascism”
    6) William Bennett “America the Last Best Hope”
    7) The Federalist Papers and other Founding Documents
    8) William Shakespeare Hamlet

  • Andrew

    As a young conservative myself (19) I really enjoyed Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind.

    It basically did three things: 1. Gave me a better platform from which to defend my own views (and attending public school in Massachusetts, those views were in need of defence.) 2. Cured me once and for all of any notion of “libertarian conservatism.” 3. Introduced me to some fantastic thinkers who I’d never encountered before, especially Henry Adams and Edmund Burke.

    The Education of Henry Adams might also be a good one, now that I think of it.

    Also anything by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton embodies the Romantic aspect of conservatism that ought to be embraced.
    ——
    Theres a lot of very frowny-faced conservative books being reccomended (my god, Ayn Rand? really? have you met high schoolers who read Rand? They’re insufferable. I once had a conversation with a girl who was convinced that she could be “perfectly, objectively rational.” And I thought human perfectability was a liberal dream.)

    I guess what I like about these books in sum is that they’re about what to love, what to conserve, as opposed to what to fear and prevent (e.g. Hayek, Rand, Dystopia, etc.)

  • Mark Dennett

    Agree with the dystopias. One that is frequently forgotten but is very valuable is We by Zamyatin. Also, Utopia by More and The Republic by Plato makes one think about how Govt. should be structured and what is valuable in society.

    I have always thought the great sci-fi (i.e., Asimov, Heinlein, Hebert at their peak, not after they began to go fuzzy in their dotage) is innately conservative in that the future worlds posited usually suffer from the lack of status quo cultural guideposts, or suffer becuase certain cultural elements have been exaggerated to the expense of others. (ex. the manipulation of religion in Dune).

    Agree also with the post that a great work partially read is better than not reading it at all. I have several classics that I am 1/3 to 1/2 way through, and I will get back to them some time, but am embroiled in other missives now.

  • http://nationforgedinwar.blogspot.com/ Tom B

    Anything by Walter McDougall, but especially “Promised Land, Crusader State.”

    And, to be much less modest, Thomas Bruscino, “A Nation Forged in War: How World War II Taught Americans to Get Along.”

  • Scott Kelly

    Thomas Connelly’s The Marble Man (1977), which is the first critical examination of Robert E. Lee. But the real meat is the exploration of the “Lee Cult,” those former Confederate officers who sought to elevate Lee as the symbol of the Lost Cause at the expense of everyone else (such as James Longstreet). When I read The Marble Man in college, I learned not only how history is made, but how it can be manufactored to fit an agenda.

    Likewise, Frank Scaturro’s President Grant Reconsidered (1999) started the positive re-evaluation of Grant’s presidency, including exploring how Grant was denigrated by the elf-anointed elite and racist, bored & lazy, or biased historians who failed completely to understand Grant.

    Both books can supply excellent lessons in applied critical thinking.

  • Scott Kelly

    Er, I meant “self-anointed” elite, though “elf-anointed” could certainly apply, as many of the men who attacked Grant were figuratively small men. (So small and narrow-minded, in Grant’s words, that they could look through a gimlet hole with both eyes.)

  • rodomontade

    I would second so many of these books — in particular, Modern Times (P. Johnson), Capitalism and Freedom (M. Friedman), The Road to Serfdom (F. Hayek), The Prince, etc.

    On Guns, Germs and Steel (J. Diamond) I have serious reservations as that propagates so many of the inappropriate assumptions that they’ll be exposed to in school anyway. If you include it, you need to add Carnage and Culture, which is Victor Davis Hanson’s response to Guns, Germs and Steel and which eviscerates huge portions of Diamond’s argument. At the same time, it does a great job of explaining the uniqueness of Western civilization, and why Western dominance is so much more than a lucky distribution of natural resources.

    One book that had an electrifying effect on me as a teenager and which still shapes my thinking is The Gulag Archipelago (A. Solzhenitsyn). I’m not sure it’s entirely recommendable now that the cold war is over, but it does a beautiful job of illustrating the ghastliness of totalitarianism.
    But more than that, it explains exactly why totalitarians MUST act the way they do to maintain power; that their power comes not from consent or acquiescence of the people (irrelevant), but from the superior organization of the ruling party. Superiority is maintained by suppressing both dissent and social organization outside government control (which explains why China went after all religions after Falun Gong held a nationwide peaceful protest). It also explains why regimes fall when they reform (ie Glasnost –people organize to overthrow the regime, not strengthen it) and why the dictator’s succession doesn’t matter (see Mao, Kim Il Sung, Hafez Assad, Fidel Castro) as long as the secret police still operate. I wonder if there’s not a more modern book that does as well at making these essential points.

    Another important book is J. Simon’s The Ultimate Resource 2. Kids absolutely need the intellectual basis to stand up to the environmental nonsense that they are bombarded by continuously. B. Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist is also good, but doesn’t make the strong case case FOR capitalism the way Simon does.

    Two more important books to me were J. Flexner’s Washington: The Indispensible Man (which did a great job of showing how fragile and close-run the revolution and American founding was and how essential Washington’s MORAL leadership was to their success) and J. Lukacs’s Five Days in London: May 1940 (which showed how close the allies came to defeat against Hitler and how his leadership made the difference). It is possible that there are alternatives to these books, but both had a lasting influence on me.

  • http://profmondo.wordpress.com Prof. Mondo

    Heinlein, especially _Expanded Universe_ and _The Notebooks of Lazarus Long._ Any of his juvenile/YA’s will work, too.

    Samuel Johnson’s “Vanity of Human Wishes.” It’ll need annotation, but it’s a nice look at the law of unintended consequences.

    Dittos to the Weaver recommendation.

  • http://NRO DrP

    Onee should read anything and EVERYTHING by Sowell. However, one non-Sowell book is “The Other Path”. The title alone is worth discussing as a play on the Maoist terrorist organization, the Shining Path. Yet the theme of the book is about the hurdles the state puts in front of a entrepreneurial enterprise. While set in the Peruvian underground, the message is universal.

  • Douglas Johnson

    Witness by Whittaker Chambers

    There are a million conservatives books that shotgun evidence and information to prove a point (a point you already agreed with before you read the book).

    This autobiography is the equal to the Education of Henry Adams in literary merit. It’s a riveting true story told by a miserable fellow caught in the miserable middle of it. Young kids will remember it because its a beautifully told story. They will forget so many of the other books here because there is no such thing as a beautifully told political argument.

    A more recent book told from an enlightening personal story is Shelby Steele’s White Guilt. When I finished Steele’s book I thought it was the best commentary on Iraq I had read, and it doesn’t mention Iraq once. The story, like all great stories, is much bigger than it seems.

  • Elizabeth Herring

    1. Sowell’s Vision of the Anointed….perhaps the best view into the progressive mind out there

    2. Heritage Guide to the Constitution…explains it clause by clause with history and court cases

    3. Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah …. how we got here

    4. Levin’s Men in Black….just in case you thought SCOTUS should have the final say….they are, after all, a branch of the federal government whose powers should be limited and few…past decisions prove they are not god-like

    5. Couch’s books on the training a Navy Seal class…a must for all politicians…reminds them that there are better men than they out there

    Leave this thread up a while….I am making out my winter reading list

  • http://Platosfriend.blogspot.com Eric Cook

    While I agree with the vast majority of posts on here, I think that literature (imaginative literature) is as critical for forming the conservative (and any healthy) mind.

    I would recommend that young conservatives spend time reading fiction with heft as well as the classic tomes of liberty, history and economics. And I can think of no author that opens up the heart and mind like Dostoevsky.

    Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Notes from Underground, The Possessed, and The Idiot, are a must.

  • Noah Glyn

    In addition to my 8 listed above, I would add John Adams, 1776, and Truman all by David Mccullough, perhaps the best living writer.

  • http://christianhomestead.ardenlake.com Pam Racette

    They may seem too young, but they’re not: the Little Britches books, by Ralph Moody, and the Little House books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. These books put our modern sense of work and comfort in perspective.

    The people who built this country were extraordinary men and women. We, as the beneficiaries of their hard work and commitment, owe them a debt of gratitude. I have never been so humbled as I was by learning of our (fairly recent) forefathers’ remarkable spirit and determination.

  • Jim Pier

    Understanding Hayek’s defense of markets and critiques of socialism are musts. “The Fatal Conceit” is accessible and not long, so go with that.

  • John Marlin

    Anthony O’Hear, “Philosophy and the New Century.”

  • Jim Pier

    I just read the other posts, and there is one glaring omission: “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Edmund Burke. Awesome writing, profound thinking, and an excellent rejoinder to liberals who deny that conservatives are for the improvement of society FOR ALL.

  • Dennis Nicholls

    Young conservatives need to learn the courage of their convictions. Hence they should read “Alone” by William Manchester, the second volume in his Churchill biography.

    I’ve just finished “American Dreamer” by Culver & Hyde, a bio of Henry Wallace. Although praised by Teddy Kennedy and George McGovern, the book is truthful about Wallace. He was a nice guy, a great agronomist, woefully inept at practical politics, and a stooge of Stalin. He was the “beta test” version of Jimmy Carter/Barack Obama. The best thing FDR ever did was to dump Wallace for Truman back in the 1944 election. This book will show an insider’s view of the FDR presidency and how inept FDR really was.

  • rodomontade

    Another thought — something on the struggle against radical Islam should be included. I have two suggestions, neither ideal. B. Lewis’s What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East gives a broad and important view of the outlook of Islam which leads toward the current conflict. I think he’s a little too soft on Islam and underestimates the support in the Islamic world for dominance over the West. L. Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 has a good account of the development of the inhuman theories of radical Islam. It is more popular history than a serious exposition however.

  • Allison

    There is no better book than Witness by Whittaker Chambers. It is essential to understanding what we’re fighting for, and against. It also shows the importance of fighting for the right side even if you will lose.

    That story, more than any other book, has made it so I never forget what evil is, and the faces it wears.

  • John Sorvenes

    UNDOUBTEDLY:

    Witness, by Whittaker Chambers.

  • Forbes

    Tom Sowell’s “a Conflict of Visions”

  • Allison

    Along the same lines, I’d suggest Radical Son by David Horowitz. It shows a similar evolution to Chambers’. It shows also how someone who cares so deeply about what they think is just can be driven to make such terrible, and frankly evil, decisions. It also shows what it would take to change one’s mind.

    Conservatives should never discount the goals of the entire Left as fraudulent. Instead, they must show the Utopian visions to be false because humans on earth cannot achieve perfection, and attempts to do so are so filled with hubris as to permit any power, any terror, any evil to bring about their perceived good.

  • MF

    Russell Kirk’s The Roots of American Order.

    The Federalist, and The Wealth of Nations (agree you don’t have to finish it).

    The Brothers Karamazov, and The Wind in the Willows.

    G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With The World.

    Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom. Friedman’s Capitalism and Democracy.
    Recent stuff – Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man.

  • m

    I would add “The Ethics of Redistribution” by Bertrand de Juvenal, “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, and, “The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius”…

  • M.Kiernan

    I picked up a good fiction book at a yard sale a number of years ago and am greatful I did. When the Almond Tree Blossoms, by David Aikman is scary in that it paints a picture of what might or could be if we don’t fight to stop it.

  • Scott Kelly

    The Killer Angels by Michael Sharra is an incredible celebration of the fighting spirit of the America soldier (regardless of whether you’re a Yank or a Reb).

    Fred Anderson’s The Crucible of War. If you ever wanted to know about the French and Indian War & the real roots of the American Revolution, this book it is. Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” is much more profound when placed in context of the world-wide conflict from 1754 to 1763.

  • Joe

    Morris Fiorina’s • Disconnect
    William Shakespeare • King Lear

  • sayward

    All the economic and conservative non-fiction certainly, but, thinking outside of the conservative box, I would say…

    Anything by C.S. Lewis
    The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
    Anthem – Rand

  • Ted Smith

    Agree with all the references to Weaver, Hayek, C. S. Lewis. Read anything and everything by Thomas Sowell. Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism is superb. Frank Meyer’s In Defense of Freedom and Other Essays is essential. Anything by Theodore Dalrymple.

    For young conservatives, it’s critial to get some context. Kirk’s The Conservative Mind gives the long view. For the post-war view, there is nothing better than George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. In fact, I would start with Nash’s book.

    Best conservative novels: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (the best book of the last fifty years).

  • Andrew

    I think its also worth encouraging young conservatives to engage with liberal texts, if only because so much of what they will hear in academia is really just watered down, poorly argued versions of the original.

    I don’t know that I’d trust a conservative who hasn’t at least read the communist manifesto, or who wasn’t strongly familiar with utilitarianism. “Epistemic closure” must be dealt with swiftly and from an early age.

    Until you’ve squared off against a “works in theory but not in practice” liberal, you haven’t earned your stripes, and thats difficult to do if you can’t cogently counter the labor theory of value.
    —–
    And if I can continue my heterodoxy by turning to books written by liberals that are worth reading of their own account: some of the books in Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series are fantastic. “Burr” and “Lincoln” especially make their characters come alive. It’s also a good primer on how American history doesn’t have to be founder-worship. These men were also fascinating in human terms (Aaron Burr especially). Vidal captures that very well. It’s one thing to know American history, it’s another thing to love it.

    So much of what I have encountered as a young conservative has taken the form of “How can you like Andrew Jackson– He killed the indians!” Well, fine, but come on, he’s Andrew Jackson, he was awesome. He took bullets in the chest and his only regrest in life were not killing the Speaker of the House and his own Vice-President. Drier non-fiction histories often lose sight of the “epic” sense of American history (Unless you’re reading a TR biography, because the pages can barely contain him no matter who the author is.)

  • Kevin McGreevy

    I’ve gotten some great ideas for my own reading material from earlier posts, but I think YAF participants will already be inundated with “core reading” suggestions. Give the young men and women some fun reading suggestions too.

    Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – If they don’t know what TANSTAFL means, it’s time they learned.

    George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series (already mentioned, but deserves a second mention) – This is a great fantasy series, although somewhat graphic. Good intro the conflict of multiple self-interest viewpoints.

    Fantasy standards: Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring trilogy and Lewis’ Narnian Chronicles. Major lesson: Good and Evil exist – and Evil can be beat.

    The Weapon Shops of Isher by A. E. van Vogt – “The right to own weapons is the right to be free.”

    Most of Stephen King’s novels – Again, Good and Evil exists and Evil can be beat.

  • http://purplewimple.fantake.com Ezra

    Perhaps I missed it, but Edmund Burke’s “Notes on the Revolution in France” is a must-read.

    The New Testament ought to figure high on the list, as lots of young folks (and old ones, I regretfully suspect) are unfamiliar with too much of it.

  • Barbara

    Democracy in America, De Toqueville

  • RandomJackass

    @rodomontade the reason I include Guns Germs and Steel is that I figure kids in schools have been exposed to so much of the “evil white oppressor” litany that they need something to bridge the gap between that kind of thinking and more rational thinking, in terms of how European culture evolved and came to predominate our hemisphere. It wasn’t “evil” as such, it was historical inevitability, and the color of their skin had nothing to do with it (if Europeans had dark skin they still would have colonized the New World). But when you grow up hearing liberals demonize Western civilization, and hearing conservatives defend it at all costs (often painting a overly-rosy picture), it’s good to have some middle ground with some intellectual heft represented for these young conservatives.

  • Roger Custer

    We look forward to your talk. I recommend “Conscience of a Conservative” by Goldwater and “Letters to a Young Conservative” by D’Souza.

    Roger Custer
    Young America’s Foundation

  • Daniel

    Well, my kids are 7, 6, and 4, so perhaps I’m thinking _too_ young here, but “A City in Winter” is a masterpiece. Moves you on a deep, deep level.

  • Mark Seago

    Any, and all, by Thomas Sowell.

  • rodomontade

    @Random

    I was fascinated by Guns, Germs and Steel; it’s an interesting take on the world. I’m glad I read it. But there’s nothing conservative about it.

    True, it argues that Western dominance was inevitable. But why? Because the West had the benefit of superior crops (wheat), superior domestic livestock (cows, early access to horses), a temperate climate (to defeat tropical disease), and other such advantages. This gave the West a head start with which it crushed everyone else. In Diamond’s view, the culture of the West — religion, political and civic values, military organization — count for nothing. The West is dominant due to the quirks of a random distribution of natural resources. That distribution determines everything.

    At one point, Diamond memorably states that if rhinoceroses could be tamed, the world might have been ruled by mounted Bantu tribesmen. (I liked the image.) But that doesn’t seem very credible. Alexander the Great, after all, was able to defeat an ancient Indian army of war elephants with Hoplite foot soldiers (and he did it thousands of miles from his own kingdom). As Victor Davis Hansen argues, the use of resources is far more important than the resources themselves. And that is intimately shaped by the intellectual characteristics of Western society, such as the status of citizens, (relative) freedom, humanism, etc. These are the things that really make Western civilization dominant.

  • Dan klein

    Jorge Louis Borges, a true lover of The finest aspects of civilization (not to mention robbed if a noble bc of his conservativism)

  • Michael Lonie

    Lots of good suggestions here. I will repeat some of them, and add more.

    Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit. Short and easier to read than some of his other books. It summarizes his lifetime of fighting statism and planned economies.

    Paul Johnson’s Modern Times.

    Machiavelli’s The Prince.

    Plato’s Republic. This is the first and best apology for totalitarianism. It will enable them to learn what they must fight against from the original source.

    David Pryce-Jones’ The Closed Circle. This is an analysis of the dysfunctional political culture of Muslim, especially Arab countries. Together with Bernard Lewis’ What Went Wrong and The Crisis In Islam it gives, I think, a good basis for understanding our current enemies and where they came from.

    T. R. Fehrenbach’s This Kind of War. This book is about the Korean War and shaped my view of how international relations and military affairs work. His main point is that if we want some kind of halfway decent order in the world we must fight for it, and if we don’t some very unpleasant people will impose their own order in its stead. “The lesson of Korea is that it happened.”

    Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics.

    A different approach to Burke is Conor Cruise O’Brien’s The Great Melody. This book is what O’Brien called a thematic biography of Burke. Burke would have been astonished to be considered a conservative today. He was a Whig, and the great melody O’Brien refers to is his lifelong opposition to abuse of power. His opposition to the French Revolution was based on his perception that the revolutionaries could not establish a legitimate government and that they would fall back on abuse of power to sustain their rule. This was connected with their atheism, as Burke recognized. A very good book indeed.

    Any of Shakespeare’s plays.

    Sophocles’ Antigone. There are laws higher than the arbitrary will of a ruler that he must obey like other people.

    One could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.

  • http://www.heymiller.com DB

    Ayn Rand opens up people to serious ideas that effect political thought through interesting stories. If you want passionate, thought-out support, I highly recommend suggesting Atlas Shrugged.

  • http://twitter.com/rpbirdwriter R P Bird

    The Hagakure, The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Analects of Confucius, The Histories of Polybius, The Sagas of the Icelanders, and one video game, Bioshock. That’ll get you educated up. If you absolutely have to read fiction, Dune by Frank Herbert.

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