Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Five Best Conservative Books

Over at The Corner there's a discussion of the five best conservative books. The full, pretty listing is here.

FLG's first thought was pretty much summed up by Daniel Foster:
I’m bummed not to see Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France — which has as much to do with why I am a conservative as any other book — on the list

Yuval Levin then explains:
the unusual Burke suggestions on that conservative books list are in part my doing (as I was one of the contributors). My first suggestion was a Burke text, but it was the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs rather than the Reflections on the Revolution in France. This was in part frankly because I figured all the other contributors would suggest the Reflections so I could sneak another Burke choice on the list, yet none did. But in (larger) part it was because we were tasked with listing books that exemplify conservative thought, and the Appeal is in some important ways a more deeply conservative book (and a deeper conservative book) than the Reflections. (Strictly speaking both are pamphlets and not books, but anyway…)

FLG's next thought echoes Jonathan Adler:
I was also surprised to see Mill's On Liberty do so well on the extended list. As far as libertarian works go, it's okay. but I've always found it's thrust more liberal (in a modern sense) than, say, Hayek, Friedman, or even Rand.

In fact, there are very unconservative things in Mill, if you take conservatism to mean long time horizons as FLG does. FLG posted a passage by Mill on this blog that was very unconservative:
The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement, being in unceasing antagonism to that disposition to aim at something better than customary, which is called, according to circumstances, the spirit of liberty, or that of progress or improvement. The spirit of improvement is not always a spirit of liberty, for it may aim at forcing improvements on an unwilling people; and the spirit of liberty, in so far as it resists such attempts, may ally itself locally and temporarily with the opponents of improvement; but the only unfailing and permanent source of improvement is liberty, since by it there are as many possible independent centres of improvement as there are individuals. The progressive principle, however, in either shape, whether as the love of liberty or of improvement, is antagonistic to the sway of Custom, involving at least emancipation from that yoke; and the contest between the two constitutes the chief interest of the history of mankind.

However, in fairness, Mill does offer this useful explanation of what FLG will call tradition rightly understood:
The traditions and customs of other people are, to a certain extent, evidence of what their experience has taught them; presumptive evidence, and as such, have a claim to this deference: but, in the first place, their experience may be too narrow; or they may not have interpreted it rightly. Secondly, their interpretation of experience may be correct but unsuitable to him. Customs are made for customary circumstances, and customary characters: and his circumstances or his character may be uncustomary. Thirdly, though the customs be both good as customs, and suitable to him, yet to conform to custom, merely as custom, does not educate or develop in him any of the qualities which are the distinctive endowment of a human being. The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice. He who does anything because it is the custom, makes no choice. He gains no practice either in discerning or in desiring what is best. The mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used. The faculties are called into no exercise by doing a thing merely because others do it, no more than by believing a thing only because others believe it. If the grounds of an opinion are not conclusive to the person's own reason, his reason cannot be strengthened, but is likely to be weakened by his adopting it: and if the inducements to an act are not such as are consentaneous to his own feelings and character (where affection, or the rights of others are not concerned), it is so much done towards rendering his feelings and character inert and torpid, instead of active and energetic.

This is where FLG worries about the talk radio/Tea Party/Palin & O'Donnell wing of the conservative movement. He worries their mental and moral power have atrophied from disuse. Or, in a sad many cases, never developed in the first place.


Alpheus said...

It's already the Palin/O'Donnell wing?

We're doomed.

George Pal said...

“He [FLG] worries their mental and moral power have atrophied from disuse. Or, in a sad many cases, never developed in the first place.”

Just which wing of which party, as exemplified by which particular stalwarts, does FLG have in mind as exemplars of mental and moral acuity?

Expecting something of the Tea Party/Palin-O’Donnell conservatives that is nowhere else evident in the body politic is like being disappointed pigs don’t fly – just like the cows.

FLG said...


Why, the FLG wing, of course.

Hilarius Bookbinder said...

Of the top ten conservative books, four were written by libertarians (three by F.A. "why I am not a conservative" Hayek), and two by people best describable as liberals. I think that probably tells everything one needs to know about the conservative tradition. (To say nothing of Burke, who would sooner have dropped dead than been called a conservative)

Anonymous said...

Hey FLG - go visit Politico and read an old article about the bearded Marxist who wants to be the next Senator from Delaware:

"An article Democrat Chris Coons wrote for his college newspaper may not go over so well in corporation-friendly Delaware, where he already faces an uphill battle for Vice President Joe Biden’s old Senate seat.

The title? “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.”

In the article, Coons, then 21 years old and about to graduate from Amherst College, chronicled his transformation from a sheltered, conservative-minded college student who had worked for former GOP Delaware Sen. William Roth and had campaigned for Ronald Reagan in 1980 into a cynical young adult who was distrustful of American power and willing to question the American notion of free enterprise.

Coons, the New Castle County executive who is running against GOP Rep. Michael Castle for the state’s open Senate seat, wrote of his political evolution in the May 23, 1985, edition of the Amherst Student.

The source of his conversion, Coons wrote, was a trip to Kenya he took during the spring semester of his junior year—a time away from America, he wrote, that served as a “catalyst” in altering a conservative political outlook that he was growing increasingly uncomfortable with.

“My friends now joke that something about Kenya, maybe the strange diet, or the tropical sun, changed my personality; Africa to them seems a catalytic converter that takes in clean-shaven, clear-thinking Americans and sends back bearded Marxists,” Coons wrote, noting that at one time he had been a “proud founding member of the Amherst College Republicans.”

“[I]t is only too easy to return from Africa glad to be American and smugly thankful for our wealth and freedom,” added Coons. “Instead, Amherst had taught me to question, so in turn I questioned Amherst, and America.”

Dave Hoffman, a Coons campaign spokesman, said the title of the article was designed as a humorous take-off on a joke Coons’s college friends had made about how his time outside the country had affected his outlook.

Hoffman said the trip to Kenya helped lead to Coons’s decision to become a Democrat.

“Chris wrote an article about a transformative experience during his semester in Kenya more than twenty-five years ago,” said Hoffman in a statement to POLITICO. “After witnessing crushing poverty and the consequences of the Reagan Administration’s ‘constructive engagement’ with the South African apartheid regime, he rethought his political views, returned to the America he loved and proudly registered as a Democrat.”


If O'Donnell wins, this will be a truly awesome race.

Mrs. P

George Pal said...


Ah! Would that be the Aristotelian wing or the Reformed Platonist Faction?

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