State of the Union

After Neoliberalism

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The American Conservative’s 2015 Books Symposium

Be sure to check out last year’s installment as well. Happy reading!

 

Catherine Addington

In The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, James C. Scott takes the broad highland swath of Southeast Asia known among academics as “Zomia”—a rugged, mountainous region with a population of 100 million that encompasses parts of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Burma, China, and India, and arguably extends as far west as Afghanistan—as the focal point for a study of state evasion.

The book is a bit overwhelming to a reader unfamiliar with Southeast Asia, and written largely in the deliberately inaccessible manner of highlanders and anthropologists alike, but the skeleton of his thesis comes through provocatively. He argues that the “hill peoples,” as they are known, should not be thought of as “ancestors,” as-of-yet “unreached” by the “civilization” of the valleys, but rather as refugees from the state itself and all the pests thereof: land-grabbing, disease, and conscription. The behaviors that “valley peoples” see as backward—linguistic and geographical isolation, ethnocultural flexibility, intense religiosity, nomadic agricultural patterns—were in fact deliberately developed to resist the “internal colonialism” of state control.

Though Scott is adamant about framing the book as a historical depiction, quickly becoming irrelevant in contemporary geopolitics as states expand even into previously unconquerable Zomia, he perhaps doesn’t see the timeliness of his own argument. Our own foreign-policy debate is all about civilizational narrative: what could ISIS possibly be offering that we aren’t? How can states possibly deal with nonstate actors? Why are there some places we just can’t tame? Scott doesn’t offer answers, but he asks the questions from the opposite side. It’s a welcome change in perspective.

Catherine Addington is an editorial fellow at The American Conservative.

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Andrew J. Bacevich

Biographies are a dime a dozen. Biographies worth reading are hard to come by. Here are three recent ones that received less attention than they deserved—comprehensive, well-written, and, to my mind, gripping accounts that illuminate something more than the life of a particular person. First is The Publisher: Henry R. Luce and the American Century (2010) by Alan Brinkley. Second is The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy (2012) by David Nasaw. Third is Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2014) by Charles Marsh. You don’t have to like Luce or Kennedy to appreciate that they deserve to be ranked among the most consequential Americans of their day, each a larger than life figure leaving an imposing legacy. As for Bonhoeffer, his journey toward eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis bears compelling witness to what it means to be a Christian in an even darker time than our own.

Andrew J. Bacevich is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military Historyis due out in April.

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Bradley J. Birzer

While almost every person under the age of 60 recognizes the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological creations as found in his published writings (which remain among the best selling of all-time best sellers), few realize that this Oxford scholar of Beowulf and all things medieval, this niggler of all Western legends, and this very middle-class husband and father was also an extremely good artist, as well as passable amateur cartographer. Since Tolkien’s death in 1973, five books of his art have appeared, with Hammond and Scull having expertly editing three of them. This most recent, The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, is not only glorious but is also a vital corrective to the cinematic horrors and travesties created by Peter Jackson’s six films. Tolkien, a real master of water colors and fantastic landscapes, fails only in figure drawing. As with his writing style, Tolkien ably matches the style of his art with the subject matter at hand. Hobbiton is ideally agrarian and republican while Mordor is wickedly mechanical and uniform. Most tellingly, however, Tolkien’s art is, somehow, humane.  Even after nearly eight decades, his paintings remain fresh and timeless. Rather than shock as so much modern art does, Tolkien’s art simply invites and welcomes.

Bradley J. Birzer is the author of Russell Kirk: American Conservative and co-founder of The Imaginative Conservative.

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Gene Callahan

“Acedia” is the Latin word for the deadly sin of “sloth.” We often think of sloth as roughly synonymous with “laziness” (thus the animal name), but in his powerful book Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire, R.J. Snell explains that this is only one aspect of how it was traditionally characterized. In fact, in the Christian tradition, acedia often involved a “frenzy of pointless action.” The connection between this traditional understanding and the modern usage is that this frantic activity does, in fact, stem from a form of laziness: being too lazy to hunker down and commit to some full course of action. Monogamy is hard work; it is easier to flit from lover to lover. Reading a great novel is tough going: why not bounce around the cable channels? Even committing to a conversation for 15 minutes seems too much for many of our contemporaries, who cannot resist checking for text messages every 30 seconds.

The cure, Snell argues, is “staying in the cell”: the monk’s phrase for what to do when acedia hits, which is simply to refuse its invitation to dart hither and thither and instead keep one’s constancy of place. The idea bears a striking resemblance to the Zen Buddhist treatment for the same problem, which is to keep sitting through the fidgets. This, and a lot more, from Cormac McCarthy to Charles Taylor to Milan Kundera, is packed into this slim but weighty volume.

Gene Callahan teaches economics and computer science at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and is the author of Oakeshott on Rome and America.

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Marian Kester Coombs

How many books have I never read because continually hearing about them created either a false sense of familiarity or a rebellious resistance? I finally came to open Wilkie Collins’s enduring classic The Woman in White because it was on my shelf in the form of a vintage leather-bound volume inscribed by my ten-year-old mother in 1934; and because I have reached the age of “If not now, when?”

Anyone who reads The Woman in White knows that it is not only a riveting suspense tale, but is formatted in an intriguing, inventive ways—as letters, journal entries, memoirs, legal depositions, and the like, all in distinct voices. The slow revelation of the mystery is delicious. The style is Victorian but not overly so, and virtually every paragraph draws the reader deeper into the maze of the Secret…

The Woman in White is a feminist novel in the sense that most if not all 19th-century novels are: the greatest audience for them was female. In strong female characters the novel does not disappoint. Restive female readers were surely gratified by the valor and virtues displayed by the heroine, Miss Marian Halcombe, in defense of her helpless and outrageously wronged sister Miss Laura Fairlie. (I was also tickled to see my own outmoded name in print for a change.)

“The primary object of a work of fiction should be to tell a story,” wrote Collins. Simple as that.

Marian Kester Coombs writes from Crofton, Maryland.

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Donald Devine

Ronald Reagan was the man of our times. Who says so: how about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primary? Craig Shirley has now written the closing chapter in the Gipper’s consequential life, Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan. Like its subject, the book is a class act. This is Shirley’s third work on the former president’s life, with his Reagan’s Revolution on the 1976 election and Rendezvous With Destiny about the victory in 1980. He knows his subject intimately. While this volume has a note of sadness approaching Reagan’s last years, it also is consoling in that it demonstrates that his legacy will be long-lasting. Shirley is especially good in his clear writing style and no-nonsense storytelling. There are thousands of anecdotes and scores of witticisms. And Reagan is there, cheerful and generous through it all. The section on the funeral is especially difficult to read, but the outpouring of affection reminded me that my own nonpolitical children waited on those long lines at their own initiative. He was truly a transformational president who rescued America from 1970s “malaise” and restored confidence in America and its values. Whether it lasts beyond him is up to us, and this book may be just what is needed to inspire such perseverance.

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution, and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term.

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Rod Dreher

The best book I read all year was Laurus, a remarkable novel by Russian writer Eugene (Evgeny) Vodolazkin, a professional philologist of the Middle Ages. Reminiscent of the work of Umberto Eco and Gabriel García Márquez, Laurus tells the story of an unlikely Orthodox Christian holy man in 15th-century Russia and his adventures, hardships, and triumphs in a time of plague and war. A mysterious sense of sanctity illuminates every page of this novel, but filled with a sense of earthy sensuality, Laurus is far from a neat, pious tale. Depicting goodness in an authentic way is one of the most difficult things for a novelist to do, but Vodolazkin, miraculously, succeeds. It’s a terrific tale, and you emerge from this book with a sense of the world’s re-enchantment and a renewed belief in the holy, in the reality of a transcendent order, in a world grown indifferent to its presence.

Laurus gave me hope. The Divine Comedy gave me my life back. I tell that story in my 2015 book How Dante Can Save Your Life, which grew out of a long series of TAC blog posts. A follow-up to my 2013 memoir The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, this book tells the story of the surprising kinship I found with the medieval Tuscan poet at the lowest point of my life. To my astonishment, Dante’s Divine Comedy turned out to be a life-changing guide to spiritual self-examination, and it led to profound inner healing. How Dante Can Save Your Life is not an academic book but an accessible work of literary self-help, in a Christian vein. Pope Francis has encouraged his flock to read Dante on this Year of Mercy. How Dante Can Save Your Life, if I may say so, is excellent preparation for the divine poet, written by and for non-specialists.

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative.

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Philip Giraldi

I read Being Berlusconi: The Rise & Fall From Cosa Nostra to Bunga Bunga earlier this year in part because I am acquainted with some of the Italian politicians identified in the “rise” part of the book. The author, Michael Day, a British journalist who has been based in Rome and Milan, has produced a lively account of a man who seems to defy all conventional wisdom in his trajectory as a business-tycoon-turned-politician who eventually became something like a caricature of himself. One might reasonably argue that Berlusconi, shaping today’s political landscape for better or worse, has been the most dominant figure in Italian politics since Giulio Andreotti resigned as prime minister in 1992.  

As if peeling an onion, the book works its way through the multiple personalities and complexities inherent in the Berlusconi phenomenon in an entertaining fashion to explain how he got away with it all for as long as he did. But for me the truly most interesting aspect of the book is its relevance to contemporary American politics. I keep thinking of Day’s observations about Berlusconi whenever I read about Donald Trump’s latest antics. Trump is, indeed, the American Berlusconi, artlessly playing on national anxieties in the most outrageous fashion to maintain his political base. Nor is it a mere coincidence that both Trump and Berlusconi are billionaires, as that has provided them with the freedom to thumb their respective noses at conventional politics and politicians, which, in the end, is a large measure of their appeal.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

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Samuel Goldman

Ernst Jünger’s Eumeswil is not a new book. First published in 1977, it received an English translation in 1993. But the German original is inaccessible to most readers, while the translation is expensive and long out of print. This edition makes the masterpiece of Jünger’s later thought available to a wide American audience for the first time.

Jünger’s preoccupation in this period was the “anarch,” or radically free individual. In Jünger’s view, freedom can be sustained only through an act of ironic distancing that combines superficial acceptance of conventional life with spiritual withdrawal. What distinguishes the anarch from the anarchist, Jünger argued, is that the anarchist is really an optimist who believes unfree society can be replaced by a free one. The anarch, by contrast, recognizes that every society is based on constraint and coercion.

Despite its political implications, Eumeswil is not a conventional work of theory. A bildungsroman set in a postapocalyptic future, it blends philosophy, poetry, and natural science in Jünger’s precise but intentionally alienating prose style. Jünger’s main interlocutors—Vico, Nietzsche, Max Stirner, the French Symbolists—belong to European high culture. Readers who come to Eumeswil with knowledge of Anglophone science fiction, however, may notice surprising parallels to Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun

Eumeswil can be read as part of Jünger’s lifelong reflection on his flirtations with radical Right in the 1920s and ‘30s. Although he was never a member of the NSDAP, Jünger’s reactionary nationalism and aestheticized depictions of violence promoted the Nazi seizure of power. Like his 1939 novel On the Marble Cliffs, Eumeswil thus considers issues of collaboration and tyrannicide. Should a free man sacrifice his life to eliminate a dictator? Jünger confronted the question himself as a peripheral member in the Stauffenberg conspiracy against Hitler.

Jünger’s mature conclusion is pessimistic. Personal resistance is futile in comparison to the inexorable forces of history. The anarch is not a revolutionary. He is a pessimist and an aesthete, whose freedom consists in his capacity to imagine himself as a member, not of a better world, but of a different one.

Samuel Goldman is assistant professor of political science at The George Washington University.

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Leon Hadar

Reading about the origins of World War I continued to occupy my time this year, and not only because there have been a stream of excellent histories about the topic since we marked the centenary of the Great War two years ago. My interest in the subject also stems from the recognition that the evolving international system that is becoming more multipolar in nature, and driven in large part by considerations of balance of power, resembles on the one that existed in Europe from much of the 19th century until it crumbled in 1914.

So it may be appropriate that the first sentence in Dominic Lieven’s The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution, which was completed long before the current Ukraine critics exploded, reads: “As much as anything, World War I turned on the fate of Ukraine,” suggesting that notwithstanding changing ideological orientations, Russia and Germany are once again at the center of European and world politics.

Lieven’s study is not a “revisionist” work, but unlike other books on World War I it attempts to place Russia “where it belongs, at the very center” of the war’s history.

In the “fiction” category I recommend Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, which has been reviewed by other TAC editors. I am not sure that the designation “fiction” is appropriate, if one considers that the book that imagines France coming under the rule of Islamists came out before the attack on Charlie Hebdo and was published in English before the more recent ISIS terrorist assaults in Paris.

Leon Hadar is a senior analyst with Wikistrat, a geo-strategic consulting firm, and teaches international relations at the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Alan Jacobs

Beyond any question, the four volumes by Elena Ferrante commonly called the Neapolitan Quartet constituted the most powerful and memorable reading experience I had in 2015. That’s an opinion shared by many, it seems, but I have yet to see a review of, or essay on, the story—and it is a single story: Ferrante herself thinks of it as one novel in four volumes—that captures its depth and richness. Most critics assimilate the story to pre-existing categories: it gets called a portrait of female friendship, an exploration of the costs of a rigidly sexist culture, and the like. But no standard political or social framework is adequate to the subtlety of Ferrante’s portrayal of human lives, both in their day-to-dayness and in extremis; and one character in particular, Raffaella Cerullo, known to the narrator as Lila, a girl and then a woman by turns open and hidden, confident and fearful, brilliant and defeated, generous and cruel, completely evades any attempt at comprehension. (But since that narrator—Elena Greco, or Lenù—reveals Lila to us, and Lila’s life is always entangled with hers, it may be best to say that they make an unforgettable pair.) What, fundamentally, is the story about? Loves that are indistinguishable from hatreds; the compelling power and appalling narrowness of a intensely localized upbringing, and the disruption of both the power and the narrowness by technological modernity; the many paths and meanings of womanhood; the profound corruption of a society clinging to the merest shreds of religious habit when the living force of Christianity has departed. Or: life.

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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Philip Jenkins

When future historians struggle to choose the single dumbest remark to emerge from the lips of Barack Obama, his portrayal of ISIS as “a JV team” must stand at or near the front of a crowded field of candidates. Dealing with that movement, and preventing its jihadi insurgency going global, will be a primary task of the next administration. For that task, the next president will need first class intelligence, and among several good books now available, The ISIS Apocalypse  by William McCants is by far the best. It is based on an exceptional range of primary sources that are otherwise little known, many in Arabic. At every point, the author emerges as an acute and clear-minded analyst, with an enviable historical grasp.

McCants stresses two critical themes that are far too rarely stressed in general discussions. One is the intimate connection between the Islamic State and the mechanisms of the defunct Iraqi Ba’ath state, its military and its intelligence apparatus. The other is the movement’s profoundly religious content. This is grounded not in generic appeals to Qur’anic tradition, but rather to very deep-rooted apocalyptic ideas that can be traced to the early years of the original Caliphate. Those ideas boomed astonishingly during the general collapse of Arab states and societies during the ironically named “Arab Spring.” Reading McCants, you realize just how absurd is any attempt to pretend that this movement is somehow not Islamic, or not even religious.

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels. He is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and serves as co-director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion.

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Daniel McCarthy

The current issue of The American Conservative highlights more than one book that deserves mention in a round-up of the year’s best. Bradley Birzer’s Russell Kirk: American Conservative is the indispensable guide to the life of the man who recovered a genealogy for conservatism amid the ruins of World War II. There are many more sides to Kirk than his most famous work, The Conservative Mind, suggests, however: Birzer uncovers Kirk the early libertarian, influenced by Marcus Aurelius and Albert Jay Nock; Kirk the gothic novelist and writer of short stories, anthologized alongside Stephen King and Ray Bradbury; as well as Kirk the Christian humanist, the disciple of T.S. Eliot who somewhat uneasily shared a soul with Kirk the Goldwaterite. Birzer’s book is for conservatives (and not just conservatives) easily one of the most notable of 2015.

Kirk himself would, I suspect, also take note of another title featured in TAC‘s latest issue, the University of Chicago’s new translation, by Margaret Grave, of Seneca’s Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius (as this edition is styled). I’m cheating a little here because in fact the translation of Seneca’s letters I’ve recently read isn’t Chicago’s but the old Penguin classic by Robin Campbell. Campbell’s is less comprehensive than Grave’s edition, but even a slender volume of the great Roman Stoic’s letters is tonic for the spirit. Seneca was a pre-Christian humanist of sorts—though he counsels his friend Lucilius against drowning in erudition—and he readily draws not only upon the poetry of Vergil but even on the maxims of Epicurus to show that truth can often be found far afield from the authorities of one’s own school of thought. It’s a lesson worth remembering as the furies of another election season approach.

Daniel McCarthy is editor of The American Conservative.

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Scott McConnell

I loved Submission by Michel Houellebecq. I read it in French, early this year, which for me is commitment, 15-20 pages an hour with a dictionary. It provides really shrewd insight into the various mindsets, or facets of them, of contemporary French multiculti liberalism and  reactionary identitarianism. Houellebecq is France’s most important writer, and a kind of reactionary—so quite an accomplishment for a country where it is still unconsciously assumed that art and culture must be of the left. He is acutely conscious of the social weaknesses of the secular liberal society now threatened by Islamic immigration/fertility/devoutness. You can find many people who admire the book debating its political meaning or intent, which is quite a trick for a political novel.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.

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William Ruger

Police tactics and equipment have become salient topics in American politics in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore. Law-enforcement agents today are often armed like soldiers in a war zone rather than peace officers aiming to protect and serve their communities. While recent events have shown the need for special units for special circumstances, SWAT teams are utilized all too often in this country for more pedestrian purposes—not infrequently with bad results for individual liberties and for the police officers trying to do their dangerous job. When the police are over-armed, utilizing vehicles built for war, it separates and alienates officers from individuals in the community. Recently, New Haven police chief Dean Esserman spoke eloquently about this loss of faith and what can be done to fix the problem. As he put it, “you don’t know us anymore. We’ve become strangers in the community.” Given our country’s origins and founding ideals, how did we get here? Why does a town like Johnston, Rhode Island with a population of 30,000 receive millions of dollars in surplus Department of Defense equipment including bayonets?

Radley Balko’s detailed history of the militarization of policing, Rise of the Warrior Cop, is a must-read book that answers these questions and more, and is even more relevant now than when it was published in 2013. And if this topic is of interest, I’d also recommend the new documentary “Peace Officer” which touchingly looks at police militarization through the lens of a former sheriff who started a SWAT team that decades later killed his son-in-law.

William Ruger is the Vice President of Research and Policy at the Charles Koch Institute.  He is also the author of Milton Friedman and co-author of Freedom in the 50 States.

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Timothy Stanley

Peter Longerich’s Goebbels: A Biography smacks of “definitive.” Based upon the propaganda minister’s private diaries, it paints a picture of a narcissist who needed Adolf Hitler to affirm his genius. One could read the relationship as symbolic of fascism as a whole: the father flattered, the nation rallied and the horror came.

Joseph Goebbels was not without talent. Longerich shows how he turned the crude Nazi propaganda machine into something that better reflected the cosmopolitan tastes of the 1930s public, almost Hollywood in elegance. And for all of those who have asked why the Nazis didn’t leave a longer cultural legacy, the answer is partly a failure to launch. In theatre, for instance, the hierarchy found that Nazi-themed works were poorly written and dull—so they stopped commissioning them. The films we remember with a shudder from the Third Reich are Leni Riefenstahl’s documentaries of sweaty men marching with shovels, or else the racist dross of “The Eternal Jew.” But this was also a regime that, at the height of the war, poured money into “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,” which was about as politically radical as the “Police Academy” movies.

Nazism was fanatical and ideological. But the system and its followers often required adaptability to flourish. Longerich shows how Goebbels used the language of Catholicism, socialism, and racism to navigate the ups and downs of a career typically spent on the edge of influence. Ultimately, the Nazi state was a personal one. Goebbels was nearly ruined by an affair that imperilled his marriage to Magda—a woman beloved by the Fuhrer. At the end, however, they were all united in death.

Timothy Stanley is the author of Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration between LA and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics.

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Eve Tushnet

It’s easy to find books that take one side or another on the questions the prevailing culture presents. It’s much harder to find books that challenge the questions themselves, asking us to take up new or neglected questions instead. My friend Wesley Hill has written a slender, heartfelt book that intervenes in our often dispiriting debates over family structure, gay people, “emerging adulthood,” and Christianity, by asking a long-neglected question: what would it look like to shape one’s life around friendship, in a culture which no longer recognizes friends as kin? Could friendship serve as the molecular unit of the church? Could friendship be an arena for sacrifice, care, and sanctification? In Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, Hill takes up these questions with the help of art, literature, a deep knowledge of Scripture, and personal experience. This is a conversation-starter, not a treatise. It isn’t the last word. It’s simply a beautiful and provocative set of essays that will challenge all its readers and inspire many of them.

Eve Tushnet is a TAC contributing editor, blogs at Patheos.com, and is the author of Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, as well as the author of the newly released novel Amends, a satire set during the filming of a reality show about alcohol rehab.

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What to Conserve

This article from the January/February 2016 issue hasn’t yet been published online. For now, it’s just available to subscribers—to read it right away, subscribe here and access the digital edition of the magazine. If you’re already a subscriber, log in here.

Spring Interns Wanted

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The American Conservative is currently accepting applications for a spring editorial internship position. The deadline for applications is Tuesday, November 17 .

Update: the deadline for applications has been extended to Friday, November 20.

Editorial interns gain experience in all aspects of producing the website and print magazine. This internship offers real experience in all the moving parts of a media organization and exposure to both editorial and marketing projects.

Responsibilities include:

  • Preparing pieces for the web, writing headlines, curating images
  • Managing TAC’s presence on social media platforms
  • Contributing headlines and story ideas
  • Proofreading, fact-checking, and editing
  • Blogging for the web and writing for the print magazine
  • Devising strategies for audience development and engagement
  • Helping with event-planning and special projects

Clerical duties, such as answering the phone and handling the mail, are also involved.

All candidates should possess:

  • Eagerness to work tirelessly on a small but ambitious team
  • Superb writing and editing ability
  • Strong communication and organizational skills
  • Love of considered, lengthy journalism as well as an appreciation of horse-race politics
  • Excellent news/culture/opinion judgment
  • A background in intellectual conservatism and keen understanding of The American Conservative’s sensibility

Past experience with a news or opinion publication is preferred, though not required.

Interns will join our team in Washington, D.C., from January through May, and will receive a stipend. We will review applications on a rolling basis, so applicants are encouraged to submit their materials before the final deadline. College students or recent graduates who would like to apply should e-mail their responses as Word document or PDF attachments to intern@theamericanconservative.com no later than November 17.

  • Required: Résumé, cover letter, and a 500 word writing sampleappropriate for our website, offering a fresh perspective, original analysis, and a clear, evidence-based argument. Alternatively, you are welcome to submit a link to a blog post or article you have published elsewhere that would have been well-suited for publication in The American Conservative.

Optional (Pick 2 or 3):

  • Propose three ideas for web articles (1-2 sentences each).
  • What are the two most interesting media accounts you follow on Twitter and why? (100 words max.)
  • How could we improve our coverage and analysis on the web? (100 words max.)
  • How could we improve our fundraising efforts on the web? (100 words max.)
  • Write two Facebook posts and two tweets about articles or blog posts that appear on our homepage today.
  • Which two contemporary writers have influenced your thinking the most? (100 words max.)
  • How would you describe The American Conservative reader? (100 words max.)

We also consider applications submitted through partner organizations—including the Koch Institute, Collegiate Network, and National Journalism Center. We’ll post more information about our summer 2016 internship in the coming months.

Wanted: A Postwar Policy

Michael Hogue
Michael Hogue

Lessons are learned slowly in politics, and nowhere is this more true than in foreign policy. Thus the Democratic Party is poised to nominate for president a woman who as a senator voted for the Iraq War and as secretary of state was responsible in large measure for the disastrous U.S. involvement in Libya. The Republican 2016 aspirants, meanwhile, have figured out that claiming the Iraq War was a success won’t help them win even relatively hawkish GOP primary voters—yet most talk as if new confrontations with Iran, one side or another of the Syrian civil war, Russia, or China present no hazards worth worrying about. They are as gung-ho for the next war as any neoconservative was for the Iraq invasion.

But on the margins are signs that change is indeed coming to American foreign policy, however slowly. Among Hillary Clinton’s challengers in the Democratic contest are a former Republican senator, Lincoln Chafee, who unlike Mrs. Clinton actually voted against the Iraq War; a Vietnam veteran and former Reagan administration secretary of the Navy, Jim Webb, who in 2006 was moved to run for and win a seat in the U.S. Senate by his outrage at the Iraq War; and a sitting senator, Bernie Sanders, who opposed the war when he was in the House of Representatives and has voted against the Patriot Act while serving in each chamber.

That two of these alternatives to Clinton come originally from the Republican Party is an indication of just how dramatically foreign policy can reshape the political landscape, even when conventional wisdom holds that voters simply don’t care about world affairs. The Democratic Party is gaining strength, including from people who were until recently Republicans, because of its relatively less interventionist positioning.

Many Republicans understand this, and one, Sen. Rand Paul, has made an effort to devise an alternative to the foreign policy that has led both the party and the country into hardship. That his attempt has been so far unsuccessful goes to show how slowly political change develops—and how closed a party can be to new ideas, even when they are clearly in its self-interest. (The fact that Paul has tried to appeal to some of the most hawkish elements in the party even as he aims to formulate a new kind of Republican realism has only made matters more difficult for him.) Other 2016 hopefuls in the GOP are stranded in a limbo of ignorance: their advisors are drawn almost entirely from the ranks of neoconservatives and other hawks, and even when the candidates themselves feel that there is something wrong with the words coming out of their mouths, they have no alternative script to turn to.

thisarticleappearsPolicies are the end products of a long chain of manufacture, which typically begins with scholars, writers, and other dealers in ideas. The progressive tilt of academia has always provided Democrats with a deeper and wider reservoir of intellectual talent—whatever itsflaws—than Republicans have had access to. The GOP has depended instead on a handful of foundations, think-tanks, and media outlets that have tended to police one another’s orthodoxy. These institutions were hawkish during the Cold War, and by the time that ended they were too invested in ideological conformity to risk a re-appraisal of U.S. foreign policy. When the Cato Institute opposed the first Gulf War in 1991, conservative movement kingpins such as Steve Forbes and William E. Simon cut funding to the dissident libertarian think-tank.

Realists and relative doves on the right have been doubly pariahs for a long time—rejected by a left-leaning academy and a right whose institutional inertia maintains a Cold War mentality. (And worse, freed of the constraints that superpower competition imposed during the Cold War, much of the right has embraced an unabashedly imperial “exceptionalism.”) But as bankrupt policies impose their costs on politicians as well as taxpayers and soldiers, Republicans and Democrats alike start slowly feeling the need to think anew. Our job is to help them do so.

Watch the Summit on Realism and Restraint

Photo credit: Tim Markatos
Photo credit: Tim Markatos

On November 4, 2015, The American Conservative partnered with The Charles Koch Institute and the Department of Political Science at The George Washington University to produce the Summit on Realism & Restraint: A New Way Forward for American Foreign Policy.

Panelists and speakers discussed conservative alternatives to the interventionist and isolationist camps in Washington, and how a revival of realism and restraint can improve America’s prospects.

If you missed the livestream catch up with the videos linked below, as well as our editors’ livetweet —and be sure to join the discussion on Twitter yourself using the hashtag #newwayforward.

The program for the conference was as follows:

8:30am Welcome
Samuel Goldman, Department of Political Science, George Washington University
Daniel McCarthy, editor, The American Conservative
8:40am Opening Remarks
Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.)

9:00am Conservative Realism and Restraint: What’s the Right Foreign Policy?
moderated by Benjamin Schwarz, national editor, The American Conservative
William Ruger, vice president, The Charles Koch Institute
John Lenczowski, president, Institute of World Politics
Daniel Larison, senior editor, The American Conservative
Kori Schake, research fellow, The Hoover Institution; contributor, Foreign Policy

10:15am Elites and the Public: How Foreign Policy Is Made
moderated by Scott McConnell, founding editor, The American Conservative
Robert W. Merry, contributing editor, The National Interest
Michael Desch, professor of political science, University of Notre Dame
Emma Ashford, visiting research fellow, The Cato Institute
Leon Hadar, senior analyst, Wikistrat

11:30am What Religion Means for U.S. Foreign Policy
moderated by Catherine Addington, editorial fellow, The American Conservative
Damon Linker, senior correspondent, TheWeek.com
Samuel Goldman, assistant professor, George Washington University
Noah Millman, senior editor, The American Conservative
Fr. Thomas Zain, vicar general, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

12:30pm The State and Modern War
moderated by Daniel McCarthy, editor, The American Conservative
Philip Giraldi, executive director, Council for the National Interest
William S. Lind, author, the Maneuver Warfare Handbook
1:15pm Closing Remarks

Follow TAC’s Coverage of the Third GOP Debates

amcon livetweet pic

Tonight, CNBC is hosting two debates for candidates in the Republican 2016 presidential primary.

The 6pm debate includes Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum. The 8pm debate features Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Carly Fiorina.

Our writers and editors will be covering the debates live on Twitter, and reacting on the site afterwards. Daniel Larison previews the debates here and Noah Millman analyzes the current state of the race here. For live coverage and analysis of tonight’s events, keep up with the hashtag #CNBCGOPDebate and follow:

Rod Dreher @RodDreher
Daniel Larison @DanielLarison
Daniel McCarthy @ToryAnarchist
Lewis McCrary @LewisMcCrary
Samuel Goldman @SWGoldman
Gracy Olmstead @GracyOlmstead

As always, we will be curating the conversation @amconmag, and continuing coverage into tomorrow here on the main site. Join us!

Front Porch Republic Takes (Upstate) New York

Our friends at Front Porch Republic will be hosting their fifth annual conference, “Sustainable Localism: Sages, Prophets, and Jesters”, this weekend in Geneseo, New York. TAC‘s own Jeremy Beer will be speaking on Booth Tarkington, while panels are held on sustainable localism, Christopher Lasch, and more. New Urbanism icon James Howard Kunstler will deliver the keynote address. Expect Bill Kauffman to have plenty of appreciation for his backyard to pass around.

Here’s the schedule. Interested potential attendees can register here.

Panel 1:  Prophets, Sages, and Jesters of Sustainable Localism 

Chair:  Mark Mitchell

Jason Peters:  “The Holy Earth and Liberty Hyde Bailey’s Front Porch Cred”

Jeff Polet:  “Laudato Si and Localism”

Jeremy Beer: “Life on Both Sides of the Tracks in Indianapolis: The Non-Intersecting Lives of Booth Tarkington and Oscar Charleston”

Panel 2:    The Life, Thought, and Legacy of Christopher Lasch

Chair:  Russell Arben Fox

Eric Miller   “Putting the Porch in Its Place: Christopher Lasch’s Republican Hope”

Robert Westbrook:  “Death and Dying in a Front Porch Republic”

Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn: “At Home with Nostalgia and the Gravity of Sentiment”

 

Lunch:  College Union Patio or Ballroom

 

Keynote:  James Howard Kunstler “Looking for Sustainability in All the Wrong Places”

 

Panel 3:  Urban Design:  Buffalo As Representative City

Chair:   Jennifer Rogalsky

Catherine Tumber:  “Provincial Cities and Spatial Democracy in the Age of Global Warming”

Tim Tielman: Paleo-urban Principles for the Modern Town”

Panel 4:   In God’s Country

Chair:  Michael Sauter

Bill Kauffman: “Pat and Barber:  An Education in Place and Politics”

Abbot Gerard D’Souza:  “Monastic Stability: In One Place with God and the Brethren”

Follow TAC’s Coverage of the Second GOP Debate

Photo courtesy of Catherine Addington

Tonight, CNN will partner with Salem Communications to host two debates for candidates in the Republican 2016 presidential primary.

The 6pm debate will include Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum. The 8pm debate will feature Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, and Carly Fiorina.

Our writers and editors will be covering the debates live on Twitter, and reacting on the site afterwards. Daniel Larison previews the debates here. For live coverage and analysis of tonight’s events, keep up with the hashtag #GOPDebate and follow:

Rod Dreher @RodDreher
Daniel Larison @DanielLarison
Samuel Goldman @SWGoldman
Jonathan Coppage @JonCoppage
Gracy Olmstead @GracyOlmstead

As always, we will be curating the conversation @amconmag, and continuing coverage into tomorrow here on the main site. Join us!

The One Nation Principle

This article from the September/October issue hasn’t yet been published online. For now, it’s just available to subscribers—to read it right away, subscribe here and access the digital edition of the magazine. If you’re already a subscriber, log in here.

#GOPDebate: Live Coverage and Analysis

Photo courtesy of Catherine Addington
Photo courtesy of Catherine Addington

Tonight, Fox News will partner with Facebook to host two events featuring the 17 Republican presidential candidates: a forum for the seven lowest-polling candidates at 5pm ET, followed by a debate for the ten highest-polling candidates at 9pm ET.

The 5pm forum will feature Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum. The 9pm debate will include Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Scott Walker.

Our writers and editors will be covering the debates live on Twitter. For live coverage and analysis of tonight’s events, keep up with the hashtag #GOPDebate and follow:

Daniel McCarthy @ToryAnarchist
Jonathan Coppage @JonCoppage
Rod Dreher @RodDreher
Daniel Larison @DanielLarison
Samuel Goldman @SWGoldman

As always, we will be curating the conversation @amconmag, and continuing coverage into tomorrow here on the main site. Join us!

A Technical Note

United Airlines, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Wall Street Journal aren’t the only organizations that have encountered technical turbulence lately: on Tuesday an item was incorrectly published on Noah Millman’s blog due to an error in our system. The problem has now been fixed, and we apologize to Noah and to our readers for the mix-up.

You can find Noah’s latest posts here at: The Necessity of Greece’s Separation and Obergefell and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Post a comment

Fall Intern Wanted

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The American Conservative is currently accepting applications for a fall editorial internship position. The deadline for applications is July 22.

Editorial interns gain experience in all aspects of producing the website and print magazine. This internship offers real experience in all the moving parts of a media organization and exposure to both editorial and marketing projects.

Responsibilities include:

  • Preparing pieces for the web, writing headlines, curating images
  • Managing TAC’s presence on social media platforms
  • Contributing headlines and story ideas
  • Proofreading, fact-checking, and editing
  • Blogging for the web and writing for the print magazine
  • Devising strategies for audience development and engagement
  • Helping with event-planning and special projects

Clerical duties, such as answering the phone and handling the mail, are also involved.

All candidates should possess:

  • Eagerness to work tirelessly on a small but ambitious team
  • Superb writing and editing ability
  • Strong communication and organizational skills
  • Love of considered, lengthy journalism as well as an appreciation of horse-race politics
  • Excellent news/culture/opinion judgment
  • A background in intellectual conservatism and keen understanding of The American Conservative’s sensibility

Past experience with a news or opinion publication is preferred, though not required.

Interns will join our team in Washington, D.C., from August through December, and will receive a stipend. We will review applications on a rolling basis, so applicants are encouraged to submit their materials before the final deadline. College students or recent graduates who would like to apply should e-mail their responses as Word document or PDF attachments to intern@theamericanconservative.com no later than July 22.

  • Required: Résumé, cover letter, and a 500 word writing sample appropriate for our website, offering a fresh perspective, original analysis, and a clear, evidence-based argument. Alternatively, you are welcome to submit a link to a blog post or article you have published elsewhere that would have been well-suited for publication in The American Conservative.

Optional (Pick 2 or 3):

  • Propose three ideas for web articles (1-2 sentences each).
  • What are the two most interesting media accounts you follow on Twitter and why? (100 words max.)
  • How could we improve our coverage and analysis on the web? (100 words max.)
  • How could we improve our fundraising efforts on the web? (100 words max.)
  • Write two Facebook posts and two tweets about articles or blog posts that appear on our homepage today.
  • Which two contemporary writers have influenced your thinking the most? (100 words max.)
  • How would you describe The American Conservative reader? (100 words max.)

We also consider applications submitted through partner organizations—including the Koch Institute, Collegiate Network, and National Journalism Center. We’ll post more information about our spring 2016 internship in the coming months.

Personnel Is Policy

Best of TAC: Gay Marriage

Photo: Lasse Kristensen/shutterstock

As the Supreme Court hears arguments on same-sex marriage, consider these classic TAC essays on this polarizing subject:

Justin Raimondo — “The Libertarian Case Against Gay Marriage

Jon Huntsman — “Marriage Equality Is a Conservative Cause

Margaret Liu McConnell — “Less Perfect Unions

Daniel McCarthy — “Why the Right Can’t Win the Gay-Marriage Fight

Noah Millman — “Protecting Religious Freedom Without Invidious Discrimination”

Austin Bramwell — “Pleading the Fourteenth

Andre Archie — “What Same-Sex Marriage Means

Daniel McCarthy — ”Who Defines Marriage?

Rod Dreher — “Sex After Christianity

Noah Millman — “Time’s Arrow and the Marriage Debate”

Daniel McCarthy — “Why Marriage Isn’t About Reproduction Anymore

Samuel Goldman — “Gay Marriage Derangement Syndrome

Two Republican Parties

This article from the May/June issue hasn’t yet been published online. For now, it’s just available to subscribers—to read it right away, subscribe here and access the digital edition of the magazine. If you’re already a subscriber, log in here.

Summer Intern Wanted

TAC logo

The American Conservative is now accepting applications for the summer internship. Join a start-up team dedicated to conservative realism and reform.

Editorial interns gain experience in all aspects of producing the website and print magazine. This internship offers real experience in all the moving parts of a media organization and exposure to both editorial and marketing projects.

Editorial Assistant responsibilities include:

  • Preparing pieces for the web, writing headlines, curating images
  • Contributing headlines and story ideas
  • Proofreading, editing
  • Conducting research
  • Managing TAC’s presence on social media platforms
  • Blogging for the web and writing for the print magazine
  • Devising strategies for audience development and engagement
  • Participating in team meetings

Clerical duties, such as answering the phone and handling the mail, are also involved.

All candidates should possess:

  • Eagerness to work tirelessly in a small but ambitious team
  • Superb writing and editing ability
  • Strong communication and organizational skills
  • Love of considered, lengthy journalism as well as an appreciation of horse-race politics
  • Excellent news/culture/opinion judgment
  • A background in intellectual conservatism and keen understanding of The American Conservative’s sensibility.

Interns will join our team in Washington, D.C., from May through August, and will receive a stipend. College students or recent graduates who would like to apply should compose responses to three of the questions or tasks below and send them, along with a résumé, to intern@theamericanconservative.com by March 13. We will review applications on a rolling basis.

  1. Required: Write a short article (500 words) for our website offering a fresh perspective, original analysis, and a clear, evidence-based argument. Alternatively, you are welcome to submit a link to a blog post or article published elsewhere that would have been well-suited for publication in The American Conservative.
  2. Propose three ideas for web articles (1-2 sentences each).
  3. What are the two most interesting media accounts you follow on Twitter and why? (100 words max.)
  4. How could we improve our coverage and analysis on the web? (100 words max.)
  5. How could we improve our fundraising efforts on the web? (100 words max.)
  6. Write two Facebook posts and two tweets about articles or blog posts that appear on our homepage today.
  7. Which two contemporary writers have influenced your thinking the most? (100 words max.)
  8. How would you describe The American Conservative reader? (100 words max.)

We also consider applications submitted through partner organizations including the Collegiate Network and the National Journalism Center. We’ll post more information about our fall 2015 internship in the coming months.

For those past their own internship years who want to help launch the careers of outstanding young journalists and set the agenda for the next generation, please consider donating to our internship program here.

Follow @amconmag

What a Magazine Is For

Political magazines in the English language have a history of about 300 years. The Spectator, produced by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele between 1711 and 1712, was one of the first and most influential—its name lives on today in the conservative-leaning Spectator published in London continuously since 1828. That slightly junior Spectator is the lineal ancestor of many American periodicals, including on the right Albert Jay Nock’s Freeman of the 1920s; National Review, modeled after the 1950s iteration of the Freeman; and indeed The American Conservative today. The general pattern of the Spectator-inspired magazine has been short items and editorial matter in the front, longer articles in the middle, and reviews at the back.

It’s an enduring format, but more important than the organization inspired by The Spectator has been a public mission dating back to Addison and Steele. Magazines of the sort they founded not only played an indispensible role in fostering a culture of political and literary civility in the century following the English Civil War, they also cried out for civil liberties, fought to establish precedents for free speech, and promoted an intellectual ferment that spilled over to colonial America—and led to revolution. Culture and polemics mingled in the pages of smart, passionate magazines and pamphlets engaged in ongoing argument with one another.

Inevitably, periodicals came to align with political factions. But the original ideal of The Spectator had been disinterestedness and a commitment to a broad public—Addison described his aim as bringing “Philosophy out of closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and in coffee-houses.” And the best political magazines over the next three centuries were never entirely partisan affairs: even when their editorials railed against one party or enthused over another, their back pages and cultural essays appealed to the literate public at large—though, to be sure, literary brawls could be as bruising as political ones. Nevertheless, no good magazine was ever monolithic.

Magazines evolved a dual mission, to be part of the political fray while also representing life apart from politics. Yet lately the role long played by magazines has been displaced by other, more monotonous media—particularly television.  Even the Internet, for all the diversity of views it makes available, has tended to lead politically minded readers to speak and listen only to their fellow combatants in the trenches of ideology. The tradition of independence from partisan fury is not dead, however: having survived three centuries, it will not soon surrender, beleaguered though it may be.

The American Conservative does all it can to resist the tide of expedience and fights for the spirit of the old republic of letters. In these early years of the 21st century this battle is as important as anything in politics per se. Will the tradition of a shared literary and civil culture thrive again, or at least weather the hurricane of modern partisanship? Or will America sink to the boredom, anger, and paranoia of thoroughly politicized media—of Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow reruns without end? The long tradition inaugurated by Addison and Steele is cause for confidence; time is on culture’s side, even if money and numbers are not. 

The American Conservative’s Christmas Reading

 

Jeremy Beer

For me, 2014 was the year of David Bentley Hart. His The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (published in 2013) and Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (published in 2009) are usually regarded, I think, by those who have not read them as entries in the ridiculous “God debate,” but in fact they are creative, penetrating works of theology, and in some ways works of deeply theologically informed cultural criticism.

I also discovered Hart’s The Story of Christianity (2012), which not only offers a splendid precis of 2,000 years of Christian history but also takes Western readers into the reaches of what to many of us (save Daniel Larison) remains the unknown and mysterious Christian East. Along the way, Hart points out that medieval practices of torture, for example, clearly represented retrogression from established Christian tradition, and he readily acknowledges the ambiguous legacy of the institutional church. And did you know that some scholars think Tibetan Buddhism’s rich liturgical practices may derive in part from contact with early Christian communities in the far east? I’m convinced that Hart may be our most important living Christian thinker.

Jeremy Beer is president of the American Ideas Institute.

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Gene Callahan

At the end of the 19th century, idealism was the dominant metaphysical doctrine among philosophy departments in the English-speaking world. It was swept aside by the onset of “realism” in the first decades of the 20th Century, although what the realists attacked was generally a straw-man version of idealism. (The most famous “refutation,” by G.E. Moore, was notoriously bad in this regard.) But with recent philosophy coming around to conclusions drawn by idealists a hundred or more years ago, interest in the school of thought has revived considerably.

The existence of British Idealism: A Guide for the Perplexed is a symptom of that revival. It is as easy-to-read and engaging an introduction to idealist thought as one is likely to encounter. (Disclosure: I did my own Ph.D. under David Boucher, one of the book’s authors, so I am biased.) And it does not limit itself to idealist metaphysics, but discusses the intense interest many idealists had in practical matters of ethics, politics, social progress, imperialism, and war. If you are curious about the philosophical ideas that moved such notable thinkers as T.H. Green, F.H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, R.G. Collingwood, and Michael Oakeshott, this is just the place to begin your explorations.

Gene Callahan teaches economics at SUNY Purchase and is the author of Oakeshott on Rome and America.

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Marian Kester Coombs

For years I have read mostly old books. By the time I tried to join the Conversation, people had written so much wonderful stuff that every day brings me disheartening new glimpses of past wisdom, wit, and unforgettable yet forgotten language. As philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend wrote, “Human beings have always been very intelligent.”

I love the heft and scent of old books, the foxing, the worn gilt, the startling immediacy of marginalia. And there is no electronic finger reaching out remotely to delete or edit anything therein. A recommendation published within the last decade? Not the many books by conservatives; I already read the columns they’re based on, which in turn are preaching to the choir. I could mention IOU: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay by John Lanchester. Yet I’ll wager that Adam Smith explained it all in more lucid and beautiful prose 250 years ago.

Marian Kester Coombs writes from Crofton, Md.

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Rod Dreher

For the past year and a half, the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri has been my preoccupation. I stumbled onto the Comedy, two summers ago, as I was in a dark wood of illness and depression. Because I read it carefully, to mine its secrets, and because I studied books about Dante as I read, it took me about five months to read the whole thing. But the book worked a miracle, helping me untie the knots that bound me to the weights that made me so sick, and giving me a new lease on life.

I have read a stack of books about Dante on this journey, but one of the best ones is the newest one: Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity, by the English scholar Prue Shaw. Published earlier this year, Reading Dante is the fruit of Shaw’s long career as a Dantist, and explores in rich, highly readable prose the great themes of the Comedy. The book serves well as a companion to reading Dante, but also stands alone as a marvelously lucid, even spirited, guide to the meaning and appeal of the first and greatest poem of the modern age.

Be warned: if you read Shaw’s book, your next purchase will be the Divine Comedy, all but guaranteed. To date, Reading Dante is by far the best introduction to Dante for the general reader that I know of; nothing else comes close.

Senior editor Rod Dreher’s next book, How Dante Can Save Your Life, will be published in 2015.

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Scott Galupo

The richly deserved winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan is a combination punch of literary beauty and brute force. Told in nonlinear fashion and from multiple viewpoints, Flanagan’s novel fictionalizes an unrelievedly ugly chapter of the Second World War: the attempt by the Imperial Japanese to construct, using forced labor, a railway between modern-day Myanmar and Thailand. Flanagan’s protagonist, Dorrigo Evans, is an Australian surgeon who becomes the de facto leader of a group of war prisoners enduring starvation and disease as well as torture. On that score, The Narrow Road is a timely reminder that America already has faced, and overcome, an enemy at least as psychotically ideological as, and exponentially more powerful than, al-Qaeda. “To have been part of a Pharaonic slave system that had at its apex a divine sun king led [Dorrigo] to understand unreality as the greatest force in life,” Flanagan writes.

Scott Galupo is a contributing editor to The American Conservative.

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Philip Giraldi

The best popular history with a contemporary message that I have read in the past year is without a doubt William Dalrymple’s Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan 1839-1842. The First Afghan War is frequently cited in the graveyard of empires narrative attached to Afghanistan and rightly so. A British-Indian expeditionary force of 20,000 invaded the country only to find itself in turn besieged in Kabul prior to a horrific winter retreat in which only one Briton, a medical doctor, survived.

Dalrymple starts with the Great Game and local tribal politics in Central Asia and introduces the reader to a colorful and sometimes bizarre cast of characters. The British defense and eventual retreat are compellingly described, the narrative reading more like a novel than a history. Highly recommended, particularly to those who continue to be fascinated by the clueless attempting to govern the ungovernable as it continues to play out in today’s Kabul.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

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Samuel Goldman

The best new book I read this year is actually an old one: The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. Since I’ve devoted many recent days to reading by and about the Puritans for a book project, I’ve been delighted to spend evenings in the company of their weirdest descendant. Although the principal contents of The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft have appeared in many other editions, the thorough annotations by Leslie S. Klinger shed new light on Lovecraft’s imaginary world. Why has no one before compiled a faculty directory for Miskatonic University?

Reading The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft has also given me the chance to think through an issue that has split the science fiction/fantasy/horror community over the last year: Lovecraft’s racism. Without excusing the ugly fear of genetic corruption expressed in both minor stories like “The Horror at Red Hook” (not included in this collection) and more impressive pieces such as “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” I was struck by how little relevance it has to Lovecraft’s very best work. The basic principle of Lovecraft’s horror is the absolute indifference of the cosmos to human plans, concepts, or categories. From the cosmic perspective, differences between black and white, Yankee or immigrant have no more significance than variety among species of cockroaches.

Lovecraft gives this principle a deeply entertaining treatment in At the Mountains of Madness, which describes the discovery of a pre-historic alien civilization in Antarctica. But it receives its most concentrated expression in the “The Colour Out of Space,” which eschews the trappings of the classic adventure story in favor of an essay in pure existential dread. Much more than the octopoid monsters of the Cthulhu mythos, the life-sapping being visible only as a kind of shimmer is a thing that cannot be named, annihilating human distinctions through its very otherness. It is Lovecraft’s greatest achievement.

Samuel Goldman is assistant professor of political science at The George Washington University.

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Paul Gottfried

Although I might have taken this opportunity to plug my study Leo Strauss and the American Conservative Movement, I won’t bother to do so, seeing that Ken McIntyre and Andrew Sullivan have already praised my labor. Rather I would like to call attention to several recently published monographs on the First World War that explode the simplistic view that the Central Powers were exclusively or primarily responsible for that conflagration. The block-buster on the subject, which sets out to document the blunders on both sides, is Christopher Clark’s The Sleep Walkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Harpers, 2014). For its thoroughness, balance and felicitous style, this book can’t be beaten as an investigation of the background of the Great War. I would also suggest the following studies of the still widely ignored Franco-Russian responsibility for the war from which European civilization never recovered, Sean McMeekin’s The Russian Origins of the First World War (Harvard, 2011), Terence Zuber’s The Real German War Plan, 1904-1914 (The History Press, 2012) and Zuber’s better known Inventing the Schlieffen Plan (Oxford University Press, 2002). The most eye-opening revisionist study, detailing the specifically French responsibility for fanning the impending war in the decade before its outbreak, is by a French economic historian, Philippe Simonnot, Non, l’Allemagne n’était pas coupable (Europolis, 1914). Although Simonnot’s documentation is compelling, his study should have been longer, considering the bombshell that he’s dropping. Moreover, in view of the author’s reputation as a popular historian, he could have found a publisher with better distribution.

Paul Gottfried is the author of Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.

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Bonnie Kristian

Rare is the history book that I would recommend for casual reading, but Justo L. Gonzalez’s two volumes of church history, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, more than make the cut. A Methodist theologian who was born in Cuba, Gonzalez masterfully tells an engaging story of the church, weaving together brief biographies and broader analysis of monastic movements, theological controversies, ecclesial power plays, and more. Though writing from a Western perspective, he gives ample attention to the Eastern Church and non-European contexts; and though clearly sympathetic to his subject matter, he never shies from discussing the less illustrious actions of the church. These two volumes provide a much-needed but often little-discussed background for anyone living in the waning shadows of political Christendom.

Bonnie Kristian is a communications consultant for Young Americans for Liberty and a graduate student at Bethel Seminary. Find her at bonniekristian.com and @bonniekristian.

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Daniel Larison

Prof. Barry Posen’s Restraint is a well-researched and persuasive case for the adoption of a new U.S. grand strategy to replace the prevailing approach that Posen dubs “liberal hegemony.” Starting with a review of liberal hegemony’s excesses and failures, he sketches an outline of an alternative that rejects the overreach and ideological ambitions of the last 25 years of U.S. foreign policy. He identifies several of liberal hegemony’s key weaknesses, including the tendency of U.S. support for allies and clients to result in “cheap riding” (relying on U.S. protection and neglecting to provide for their own defense) and “reckless driving” (behaving irresponsibly on the international stage on the assumption that the U.S. will bail them out). More important, he recognizes that the maintenance of hegemony is unsustainable and that it is bound to generate significant resistance on nationalist and religious grounds. All of these impose significant and unnecessary costs on the U.S., and all can be reduced or eliminated through the practice of restraint.

Posen seeks not only to avoid the costs associated with the maintenance of this hegemony, but also to bring U.S. foreign policy back in line with what he regards to be its truly vital and quite limited interests around the world. To that end, he describes how a reduced military with an emphasis on naval power would be sufficient to provide for American and allied security while substantially reducing other U.S. overseas deployments and commitments, especially in Europe and the Near East. The book is intended for a scholarly audience, but at 175 pages of text it is brief and very accessible to the lay reader.

Senior editor Daniel Larison blogs at TheAmericanConservative.com/Larison.

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Leah Libresco

There were two books in 2014 that compelled me to host dinner parties in order to bribe my friends into reading and discussing them with me: Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams and Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith. Jamison’s book is a collection of fantastic essays (read the title one here) that frequently touch on what it means to be embodied. Jamison narrates her experience playing a stand-in patient for doctors learning how to speak to patients, her visit to a conference for patients suffering from an allegedly psychosomatic disease, and being punched in the face.

The Empathy Exams is a great spur to thought and conversation about how we relate to our bodies and those of others. Tushnet’s book could be slotted under the same theme, but the most powerful parts of her book touched on the way we’ve circumscribed all forms of intimacy (not just the physical/romantic ones), restricting them to couplehood and leaving celibate queer people like Tushnet out in the cold. Tushnet’s book is a handbook on ways to offer sacrificial love to others, especially when cultural scripts have failed you.

Leah Libresco is a statistician in Washington, D.C., and a former editorial assistant for TAC. Her first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers that Even I Can Offer will be released in May 2015.

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Daniel McCarthy

A big book of general interest that American Conservative readers ought to pick up before the year’s out is The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke, by David Bromwich. But I won’t say much about it here—I reviewed the book earlier this year for the New York Times, and for a contrasting (but still appreciative) take there’s TAC’s own review by Jonathan Green. It’s a book that shows Burke in often surprising and even counterintuitive lights, which is all the more reason not only to read it but to think about it carefully while re-reading Burke.

My main pitch for now, though, is for Daniel Kelly’s biography of Brent Bozell Jr., Living on Fire (reviewed in TAC here). I was already taken with the book when I browsed the galleys a year ago, and having read it this year my appreciation has only grown. Kelly wrote a masterful biography of James Burnham a decade ago—one of the best books written about any 20th-century conservative thinker—and his Bozell biography is just as good, yet very different. Where the Burnham book delved deeply into its subject’s career and thought, but less so into his personal life, the Bozell book captures the struggle and triumph of the inner man as well as the public one. Bozell was a brilliant Yale undergraduate, a contemporary of William F. Buckley’s and soon his brother-in-law and collaborator on an early book, McCarthy and His Enemies, and on National Review. But Bozell became disillusioned with the conservative movement, even as it then was, in the 1960s, and he looked to Catholic traditionalism, as it could be seen in Spain, for a more than merely political alternative. He launched his own magazine, Triumph, whose takes on the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and America’s broadly liberal traditions differed markedly from those of Buckley’s magazine. The stresses of the time took their toll on Bozell, as did alcoholism and what was at last diagnosed as a bipolar condition. He never lost his family or his faith, but he lost almost everything else, yet he came to an inner peace and outward mission of mercy—serving poor Latin American immigrants and the destitute in Washington, D.C.—that made his life another kind of triumph. Kelly tells it all with great feeling unexpected in such economical prose; but Kelly himself was dying as he wrote the book, and in suffering there was kinship between author and subject.

Daniel McCarthy is the editor of The American Conservative.

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Scott McConnell

The best book I read published this year was John Judis’s Genesis, the story of Truman’s recognition of Israel. Judis clarifies something which long mystified me—how Truman would zig-zag between backing the State Department (which wanted some arrangement acceptable to both Jews and Palestinian Arabs) to backing the Zionists, and then blurting out remarks which to contemporary ears would be anti-Semitic. The answer is that Truman was genuinely suspicious of a religion as the foundation of a state—though he was anxious to resettle Jewish refugees, and desirous of accommodating major Jewish donors to the Democratic Party. But the latter put him in a position he didn’t care for.

Genesis is also an eviscerating indictment of many of America’s most revered liberal intellectuals who were happy to ignore their professed ideals in order to support ethnic cleansing where Palestine was concerned. It is surprising to me how this much-trod-over ground could yield so much fresh insight and material, but Judis managed to pull it off.

And it was not published this year of course, but I greatly enjoyed Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975, edited by Carol Brightman. It is sad thing to recognize that books like this soon won’t be published anymore: e-mail changes letter-writing, renders this sort of careful correspondence, with letters worked at for days and weeks, obsolete. And when they are written, they are less apt to be gathered and saved, and their authors are likely both more superficial and cautious, knowing how easily one’s intimate thoughts can be shared, or hacked in the digital age.

The two gals are full of gossip and casual, penetrating political insights—on several occasions I was moved to snap a picture of a page with my iPhone and send it to friends far and wide. (Not surprisingly, Hannah’s insights more than Mary’s). If you are interested in the postwar intellectual life of the West at all, there are few more entertaining vantage points.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.

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Noah Millman

Opinion journals have sought to change the world in various ways, but sometimes the point is to escape it. If you’re of that mind, may I recommend Cary Elwes’s As You Wish, his memoir of the making of the film, “The Princess Bride.”

The book would be worth reading if only to recall to mind the delights of the film, and to deepen your appreciation for them by giving the reader a bit of back-story on how they came to be. But the book offers a more general gift to the reader.

First, “The Princess Bride” is cited so often as a “classic” that we may forget how strange a movie it really is—particularly in terms of tone. It’s not a straightforward swashbuckler. It’s not a spoof. And it’s not winking, “Shrek”-style smart-aleckism. Like J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” it is deeply in love with the very tropes that, on another level, it looks back on from a very mature and even sad place.

Elwes’s book will remind you of this strangeness, over and over, so you understand what an exceptional achievement “The Princess Bride” is. This unique tone is the reason the film sat stuck in development hell for so many years, and it’s the reason the film was a flop theatrically—the studio had no idea how to market it. But it’s also a key reason why the film was such a huge sleeper hit, and why it remains so beloved by so many.

And the book itself has a very special tone, similarly still in love with an experience that isn’t exactly innocence but may be as close as one can get this side of fairy tales. Elwes has written a rare behind-the-scenes account of the creation of a film that is uniformly generous to everyone involved in the production without ever seeming like he is engaged in flattery or back-scratching. Rather, he comes off as a ridiculously nice guy who genuinely likes other people, all kinds of other people, if at all possible—and who also has a bunch of great anecdotes to tell.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours curled up in front of the fire with a guy like that?

Senior editor Noah Millman blogs at TheAmericanConservative.com/Millman.

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Gracy Olmstead

Julian Baggini’s book The Virtues of the Table excellently considers how we ought to buy, prepare, and eat our food. Baggini is an atheist, but this book presents a very thoughtful Aristotelian argument for gastronomic virtue. Each chapter includes anecdotal and analytical arguments for such virtues as humility, compassion, moderation, gratitude, and technophronesis. In a world that tends toward habits of excess or defect in eating—be it going on a juicing cleanse or eating takeout for every meal—Baggini presents a refreshingly balanced and appropriately skeptical examination of the habits of our tables. The book has already affected the way I buy, prepare, and eat my food, and has reminded me to perform each of these actions with greater gratefulness and conviviality.

Gracy Olmstead is an associate editor of The American Conservative.

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James Pinkerton

I learned a lot from Karen M. Masterson’s The Malaria Project: The U.S. Government’s Secret Mission to Find a Malaria Cure. Masterson focuses on the World War II era; in that conflict, virtually all the combatant countries had to fight malaria, as well as each other. We naturally associate malaria, of course, with tropical regions, but it was also a big problem in Europe—tens of thousands of soldiers, Allied and Axis alike, came down with the debilitating, even killing, disease in Italy, Greece, and other Southern Mediterranean countries.

Masterson’s emphasis, however, is on the U.S. She reminds us of the good work done by the Rockefeller Foundation, which early in the 20th century recognized that malaria was a major impediment to the economic development of the American South. And she revives the memory of such important malaria fighters as Lowell Coggeshall, Samuel T. Darling, and Paul Russell. The US achieved only a partial victory against malaria in World War II; indeed, in some parts of the world, the disease is still a killer. But in the purposeful scientific efforts that Masterson chronicles, we see at least the hope that malaria can someday be eradicated.

James P. Pinkerton is a contributor to the Fox News Channel and a TAC contributing editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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William Ruger

Adam Smith is most well known today as the author of The Wealth of Nations, the father of economics, and a champion of capitalism. However, Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments is arguably his best and deepest work. And those with the courage to immerse themselves in this dense text will be more richly rewarded than Smith’s poor man’s son thought he would be by all his “toil and anxiety.” As a realist who appreciates the world as it is, though, I know few will find the time and tranquility perhaps necessary to fully explore this long work.

Thankfully—and I say this with some trepidation as someone sympathetic to the great books approach—Russ Roberts has produced an excellent, readable book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness, boiling down Smith’s views on human nature, how individuals can truly flourish, and how they can make the world a better place. As he showed in his videos on the economic debate between Hayek and Keynes, Roberts is a skilled popularizer of sophisticated ideas. He doesn’t disappoint. I recommend this book for those who want an easily digested taste of Smith with a robust intellectual aftertaste. For those who want the whole gourmet meal and are willing to invest the time and thought to eat it, I hope they’ll consider sitting down with Smith’s TMS itself as well as James Otteson’s 2002 primer on Smith’s thought: Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life.

William Ruger is the vice president of research and policy at the Charles Koch Institute. He is also the author of Milton Friedman and co-author of Freedom in the 50 States.

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Gerald J. Russello

The past, as someone once said, is a foreign country. So it is important for conservatives, and others interested in our cultural history, to remind ourselves of our past. The Last Trojan Hero: A Cultural History of Virgil’s Aeneid by Philip Hardie does just that.

One hears offhanded remarks about how important Latin was to the West, or the literary centrality of the Roman poet Virgil. But those references usually progress little further than the Catholic liturgy and Dante. But as Hardie, an eminent classicist, shows in an act of remarkable cultural retrieval, Europe (and, before the invasion of Islam, North Africa as well) was awash in Latin, and its foremost poet, Virgil, was its dominant figure. His poem of Rome’s founding was so influential that monarchs were composing genealogies to Aeneas well past the middle ages, and epics and visual works on all subjects across the continent were composed in his style or invoking his poetic images. Indeed a style of poetry (the cento) developed that was composed of retrieved bits of his verse to form a new artifact (including religious ones). Understanding Virgil goes a long way to understanding ourselves. Well worth dipping into.

Gerald J. Russello is editor of The University Bookman.

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Benjamin Schwarz

I’d read the cuboid book (848 pages) The Making of the English Working Class, by E.P. Thompson, in college, but in the way that undergraduates too often read—too rapidly, for the purpose of regurgitating arguments in a seminar and to root out facts to deploy in a term paper. Revisiting it now for no particular reason, the book has given me the most exhilarating experience of my reading life this year. Thompson—English patriot (he fought his way up Italy in a tank unit), former Communist, political activist, rigorous historian—chronicled how between 1780 and 1832 the culture, traditions, and economy of artisans, small producers, tradesmen, and the yeomanry gave way to wage labor, the factory system, and mass industrialization.

By dexterously mining sources that had gone untouched since they’d been interred in the archives, Thompson summoned up the causes, arguments, and stratagems of a nearly wholly forgotten political culture. He revealed how that conservative political culture came to realize that industrial capitalism was uprooting communities, devaluing purposeful work, corroding family life, and concentrating wealth, resources, and production into what William Cobbett (Tory Anarchist par excellence and in some ways the literary hero of the book) called “great heaps”—a process that created “but two classes of men, masters and abject dependents.” Lost were the traditional values of liberty, independence, and individualism—and the open, confident, and generous approach to life those values engender. Won was a steely and resilient class consciousness, reconciled to the new order, but which would fight heroically, albeit in a stunted way, to humanize that new order.

Steeped in English literature—see the constant, apposite, and often starling allusions to Bunyan and Byron, Defoe and the Bible—Thompson wrote powerfully, concretely, plangently, with an exquisite sense of cadence and rhythm. That style deepens this elegiac book, elevating it to a masterpiece of literature as well as of scholarship. This is a work, Thompson unabashedly makes clear, about history’s losers, and in its embrace of the losers, as well as in other ways, The Making of the English Working Class is a profoundly anti-progressive book. Its protagonists’ values and their 50-year struggle to resist being turned into a proletariat may have seemed merely primitive and retrograde to strident Marxists (and may seem so to progressives of all stripes today), but Thompson’s historical imagination and sympathy allowed him to see the value, and the tragedy, of lost causes:

I am seeking to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan…from the enormous condescension of posterity. Their crafts and traditions may have been dying. Their hostility to the new industrialism may have been backward-looking. Their communitarian ideals may have been fantasies. Their insurrectionary conspiracies may have been foolhardy. But they lived through these times of acute social disturbance, and we did not. Their aspirations were valid in terms of their own experience; and, if they were casualties of history, they remain, condemned in their own lives, as casualties. Our only criterion of judgement should not be whether or not a man’s actions are justified in the light of subsequent evolution. After all, we are not at the end of social evolution ourselves. In some of the lost causes of the people of the Industrial Revolution we may discover insights into social evils which we have yet to cure.

Benjamin Schwarz is national editor of The American Conservative.

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Eve Tushnet

Whenever I tell people they’ve got to read Kathy Shaidle’s 1998 poetry collection, Lobotomy Magnificat, the ones who recognize the name say, “I didn’t know she wrote poetry.” Shaidle is better known as a vitriolic right-wing Canadian blogger (I haven’t been able to read her site for a while; life’s too short) whose blog title, Five Feet of Fury, is truth in advertising.

So her younger self’s poems will come as a surprise: splintery, compassionate, and imagistic snapshots of celebrities, criminals, or artsy Catholic heroes like Flannery O’Connor. Here’s how Shaidle describes a rainstorm: “Skin’s prayed wet rosaries all day”—and you can see and feel them, the bead-sized dappling drops. Her work is allusive, rhythmic, and rich in spiritual insight. (Her compressed phrase, “those God-tossed well-coins/you call saints,” says more about abandonment to divine providence than a year of homilies.) It’s attuned to the spiritual lives of humiliated people, especially humiliated women: institutionalized, incarcerated, guilty, or shamed.

I admit I have a self-aggrandizing fantasy that my periodic reminders of the greatness of Shaidle’s poetry might somehow herd her back to her gentler muse. But she’s also the best contemporary poet I’ve read, and she deserves to be known for what she does best.

Eve Tushnet is a TAC contributing editor, blogs at Patheos.com, and is the author of the recently-released book Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith.

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Matthew Walther

When Dan asked me to suggest one or two Christmas books for readers of this magazine, I immediately thought of Auberon Waugh, the journalist and eldest son of Evelyn, who was once asked to contribute to a similar symposium put on by the American Spectator. Waugh suggested that we Americans, who “have an awful lot of catching up to do,” should “start with the Bible and move on to Shakespeare before tackling Joyce and Milan Kundera.”

Try as I might, I cannot think of a funnier response than Auberon’s, so I’ll just say that the two best new books I read this year were The Good Spy, Kai Bird’s moving, brilliantly written biography of the martyred CIA Arabist Robert Ames, and Oxford University Press’s new selection of Hugh Trevor-Roper’s witty and kind letters, the publication of which bears out Maurice Cowling’s prediction—doubtless delivered with a sneer, but even so—that they would come to be recognized as “one of the wonders of the age.” These two were among the many books I reviewed for money this year; as a private citizen, much of my reading has been given over, as it always is, to P.G. Wodehouse, to whom the best introduction remains Right Ho, Jeeves. Another, more rarified pleasure has been spending a good deal of time with Wittgenstein, whose work is the antidote to scientism, utilitarianism, natural theology, and many other evils. Festively speaking, I spent St. Stephen’s Day 2013 drinking Hendrick’s gin and re-reading The Way We Live Now, the best of Trollope’s standalone novels: this year, I think, it will be Beefeater and Middlemarch.

Matthew Walther, formerly assistant editor of the American Spectator, has written for The Spectator of London, First Things, the Weekly Standard, and other publications.

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The Hawk-Dove Cycle

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