Monday, 11 November 2013

WWII and the early years of the Cold War produced a slew of classic libertarian, conservative and right-wing books

I’ve spent the last week reading a trio of recent books all of which rail against liberal fascism: Melanie Phillips’s Guardian Angel, John Derbyshire’s From the Dissident Right and John Marsh’s The Liberal Delusion: The Roots of our Current Moral Crisis. They’re all fascinating and spot on – but none of them is ground-breaking: the three authors are part of a fairly widespread Anglosphere movement which has for years been questioning vigorously western governments’ current policies on race, immigration, crime, education etc., whose baneful effects are screamingly obvious to anyone who isn’t part of the left-liberal hive mind.

I’m not saying that these three books aren’t full of fascinating insights and important truths (they are): or that the writers haven't shown courage in expressing their politically incorrect views - Melanie Phillips and John Derbyshire have both been vilified and shunned for refusing to kow-tow to the particularly pestilential strain of cultural Marxism which is poisoning Western democracies. It’s just that they’re not saying anything startlingly new: in fact, many of their views were expressed in books published during the Second World War and its aftermath.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the war seems to have unleashed a flood of conservative, right-wing and libertarian thinking. While most in the free world knew what they were fighting against, others were trying to express what they were fighting for. Many themes connect most of the authors on my list, including their rejection of collectivism and equalitarianism, and their lack of enthusiasm for the formation of an elite caste of expert social engineers tasked with creating a new, better version of homo sapiens. On the whole, these writers believed in working with the grain of human nature, rather than against it. The other thing they all had in common was that the views they were expressing must have seemed startlingly original - even heretical - to their readers at the time, and ( given the reality of, first, the world war, and then the threat of nuclear oblivion) counter-intuitive. Obviously, they’ve all contributed in some way to the various current strands of thinking on the right – even Orwell, who, although deeply conservative socially, was as wrongheaded about economics as the average Occupy protester.

Here - in order of publication date - is my list:

The God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson (1943)
One of modern libertarianism’s founding texts

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (1943)
Anti-collectivist, “man’s gotta do” anti-groupthink classic

The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek (1944)
Free market = human freedom

The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (1945)
Why the deliberate suppression of information feedback loops means that all totalitarian systems are doomed to implode

Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
Anti-communist classic (to this day, some idiots on the left maintain it's an attack on the traditional ruling class!)

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945)
An elegy to a traditional world destroyed by war and egalitarianism

Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver (1948)
Why the West’s embrace of moral relativism will destroy it

1984 by George Orwell (1949)
Totalitarianism destroys the past in order to create a new, obedient version of humanity

God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley Jr (1951)
An early blast against the liberal fascists of academia

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt (1951)
Communism and fascism are the same animal (the left didn’t like that idea one bit)

Witness by Whittaker Chambers (1952)
How a former communist spy saw the light (and has been dismissed ever since by the left for telling the truth - they prefer the traitor, Alger Hiss, against whom Chambers testified)

The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk (1953)
Masterly overview of the history of conservative thinking from Burke to the present -often credited with reviving true conservatism in post-way America

Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss (1953)
Blast against historicist relativism

I won't pretend to have read all of the above: Ayn Rand has always defeated me, Witness is on order, and Leo Strauss is next on the list. And while the lush nostalgia of Brideshead is seductive, the lost world of fey young men clutching teddy-bears while mincing around vast country-houses feeling ever so sorry for themselves doesn't appeal to me in the least - but all the others on the list have influenced what passes for my thinking. I have no idea what sort of masturbatory nonsense a smiliar list of left-liberal "classics" would contain - but it's a relief to know I'll never have to read any of it.


  1. The problem with Rand is she always ends with a celebration of the ego....if that's the big conclusion it's nonsense. I liked Anthem...but, it's a perfect example of the problem.

    I've got a swank little first edition of God And Man at Yale....thank you Martha.

    Witness is great piece of confessional literature. The episode that sticks ready in my mind is the passage where he describes how pondering his daughter's ear is what brought him to a belief in God.

    Kirk is good. Hayek too.

    Orwell, especially his essays and nonfiction from this period are outstanding. Road to Wigan Pier...Homage to Catalonia...

    Good list.

  2. "Witness" arrived today - it's big: that might be me out of action for a while!

    I'm a huge fan of Orwell - just a pity that, in rejecting his privileged background, he went too far the other way and somehow managed to convince himself that "experts" could run an economy. An extremely wise man, apart from that.