Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Conservatism, and the Bookshelf of the Future

By "conservatism," for example, we do not mean what is meant by the word in the contemporary United States: a blend of American patriotism, evangelical religion and free-enterprise values.

--J.G.A. Pocock, introduction to Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France

... Compared to Russell Kirk's definition, for instance, Pocock's has superior plausibility.

I've also picked up Schuettinger's volume of readings in The Conservative Tradition in European Thought (thanks again, CJ Colucci), which annoying reprints snippets of Burke without being particular as to whence they came. Scheuttinger introduces the book with his own five-point definition. Divinely-inspired morality, variety of social forms, and limits of reason overlap Kirk's (1), (5), and (6); Scheuttinger also praises tradition (Kirk's # 3), as a means to "order and stability," and aiming at "the good life, not just life itself," which means placing "honor and duty" before "personal indulgence."

Desultory reading in the first half of the anthology reminds me of a heritage that conservative thought takes from Burke: it's written in opposition to revolutionary change, often quasi-imaginary revolution. "Socialism" for more recent authors plays the role of the French Jacobins. This accounts somewhat for the polemical quality I'd noted in conservative though. It also raises the issue of that thought's utility. Revolutionary socialism was indeed a credible danger in part of the 20th century, and the selection from Jewkes, for instance, has the unusual virtue of actual citations to opponents and empirical facts; but the question today seems to be what kind of capitalist state to have, not whether to replace it with socialism.

So, I hope to read further in conservative thought; but there is so much else to read! Glancing over the bookcases, I see 30 books itching to be read or, less bad, finished (indicated below with a +): 21 nonfiction,

  • Nabokov, Speak, Memory +

  • Fukuyama, End of History & the Last Man

  • Kennedy, Rise & Fall of the Great Powers +

  • Finkel, Osman's Dream +

  • Jenkins, Asquith

  • Hegel, Outlines of the Philosophy of Right +

  • Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

  • Taylor, Sources of the Self

  • Roberts, Salisbury

  • Kendall, Louis XI +

  • Gibbon, Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire +

  • Mommsen, Provinces of the Roman Empire

  • Fox, Pagans & Christians

  • Benn, China's Golden Age

  • Heer, The Holy Roman Empire

  • Churchill, Marlborough

  • Rounding, Catherine the Great

  • Freida, Catherine de Medici

  • Bosworth, Mussolini's Italy

  • Beschloss, Crisis Years

  • Friedman, History of American Law

  • and 9 novels:

  • The Names

  • If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

  • Empire of the Sun

  • The Master & Margarita +

  • Oblomov

  • The Solitudes (Aegypt vol. 1)

  • The Death of Virgil +

  • J R

  • The Easter Parade

  • I am taking a semiserious resolution to buy no more books until these have succumbed.

    (Oh, and how did I forget Schroeder, Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848? ... Freeman on Rawls? Wolfe on The Future of Liberalism?)

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