So far I’ve mentioned two New Year’s Resolutions: my main one, phrased as the question “Why deny myself the pleasure?” about not letting small annoyances spoil my enjoyment, and my desire to read more books in the place of online articles. In pursuit of that second resolution I’ve gotten s little over a quarter of the way through The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left by Yuval Levin, a serious, serious conservative intellectual who writes for National Review sometimes and who made an appearance on Jonah Goldberg’s podcast “The Remnant” recently. (I think I’ve just broken my own record for the number of links in a paragraph. Feel free to ignore them, but I would, as a sidenote, recommend the podcast. Be aware that Jonah does a fair amount of umming and what I can only describe as giggling, which can get a little annoying. I’ll be sharing more insights and books from his program; once you get past his mannerisms he’s very worthwhile.)
Hurry up, folks, and see Darkest Hour, the new film about the earliest days of Winston Churchill’s leadership of Britain as Prime Minister, before it leaves the theaters! (It should still be showing through the end of the year at independent theaters; we saw it last night at one such place. If you live in the Denver area you can see it there: the Chez Artiste Theater near Colorado Boulevard and Evans Avenue. After the movie you can just walk over to the India Oven Restaurant for a wonderful meal.) If you don’t see it in time, buy Darkest Hour.
I wanted to see the film because of Gary Oldman’s performance, and it’s well worth seeing just for that reason and for the rest of the cast. (Downton Abbey fans will recognize the actress who plays Churchill’s secretary: it’s Rose! But with dark hair.)
How the Right Lost Its Mind by Charlie Sykes, 2017, available in hardback and Kindle fomats.
This book is the third one I’ve read since last fall about our current political landscape. I wrote a post about the first one, Matt K. Lewis’s Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (and How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots), in August of last year and have since read Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Sen. Jeff Flake. Both are excellent, both cover roughly the same territory, and now I’m adding this one to the list. I think that’ll do it for now.
I ran out of books to read while we were on vacation, and since I didn’t have a phone or a laptop I had to make do with, like, actual printed books. We visited a great bookstore in Durham, NC, on our final weekend of the trip and this book was available at a reduced price. I’d seen references to it before and thought it would be an informative read, so I went ahead and grabbed it.
You might think that a book about the leadup to 9/11 would be a little stale and irrelevant, but you’d be wrong. I think of myself as being fairly well-informed about actual Islamic terrorism and its roots, values, and goals, but this book clarified those aspects of this threat. In addition, the book makes the main players so fascinating and human that you come away with a new understanding of how this whole horrible tragedy was brought about, both by its planners and executors and also by the failure of many in various law enforcement agencies to follow some obvious clues.
Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped by Garry Kasparov, available in several formats and multiple outlets. Visit the author’s website at www.kasparov.com/.
Not exactly a happy book! I’m cross-posting this from my “Personal and Political” blog as my book of the week. But no one can be truly happy in a fool’s paradise. If I could, I would require that every single US citizen sit down and read at least the introduction to this definitive book, written by former world champion chess player and now political activist Garry Kasparov. I would also require listening to this episode of Slate’s ”Trumpcast” in which Kasparov is interviewed about his opinions regarding Donald Trump. As he says, “I hate to say ‘I told you so.’” And his perspective on the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State is indeed frightening. (I know I keep using that word in my political posts, but I don’t know what other word to use. “Disturbing” is too mild.)
Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Change by Jonah Goldberg, available on Amazon and other outlets in several formats, originally published in 2008.
Witness: A True Story of Soviet Spies in America and the Trial that Captivated the Nation by Whittaker Chambers, available on Amazon and other outlets in several formats, originally published in 1952.
First of all, let me say that I think the words “secret history” should be banned from all written communications whatsoever, if for no other reason than they are a reminder of the terrible Dinesh D’Souza movie. And in the case of Goldberg’s book (written well before the DDM came out) the words don’t really apply to his subject anyway. I’m a little surprised that a writer of as much wit and precision as Goldberg would use such a sloppy term. He should have called it “The Little-Known History” or perhaps “The History That People Too Lazy to Read History Missed Out On.” But maybe that’s a little clunky?
Anyway, I have to be honest here: I didn’t finish listening to the audiobook; I bogged down about one-fourth of the way through, when Goldberg said something along the lines that “Although FDR had fascistic ideas, he himself was not a fascist.” I just tried to find that line in the online version of the book and gave up, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Although I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks (my current one is the George Tenet memoir; look for that one soon), they work best when the book has a narrative spine. While Goldberg does start with Woodrow Wilson and World War I and moves on to the present day, his organizing principle is philosophical rather than historical. The book is very dense, and many of his ideas are so complicated that you have to go back and re-read them. Trying to re-listen to a section on audio can be very frustrating. But I’m not promoting a book that I haven’t finished, because I realized quite early on that I had indeed read it back when if first came out, but I remembered the title as The Happy Fascist. You can see from the cover art why that would be. I found it to be fascinating then and remember discussing it with my husband. So if you like challenging ideas that force you to re-think preconceived notions, I would say to get the print or digital version and go with that.
But perhaps you’d like something with a little more of a personal touch. Then I’d recommend the Chambers book. I was very much reminded of this one while struggling through Goldberg’s. Why? Because both men present the idea that it’s a mistake to talk about the “right” and the “left” in political philosophy. (Did you know, by the way, that those terms are completely accidental? They stem from the seating arrangement of the National Assembly in France at the time of the French Revolution; those in support of the king sat on the speaker’s right and those in favor of revolution sat on his left. These divisions continued and became entrenched in the language of politics.) It’s more correct to think of political and philosophical positions as a circle. As you move away from classic liberalism and true democratic ideals you’re going down either side of a circle that meets at the bottom; whether it’s socialism shading into communism into Bolshevism or authoritarianism shading into totalitarianism, the end result is the same: the elimination of personal freedom and the total control of the government in every area of life. I remember trying to explain this concept to my American history class at the time I read Witness, but I wasn’t very successful. My students were looking at each other and muttering, “What’s she talking about?”
Whittaker Chambers joined the American Communist Party as a young man and participated in some espionage activities during the 1930’s. He became a Christian, broke with the party, and ended up accusing a number of US government officials, including Alger Hiss in the State Department, of feeding him information. The Hiss case has been hotly debated ever since, although documents that surfaced during the early 2000’s showed Hiss was almost certainly guilty. Chambers could have kept his mouth shut and avoided all the controversy, but as he saw world events in 1939 he felt that he had to speak up. My most vivid recollections of the book (I read it 30 years ago) is of Chambers leading FBI agents to a stash of papers hidden in a field inside, of all things, a pumpkin. How the papers weren’t all mildewed is beyond me; maybe they were. And then, either in that stash or another, there were some microfilmed items showing Hiss’s involvement. But no, officials said, Chambers’ story couldn’t be true, because that type of film wasn’t being manufactured at the time of the documents. Chambers had to have faked them. Chambers said when confronted with this evidence, “God has deserted me.” But then it turned out that Kodak had indeed made that film for a short time that fit in with the dates of the documents.
As I’m sitting here writing about this book I read so long ago and being reminded of how powerfully it affected me, I’ve decided that I’ll give it another shot, this time on audio. It’s available through Hoopla, I’ve just discovered. So I’ve added it to my account. After I finish the Tenet book I’ll go on to this one and report back. It’s not quite as long as the Trollope book I reviewed last week; that one is 34 hours, this one is only 30. And I’m reading in physical form the book on the Benghazi attacks, 13 Hours, in my efforts to pull together a coherent narrative of what actually happened to bring about that tragedy and its aftermath. So I have plenty to keep me occupied, even without all of my podcasts and my reading about the election. (Be sure to migrate over to Intentional Conservative if you’re interested in my ideas about this totally bonkers election season.)
What’s occupying your mind these days?
Read this book! Although focused primarily on political matters, I’m including it here as well as on the “personal and political” page because 1) it’s the main work I read last week, and 2) whip-smart writing is always a happy thing to read, no matter your political persuasion.
Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections (And How It Can Reclaim Its Conservative Roots) and/or How the GOP Went from the Party of Reagan to the Party of Trump by Matt K. Lewis, Hachette Books, 2016. Visit the author’s website (and access a great selection of podcasts) at MattKLewis.com.
“The only person I can change is myself.”
Here I sit, having wasted hours of my time reading about the election campaign. I haven’t done a very good job of managing myself today, so maybe I can at least get a blogpost out of my self-indulgence.
Without at all getting into the weeds of the actual politics (that’s for my Personal and Political page), I’ll say that it’s absolutely fascinating to watch the campaigns play out with all their many moving parts. You may recall that the books I recommended from a couple of weeks ago were by Mary Matalin and George Carville, with the earlier one, Love and War, being about the 1992 election, during which Matalin and Carville met and fell in love. Just one little problem: they were working on opposite sides, Matalin for the re-election of George H. W. Bush, Carville for Bill Clinton. On election night James calls Mary (I’ll call them that since this is a personal part of the story) and she says to him, “I cannot believe you could live on this earth and know that you were responsible for electing a slime, a scum, a philandering, pot-smoking, draft-dodging pig of a man . . . You make me sick. I hate your guts.” After she cusses him out (she doesn’t quote that part), she hangs up. As she says, “I don’t remember him saying anything.” (And they got married–and still are to this day! Miracles do happen.)
Yet another NPR-publicized book. If you’re of a certain age, the name “Gary Hart” conjures up one image, and one image only: of the smiling, mop-haired man in a “Monkey Business Crew” t-shirt with the beautiful woman on his lap. And that’s it. When that one picture hit the papers it was all over for a man who at that point was virtually a shoo-in to be the Democratic nominee for President in 1987. Nothing else mattered. He pretty much disappeared from political life.
However much you (and I) may deplore adultery (and whatever may have ultimately happened between Hart and Donna Rice, there was no doubt that he had had numerous affairs during his long but troubled marriage), it is fair to point out that with this one incident the rules of engagement between the press and political candidates changed.