- The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President—and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time, by Byron York
It seems that whenever two or more kooks gathered to plot the overthrow of George W. Bush in 2004, National Review's Byron York was there. The fruit of his year-long purgatory is this engaging and lively tale of how a Hungarian immigrant spent piles and piles and piles of money to finance new and exciting—indeed, cutting-edge—ways for angry fringe activists to pat each other on the back on the way to losing an election. From the insular echo-chamber of the internet, to the creation of "527" advocacy groups (courtesy of unconstitutional campaign-finance reform), to the inflated hype buoying Fahrenheit 9/11, to the anemic (but also much publicized) gasping-for-Air America, and a "think tank" with no thoughts in it, York presents the overlapping cast of characters that united to make a furious single-minded grasp for power, and "transformed how campaigns are waged in this country."
- Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, by Ronald J. Pestritto
Woodrow Wilson: The Essential Political Writings, edited by Ronald J. Pestritto
It is not easy to earn the title "Worst President of the Last 100 Years" in a century that gave us both Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, but Woodrow Wilson still tops them both. As R.J. Pestritto shows through a careful study of his pre-White House writings, Wilson was not the conservative constitutionalist some naïve scholars make him out to be. He rejected the natural rights proposition at the heart of the American Founding, and openly mocked the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. He sought to move beyond these charters and to replace them with a visionary concept of strong leadership that could stir popular imagination, and which would reshape the institutional arrangements of American politics. He was, in short, the architect of the administrative state, and hence, of modern liberalism itself. Conservatives can point to their victories in the last quarter-century, but we still live in Wilson's world, speak his language, and play by the rules he established.
- Challenges to the American Founding: Slavery, Historicism, and Progressivism in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Ronald J. Pestritto and Thomas G. West
But how could Wilson, Johnson, Carter, and the whole project of modern liberalism ever get a hearing in a country that had been established upon the self-evident truth of equal natural rights? This second volume in a planned trilogy shows how the ground was prepared in the century after the American Founding. First, there was the Civil War brought on by mad advocates of a slave system that robbed men of their rights. Fortunately, this challenge failed and the founding principles were vindicated, in large part through the statesmanship of an Illinois lawyer. But after Lincoln's death, a new challenge came, not on the battlefield, but through the American university system, which slowly became corrupted by theories of positivism and relativism that would blossom in the 20th century into a full-throated nihilistic rejection of truth itself. Here are ten essays that cut to the heart of what was at stake in these two challenges, and which cover several representative figures of the age from John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, to Henry Adams, Jane Addams, and Walt Whitman.
- Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, by George Weigel
In April, just after Easter, the world stopped for several days to mourn the passing of Pope John Paul II. An avid outdoorsman and a scholar, an actor who became a priest, he survived Nazi occupation and Communist subjugation to become the Catholic Church's 263rd successor to Saint Peter. Above all, though, he wanted simply to be a "witness to hope." Newly updated and re-released, George Weigel's stirring biography unfolds the sheer drama and heroic example of this life while seeking to understand Karol Wojtyla as he understood himself. In doing so, Weigel shows us a monumental and inspiring figure who would not be cowed by the nihilism that has seduced the world.
* * *
Vice President, The Claremont Institute
- Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
This book goes a long way toward revealing the streak of genius at work in the mind of one of the most under-appreciated Founders. To boot, it is beautifully written. I am inclined to say that it is one of those books that is difficult to put down, but the sheer weight of this massive volume (with notes and index, it runs over 800 pages) sometimes sends it tumbling from the reader's hands of its own momentum.
- Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, edited by Ross M. Lence
Many students of Lincoln and the Civil War are familiar with Calhoun's later political philosophy, defending slavery as a positive good and ultimately formulating the argument that eleven states would use to justify their secession from the union. In his convenient edited collection of Calhoun's speeches, Ross Lence includes some of Calhoun's speeches from his early political career. Particularly his 1816 speech defending the tariff, these speeches show the complexity and the transformation of Calhoun's political thought. As a young politician, Calhoun was very much a Hamiltonian. I believe it was not until the 1830s when Calhoun met and read theorists such as Francis Lieber—scholars who were enamored with Hegel and advocated the replacement of natural right with historical evolutionary right—that Calhoun began defending slavery as a positive good.
- Documents Related to New-England Federalism, 1800-1815, edited by Henry Adams
Neo-confederates like to hold up the New England secessionists, whose efforts culminated in the failed 1814 Hartford Convention, as evidence that state secession was widely believed by earlier Americans to be constitutionally legitimate. This collection of documents related to the New England secessionists—especially John Quincy Adams's "Reply to the Appeal of the Massachusetts Federalists," which stands as one of the most thoughtful reflections on the nature and challenges of constitutional government—proves beyond doubt that secession was not widely understood as constitutional and, further, that those New England Federalists who were drumming for secession were in fact Tories and Tory-sympathizers engaged in treasonous acts to establish the rule of Old England in New England.
- The Tariff History of the United States, by F.W. Taussig
If for no other reason (and there are plenty of other reasons), this book is useful for its accurate telling of the chicanery behind the so-called "Tariff of Abominations" of 1828, which old and new Confederates have used as evidence that the North was exercising oppressive economic dominion over the South. The truth is that the 1828 tariff was the handiwork of congressional Democrats, including John C. Calhoun. Their strategy was to offer a tariff so high that it would not pass in Congress. Then, in the upcoming election, the Dems could claim that they were the party most friendly to tariffs, while portraying the party of J.Q. Adams as hostile to the tariff. But their plan backfired. After reading Taussig, it becomes indisputably clear that the "Tariff of Abominations" was anything but an attempt of Northern states to benefit at the expense of the South by way of an oppressive tariff. Rather, it was the case that Calhoun and his fellow southern Democrats were shanghaied by their own canard.
- Slavery Ordained of God, by Rev. Dr. Fred Ross
This is perhaps the most eloquent and rhetorically powerful theological defense of slavery offered in the antebellum period. It also provides a clear example of how dangerous theology can become when divorced from the authority of reason. Anyone interested in learning how so many good men became convinced of the goodness of slavery needs to read this book.
* * *
Director, Center for Local Government
- Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation, by Hugh Hewitt
Why everyone needs to have a blog—especially anyone involved in public affairs. Inspiring advice from a keen student of politics and public affairs. The "reformation" metaphor is intended as a serious theological observation.
- The Theology of the Body, by Pope John Paul II
The late Pope gave a series of talks in the 1980s on what it means to be created in the image of God, exploring the differences between the male and female body and the relationship of the body and the soul. Extraordinary meditations on the meaning of Genesis (and the two accounts of the creation of man) and much of the rest of the Bible.
- White-Jacket, by Herman Melville
Melville's penetrating eye and wicked pen turn ships into communities that display the human condition. An extraordinary build-up to his The Confidence Man.
- Herzog, by Saul Bellow
Allan Bloom/Chick of his last novel, Ravelstein, has been well explicated by some of Bloom's former students. But Herzog is the novel I would recommend, as your introduction to Bellow. How does an academic escape the forces of modernity, especially if the only world he can control is the world of the modern mind?
- Introduction to Christianity, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Can German philosophy be turned into the service of Catholic theology? What is the relationship between revelation and history? Can natural law be kept alive in the contemporary world?
- One I look forward to reading soon: The Five Books of Moses, translated by Robert Alter.
* * *
Director, National Security Programs
- I am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe
My betters have closely analyzed the virtues and vices of this novel. Like some of my colleagues, I expected more of the young Charlotte Simmons from Sparta, North Carolina. She is not virtuous enough in the first place for her decline and fall to be called tragedy, and I cannot endorse the book's obscenities, but I nevertheless list it as required cultural reading for this year.
- Bobos in Paradise, by David Brooks
A recent reread of this older book reminded me that, truly, we are all bourgeois bohemians. Brooks describes the Bobo fashion and style, and the highest value of appearing to have spent much thought and time on the most trivial of matters. Always entertaining.
- The Prince and
Discourses on Livy, by Niccolo Machiavelli
Two of the greatest works of political philosophy, which point to the heart and the strength of modern political philosophy. America, it is true, is anti-Machiavellian in our taming of the tyrannical executive, but the importance of institutional strength, a strong and independent executive, and the need to perceive or employ indirect government remain timeless in their utility for entrepreneurs of any stripe. That, and he reminds us of the harsh necessity under which we always live.
- The Spike, by Arnaud Borchgrave and Robert Moss
This spy novel was considered in the 1980s to have influenced the Reagan Administration's dealings with the Soviet Empire. It describes "Project Azev," a decades long attempt by the Soviet Union to defeat the West from within, using such things as propaganda, youth movements, and front organizations. The book traces the slow realization by a leftist, Pulitzer-winning reporter of the depth, the evil—and the danger—of the project. While it arguably reflects actual events, it is still light fiction, and its 380 pages can be devoured in a day or two.
- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon
An excellent book, which may also be listened to on tape. The slow insinuation of barbarians and moral disintegration of republican and imperial Rome never loses its historical value. One of Gibbon's favorite phrases—"implacable enemies"—is also an object lesson in itself: there are those enemies who are simply implacable. They cannot be persuaded. Victory requires their destruction. Take note, Mr. President.