Sunday, September 05, 2010

A question for our readers: What is the best book to make the conservative case? 

A conservative cousin and a liberal cousin were driving together from New Jersey to the Adirondacks (I know, I know, it sounds like the setup for a dirty joke). After some time discussing politics, they agreed that they each would read one book that best made the case for the "other side" on the recommendation of the other cousin. Natch, I agreed to help the righty select that one book that best makes the case for government in America according to conservative principles or positions. This is your chance, you can make a smart lefty -- one of the many misguided souls nevertheless beloved by your blogger -- read one book. What should it be?


By Anonymous OregonJon, at Sun Sep 05, 02:56:00 PM:

Thomas Paine's Common Sense - 1776  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Sun Sep 05, 03:53:00 PM:

Doesn't even need a book: The Declaration of Independence.

Eric Hines  

By Anonymous Jim Nicholas, at Sun Sep 05, 04:39:00 PM:

The Federalist Papers, although I am not certain how many could be persuaded to read them.

As an aside, I would be concerned about Thomas Paine's strong support of the French Revolution.  

By Blogger Freddybear, at Sun Sep 05, 05:32:00 PM:

Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose".  

By Blogger Stephen, at Sun Sep 05, 05:38:00 PM:

The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged?  

By Blogger Andrew Morriss, at Sun Sep 05, 05:53:00 PM:

Sarah Palin's Going Rogue includes a well-stated case for limited government. I find it very encouraging that lots of people bought it, hope some read it, and don't much care if she wrote it herself or not. It makes the case for government doing a few things well.

For those wanting a more rigorously intellectual approach, Tom Palmer's Realizing Freedom is tough to beat.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Sun Sep 05, 06:00:00 PM:

The Way Things Ought To Be"

Rush Limbaugh.

Two reasons: A good, quick, entertaining read of a conservative manifesto....and it will force a liberal to admit that LImbaugh is not a neanderthal (as portrayed by the media).  

By Blogger PD Quig, at Sun Sep 05, 07:48:00 PM:

Arthur Brooks: The Battle. A clear, succinct discussion of our 70-30 nation.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Sun Sep 05, 07:53:00 PM:

Agree with suggestions about Atlas Shrugged and The Federalist Papers, particularly for young(ish) readers. Would definitely recommend against Going Rogue, fully of petty politics, victimization rant (...blame McCain's Palin handlers, blame Katie Couric, etc. etc.)and unintentionally funny things meant to be sentences, I think.  

By Anonymous Southern Man, at Sun Sep 05, 09:32:00 PM:

I second "The Way Things Ought To Be" as a good introduction to conservatism (or at least what conservatism ought to be). It seems a bit silly to expect someone to read "The Fountainhead" or "Atlas Shrugged" or the Federalist papers right out of the gate.  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Sun Sep 05, 09:45:00 PM:

Southern Man, I am curious why you think it is silly for someone to try those two titles first - I think they are very accessible, particularly to young minds. I think I read Fed papers in HS and Ayn Rand early college. Why wait? It's great stuff.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Sep 05, 10:10:00 PM:

I vote for Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's great satire on statism. I read it in high school.  

By Blogger Scott, at Sun Sep 05, 10:38:00 PM:

I would choose: "The Case for Democracy" by Natan Sharansky.  

By Blogger Carl, at Sun Sep 05, 11:41:00 PM:

How about "any college-level economics textbook"?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Sep 05, 11:44:00 PM:

JPT: "and it will force a liberal to admit that LImbaugh is not a neanderthal (as portrayed by the media)."

Heh. You don't need the media to "portray" Limbaugh as a neanderthal--you need only listen to his radio show for 20 mins. With the sound on.  

By Anonymous J Haley, at Sun Sep 05, 11:52:00 PM:

If you're looking for something a little more modern (than the 18th century), I recommend "The Conscience of a Conservative" by Barry Goldwater.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Mon Sep 06, 12:09:00 AM:

I'm torn between the idea of suggesting a summation of conservatism vs. something disturbing that would point one in the direction of conservatism. I don't know enough to propose the former, and in that regard I hold TH commenters in very high esteem. In light of all that I'll suggest two. The first, only party in jest:

The Quran

The second:

America Alone, by Mark Steyn.

And as another thought, I suggest that in addition to a book, that shorter reads be part of the punishment. In addition to Tigerhawk, there are some terrific blogs which give an up to the minute sense of where conservatism is today. In particular, Powerline.


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Sep 06, 12:21:00 AM:

The Abolition of Man, one of CS Lewis's secular works.  

By Anonymous Scott Eudaley, at Mon Sep 06, 01:18:00 AM:

A word of caution about Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand is NOT a "conservative". She despised conservatives. She called herself a "radical for capitalism". If you want a triumphant defense of the individual versus the state and the system of capitalism, then it is definitely your book. No one does that better than Rand. If, however, you're looking for something more along the lines of conventional, faith-based conservative thought (Rand is a atheist) that would be endorsed by Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and the like, then you should look elsewhere. I say that as follower of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism.

Other suggestions: The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek, Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman.  

By Blogger Noocyte, at Mon Sep 06, 02:14:00 AM:

How about Levin's "Liberty and Tyranny?"

For a foreign policy discussion which is unmatched in its "Neo-Con" perspective on the WoT, I'd recommend John P's "World War Four."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 06, 03:32:00 AM:

The Fountainhead:

"I'm going to blow up a building because you didn't build it like I wanted to."

Where is the "rolls eyes" emoticon?  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Mon Sep 06, 06:07:00 AM:

Can anyone recommend a good edition of the Federalist Papers? I bought a paperback, but it is unreadable because the binding will not open flat. A good hardcover edition, maybe from the days before "perfect binding" would be nice.  

By Anonymous Tar Heel, at Mon Sep 06, 08:30:00 AM:

It's a based a dated, but PJ O'Rourke's "Parliament of Whores" does an excellent job of capturing the problems with enlarged modern government, (though the eerie part was that he wrote it while a Bush was in office and we were in Iraq, de ja vu?).

First, it's hilarious. Secondly, he's libertarian/conservative and not partisan, so bad republicans such as McCain (Keating Five anyone?) get just as much flak as Jesse Jackson.

More importantly, he captures the failures of the liberal social dynamics, shows how government is more or less used as a means of extortion, and is able to leave the reader with an understanding why expansive government is not the answer.  

By Anonymous E Hines, at Mon Sep 06, 09:36:00 AM:

Can anyone recommend a good edition of the Federalist Papers?

I suggest The Federalist, edited by JE Cooke, 1961. I'm having trouble finding a copy in print, to recommend a source, but this version http://www.amazon.com/Federalist-Papers-Alexander-Hamilton/dp/1441407960/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1283779751&sr=1-1 is available in Kindle as well as hardback.

Eric Hines  

By Anonymous JVDeLong, at Mon Sep 06, 10:25:00 AM:

P.J. O'Rourke is a good idea. Also - Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist or Brink Lindsay, Against the Dead Hand.  

By Anonymous Clinias, at Mon Sep 06, 11:28:00 AM:

Thomas Paine was a follower of Freemasonry. He is the ideological frontrunner for America. He is not a conservative at all.

The conservatives at the time of the American Revolution were the Loyalists. They were all run out of town by the American revolutionaries. There is nothing "conservative" about anything in this list. To uphold the American Revolution is revolutionary, progressive, liberal.

For a True conservative book: Father Seraphim Rose, Nihilism, The Road to Revolution in the Modern Age. Next, is Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn Liberty or Equality which is an easy read with over 900 footnotes and his followup Leftism Revisited with over 1000 footnotes. Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn is pro-American, but take the European history lesson from him, and your eyes will be open.

Socrates and Plato are conservatives. They are both misodemos, 'haters of democracy' and so classify as conservatives. All and every true conservative has to be a misodemos.  

By Anonymous JB, at Mon Sep 06, 12:35:00 PM:

Liberal Fascism.  

By Blogger Trochilus, at Mon Sep 06, 12:55:00 PM:

Couple of "ifs" . . .

If the intellectual weakness of the liberal cousin seems to be an ignorance of basic historic economic realities, then something aimed at laying a basic foundation for understanding how wrong-headed economic policy can have a tragic impact on history, may be in order.

In that case, Hayek's The Road to Serfdom or perhaps The Constitution of Liberty might be a good choice. (Agree w/Scott E, above on that one.)

But, if the intellectual weakness of the liberal cousin is more of a Pollyanna Principle tendency -- a belief that if we just keep piling on social program "solutions" then all will be well -- I'd recommend the C.S. Lewis trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

The last one, of course, is the key book in the trilogy, but reading all three gives the reader an exposure to what is BOTH amusingly dated science fiction, AND thoroughly relevant social criticism.

That Hideous Strength lays bare the breadth of real repression that is inherent in our modern political correctness, and paints a credible picture of where it is likely leading us. C.S. Lewis was a deeply spiritual man, and the book credits spiritual intervention with overcoming the evil influence.

In writing 1984, George Orwell was influenced by That Hideous Strength. So, perhaps reading the Lewis classic might lead the reader to the Orwell book. Not a bad idea, no?

And then, of course, there is Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. That could open a lot of intellectual doors!  

By Blogger Trochilus, at Mon Sep 06, 01:25:00 PM:

Clinias at Mon Sep 06, 11:28:00 AM:

"The [conservatives] reactionaries at the time of the American Revolution were the Loyalists."


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 06, 01:49:00 PM:

The Road to Serfdom is the best defense of Capitalism I've ever read.

And if they lefty gets through the first 50 pages he will understand the premise well enough.  

By Blogger Donald Douglas, at Mon Sep 06, 03:12:00 PM:

A fabulous round up of books. I'm reading a new one, 'Conservatism Redefined: A Creed for the Poor and Disadvantaged'. Worth a look ...  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Mon Sep 06, 03:38:00 PM:

I’m another vote for Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (TRTS). I recently bought a copy to re-read and to school a precocious niece taking AP Government. Notably, TRTS was a big influence on supposed dimwit Ronald Reagan.

I’d take the bet that Obama has never read TRTS, and may only be dimly aware of it. But he’s supposedly a world class intellect. Blow me.

One of TRTS’s tenets is that central planning is suboptimal compared with markets. I’d love to see Obama try to refute this.

Here’s some examples of this TRTS tenet in practice:
Oracle (relational databases), SAP (enterprise management), EMC (storage), and of course Microsoft-Intel (PCs) were all businesses that originated in some way at IBM. IBM failed to capture the new markets these companies came to dominate because it didn’t have perfect foresight.

Our telecom revolution is in large part built on the success of unswitched TCP/IP technology, much of which was developed by the propeller hat crowd at the big telcos. But the likes of AT&T would have kept us in a switched world if they’d had their druthers. If it weren’t for competition our daughters would think that getting a princess phone extension of their own was the height of cool.

If world class profit-driven companies can’t get this right, how can we expect a government bureaucracy?  

By Anonymous The Sheep Nazi, at Mon Sep 06, 04:41:00 PM:

Witness, by Whittaker Chambers.  

By Blogger Trochilus, at Mon Sep 06, 04:42:00 PM:

I suppose we ought to also have a little fun and see if we can't guess what the "other" cousin might be recommending to the conservative.

Here's my guess . . . and real serious one, or, at least it was so intended by the author, Yale educated, Carol J. Adams:

The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Continuum Books, NY (1994), in which the author develops her thesis that women and animals have been connected as "referents" throughout the "texts" of our historically patriarchial society, and that, therefore, true feminism and vegetarianism are necessarily interdependent going forward.

I'd add more, but it is a holiday and my dearest called and asked if I would please pop the cheeseburgers on the grill. She loves the way I make them!  

By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Mon Sep 06, 05:28:00 PM:

Well, thanks for that, Trochilus. I am now thinking that I am a cannibal of some sort. Truth be told, I'm guessing some more highly evolved form of human will eventually be vegetarian. I am very thankful that I live in these barbaric times.

TH - if none of these book suggestions please you, why don't you go ahead and write your own conservative manifesto.  

By Blogger phil, at Mon Sep 06, 07:58:00 PM:

Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers are not conservative texts. The American Founders were not conservatives, in fact the US did not have a conservative movement prior to the 1950s. Hayek also was not a conservative although many conservatives value his works. The best book to recommend is not a polemical book written to preach to the conservative choir, but George Nash's "The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America" which is excellent and will give a detailed history of the ideas and evolution of the conservative movement.  

By Anonymous Ignoramus, at Mon Sep 06, 08:09:00 PM:

"The American Founders were not conservatives ... Hayek also was not a conservative."

I suppose you mean that "Conervative" means "Big Military Statist - Social Conservative" as opposed to Libertarian (which once upon a time was called Liberal).

Please clarify.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Mon Sep 06, 10:08:00 PM:

"Please clarify."

Ig, we could probably run up a 1000-comment thread discussing how the terms "left" and "right" as well as "liberal" anc "conservative" have changed over the years. Your post sorta captures the change - right/conservative used to be small privileged oligarchies in control of everything vs. left/liberals who were the rabble-rousers below trying to get out from underneath. Now left/liberals favor government control of everything while right/conservative - at least in the US - means get the govt. out of the way. But there are plenty of other cross-currents that muddy the waters like "social conservatives" (more reflective of the old definition) and the willingness to use military force which is usually associated with the "right" but can go all over the map. I suspect in Europe the "right" is still more like the "old right" than it is in the US.  

By Anonymous Patrick, at Tue Sep 07, 09:48:00 AM:

"Can anyone recommend a good edition of the Federalist Papers? "

If you can read books on a computer, it is available for free here -


By Anonymous QuakerCat, at Tue Sep 07, 10:36:00 AM:

Folks - please! Do you really think even a well intended Liberal is going to read a 1,000 page tome of Ayn Rand's? or a very difficult read of the Federalist Papers? How in the hell do you think any of them would ever consider a Shawn Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, or Ann Coulter book? Those people are so inflammatory that the source is not credible.

I have given the book "Right Turns" by Michael Medved, to a number of very liberal thinking friends. The book is about Medved's hard core liberal youth and his transformation to conservatism. I don't believe these friends achieved complete cognitive dissonance in reading this book, but it did make them stop and think and that is for two reasons:
1) Medved's family were Russian Jews who immigrated in the early 1920's. They witnessed what Communism was and how it stole the soul. Medved's uncles play an important role in his early years as he became an involved 1960'2 radical, they wispered in his ear about what can go wrong when an individual's rights are sacrificed for the state.
2) His liberal credentials as a young man are impeccable. He went to Yale undergrad in the 1960's and was very much against the war in Vietnam. He was there when Kerry (he did not like him), Liberman, Pataki and even G.W. Bush was there (thought G.W. nice person). He went to Yale Law School where one of his closest friends was Hillary Clinton (he knew Bill but did not like him).

His logical growth from an immature liberal to a grown-up conservative with grown-up concerns creates a very compelling argument for conservatism.

By the way, some of the strongest minds on the conservative side have similar tales; such as Bill Bennett or Dennis Prager or Charles Krauthammer were all devoted liberals. Each of them has their own turning point and each story speaks volumes. My argument to any liberal is always for them to name a single conservative mind that has turned to promoting the liberal cause? The list would not fill half of a post-it note, while the reverse could fill volumes.  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Tue Sep 07, 12:20:00 PM:

Karl Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies, both volumes.

Makes the case for liberal democracy (the word "liberal" in the classical sense) in very concise language. Points out the monstrous roots of socialist/statist theory as derived from Plato's Republic. Explores the methodological error of Historicism, which keeps these leftist philosophies alive...

Plus it's VERY readable.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 07, 04:37:00 PM:

Do-gooders or Useful Idiots, both by Mona Charen. She documents how the programs implemented by the left have devestated the very people they were meant to help.  

By Blogger Stephen Monteith, at Wed Sep 08, 02:47:00 AM:

"A Patriot's History of the United States". There's a growing sense that America is NOT the greatest country in the history of the world. APHOTUS sets the record straight, giving the conservative a better basis for injecting more right-thinking (no pun intended) in his liberal traveling companion.  

By Blogger Stephen Monteith, at Wed Sep 08, 02:47:00 AM:

"A Patriot's History of the United States". There's a growing sense that America is NOT the greatest country in the history of the world. APHOTUS sets the record straight, giving the conservative a better basis for injecting more right-thinking (no pun intended) in his liberal traveling companion.  

By Anonymous Cousin "R", at Wed Sep 08, 10:41:00 PM:

Thanks, Tiger Hawk and blog followers for all of the great suggestions. I really appreciate it! Now, for the hard part... choosing "the one".  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Thu Sep 09, 02:56:00 AM:

"There's a growing sense that America is NOT the greatest country in the history of the world."

To paraphrase some other true cliches, it's the worst ever, except for all the others.  

By Blogger OBloodyHell, at Thu Sep 09, 04:18:00 AM:

Milton Friedman's "Free to Choose" is an obvious choice. I'm in favor of this but it's more pure economics than the entire political spectrum.

The same is true of P.J. O'Rourke's "Eat The Rich" -- both should be on the list of required reading for average-level high school students, and a college level introductory econ course which feature them extensively should be required for all college graduates.

So, as a result, I have to go with Tar Heel, including his initial codicil: "It's ... dated, but PJ O'Rourke's Parliament of Whores does an excellent job"

I'd also point out the value of some of the essays -- particularly the Paraguay and Nicaragua pieces -- of O'Rourke's "Give War A Chance" in this regard.

> Explores the methodological error of Historicism, which keeps these leftist philosophies alive...

Actually that's more attributable to the lack of adequate lead in their diets. I suspect that, sooner or later, they will inevitably wind up on the receiving end of a rapid infusion of the substance to cure their condition. ;^D  

By Blogger OBloodyHell, at Thu Sep 09, 05:07:00 AM:

> If world class profit-driven companies can’t get this right, how can we expect a government bureaucracy?

Because governments are more enlightened, you ignoramus, you.


Don't you know that, not being driven by the eeeeevil profit motive, they are clearer in their divine decision-making powers?

I mean, without central planning, where will we get our five pairs of plastic shoes? Whence will come our allotted five rolls of industrial-grade toilet paper?


By Anonymous Boludo Tejano, at Thu Sep 09, 07:43:00 AM:

Good one. It reminds me of the year I spent in Berserkeley as a hippie dropout activist. I will never forget reading in one of the "underground" papers of the time what a supporter of the North Vietnamese regime said: "Like, it's great that the government gives everyone a pound of rice a day." Gee thanks, boss.

The book that started changing me from a progressive of the left into an evil right winger was The Latin Americans: Their Love-Hate Relationship With the United States, whose author was Carlos Rangel, a Venezuelan journalist. I bought the book in its Spanish version when I was working in Venezuela: Del Buen Salvaje al Buen Revolucionario [From the Good Savage to the Good Revolutionary]. I had been concluding that the “progressive” catechism about Latin America that was circulating in America universities at the time did not accurately describe the facts on the ground I had been observing in Latin America. This book helped put it together for me. Over the years, I concluded that the same side of the fence that didn't have a clue Latin America, didn't have a clue about the US, either.  

By Blogger OBloodyHell, at Thu Sep 09, 04:19:00 PM:

I was lucky enough to be a few years behind that. What the Left learned from Watergate was, "Don't trust Republicans".

What *I* learned from Watergate was, "Don't trust politicians".

The result was, in high school, during a humanities class that the teacher ran as a nice BS session, I found myself often on the Right/Libertarian side of most discussions, with most of the rest of the class on the Left/Liberal side. There were usually one or two people on my side, but never the same ones.  

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