Ten Must Read Books for Your Christmas List

Here is a short list of selected books which I’ve read in the past year which I think are indispensable to anyone’s bookshelf. I have listed them in order of what would seem like a good progression from one to the next for the reader.

1. Richard Weaver: Ideas Have Consequences

With every turn of the page, Weaver clears out the angst of modern existence by fearlessly going after the “sicknesses” of modern society. Readers of this blog will be familiar with Weaver’s qualms over modern education, as well as what he calls fragmentation and obsession. He also discusses egotism in work and art, as well as the dissolution of hierarchy. Weaver devotes the last three chapters of the book to his proposed remedies for the elucidated societal ailments: restoration of property rights, language, and respect for tradition.

2. Frederic Bastiat: The Law

In this short work, Bastiat, who called out the Broken Window Fallacy, discusses some of the absurdities of democratic societies. His principal insight in this work is perhaps that the law is constantly being used by one sector of society in order to try to loot another sector. That might be one of the more accurate and pithy descriptions of politics ever formulated.

3. Albert Jay Nock: Our Enemy, the State

If you think limited government is the way to go, read Nock. He will quite quickly disabuse you of that notion. In this short work, Nock describes the parasitical nature of the State, mixing in surprising observations. One that sticks out in my mind is that term limits are an instrument, rather than a circumscription, of power, since a given term grants a sitting politician nearly free reign in what he does. This was the book that converted me from “limited government” libertarianism to anarcho-capitalism.

4. Buchanan: Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War

This particular book deserves a full length review. Suffice it to say that many in the press have not been friendly to it, but that Buchanan, while sparing the reader no piece of information, is eminently fair in his descriptions of the various power players who were behind the commencement of hostilities in Europe before both World War I and World War II. Buchanan does not look back longingly at what might have been, but rather lays out the mistakes made by the world’s leaders, and the prudent will no doubt take heed of the author’s warnings. Suffice it to say for now that, while Hitler was evil, the West was pulling all manner of diplomatic bloopers which only made the situation far worse than it needed to be. This book is the antidote to the kind of Americanism which always cites World War II as the fundamental moment in State Salvation History which justifies all manner of ill-advised 21st century military excursions.

5. Schall: The Regensburg Lecture

The Rev. James V. Schall, S.J. takes an in-depth look at Pope Joseph Ratzinger’s well-known lecture at Regensburg which sparked protests in the Muslim world. Schall elaborates Ratzinger’s central question of whether or not Islam can be a “reasonable” or “logos-based” faith. The theological opinion known as voluntarism–the belief that God is not bound by reason–is explored thoroughly by the author with respect to Islam. I only wish, perhaps, that certain fundamentalist Christian outlooks which are adding tensions to the world stage would have been discussed as well. In any case, Schall’s great contribution here seems to me to be a fearless exploration of the theological roots of the problems we presently face. The question might then dawn on the reader: Why are we dropping bombs instead of having an honest exchange? (I should add that I don’t know that this last point was Schall’s goal.)

6. Murray Rothbard: The Ethics of Liberty

You all knew I had to get Murray in here somewhere. This book is a tour-de-force, a thorough working out of a positive theory of anarcho-capitalism. The reader will not likely agree with everything Rothbard says, but the achievement here is a broad-based approach to dealing with the various issues that would come up in a stateless society. Rothbard has no fear: He relishes the opportunity to take on those very subjects which many would consider to be begging for the existence of the State, e.g. crime, courts and police.

7. Albert Jay Nock: Memoirs of a Superfluous Man

Nock did not think of himself as an interesting person, but whoever twisted his arm to write this autobiography certainly did, and to that nameless friend we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. This book is an account of the various impressions Nock put together in his mind over the course of his life. His “mind your own business” attitude is refreshing, and his mix of Toryism and anarchism is yields some fascinating results. This book will not offer eye-popping moments of astonishment at every page; it will feel more like sitting in an old man’s living room, listening to him yammer on about what he’s learned in life. But when you finish and put the book down, you will realize that your paradigm has shifted.

8. Mencken: Notes on Democracy

I will pick up and devour anything by Mencken from cover to cover in a matter of days. In this book Mencken fearlessly tackles the problems, triumphs, and absurdities of our sainted political system. Along the way he calls out Americanism, fundamentalism, and even the Rotary Club, and brings up the most unpopular point that a democracy, too, can wield a tyrannical kind of power. While ever skeptical, Mencken softens the blows of his more difficult material with his unique wit. Yet, there are moments in this book that are deeply serious which might indicate just how troubled Mencken was by any number of problems that needed to be faced. The book winds up to a grand conclusion, which explodes on a rhetorical question that will flabbergast the reader.

9. Richard Weaver: Language is Sermonic

This is a collection of a number of essays and other works by Richard Weaver. The first chapter, in fact, is the chapter on language from Ideas Have Consequences. Writers and speakers will find this volume to be indispensable, but this is no ordinary book about writing. Weaver tackles hard questions about the essence of language, and, in the process, seems to stumble, almost unintentionally, upon some of the more important subjects for our time. This is a great book to read on the front porch of a Southern manor. One can almost hear the masterful deliberateness of Weaver’s locution in these pages.

10. Dom Joseph Gajard: The Rhythm of Plainsong

What the hell is this book doing on here? Well, the truth is that Gajard’s book is about more than just Gregorian rhythm. He in fact discusses the most fundamental aspects of rhythm in such ways that all musicians could benefit from his insight. Much of rhythm boils down to arsis and thesis, i.e. the rising and falling motion, which mimics natural movements such as the rising and falling of the foot during walking. How many performances I have heard in which the musicians do not understand the principles discussed by Gajard! Often we over-emphasize rhythm until it is oppressive, or we add a facade of vitality to a piece of music by assaulting every single down beat. Gajard’s book is the remedy for this and many other musical problems. If you can so much as read music, get this book.

2 Responses

  1. What? No Hilaire Belloc?

  2. [...] I decided to put off writing this post until the year was, for all intents and purposes, over. ┬áLast year I managed to get the list out in time for Christmas shopping. ┬áThis time you’ll have to [...]

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