Being a Conservative requires being informed. One of the most descriptive explanations of being a leftist was penned by James Burnham thus:
“Modern liberalism, for most liberals, is not a consciously understood set of rational beliefs, but a bundle of unexamined prejudices and conjoined sentiments. The basic ideas and beliefs seem more satisfactory when they are not made fully explicit, when they merely lurk rather obscurely in the background, coloring the rhetoric and adding a certain emotive glow.”
– James Burnham
(The only thing I dispute is using the word “liberal” to describe the left. We should use leftist instead. After all, if Conservatives hold to the original Founder’s ideologies in any way, that makes Conservatives the real liberals, along the lines of the original liberals of the Scottish Enlightenment.)
We should strive to do better than do the enemies of the US character, system, and history; the left. We should inform ourselves of what it is to be a Conservative. Where did it begin, what are Conservative traditions and ideals?
We must, as true, informed Conservatives, refuse to allow our own conservatism to emit that “emotive glow” for us but instead take pains to understand our philosophies and aims.
That means we have to READ!
That being the case, we will, from time to time be presenting to you the books that you should have in your library to help you understand and explain to others what American Conservatism is, where it came from, and why it is the right American ideology.
As the months roll on we will be adding to this list, so check back often.
This famous essay, I, Pencil by Leonard Read, should be read by everyone in order to understand a bit about economics.
Here is what Milton Friedman said about I, Pencil:
Leonard Read’s delightful story, “I, Pencil,” has become a classic, and deservedly so. I know of no other piece of literature that so succinctly, persuasively, and effectively illustrates the meaning of both Adam Smith’s invisible hand–the possibility of cooperation without coercion–and Friedrich Hayek’s emphasis on the importance of dispersed knowledge and the role of the price system in communicating information that “will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.”
Here is a link to this wonderful essay:
The Road To Serfdom
Frederich A. Hayek
In an age when the ascendancy of socialism was assumed to be assured by the illiterati, elite, there were voices of conservatism that warned the world of the evils of socialism and tyranny.
Such a voice was that of Frederich A. Hayek. In 1944, Hayek found himself alarmed by the grind of socialism throughout the world and foresaw the end of liberty and freedom as well as capitalism because of it.
In the midst of WWII, Hayek wrote his most famous tome on economics, but it wasn’t just a dry book on money and markets. As Hayek said in the Preface to his 1944 (sixth printing in my own library), “When a professional student of social affairs writes a political book, his first duty is plainly to say so. This is a political book.”
Hayek meant to, and ably succeeded in, reminding the world of the true benefits and basic correctness of the Capitalist and democratic systems of social order.
This book is a must for those just introducing themselves to the arguments and concepts in favor of our conservative principles.
The Federalist Papers
-James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay
First published in New York as a series of newspaper articles meant as an argument in favor of the adoption of the US Constitution, this book is indispensable for understanding the prevailing thoughts of just what our Constitution means.
Certainly there were Founders who disagreed with adopting the Constitution (and the anti-Federalist Papers should be read as well to find out why), but those in favor won the day and this book will help you see what those Founders meant when they created that important document.
This is a “conservative” book only in that it explains the Constitution so that you, as a conservative constructionalist idealist, may interpret the Constitution properly and can refute those who wish to continually “discover” new meanings and false rights (like the “right” of abortion, for instance).
James Madison, Republican from Virginia and fourth president, is often called the Father of the Constitution. Madison kept extensive notes on the Constitutional Convention and was closely involved in the creation of the U.S. Constitution. Aside from John Adams, few other Founders were as often in the thick of the creation.
Alexander Hamilton, Federalist from New York, was the chief architect of our economic system and was one of the most energetic Founders. He is often not given the credit for his efforts he deserves.
John Jay, Federalist from New York and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, offered only but a few of the entries of the book, but ws a well known and respected member of our Founding brotherhood.
The best printing of the book is the one from the Liberty Fund and can be found at:
For a Conservative, history is one of the most important aspects of your education. Without a solid knowledge of history, at the very least America’s, you cannot possibly understand why conservatism is the correct way of thinking.
Sure there are innate “feelings” that certain things are just right. There is also your cultural and societal mores that can lead you to conservatism. But, without understanding something about what has gone before, cultural and emotional influences will leave you with a shallow understanding of conservatism.
That being the case, I now offer some books on history that every conservative should read so that he might better understand and intellectualize his beliefs.
Don’t let secularists and atheists let you imagine that just because the Founders were smart enough to make sure that a single, state religion would not be an integral part of the US government that this means we are a nation without religious influence.
With but few exceptions the Founders and all their contemporaries were members of some of the many Protestant Christian sects in the Americas. But, since they did have several different Protestant sects prevalent in the US, they all knew that agreeing on a single religion was impossible, even dangerous to their own, individual beliefs and sects.
Still, they were all in agreement that Christian ethos was what would guide them and this country to a better future.
So, the Christian Bible was the guide for the Founders without question.
In the 1920s and 30s socialism was all the rage among the “literate” types in US universities as well as Universities worldwide. A writer named Charles Beard made a name for himself in the field of American historiography by claiming that the Founders wrote the Constitution based only on their avarice and greed, that economics was the sole reason that the country was formed. And it was an economics of exclusion, greed, and elitism that they created, too. Beard was an avowed socialist and communist and his agenda was to knock down the USA’s reputation as the democratic light of the world a few pegs, if not to totally destroy it. He succeeded in this goal for several decades among the University set and history researchers.
Then came Forrest McDonald.
In 1965, McDonald shattered that anti-American, socialist paradigm. In his three most important books, We The People, E Pluribus Unum and Novus Oedo Seclorum, he revealed the philosophical influences as well as the economic ones that guided the minds of the Founders and their contemporaries. And exclusion, elitism, and avarice were not some of those principles and philosophies.
First came We The People which was a direct answer to Beard’s wrong interpretations of the economic forces that drove the Founders. This turned Beard’s socialist ideas on its head.
.E Pluribus Unum was next and it continued to demolish Beard’s claims about economic origins of the country and is a must read for that aspect alone. He shows the many economic influences and sectional needs that drove the Founders in a clear, concise style.
The third book, .Novus Ordo Seclorum .delves even further into the philosophy of the Founders proving beyond a doubt that, while economics was an important factor — as it is in everything man does — the men who created our country did, indeed, have deep altruistic reasons for making the decisions they did. Not everything was solely driven by greed as Charles Beard claimed.
McDonald’s works are easily read by one not historically versed and clearly laid out. They are a must read if you want an introduction to early American thinkers and their goals and influences.
Kirk is one of the more famous real conservatives of the 50s and 60s. He was a bit of an odd character — for instance, he refused to learn how to drive as he felt it unseemly — and his conservatism was not generally of the current affairs, political type but of the old world type. He wrote many books but the one I suggest most highly is The Conservative Constitution.
Kirk gives us more of the influences that the Founders utilized to create the Constitution as McDonald did. But it is much more an overview of those influences whereas McDonald got a touch more specific.
Another book from Kirk is The Conservative Mind, from Burke to Eliot. This tome gives the reader some great references on where Conservative thought came from.
The Genius of American Politics
-Daniel J. Boorstin (University of Chicago Press, 1953)
I am not so sure I 100% buy Boorstin’s argument, but he certainly give an excellent history of American politics as well as an attempt to describe the underlying philosophy endemic to it.
His basic point is that American democracy is so specific to our own particular and specific history that it cannot be “exported” to other countries. This book is particularly interesting in light of our current world situation and the “Bush doctrine” of setting up democracies in other countries.
But, I think that Boorstin’s point is too apt to be taken to the extreme point of isolationism (as was the politics from where Boorstin came when he wrote the book in 1953).
Still, it is a particularly important book that will help us understand just why we became the way we are.
The Conscience of a Conservative
-Barry Goldwater (Victor Publishing, 1960)
Like most books written to further a particular politician’s campaign, this book was not written by the man who’s name appears as author. Brent Bozell was the ghostwriter of the manifesto for Barry Goldwater’s campaign for president in 1964.
Years after his run for the White House, while responding to a question about what he thought of the book, Goldwater told writer Neal B. Freeman, “Well, I read the book. I even agreed with parts of it.”
Regardless, though, this wildly popular book helped spawn the Conservative movement as it is now known and in its modern form. Anyone wishing to know what many of the base ideas of the Conservative movement are and how they were framed in the early days would do himself good to read this book.
Anti-communism, the right to work (anti-unionism), states’ rights, constructionist Supreme Court, a cutting of foreign aid, American exceptionalism… it’s all there in this road map to conservatism. And this ideology excited the likes of Phyllis Schlafly and a legion of young conservatives who went on to elect Ronald Reagan and the 1994 Congress.
Help the Soldiers!
American GeniusOur Founding Ideas
- The Declaration of Independence
- The Federalist Papers
- The U.S. Constitution
- Debates of 1787
- The Anti-Federalist Papers
- The Writing of John Locke