Book Review: Our Man in Charleston


Our Man in CharlestonThe Confederacy was almost certainly doomed, even had it won the Civil War. Our Man in Charleston: Britain’s Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey, explains why.

The book tells of Robert Bunch, Great Britain’s consul in Charleston, SC between 1853 and 1863. It shows Bunch to be the man most responsible for Britain’s refusal to recognize the Confederacy.

Bunch was sent to Charleston seeking the repeal or modification of South Carolina’s 1822 Negro Seaman Act, making it a crime for free black sailors to set foot in South Carolina. Any who did were arrested and fined. Unpaid fines led to imprisoned sailors being sold as slaves to pay the fine. This included black citizens of Great Britain, even if shipwreck victims.

The Essential Conservative Reader for Adolescents


animal-farm-book-cover1As my children (currently first and third graders) get older, I’m increasingly concerned about how to inoculate them against the incessant liberalism they will be exposed to on a daily basis through school and media. I already have to deal with cartoon dogs lecturing them about global warming and teachers not letting them eat snacks because — heaven forfend! — the yogurt contains Oreo crumbles.

Dealing with that stuff is pretty easy now; I just tell them the problems with what they’re hearing on TV or in the classroom, or I ignore the issue because the attempts at liberal indoctrination have failed. But at some point, sooner than I would like, they are going to need more. So I started thinking about a reading list for when that time comes to help my kids realize that a lot of liberal pablum is misguided at best and overtly destructive at worst. I want them to think critically about these issues.

The reading material needs to be accessible to a seventh grader (or thereabouts), so the Road to Serfdom, Capitalism and Freedom, and Liberal Fascism are probably out. I also don’t want the material to seem hectoring or overly preachy about the virtues of conservatism.

What was Your First Forbidden Book?


152405Jackie Collins has died at the age of 77.

Properly speaking, she was a writer of no talent whatsoever, and certainly of no interest to those of us who have gathered here to discuss conservative politics. As The New York Times explains, “She wrote more than 30 books, many of them filled with explicit, unrestrained sexuality, and sold more than 500 million copies worldwide. Her first novel, “The World Is Full of Married Men,” was published in 1968. Australia and South Africa banned it because of its frank depiction of extramarital sex. Other earlier works included “The Stud,” in 1969, and “Rock Star,” in 1988.”

No, Jackie Collins is not especially relevant to the concerns of Ricochet.

A Bond For All Seasons


James-Bond-Exhibition-Sean-ConneryThe walking, talking microagression that is James Bond is getting a remake:

In a new book, however, James Bond will be getting a dose of modern morality, as author Anthony Horowitz reveals the tricks he used to drag the spy kicking and screaming into the era of political correctness.

Horowitz, the writer of new Bond novel Trigger Mortis, said he had worked carefully to preserve Ian Fleming’s original character and ensuring his 1950s attitudes remained in tact.

Patrick O’Brian Does the Near Impossible: Describing Music in Prose


hqdefaultAs I watch Bob Corker and his Keystone Kops allow Obama to enact a treaty with 34 votes and as I try to ignore the death dance between the GOP and Donald Trump, I have one reliable source of escape and solace: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books. I forget about our self-imposed wounds as I’m transported to the main deck of a British man o’ war in the Napoleonic era.

Last night I read from The Yellow Admiral and came across a passage of pure sublimity.

Let me set the stage: Captain Jack Aubrey is a good amateur violinist and Doctor Stephen Maturin plays a competent cello. They often make music together, to the utter disdain of Jack’s steward, the choleric Preserved Killick.

American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone – a Review


AmericanDreamsIn this campaign book Marco Rubio sets out his stall as the unapologetic Reformicon candidate. He writes clearly and with verve about his plans for tax, education, and entitlement reform, if somewhat less clearly about why he should be the one to execute them.

Being something of a Reformicon skeptic, however, I found it hard to get excited. There are the usual anecdotes about “Marge and Homer of Springfield” who have been done down by the system – or, at least, the parts of it he wants to change – and how his (or Mike Lee’s and his, or Paul Ryan’s and his, or Yuval Levin’s and his) policy prescriptions will make things all right again for them and the middle class. If you’ve read the lawnmower book you know the drill. If you’ve read much of Ricochet you also know the usual objections.

(Some of the anecdotes seem rather strange choices. Jennifer, in the first chapter, has failed to reach her American Dream despite going to college and getting a four-year degree in – public administration…)

Teaching Freedom the Bastiat Way


Frederic BastiatFor many years I’ve kept a personal blog. Nothing too big or grand. There I discuss mostly politics and history. From time to time I get e-mails from parents asking for reading lists. What books will best impart an understanding of freedom? Like many parents, they’re unsatisfied with the low-thinking busywork their children get assigned. They’re even less satisfied with the flagrantly statist and collectivist slant of their course material.

What these parents are looking for is something that will inoculate their children from the pernicious ideas that circulate in the public school system. While most of the people I’ve dealt with are devout Christians, a very large number are entirely secular. All of them are thoughtful parents who are terrified of raising unskilled, unemployable children who will whittle away their lives playing revolutionary.

It is the irony of the modern world that the most successful socio-economic system in history, Anglosphere-style capitalism, is the least defended. The times have been worse. Scroll back to the 1930s when, with the exception of men like Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, there were very few serious voices raised in the defense of economic liberty. Today much of the English-speaking world boasts a network for think tanks, endowed chairs, and prominent commentators. Without them we would be in a far worse position than we are.

No Award at the Hugos


hugo-award-logoWell, if you’ve been following the Sad Puppies story, the votes are in. Rather than swallowing their pride and liking something on the merits, the Social Justice Warriors out of spite voted for no awards to be given in several categories.

Before the Hugos were a proxy for politics, they were about good science fiction. I’ve got a book on my shelf, or in a box, or maybe my brother has it, that is a compilation of Hugo winning stories from the ’50s and ’60s. Some of the stories are fantastic, amongst the greatest things I’ve ever read. Some aren’t all that great in my estimation, but they got the award because other people disagreed with me. It’s about the science fiction, not about the politics, right?

Even if it isn’t about the politics on the surface, it usually is in the end. It seems a group of people realized that A) it’s a major career boost to have that “Hugo Award Winning” on your dust jacket, and B) A relatively small group of people could swing the voting one way or another. And so the Hugos in recent years have gone to a small, poorly written, and overwhelmingly leftist set of stories.

‘Princes at War’ reveals grim story of British royalty


Princes at WarPrinces at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of World War II, by Deborah Cadbury, PublicAffairs, 2015, 400 pages, $28.99 (Hardcover)

When Edward VIII abdicated his throne for Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved, it was supposed to be part of the love story of the century.

Princes at War: The Bitter Battle Inside Britain’s Royal Family in the Darkest Days of World War II, by Deborah Cadbury, reveals the reality behind the fairy tale romance. It proves to be a grim story.

What Do You Now Ignore With Impunity?


Getting old can be a pain (both literally and figuratively). But there are some good things: Hair care takes no more than a few seconds daily, no more raging hormones, dramatically reduced need to impress others, being able to yell at the neighbor kids when they get on my lawn (I’ve not exercised this privilege, but it’s coming), and – best of all – grandchildren.

One of the greatest blessings of age is that there comes a time when you can completely ignore things and people who would otherwise irritate you. Sadly, I cannot yet ignore Hillary Clinton or John Kerry. I am able to completely ignore Al Gore. (Although I heard he may jump in the race if Hillary crashes. Then I’d have to think about him again: I could do it for the good of the country).

Your First Encounter with Shakespeare


julietI was seventeen when when Franco Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet was released. I was a rural farm boy who knew a little — very little — about Shakespeare, had only read a few lines by him, nor had ever seen a complete play on TV, let alone a live performance.

I was blown away. My crush on Olivia Hussey is just beginning to ebb a bit, 47 years later. It was like an entire new world had been handed whole to me. For a seventeen-year-old, the drama of the last scene was overwhelming. “Come on, Juliet! Wake up, for heck’s sake!”

And the language. I didn’t understand a lot of it, but I knew what it meant. Gorgeous and rhythmic. In the scene where Romeo laments being banished from the city, he cries about being “banish-ed” (two syllables, not one). My reaction: “they sure said ‘banished’ different in late medieval Italy than they do here in southern Utah.”

Fascinating Look at the Impact of The Inklings on Literature


The Inklings“The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams,” by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 656 pages, $35.00 (Hardcover)

The Inklings perhaps were the 20th century’s most influential literary circle. Three members, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Barfield legitimized fantasy as a literary genre, a field which has grown explosively over the last 40 years.

“The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams,” by husband and wife team Philip and Carol Zaleski, examines the men of the Inklings and their impact on literature.

A Book for the Beach


EscapeFromSmyrnaThirty-one years ago this August, I gathered my things, mailed off a multitude of books, and flew on Swissair to Istanbul with a Compaq computer under my feet about the size of a small sewing machine. When I arrived, I loaded two taxis with my stuff and made my way to the Dutch consulate, which was located in the headquarters of the old Dutch East India Company on Istiklâl Caddesi (la grande rue de Pera) in Beyoğlu – where I was slated to stay for a week or so in a hostel run by the Dutch Archaeological Institute while I sought housing.

I had spent six weeks at Princeton taking a crash course in Turkey, and I had read whatever I could get my hands on. But I was a neophyte. Fortunately, I knew a graduate student from the University of North Carolina who was working on a dissertation while in Istanbul; and through him, I had been introduced to a couple of archaeologists who were old hands at dealing with life in the city inaugurated as Byzantium and later renamed Constantinople. So the next evening, I dined in the apartment — nearby in Cihangir — that Charles and Marie-Henriette Gates shared with their two young daughters; and they helped me find an apartment from which, through one window, one could see the Bosporus.

I mention all of this because I recently relived the two years that I spent, as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, traveling in Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus and writing about developments in all three places. I was able to do so because, in 2013, the Charles Gates mentioned above published a really splendid novel, set – apart from the flashbacks – on Andros and in Istanbul and Athens in 1982. Charlie, as he is called, and his wife Marie-Henriette teach archaeology at Bilkent University, and they have been there now for a quarter of a century. They know that neck of the woods.

The Nazi Within


amis_cover_3019706aI recently finished Martin Amis’s novel, The Zone of Interest, the plot of which centers around the conflicts of a host of characters inside a Nazi death camp — German soldiers, their wives, children, and, of course, the Jews. The book was rejected by Amis’s German publisher and received mixed reviews when it came out last year. That’s largely because of the unconventional and sometimes uncomfortable use of satire in a Holocaust novel.

The book reads much like a conventional character drama, centered around themes of jealousy, lust, ambition, and longing. Only, in this case, this rather standard human tale happens to be taking place in the midst of the most inhuman atrocities imaginable. Gruesome and brutal crimes of world-historic proportions serve as a mere backdrop for a story that stubbornly focuses on the mundane and rather unremarkable relationships of those guilty of the crimes.

You’ve never read a Holocaust novel like this one. Some readers might feel that Amis’s approach minimizes the heinous crimes that are taking place. But for me, it worked in just the opposite way. Amis’s focus on the trivial “drama” taking place among his Nazi characters has the effect of humanizing them and making the horrible genocide they are carrying out seem all the more incomprehensible. By the end of the book I was left wondering how, how, how did the genocidal mania of Nazism ever take hold of nearly an entire nation of seemingly normal human beings? What was the origin of this great hatred, and of the great collective will to act on it?

New Book: From the “Right to Not Be Offended” to the “Expectation of Confirmation” On Campus


indexToday, I am pleased to announce the release of my new essay in the newly published The State of the American Mind: 16 Leading Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism, a collection of essays by a variety of cultural and educational experts edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow. Some of my fellow authors include E. D. Hirsch, Nicholas Eberstadt, Dennis Prager, Daniel Dreisbach, Ilya Somin, Maggie Jackson, and Richard Arum.

The essays are framed by Bauerlein and Bellow’s theories on the root causes of the decline of the American intellect and “the shift away from the self-reliant, well-informed American.”

Here is a summary of my essay, “How Colleges Create the ‘Expectation of Confirmation’”:

150 Years Since the Birth of Ireland’s Greatest Poet: William Butler Yeats


tumblr_m5k6ewFps81r6xvfko1_1280Modern poetry generally sucks. Let’s be honest about it. It’s not alone, either, to be fair. Modern civilisation cut off from the transcendent is not capable of works of the divine or greatness. The music, the art, the culture, the architecture, and the writing (keep in mind that the two most successful authors of the last decade were borderline illiterates – Ms. Grey and Mr. Brown) all share and embody this tragic loss of the divine. Alas, we were born in a technological age, but not a great one — at least when it comes to the imagination or knowledge of the divine.

So permit me to re-introduce perhaps the greatest poet of the 20th century: W.B. Yeats. Yeats in many ways was both embodied and contradicted the stereotypical image of Ireland. He was born in 1865 into the very elite of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, and a member of the church of Ireland. But he found himself standing with all the groups this very order rejected, in part out of disdain, in part due to bare necessity: the Irish language movements, the Irish history regeneration movements, and most importantly, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (the forerunner of the Irish Republican Army), which was dedicated to expulsion of British rule in Ireland.

He supported violence when he was younger, yet later seemed to reject it when he saw the consequences of the Easter Rising – the greatest (in significance) event in Irish 20th-century history. He was intensely spiritual, but rejected organised religion, although he never formally left his Protestant heritage. He sought the rejection of British rule, but seethed with anger at Ireland when he realised such independence would mean little but church domination. He loved Ireland’s natural beauty and history, but often seemed ill at ease with its very people.

Do You Guys Write in Your Books?


marginalia“Most intelligent people do, Jason.” So I was told by another Member, when I said that I don’t. I guess it goes back to my schooling, when we were told that Very Bad Things would happen if we defiled the holy works of Wiley or Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Also, I always considered it kind of cranky: my grandmother would talk back to the author in her marginal notes (exclamation points were plentiful) and I always wanted to tell her, “You know, he can’t actually hear you…”

But it’s undeniable that these things can enrich the reading experience. Marginalia can be a source of knowledge not only about the text but about the context.

One Immortal Monkey, Sonnet 130


Ladies and gents, I apologize in advance for the intolerably long notes below, but I recommend them if you have some leisure–they seem to me to include some insights about what Shakespeare offers as an education for love.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red.
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
if hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red & white,
but no such roses I see in her cheeks.
& in some perfumes there is more delight
than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
that music hath a far more pleasing sound.
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
& yet, by heav’n, I think my love as rare
as any she belied with false compare.