Reading Right: Core Curriculum

Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 25, 2010 | Go to article overview

Reading Right: Core Curriculum


Benjamin Wiker's "10 Books Every Conservative Must Read: Plus Four Not to Miss and One Impostor" (Regnery) doesn't list his favorites or those that have sold best.

"Rather," writes Wiker, author of "10 Books that Screwed Up the World" and a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, "the choices were made based upon what conservatives must read in light of our present condition." Following are his 10 "must" reads, plus excerpts from his comments.

Aristotle's "Politics" is conservatism's "founding text," as its main question concerns not government's form, but "whether the rulers ... rule for the sake of the true human good or merely for their own advantage."

G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" explains conservatives: "Unlike liberals, conservatives have a healthy hesitation when confronted with easy answers to political questions, precisely because they have a deep appreciation for the healthy complexity of actual human life."

Erich Voegelin's "The New Science of Politics" bluntly criticizes Marxism and "is exceedingly dense" reading "but repays handsomely the effort required."

C.S. Lewis' "The Abolition of Man" warned that popular desire for crisis-solving leaders increases government power -- "an all too familiar situation."

Edmund Burke's "Reflections on the Revolution in France" issued "a warning to the world that the radicalism underlying the revolution of 1789 was only a foretaste of the destruction to come."

Alexis de Tocqueville's two volumes of "Democracy in America" "remain the classic texts describing the strength and weakness of the American character."

Hamilton, Madison and Jay's "The Federalist Papers" argued for a strong federal government: "The Federalists feared dissolution of the union, anarchy and national weakness."

The numerous authors of "The Anti-Federalists" "feared the tyranny and loss of local liberty and independence that goes with a powerful centralized government."

Hilaire Belloc's "The Servile State" elevates Christianity: "Belloc thought that, ultimately, the only real defense against socialism ... was the Christian faith."

Friedrich August von Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" is not solely about economics, but "about the dehumanizing effects that a socialist political-economic system has on the individual."

Three of Wiker's "Four Not to Miss" convey conservative values via fiction: Shakespeare's "The Tempest," Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility" and J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings." The fourth is "The Jerusalem Bible," Wiker's preferred translation -- for making a familiar story "an adventure again."

And his "One Impostor"? "Atlas Shrugged" -- because "Ayn Rand would have agreed that she was no conservative. Rand's insistence on pure selfishness as the root and branch of her moral system proved irreconcilable with true conservative moral principles."

Compare & contrast: Two earlier takes

Fun can be had debating Benjamin Wiker's choices for his new "10 Books Every Conservative Must Read" -- and similar lists from the past.

Two compiled in 2001 offer interesting comparisons and contrasts.

In a National Review Online piece headlined "Goldberg's Conservative Canon," Jonah Goldberg offered "in no particular order ... the 10 books that make up my all-purpose Swiss Army knife for conservative initiates." He actually listed 11, including alternates:

George Nash's "The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945."

"The Portable Conservative Reader," edited by Russell Kirk.

Thomas Sowell's "A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles."

Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey's "History of Political Philosophy."

"The Essence of Hayek," edited by Chiaki Nishiyama and Kurt Leube, or "The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism," a Hayek collection edited by W. …

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