Essential Reading for Conservatives

It seems appropriate that author Benjamin Wiker would gather up essential conservative books after famously tattling on a similar grouping of books that Screwed Up the World.

Wiker’s 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read: Plus Four Not to Miss and One Impostor lays out a literary trail for right-minded readers.

The author of 10 Books That Screwed Up the World reverses course to showcase literary works that nurture the conservative mind.

It‘s far more than simply a must-read list. Wiker explores the biographies of the selected authors, showing how personal events sculpted their thinking.

The book begins with the father of political conservatism, and it’s not who one might expect.

Wiker chooses Aristotle for the honor, detailing how the book Politics plays out like an unofficial guidebook for the conservative mind.

“Like Aristotle, conservatives generally accept the world as it is; they distrust the politics of abstract reason—that is, reason divorced from experience,” he writes.

And who better to comment on political matters than an intellect at the center of “jostling empires?”

Aristotle saw moral absolutes and realized the union between a man and a woman represents the societal core.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, the self-dubbed “Cosmic Patriot,” gets lauded by Wiker for his pungent wit and clear thinking. The writer suffered from poor finances, but it never affected his sense of reason as witnessed by Orthodoxy, the book which laid out his belief system.

The New Science of Politics by Eric Voegelin can be a dense read but the intellectual pleasures found within make it worth one’s while. Voegelin’s life proved rather dramatic. He published books critical of the Nazi movement at the peak of Adolf Hitler’s reign and fled from Austria in 1938 when Germany annexed his homeland.

It’s hard to select just one book from C.S. Lewis’ timeless collection, but Wiker opts for The Abolition of Man as an eerily prescient peek at modern times.

The book shares Lewis’ belief about the dangers of moral relativism and the cruel necessity of war.

Wiker’s next four selections examine the Constitution and its guiding principles starting with Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke. Reflections lets us look at a scholar with a unique appreciation for the American experiment, while Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America took root from the young author‘s brief stay in this country.

“He saw in the American character what had made the American experiment a success, and he pinpointed the American people’s Christianity, their self reliance and their long tradition of self government,” Wiker writes of de Tocqueville’s perspective on this nation.

Wiker’s list wouldn’t be complete without The Federalist Papers, but he also includes The Anti-Federalist Papers. The two works represent the full discussion regarding the birth of a nation and the power structure behind it.

Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State is the first of two economic tomes Wiker sees as crucial to the conservative thinker.

Belloc’s core beliefs involve “distributism,” meaning economic ownership should be spread throughout society instead of gathering at its top.

The Servile State in question describes a system in which people receive little, if any, of the wealth from their labor. And human history is chockablock with examples of just such a system in action.

Wiker also includes a quartet of “conservative stories” in his collection, tales that reflect conservative principles via imaginary realms.

The classic tales speak to “humility, deference to wisdom and experience, and the conviction that there really is a moral law, good and evil, and we violate that law at our peril.”

Consider Shakespeare’s Tempest, Wiker says, “an absolute jewel of conservative wisdom.”

Shakespeare’s anti-Utopian instincts combined with the sense that evil stems more from human nature than from circumstances makes it unabashedly conservative.

Sense and Sensibility author Jane Austen led a modest life that bled into her fiction. Wiker, who recommends readers see the film version of Sense before cracking the book open, describes a tale trumpeting the worth of marriage and the folly of reckless behavior.

Good and evil come into furious focus in The Lord of the Rings, the epic which continues to teach new readers some invaluable truths. The Shire at the heart of these tales represents self-sufficient societies worth preserving.

“There are times when the evil is such that we must fight, and battle demands men with chests, noble men, great men, both wise and strong,” he writes.

The “impostor” book may come as a surprise to some Tea Party types who have held up the late author, a devout atheist, as a modern prophet.

Wiker concludes by saying the list of fine conservative books is much longer than those listed here. But he hopes the 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read will “lift us from our twittering, texting, media-enervated age to see the again the wisdom that is built on experience."