Sunday, March 23, 2008

Book Selections of the Month: Popery, Politics, and Panama

If all goes as planned, my New York Post review of Matthew Parker’s Panama Fever, about the building of the Canal, will be printed today, and it will eventually be linked right here regardless of when it appears (if it does).  But also read below for something more Easter-appropriate, of which Buckley no doubt would have approved: me saying nice things about Pope John Paul II.

•Since I spent most of last month denouncing religion on this blog — but since my objection has always been more to religion’s underlying epistemological claims rather than its social effects per se — today seems like a good time to acknowledge that religion sometimes has beneficial social effects. And indeed, the book The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister — by one of Buckley’s successors as National Review editor, John O’Sullivan — is a reminder of one of the most important social effects religion has ever had, helping to start the unraveling of European Communism. For that was indeed the greatest-ever achievement of the three-pronged conservative coalition: Western military might, free-market economics, and tradition, the last of the three embodied by Pope John Paul II, who helped inspire his fellow Poles in particular to see that Communism was a morally bankrupt and inhumane system that could not last — a conviction shared by Reagan and Thatcher. How much nobler that Pope’s influence was than the influence of radical Islam’s imams or for that matter Obama’s minister.

•And if O’Sullivan’s book is a serviceable little exemplar of the conservative spirit, it strikes me that Judy Seigel’s photojournalistic book [Read My T-Shirt] for President isn’t such a bad encapsulation of the contrary leftist spirit — immediacy and action taking precedence over the majestic sweep of history, as she chronicles dozens and dozens of mostly Bush-bashing t-shirt slogans and designs from this decade — which frankly started to grate on me more than I expected after a while, like hearing children come up with endless taunting rhymes. I’m sure every goateed, compassionate activist Seigel captures feels he is doing the right thing, but after a while, the parade of sloganeers started to make me feel as if I were hearing the endless hateful epithets of a Klan rally or some similarly mindless frenzy. I started reading the book with a genuine sense of tolerance and fun — and still commend Seigel for recording all that she saw — but by the end of it I was almost rooting for a last-page picture of the whole lot getting teargassed.

•Finally, to right and left I must add libertarian, my own faction, and John Lott — for all his fishy use of statistics and online sock puppets — assembles a fine collection of basic libertarian economic arguments in his retort to Freakonomics called Freedomnomics, an always-welcome effort to explain the basics of free-market thinking to the layman, who could certainly use it.

Right, left, libertarian — three books and three different sorts of “argument” — from history, personal involvement, and rational deduction. There’s something to be learned from them all.

And in merely eight days, I shall return unto you, with my special April Fool’s Day Book Selection: Daniel Radosh’s Rapture Ready! (one day after which, remember, he’ll appear in our April 2, 8pm, Debate at Lolita Bar).

1 comment:

Mark Soper said...

Thanks for praising O’Sullivan’s book. I remember looking up at the night sky as a seven-year-old and wondering whether the world was going to be blown up during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s still a marvel to me that I have lived long enough to see the wheels fall off the prime mover in that crisis and one of the biggest threats to human freedom on the planet – thanks in large part to JPII, Reagan, and Thatcher. Although Reagan and Thatcher were politicians, there was always a spiritual (specifically Christian) undertone to their governing style, making them natural allies with JPII.