Who hasn’t had some liberal sneer at him, “Why don’t you conservatives go read a book?” This powerful critique of the intellectual deficiencies of my ideological brethren always cuts me to the bone. I’m usually so upset that I run weeping to my fine German touring sedan, completely forgetting to tip the nose-studded holder of a degree in Gender Neutral Puppetry who pointed out my educational failings while he fetched my latte.
This meme is nonsense. In fact, conservative tastes in books can be quite eclectic. One day last week, Amazon delivered Hugh Hewitt’s new book on happiness concurrently with bassist Peter Hook’s memoir of Joy Division, a band best known to the public for its lead singer hanging himself.
Joy Division’s often depressing, tragic music could provide an appropriate soundtrack for James V. Lacy’s Taxifornia: Liberals' Laboratory to Bankrupt America.If you like footnotes with citations to damning data, Taxifornia is for you. Lacy, a lawyer who I have never met but who shares a book agent and a publisher with me, makes an air-tight case that liberalism is crushing the California dream. There’s no way to come out of reading it not seeing that the reverse alchemy of liberalism is turning the Golden State into a commonwealth of rusty tin.
Lacy powerfully evokes the California’s past as a mecca for those striving to build their futures. My family moved here in 1972; I can still remember how vibrant, exciting and new it was. Today, California is a plodding, dull and decaying mess. Outsiders think of California as a state run by wacky, freaky kooks, but Lacy shows that’s not it at all. It’s now run by the most common and conventional liberal political hacks, Democrat politicians owned by rent-seeking public employee unions who would be comfortable in any Chicago ward. Give me the free spirited hippy-dippy wackos of the past over these cynical plunderers any day.
Much cheerier is Glenn Harlan Reynold’s The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself. It’s cheerier because it predicts the inevitable death of the bloated liberal educational complex that, from kindergarten to grad school, simultaneously vacuums up enormous resources while generally delivering very little in the way of results.
Reynolds curates the legendary Instapundit website, an oft-updated aggregation of links to the most interesting stuff on the web. I’ve been starting my day at Instapundit since around 9/11, and it seems to me he’s moved from more libertarian to straight-on conservative over the years. He’s certainly no friend of the statists, the collectivists, or the status quo.
Reynolds (who I have never met but know from Twitter) is a law professor, and every young person even thinking about law school should consider what he says about that foolish course of action. Law school used to be the go-to fall-back option for the liberal arts major with nothing better to do (Hello, me!). Now it’s a way to get $200,000 in debt in exchange for a 50/50 chance of getting a job making about what I made as a new attorney back in 1994.
Like Lacy, Reynolds points out the incalculable damage teachers’ unions do – I’d ban them and consign the concept of tenure to hell along with them. His recitation of the vast number of useless, costly “diversity deans” at my own alma mater, the University of California, is as sickening as it is hilarious.
Reynolds is kind of a techno cheerleader – I guess he never got the memo about how conservatives hate science. The New School makes a compelling case that the unsustainability of ever-rising costs and the growing perception of a low return on investment, combined with technological advances, will totally change education as we know it. Why pay a fortune to sit with a thousand other suckers in a cavernous lecture hall learning almost nothing – except that America is a heteronormative vortex of imperialist oppression – when you can do it online for 5% of the cost? Reynolds predicts that soon no one but spawn of the super-rich will.
Then there is the cheeriest of the books, The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers & the Secret to Genuine Success by radio host and Townhall columnist Hugh Hewitt. Hugh’s point about happiness is an old one, and it’s no secret really. You get by giving, not mere material goods but a part of yourself. You gain joy by choosing to sacrifice your attention, your effort, your time – and the book is infused with reminders that we only have a limited time in this life.
Hugh lives that ethic too – he’s given me and many other folks a lot of help along the way. It must work. Hugh is also, without a doubt, one of the most consistently cheery people I’ve ever met, despite his being a high profile lawyer.
The Happiest Life firmly places the responsibility for happiness upon the shoulders of the individual; happiness is a result of how you choose to live your life. Though it is not a political book, it begs the question regarding how a liberal might view happiness. Liberals believe in giving too, except they “give” what are another’s material possessions to those the liberal believes more deserving. But this seems to bring liberals no happiness – they often seem so miserable – and under Hugh’s construction it cannot. Redistribution not an act of sacrifice; it’s an exercise of power.
I found myself stopping frequently to think about what I had just read, and I cannot conceive of higher praise. Also, you’ll also find one of the best selection of epigrams ever, including my new favorite from Thucydides: “The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.”
Oh, and Unknown Pleasure: Inside Joy Division is a brilliant book, illuminating and often hilarious. It’s also deeply conservative. The lads weren’t snooty artist types (though that became their fan base after Ian Curtis’s tragic suicide). They were working class Brits who really wanted to be musicians and worked hard to do it. Joy Division’s story is as inspiring as their music is classic.
The uppity barista who chides conservatives for failing to measure up tome-wise would be well advised to take his own advice and do a little reading himself. Taxifornia might help him understand why the best job he can get is making coffee drinks for lawyers who laugh at his pretentions. And The New School might have warned him away from taking on $150,000 in debt to end up with a job making coffee drinks for lawyers who laugh at his pretentions.
As good as it is, The Happiest Life probably isn’t going to help him find happiness – the discussion of faith might make him spontaneously combust – but Unknown Pleasures at least might get him into some cool music and away from that Mumford & Sons crap.
Finally, here’s a shameless plug for my own writing. My short, snarky parody of liberal love 50 Shade of Liberal just came out on Amazon Kindle, and Post Hill Press will publish my book, Conservative Insurgency: The Struggle to Take America Back 2013-2041, this spring.
Yeah, liberals, maybe conservatives would read more books if we weren’t so busy writing them.
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