Friday, February 3, 2012

Book review, Conservative Essays

I recently posted on Amazon the following review of a collection of British essays that was released in 1978.

The obvious question is why should an American, circa 2012, read a book of political essays from a foreign country from over thirty years ago.  But for those interested in conservative thought there is much to capture your attention in these essays, and as Britain was arguably farther along the path we’ve been on this book isn’t without topical value.  For example, labor leader James Callahan’s warning that the standard Keynesian approach to economic downturns no longer work.

For the most part these essays operate in that area between practical politics and political philosophy although there is a fair amount attention paid to the meaning of Margaret Thatcher’s leadership of the Tory Party on the cusp of her becoming Prime Minister (replacing the aforementioned J Callahan).  Reading this book one becomes more aware of the perils in using the term conservatism too generally.  One of the essays deals head on with the differences between English conservatism and that which goes by the same name on the European continent, and it is apparent that conservatism in America is a distinct animal as well.  Along those lines it is interesting that while Sam Tanenhaus uses Disraeli to attack modern, American conservatives in his book The Death of Conservatism it turns out that these English conservatives don’t think too much of Disraeli and hardly view him as an important number in conservative thought.

By far the best, and arguably most philosophical, essay here is Shirley Robin Letwin’s On Conservative Individualism, a first rate consideration of the apparent tension between order and freedom.  Letwin’s argument is extremely interesting in its own right and one is tempted to say this alone is worth picking up this collection, but it also has the advantage for those who’ve heard of Michael Oakeshott of being perhaps the best synthesis of his thought to be found (small wonder that Oakeshott reviewed the essay favorably).

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