Resources: Books: Conservatism in the 21st Century
What makes me the expert on conservatism, you ask? I’m certainly not claiming to be an expert. But I do read the experts and strive to faithfully translate their writings into blog posts and podcasts for contemporary eyes and ears. If you'd prefer to go straight to the source material there are plenty of books I highly recommend from the actual "experts".
The majority of worthwhile conservative text was written long ago. In this post, you will find links to books written in the 21st century by contemporary conservative thinkers addressing the issues of today that concern Millennials most.
An urgent argument that America and other democracies are in peril because they have lost the will to defend the values and institutions that sustain freedom and prosperity. Only once in the last 250,000 years have humans stumbled upon a way to lift ourselves out of the endless cycle of poverty, hunger, and war that defines most of history. If democracy, individualism, and the free market were humankind's destiny, they should have appeared and taken hold a bit earlier in the evolutionary record. The emergence of freedom and prosperity was nothing short of a miracle. As Americans we are doubly blessed, because the radical ideas that made the miracle possible were written not just into the Constitution but in our hearts, laying the groundwork for our uniquely prosperous society.
In the last few decades, these political virtues have been turned into vices. As we are increasingly taught to view our traditions as a system of oppression, exploitation, and privilege, the principles of liberty and the rule of law are under attack from left and right. For the West to survive, we must renew our sense of gratitude for what our civilization has given us and rediscover the ideals and habits of the heart that led us out of the bloody muck of the past - or back to the muck we will go.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump proclaimed, “The American Dream is dead,” a message that resonated across the country. Washington Examiner editor Timothy Carney traveled Middle America, pored over county-level maps and data, and sorted through sociological studies, and had a startling revelation: Donald Trump is right, but the death of the American Dream is a social phenomenon, not an economic one.
In some parts of the United States, life seems to be getting worse because citizens are facing their problems alone. These communities have seen declines in marriage, voting, church attendance, and volunteer work. Even when money comes back to town, happiness does not return if people there do not reengage. The educated and wealthy elites, on the other hand, tend to live in places where institutions are strong, or have enough money to insulate themselves.
Carney visits all corners of America, from the dim country bars of southwestern Pennsylvania to the bustling Mormon wards of Salt Lake City, and provides the most important data and research to explain why failing social connections are responsible for the great divide in America. Alienated America confirms the conservative suspicion that these places can’t be fixed with job-training programs or more entitlement spending, and backs up the liberal belief that new Trump voters aren’t coming to his rallies for the corporate tax cuts and Obamacare repeal. Tim Carney will change the way you look at the challenges facing modern America and present a framework for leading us out of the wilderness.
In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explores the formation of American classes that are different in kind from anything we have ever known, focusing on whites as a way of driving home the fact that the trends he describes do not break along lines of race or ethnicity. Drawing on five decades of statistics and research, Coming Apart demonstrates that a new upper class and a new lower class have diverged so far in core behaviors and values that they barely recognize their underlying American kinship—divergence that has nothing to do with income inequality and that has grown during good economic times and bad.
The top and bottom of white America increasingly live in different cultures, Murray argues, with the powerful upper class living in enclaves surrounded by their own kind, ignorant about life in mainstream America, and the lower class suffering from erosions of family and community life that strike at the heart of the pursuit of happiness. That divergence puts the success of the American project at risk. The evidence in Coming Apart is about white America. Its message is about all of America.
Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work—but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified in this brilliant volume, which The Economist hailed as “a prodigious achievement.”
Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans’ changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures—whether they be PTA, church, or political parties—have disintegrated. Until the publication of this groundbreaking work, no one had so deftly diagnosed the harm that these broken bonds have wreaked on our physical and civic health, nor had anyone exalted their fundamental power in creating a society that is happy, healthy, and safe. Putnam’s Bowling Alone has identified a central crisis at the heart of our society and suggests what we can do.
One of the leading thinkers to emerge in the postwar conservative intellectual revival was the sociologist Robert Nisbet. His book The Quest for Community, published in 1953, stands as one of the most persuasive accounts of the dilemmas confronting modern society. Nearly a half century before Robert Putnam documented the atomization of society in Bowling Alone, Nisbet argued that the rise of the powerful modern state had eroded the sources of community—the family, the neighborhood, the church, the guild. Alienation and loneliness inevitably resulted. But as the traditional ties that bind fell away, the human impulse toward community led people to turn even more to the government itself, allowing statism—even totalitarianism—to flourish.
American life expectancy is declining for a third straight year. Birth rates are dropping. Nearly half of us think the other political party isn’t just wrong; they’re evil. We’re the richest country in history, but we’ve never been more pessimistic. What’s causing the despair?
In Them, bestselling author and U.S. senator Ben Sasse argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, our crisis isn’t really about politics. It’s that we’re so lonely we can’t see straight―and it bubbles out as anger. Local communities are collapsing. Across the nation, little leagues are disappearing, Rotary clubs are dwindling, and in all likelihood, we don’t know the neighbor two doors down. Work isn’t what we’d hoped: less certainty, few lifelong coworkers, shallow purpose. Stable families and enduring friendships―life’s fundamental pillars―are in statistical freefall.
As traditional tribes of place evaporate, we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team. No institutions command widespread public trust, enabling foreign intelligence agencies to use technology to pick the scabs on our toxic divisions. We’re in danger of half of us believing different facts than the other half, and the digital revolution throws gas on the fire.
There’s a path forward―but reversing our decline requires something radical: a rediscovery of real places and human-to-human relationships. Even as technology nudges us to become rootless, Sasse shows how only a recovery of rootedness can heal our lonely souls. America wants you to be happy, but more urgently, America needs you to love your neighbor and connect with your community. Fixing what's wrong with the country depends on it.
Americans today are anxious--about the economy, about politics, about our government. The institutions that once dominated our culture have become smaller, more diverse, and personalized. Individualism has come at the cost of dwindling solidarity. No wonder, then, that voters and politicians alike are nostalgic for a time of social cohesion and economic success.
But the policies of the past are inadequate to the America of today. Both parties are stuck presenting old solutions to new problems. In The Fractured Republic, Yuval Levin details his innovative answers to the dysfunctions of our fragmented national life. By embracing subsidiarity and diversity and rejecting extremism and nostalgia, he believes we can revive the middle layers of society and enable an American revival.