For those like nkh who wish I had given a different set of readings on the blog

Oh, alright, I'll give you the full story.  About six months ago, my fellow blogger Prof. Mondo posted a list of books that he had just purchased and was looking forward to reading.  One of them was Jonah Goldberg's The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.  I had been following Prof. Mondo's posts about being a conservative in the academy (in an English department, no less), and I was intrigued.  So I got Goldberg's book on my Kindle and started reading.  It was exhilarating, to say the least, having someone take on so forcefully and, let's face it, wittily so many of the tired ways of talking that I have encountered in my decades in the academy.  I had not read any conservative political criticism since way back in graduate school when my father was recommending me books by P.J. O'Rourke.  It was refreshing taking another look at where the conservative conversation had gone since then.

It is true, most of the books that I recommend are exposés from a conservative perspective on the conversation of liberalism.  The last time I got tangled up in this conversation was back in 2008, when I posted a couple of times in favor of Obama (yes, that Obama), and one of my readers started trolling me for being so clueless as to support him.  At that point, I was still persuaded by George Lakoff (whose work with Mark Johnson on metaphors has been very important for my academic thinking) that the conservatives were a conspiracy, what with all their think tanks and clever language.  Reading Goldberg was the first time I had actually come at things from the other side,* and so I asked Prof. Mondo and my friend BAJ (who comments here occasionally) for something else to read.  They recommended Thomas Sowell, Whittaker Chambers, Richard Weaver, and Mark Steyn (if I was feeling really daring).  I haven't read Chambers or Weaver yet (they're in line), but I read lots of Sowell this summer (that was hard going, he is nowhere near as witty as Goldberg or--yes, I read him, too--Steyn).  I found Ann Coulter all by myself since I had heard of her and was getting curious.  And so it went. 

I am not doing this reading in order to become a political theorist; I am mainly doing it because it is a breath of fresh air.  If you are in academia, perhaps you can appreciate this: these people are writing to my present; passionately, wittily, in order to change people's minds--or, if they can't do that, at least circle the wagons and tell war stories about what they've seen.

The readings that I list on my blog are simply recommendations of books that, as I put it, "have helped me most on my journey."  The list is by no means intended as an academic syllabus.  I titled the political section "On liberalism" partly as a tease**: almost all of my friends, in meatspace and I suspect on this blog, are liberals.  I didn't think they would look twice at a list labeled "Conservative Critiques of Liberalism," so I left it vague.  Maybe, I hoped, just maybe they would trust me as someone who had guided them through more straightforward academic problems (like writing or creativity) to suggest something to read that might give them a different perspective on our default point of view.  (Liberalism is the default point of view in academia; the conservatives are definitely right about this.)  If this is inconsistent with my choice of books in other parts of the recommended reading, well, so be it: the books are the ones I have found helpful on my journey.  I put them on the list as I read them and find them helpful.***  If you want an intellectually consistent syllabus on a topic, you will need to look at my academic homepage--but I don't teach contemporary political philosophy, only history (and Tolkien).  My blog is not an academic course; it is a personal journey.  I appreciate, nkh, that it might strike you as inconsistent, but it is the way my journey has gone.  It is typically only in retrospect that we can discern the path that we were on.  That's certainly been my experience.

*Well, no, that's not quite right: I read Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987) when it first came out.  Imagine my dismay, in retrospect, when, after I got the job here, I realized that most UofC faculty and he weren't entirely on the same page.
**Also, let's face it: at first I was terrified even to admit that I was reading these books, much less recommending them.  I'm getting better at writing about this stuff, but coming out in academia as a conservative is not for the faint of heart.   You should see the comments on my Facebook posts.
***Which is not to say that I put everything on the list that I read--far from it!  I try to list only those books that have really helped (given me comfort, inspired me, taught me a skill, or given me information that I find useful).


  1. Yay! I'm in a blog post title. And thank you. That was a very interesting perspective on the context of your blog. Maybe I could have gleaned all of that from reading earlier posts, but it's helpful to have it all in one place.

    And I'm not trying to be overly confrontational or to disuade you from where you are going, but maybe it's helpful for the journey to get a little bit of resistance from a liberal perspective that I would bet good money is different from most of what you're used to encountering and that I know is not represented by the authors you've chosen.

    It's also interesting for me, since I don't have much exposure to people who have thoughtfully chosen your path. I find it helps to engage with that perspective. Even if I've never yet been convinced to abandon my liberalism, I like to think that it's evolved in a sensible way and gained nuance.

    "It is typically only in retrospect that we can discern the path that we were on". I still believe that, in the end, inconsistencies should give us pause, but I fully agree with your statement.

  2. My pleasure! Thank you for goading me to be more upfront about where I've been coming from in my more recent posts. This is a new experience for me, explaining my political position, although I am starting to realize that I probably have always been more conservative than not. Being in academia, one is hard put to find interlocutors to represent the conservative perspective, so I now realize, I basically put on camouflage for the past, oh, thirty years and kept my head down. Call it part of my healing process that I am now able to say some of these things publicly. Part of that process, I now appreciate, is to practice answering questions like yours--so, again, thank you for the resistance!

    I was reflecting this morning on how I have labeled the sections in my "Recommend Reading" list. I started the list about a year ago, when it occurred to me that it might be helpful for readers to refer to, also because I genuinely found the books that I had been writing about helpful. The "On liberalism" section was a big leap for me, but I think it is actually the balance to the section "On Christianity." I saw an interesting chart this morning on Buzzfeed, on the correlation between political leanings and Facebook likes for media and books. C.S. Lewis is right out there with the Bible (and, natch, Ayn Rand) for likely Romney voters. For me, this puts the juxtaposition in my reading list between Christianity and liberalism into perspective: liberalism is, if you will, the great heresy (secularism, Statism) of our age. But I don't think I want to change the label in the reading list to that!

  3. "...but maybe it's helpful for the journey to get a little bit of resistance from a liberal perspective that I would bet good money is different from most of what you're used to encountering...": How do you mean, "used to encountering"? Almost every conversation I have with my academic friends (99% liberal--Prof. M. is the only one I have who isn't, and we haven't even met yet in meatspace) assumes a liberal perspective. This is what I was trying to explain earlier (I don't quite remember in which comment thread): I am reading the conservative critiques of liberalism precisely as an antidote to the very air I've been breathing these past thirty years!

  4. Hmmm... I'm an Obama-voting liberal atheist, but I quite like Lewis (not that I've read his complete works by a long shot). I have no love for Chomsky (not even for his formal language theory; putting natural language research back years). And I agree with the assertion (see Allan Bloom, I think) that post-modernist "theory" has had a detrimental influence on a lot of academic thinking even if I don't agree that the broader effects on society have been quite so dire. Maybe that goes a little way towards answering your question in the second response. To give a little more color, when I was at Chicago I remember being referred to as "Liz's conservative friend".

    Thanks in large part to this ongoing conversation, I've being thinking a lot recently about how I would characterize my conception of liberalism in contrast to conservatism. Unfortunately, laying it out here would probably be a bit dull to read and would certainly take more time than I have to spare at the moment. But the exercise has been very useful.

  5. "...when I was at Chicago I remember being referred to as 'Liz's conservative friend'": Be careful, you might find yourself changing your self-label, too! ; )

    If you do write some of your thinking out, please be sure to send me a link!



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