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Taking Nominations for Most Important Book for Today's Times

What book has the most important ideas for helping the world through the problems of today? It is easier to say what books should not be nominated. Cross off most of the books you were encouraged to read in school: Montesquieu, Locke, Rousseau, the Federalist Papers, etc. They are excellent and important, and worth reading in general. But not today. 

My nomination goes to a book that you can be damn sure was not on the reading list at school; nor was it ever a New York Times best-seller. The books is La Boetie's "Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.

As a runner-up I nominate Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience." 

Both books discuss the ease with which dictators can be opposed merely by the human herd not complying with the edicts of the Mighty. 

Camping a couple years ago in the Utah high country. A thousand sheep were being managed by a Peruvian shepherd and his 3 dogs.

Now, it seems like I have taken all the sport out of this post for the reader, by answering the question before even giving the reader a chance. But voluntary servitude might only be half the issue.

I am not proposing a book to solve the other half of the problem. Consider the nature of middle class, normal, responsible, law-abiding people: they work for the Boss. They show up for work on time, and follow directions in their daily work. They try not to complain, since it won't do any good -- all it will do is make their co-workers grumpy.

Their lives at work and at home, in front of the television set, is about being compliant. How many people do you know have felt sheer rage in front of the television set, and thrown a brick through it?

They worship comfort and safety. There is no sense of the Heroic in their lives. Some of this comes from living in a post-Christian age: only the Here and the Now exist for modern people.

What is the most important book you know of that addresses the sterility of the soul and its habitual degradation, resulting from a mindset of materialism, comfort, and safety?

Where is the transcendent Idea that adds dignity to human life, and which claims our loyalty? Or are we just rotting piles of flesh with big egos, tied to our incomes, house, car, and toys; and any risk that threatens that income must be avoided?

In such a world, Courage does not exist. Therefore degradation and slavery must exist. Nor does an all-important 'honour' attach itself to an individual's reputation after death.


XXXXX said…

It is true that the herd is easily bought out by those who would be king simply by throwing some tidbits their way. Also true that the power of those who would be king lies solely in the people. When people rise up, the king is gone.

You do well to address this side of the matter but there is the other side as well. Are the people always right? Seems to me that popular opinion can be one step away from mob rule. Dominance of the passions goes hand in hand with the herd's love of comfort and materialism. Can you rightly expect this mob to bring order out of the chaos they would so happily create? (French Revolution case in point)

To avoid being ruled from without, man must rule from within. Do you think most people are capable of that? Never has seemed to be so and does not seem to be so now.

My nomination is "Revolt Against Modernity: Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and the Search for a PostLiberal Order." Voegelin has a theory of consciousness which is one of the best I've found so far. Man is always a slave, no matter his wealth and position, if he does not understand his own mind. Voegelin's theory of consciousness is fully explained in "Anamnesis." ("Remembering" according to Plato.) Both Voegelin and Strauss are classical conservatives (do not associate with the current Republican party.)

Second choice (a definite second because there are some substantial points I disagree with) is "Revolt Against the Modern World" by Julius Evola. Evola embraced Traditionalism as the natural way of living, which used to rule the world before modern times. However, he fell into fascism and Nazism for a time and so must be considered carefully. His points on Traditionalism makes one reconsider current ways of thinking, normally not pondered. His embrace of totalitarianism makes one realize there is no path to perfection. For Evola, his withdrawal from the world eventually went way past any form of government as the issue was society in general, "the herd", if you will.

George Washington and the Federalists understood that in order for a democracy to work it was essential that virtue be cultivated in the people. Thomas Jefferson, our first populist, believed the leanings of popular opinion would lead us correctly. The people loved that. Populism led to Progressivism and modern liberalism, unfortunately embraced by both parties.

The only way out is to go within.


Thanks for your response, George. But it is easy to say something like that. Let me do something that is NOT easy: admit that I always thought of Leo Strauss as one of the bad guys. He is widely perceived as the Founding Father of warmongering neo-cons.

But since I haven't read any of his books, that last charge might be unfair. At any rate I am sniffing around on Amazon, reading reviews of his books.

I am still trying to interpret your " Dominance of the passions goes hand in hand with the herd's love of comfort and materialism."

I love your statement "To avoid being ruled from without, man must rule from within."
XXXXX said…

I have to admit it is Voegelin that drew me to the book. I know less about Strauss, primarily his advice on the importance of reading certain texts esoterically if for some reason the author needed to camouflage his truest thoughts. If you find something about Strauss' view representing your statement, I'd appreciate you sharing it.

It sounds like Strauss might have gotten himself in a mess similar to Evola in WWII. It seems impossible sometimes to figure out, after reading someone's philosophy, how this same person takes the position they do in the political world of their time.

What I mean by the dominance of passions statement is that we all love comfort and the indulgence in pleasure which materialism can bring. I was actually just paraphrasing your statement "They worship comfort and safety. There is no sense of the Heroic in their lives. Some of this comes from living in a post-Christian age: only the Here and the Now exist for modern people."

Interesting your reference to the heroic....Evola talks about the basic male drive to be a warrior and how distorted that has become in our cultures of late. He considered himself a warrior in life. Interesting fact about him....he lost the use of his legs and spent the last half of his life in a wheel chair which apparently, by this time in his life, didn't concern him as he had withdrawn totally within and answered to no one or anything outside himself. He wrote over 30 books, many of which are about transcending the ordinary. His definition of a warrior wasn't along the lines of physical strength but rather one who goes their own way with no concern of praise or blame, success or failure. Each man defines his own way.

XXXXX said…
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