Two Treatises of Government
by John Locke
Published in 1689
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
I really expected to agree with John Locke, and was surprised that I didn’t. During my many years as a libertarian, I heard a lot of good things about John Locke, although I never actually read him.
I was very disappointed.
In Locke’s first treatise, he argues against absolute monarchy and provides counterarguments to the divine right of monarchs. This treatise is interesting for historical reasons, and gave me a lot of unprecedented insight into the minds of people in the 17th century, but otherwise doesn’t apply to modern life.
In the second treatise, Locke argues for human rights. The second treatise contains a lot of the egalitarian rot which has infected modern day Europe.
Locke opens by describing men in the state of nature. He argues that all men are born equal, because in nature, there is equality. This premise is absurd - Darwinian evolution of apes into men would have been impossible had all the apes been equal. Our biological differences condemn us to inequality.
This absurd premise itself stems from the egalitarian aspects of Christianity.
Locke then proceeds to argue that things are just or unjust, fair or unfair, equal or unequal without defining those terms.
I was disappointed because I expected John Locke to be a much better writer than he turned out to be.
Published in 381 BC
Thibault’s Score: 5/5
I don’t give good scores to books because they are classics - in fact I recently have written abysmal reviews of Utopia, Paradise Lost, and Reflections on the Revolution in France.
The Republic is one of the best books that I have read all year. I have heard a lot about it but never actually read it cover to cover - everyone knows about the allegory of the cave, but few people have actually read Plato. Like Nietzsche, Plato is a must read, and should only be interpreted from the source himself.
I found that many ideas which I have been thinking about and considering for the last few months have already been expounded upon in Plato.
His politics were always misrepresented to me by libertarians, when in fact, Plato is much more reasonable than I expected.
There are many very interesting ideas exposed in “The Republic,” ideas which can best be explored by going out and reading the book. The most interesting to me was realizing that Plato was a porto-Christian. The philosophy of the noble lie and the rule of philosophers foreshadows Christianity and rule by priests.
I understand now why The Republic has stood the test of time. A very highly recommended book for everyone - one that I plan on rereading again in the near future.
by Sir Thomas More
Published in 1516
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
My whole life, I have heard people use the word “Utopia” (which means “not a place” in Greek), but had never read the book which coined the word.
The book describes a fictional republic with a perfect political system. The entire book takes the form of a dialog between a British man and a traveller, Raphael, who has returned from Utopia. Considering that the book was written in 1516, I found it to be very clear and well written. Like many authors of his time, More writes in a style that requires the reader to pay attention on every word and skip nothing.
Although Raphael makes Utopia sound like a wonderful place, I would absolutely hate to live in the state which is described. The characters talk about Utopia as if it is a wonderful place, but in fact describe a society which, by modern terms, can only be understood as dystopian communism.
The economy of Utopia is completely centrally planned.There is no private property, instead the government decides everything. Every city has the same amount of resident, and people are moved around in order to keep the size of the cities balanced. All citizens are assigned homes and aren’t allowed to keep any home for more than a decade. People have no freedom to chose their own jobs, with some exceptions for prodigies who are misaligned. Work is mandatory.
There is a welfare state, complete with voluntary euthanasia to keep the costs down. All the poor and disabled are supplied and provided for by the fit and able. All meals are served in communal dining halls.
Utopia can also be seen as an early example of feminist literature. More predicts many rights for women in Utopia that wouldn’t be implemented in Europe for another 300 years. Women enjoy the right to divorce their unfaithful and degenerate husbands. Women have the right to hold religious offices, and some are even trained as soldiers. There are, however, still patriarchal institutions in society. For example, grooms can inspect their brides naked bodies before marriage to make sure that they have no hidden deformities. (Makes me wonder if Thomas More’s wife had some hidden deformities)
There are also many aspects of Utopian society which would be viewed as absolutely reprehensible by modern communists, although these transgressions can be forgiven because of the time and context that the author lived in. For example, Utopia has a very large population of slaves, mostly criminals and captured enemy combatants. Premarital sex is punished by enforced celibacy and adultery is punished by slavery.
The idea of a totalitarian Utopia dates back to Plato’s “The Republic” (which I am reading next), and understanding the history of failed Utopias puts modern Marxism into context.
Like all communist dreams, Utopia is flawed not in execution but also in conception. Although the people are well provided for, they lack freedom and adventure. Their lives are controlled and regulated, there are no options or ways out for nonconformists and rebels.
Freedom aside, Thomas More, like all communists, ignores the much more practical problems of scarcity and poor incentives.
To me the most interesting aspect of the book was discovering that totalitarian communist dream which was attempted in the 20th century had been fully conceptualized by the 16th century. This book is worth reading for people who are interested in understand modern Marxism and its intellectual roots.
Reflections on the Revolution in France
by Edmund Burke
Published in November 1790
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Edmund Burke is one of those people who is often quoted but rarely read. I didn’t want to be one of those ignoramuses, decided to read quite a bit of Burke over the years. I’ve read numerous fragments and essays, but never sat down and systematically tackled his work.
Now I know exactly why he isn’t very often read anymore.
Burke’s writing style hasn’t aged very well at all - I found it to be repetitive and slow paced. Like many authors of his time, he writes long sentences that are much slower to read.
Despite the aged writing style, the content of the book is very relevant and extremely interesting. I strongly recommend laypeople read the cliff notes / summarized version of this book but don’t recommend spending much time reading it.
The spread of revolutionary ideas from the Americas combined with the socioeconomic stress of colonialism had stretched France’s resources thin. As a result, in 1789 a series of crisis occurred including mass protests, the formation of a new revolutionary government, and the storming of key government garrisons like the Bastille.
Burke argues that because the legitimacy of the French monarchy was caused by divine authority, the atheism of the enlightenment had delegitimized the French monarchy.
Burke concludes that the problems of the French Revolution are inherit in the nature of revolutions. Mob rule and egalitarian dreams challenge traditional institutions which puts society at risk. Traditional institutions, simply by virtue of their age, have had to wither many challenges and often offer good solutions. Burke instead suggests gradual change, and advises political leaders not to succumb to the temptations of frustration.
In the case of France, history proves Burke right. Several years after publishing the book came a time known as the Reign of Terror (1793 - 1794) where roughly 17 thousand political dissidents were beheaded.
A lesser known atrocity which was covered up by later governments was that Revolutionary France also successfully carrier out an ethnic cleansing in the region known as Vendée, where it is estimated that as many as 250 thousand civilians were murdered. The province of Vendée was inhabited by a distinct cultural group with a unique language which remained loyal to the king of France. After the genocide, the local language has almost entirely disappeared.
In light of what is currently happening on the internet and on college campuses, and in light of the current struggles of the Western Millennials, this book is ever more relevant. I myself was a young revolutionary and works by conservative authors like Burke have brought me to my senses. I advise my millennial revolutionary friends, both on the left and the libertarian right to be cautious and fully think out the implications of a revolution.
Edmund Burke’s legacy has survived. He is now viewed as the founding father of conservatism, and his legacy is the modern right.
Ride the Tiger
by Julius Evola
Published in 1961
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
Julius Evola is an insane Italian author from the 1940s and one of the ideological architects of the modern reactionary intellectual movements. After reading Nick Land’s Dark Enlightenment, and being thrilled and fascinated by what I read, I decided to turn to Evola.
Evil’s style of writing is incomprehensible. The book reads like the rant of a crazed - perhaps intoxicated nut job. Evola does have very neat ways of wording his sentences and explaining his ideas, but his arguments are lost in the mess.
While Evola does have some insights as to why reactionaries and traditionalists are always swept away by the liberals, I had to put the book down and stop reading it because I didn’t like the writing.
The Dark Enlightenment
by Nick Land
Published in 2008
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Nick Land makes the case for right wing exitism - that conservatives and reactionaries should seek to exit the current political systems rather than futilely fight for a voice.
“The state isn’t going anywhere, because, to those who run it, its worth far too much.”
Land cites everyone from Richard Dawkins to Ludwig von Mises. Land has, for a long time, captured my imagination.
Land criticizes traditional enlightenment values. He argues that Christian and post-Christian universal egalitarianism is the worst amongst these values. Land also criticizes the virtue of tolerance as hypocritical as tolerance requires the intolerance of tolerance. Because of universalism and tolerance’s impossibility, these virtues in fact serve as social policing functions, with the state fundamentally determining wrong from right.
Land is very critical of the various factions of the right: the libertarians, the religious right, the neonazis, the ethane nationalists, the paleo conservatives, and the mainstream republicans. No ideological subgroup is sparred from the chopping block.
Nick Land also has a unique insight on race relations. He suggests that the reason why whites are becoming more staunchly republican is because as dominant groups become minorities, tribalism and in-group preference increases. He also argues that tribalism is exemplified by stereotypes about racial differences in behavior. His history of the word “cracker” is particularly interesting.
I recommend the Dark Enlightenment to anyone who is knowledgable enough to know who Nick Land is before picking up this review - otherwise I would instead suggest something else.
The Uniqueness of Western Civilization
by Ricardo Duchesne
Published in August 2012
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
The central thrust of the book is that only Western Civilization industrialized, because only the West had the unique characteristics required to adopt free markets.
He extensively criticizes cultural relativists who argue that all cultures are equal, arguing that non-material measurements of human progress are irrational. A starving, diseased, and violently oppressed population, Duchesne argues, can never be free or prosperous.
He also criticizes Sinocentrism, a theory that argues that for most of human history China was the world’s primary center of commerce. Duchesne argues that the classical Western world’s richest areas were more prosperous than China’s, although China was more advanced on a whole.
Fundamentally, the West’s aristocratic moral character is the main reason why the West is superior. He argues that this is compounded by various biological, environmental, and cultural factors.
I found Duchesne’s arguments to be compelling, but the writing style to be boring and repetitive. Overall this book is worth reading if you are into advanced libertarian thought, but has little interest for the general public.
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonia Africa
by Adam Hochschild
Published in 1998
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
This book certainly changed by perspective of the history of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country which has fascinated me for several months.
The book opens with the history of the heroic explorers who braved numerous dangers such as hostile natives, disease, starvation, rugged environments, and “worms that burrow in the feet.” Hochschild covers their victories, their personal tragedies, as well as their heinous crimes.
Hochschild also devotes much ink to the life of King Leopold, and explores the character of Europe’s most murderous monarch. He talks about his life history, and paints Leopold as not just a murderer, a complex 3-dimensional human being with rational motives.
Finally, he also devotes many pages to the dissidents and activists who went to the Congo and condemned the exploitation of the natives. He also reflects on the current situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I found the writing style to be very clear and pleasant to read. The book is well-paced but still remains very information-dense.
By the end of this book, I truly understood the title. The ghost of King Leopold still haunts the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Prisoners of Geography
by Tim Marshall
Published in July 2015
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
I first heard about this book through Caspian Report’s book review. Please check out his book review, and do yourself a favor, subscribe to his channel. His channel is my favorite on YouTube and provides a video a month with in depth geopolitical analysis.
The only regret was that I listened to the audio book. This book heavily relies on maps, so its much better when read on paper. Luckily I had PDFs and a great understanding of geography.
Instead of reviewing this book I will leave Caspian Report’s excellent video as I agree with most of what he says.
by Marco Polo
Published in 1300
Thibault's Score: 4/5
Recently I have been extensively studying China's One Belt One Road policy and wrote an article on the Startup Societies blog about it.
I wanted to improve my understanding of the historical context of the Silk Road, so naturally, I decided to read the Travels of Marco Polo. This book has helped me understand what was happening during the late Middle Ages in Central Asia and has broadened my understanding of steppe peoples.
Comparing Marco Polo's travels to the Silk Road is quite interesting:
Marco Polo's travels.
China's One Belt One Road policy.
Several stories that Marco Polo recounts struck me as particularly noteworthy.
For example, he describes a region where the women sleep with any men that visit. I looked it up and now wonder if they avoided Mongols raiding / stealing their women by sleeping with them voluntarily upon their arrival.
Another story which fascinated me was Marco Polo's descriptions of the treacherous deserts of Central Asia. "Ghosts" would lure travelers, whispering in the night and telling them to stray away from their caravans to their ultimate deaths.
I also didn't realize the degree of civilization that the Mongols had established. Their empire was highly centralized, and they had an extensive road network connecting all parts of the Eurasian landmass.
The Travels of Marco Polo is an amazing historical document that opens one mind up like few others can. It also has reinforced in my mind the important role to be played Central Asia in the coming decades.