Ben Southwood, Sam Bowman and Anonymous Mugwump have written on their influences. I felt like doing the same: partly because it is diverting and partly because it makes some sense of what has lead me, after strange adventures in liberal and left wing politics, and evangelical and atheistic disputation, to my current state of agnostic conservativism.
Excluding fiction, poetry and plays is arbitrary. I fondly imagined that they influence my character while non-fiction informs my opinions but this is a distinction without much difference. Still, the air of self-indulgence hangs above this post already and I do not think it should become a cloud.
Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap
This might seem like an odd choice, perhaps, but it was crucial to me; dispelling my naive faith in social progress. Homer-Dixon builds a compelling and disturbing case for the idea that the distance between the problems before us and our ability to solve them has been growing and is liable to grow more pronounced. His argument that environmental, financial and demographic crises would converge has not been contradicted, and informed my view that societies must grow less complex.
Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism
Lasch’s book, which I reviewed here, investigated the spiritual malaise of prosperous societies, and argued that we suffer from possessing fragile, sensitive self-concepts, endangered by capitalist alienation and liberal deconstruction. Lasch sought to restore the deep social relations of family and community that the right and left neglected.
Russell Kirk, The Essential Russell Kirk
I would have thought I would have chosen somebody like Michael Oakeshott. Yet before I read Rationalism in Politics I was already convinced of the need for caution, scepticism and practical knowledge. It told me what I already knew in elegant terms. What Kirk offers is something British conservatives often neglect: the richness of tradition, in literature, architecture, religion and ritual. His was not the most rigorous of minds and he wrote much I would dissent from but his flowing, dignified prose is inspirational.
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate
Pinker’s argument that humans are born with a genetic inheritance that is not equal, malleable or benevolent is tightly argued and depressingly persuasive, and has severe implications for what is achievable by societies and states.
Edward Feser, The Last Superstition
This is an odd choice because I was not actually convinced by Edward Feser’s argument for the reality of God. I am not sufficiently trained in metaphysical inquiry to judge whether or not his argument is correct. What this book did prove to me, a complacent atheist, is that our discussions of God are philosophically impoverished, based less on reasoning than modern prejudices, and illuminate the grave implications of naturalism on ethics and the meaning of life.
Ibn Warraq, Defending the West
Unlike many polemical, sometimes jingoistic critics of Muhammad and his faith Ibn Warraq has studied Arabic and Islam and can write about them elegantly and incisively. This simultaneous defence of Western civilisation and critique of third worldist romanticism is the perfect napkin for the white man’s tears.
George Santayana, The Life of Reason
This series of books is an epic attempt to affirm beauty, order and virtue in a material universe. Its scope is vast but its elegance and acuity are tremendous and represent an impressive challenge to the more despairing nihilists.
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows
This beautiful essay on aesthetics is a hymn to nuance, subtlety and mystery in a world overflowing with that which is bold and sensational.
Alexander Stille, Excellent Cadavers
A engrossing history of the Second Mafia War, this also introduced me to two of my greatest heroes, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino. Almost single-handedly they took on the criminal gangs and the corrupt establishment and showed, through dedication and intelligence, how much individuals can achieve.
Pierre Ryckmans, The Hall of Uselessness
As an essayist, Pierre Ryckmans defended the truth, exposing intellectually and morally bankrupt Western apologists for Mao. No mere reductionist, however, he also defended beauty, in books, in calligraphy and in nature. Well-versed in both Western and Chinese culture, and continental and anglospheric literature, his was a rooted, sceptical, respectful cosmopolitanism.
Peter Robb, Midnight in Sicily
This curious book, which explores everything Sicilian, from its crime to its cuisine, is written with such love of feeling, texture, taste and expression that even as it details horrendous crimes and corruption it makes one truly, unironically glad to be alive.