Voegelinview 2019 Christmas Reading List
Brought to you by the friends of and contributors to VoegelinView!
Nathan Harter (Christopher Newport University)
Ernest Becker’s The Birth and Death of Meaning
An broad and interdisciplinary example of philosophical anthropology written in a lucid manner for the layman, with revealing insights in every chapter. The reader finds himself turning away often to reflect on himself and his relationships, both in the past and the present.
Lesley Chamberlain’s Nietzsche in Turin
Limpid first book about Nietzsche, making him far less intimidating and more human (all too human), during his last lucid days. There is a sadness about his time in Turin that belies all the unseemly boasting and fascination with a Will to Power.
William Donaldson’s Simple_Complexity
Accessible introduction to systems thinking, with handy tools for managing in complex organizations. A little lesson in metacognition, tailored for ease of use. One might think of this work as applied philosophy.
Donald Levine’s Dialogical Social Theory
Culminating (deathbed) work of a stellar sociologist and expert on Georg Simmel, in the tradition of American pragmatism. Levine offers a way forward out of the culture’s insistence on either/or thinking. Interweaves practical perspectives from Aikido.
Richard McKeon’s On Knowing: The Social Sciences
Transcription from lecture series by stalwart professor at the University of Chicago on alternate ways to conduct social science, with specific reference to many of the great books by Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, and others. A comprehensive schema for organizing one’s study in the social sciences.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Red Wheel: March 1917
Magisterial depiction of the long, slow collapse of the Tsarist regime in which everybody gets a voice, but nobody feels that he or she can prevent the worst of it. Eerily prescient for the binary confusions of the present. The main character is Petrograd itself.
Paul Copperman (President of Institute of Reading Development)
Eugene Webb’s In Search of the Triune God
This is a remarkable book by the author of the equally remarkable intellectual biography of Eric Voegelin (Eric Voegelin, Philosopher of History). Webb contrasts the Western Augustinian approach to understanding the Christian Trinity with the Eastern Orthodox approach. He uses Voegelin’s explication of symbol and experience to help distinguish the two approaches. Along the way, he introduces the reader to the key elements of Eastern Orthodoxy, most especially taking on the mind of Christ through kenosis and theosis. The book is a compelling read for those struggling to understand and undertake the Christian walk through this vale of tears and joy.
MacGregor Knox and Williamson Murray’s The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300-2050
Written during the height of debates concerning “Revolutions in Military Affairs” (RMA) of the 1990s and early 2000s, this volume sheds light on the complex dynamics behind fundamental changes within the waging of war across the centuries. It refutes many popular concepts behind warfare in the contemporary age, namely that technology is the primary factor over more human-based ones. Reading it now with the benefit of years of hindsight, it gives a prophetic warning of the dangers of imposing “second realities” on war.
A pioneering study in International Relations scholarship attempting to establish the theoretical frameworks best suited to understanding the inter-state order that governed Medieval Europe, including taking seriously the theological underpinnings for such a system. An intriguing study with implications for contemporary times as well.
Anthony D. Smith’s Chosen Peoples: Sacred Sources of National Identity
Symbols relating to the Jewish and Christian traditions have been deeply embedded in the Western tradition. The late Anthony D. Smith, one of the leading scholars of nationalism, outlined the vital role such symbols played in the development of national identities across different cultural and historical contexts. The study helps to further understand the importance of the sacred to the foundations of political society, especially in an era of resurgent nationalism.
The Sino-Soviet alliance of the 1950’s has often been studied from a political perspective, but this study takes a different approach and examines the long-term impact that Soviet culture had on China, even long after the Sino-Soviet split a decade later. Among the unintended (and ironic) consequences was how Chinese dissidents found inspiration from Stalinist-era literature. An examination of how China became the power it is today, as well as looking deeper into the different ways ideologies can influence everyday culture.
John Lukacs (who passed away earlier this year) was perhaps one of the most profound and deep-thinking historians of the last few decades. This collection of essays expounds on several themes he examined in his long career, most notably his concept of “Historical Consciousness” and how it has revolutionized how the world thinks of itself.
Richard Bishirjian (American Academy of Distance Learning)
A close reading of Great Books from Homer to Goethe that avoids the Straussian search for the soul of the writer by the retired Chairman of the Department of Education at the University of Buckingham in England.
George H. Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945
Herbert Hoover biographer, George Nash’s study of the conservative movement, revised in 1998, is a superb “read” and well worth reading again, or for the first time. Nash’s interviews with some of his subjects lend insights not possbile today.
Without a single reference to Eric Voegelin, McDougall traces the development of what McDougall calls “The Civil Church” from George Washington, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.
Stephen H. Conlin
A few nights before Christmas Eve the partaker will start reading Browning’s long(ish) poem Christmas Eve, aiming to finish it on Christmas Eve, just about when the speaker in the poem comes to himself, lost in thought but suitably edified (as is, hopefully, the reader!), on a park bench (the reader is not necessarily required to be on a park bench) in the early hours of Christmas Morning. Christmas Day will involve reading, listening and viewing. Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem and Five Mystical Songs can set the tone for an early reading of a selection of George Herbert’s poetry. The post-Christmas dinner period can be followed by a leisurely film viewing: I suggest either Ice Cold in Alex or Doctor Zhivago (depending on time available). In the evening, especially if the family can be urged to sing along, selections from Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart should be most engaging, no family member need worry about being in tune – especially as Bob sings Hark the Herald Angels Sing (which has to be heard to be believed!).
For the rest of the holiday I suggest reading, or re-reading, any novel by Toni Morrison and/or Iris Murdoch: they always repay the effort.
On New Year’s Eve one must find the time (dusk is best) to read Tennyson’s Song (A spirit haunts the year’s last hours) before, presumably or hopefully, giving oneself over to more communally festive activities.
On New Year’s Day (having followed the plan thus far!) remind yourself that Anthony Burgess always regarded the start of the year ‘as a kind of Joyce Season’ (James Joyce’s birthday is 2nd February) seeing Joyce’s work as a ray of light in this (in the Northern Hemisphere certainly) dark and cold time of the year. Ulysses is especially apposite since the entirety of the action takes place on a warm day in June and will remind the reader of those coming summer days!
Of course, I hope I need hardly add, this must all be done against the constant background of one’s reading and re-reading of Voegelin, Desmond, Kirk et al!
Too frivolous? I leave it for you to decide!
Tilo Schabert (Erlangen University)
I should strongly recommend the so-called “rural novels” (romans champêtres) of the French woman writer George Sand. Here are the three titles: The Devil’s Pool, The Country Waif, The Bagpipers. They provide wonderful reading on a winter evening, near the stove, in a cozy corner. They offer a societal picture which today offers an important lesson.
Grant Havers (Trinity Western University)
A masterful interpretation of Voegelin’s later works, including a rigorous and illuminating treatment of Voegelin’s philosophy of history as well as his treatment of the role that Christianity plays within it.
Daniel J. Mahoney’s The Idol of Our Age: How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity
My review of this splendid book is available here.
Ato Sekyi-Otu’s Left Universalism, Africacentric Essays
The author is a true voice crying in the wilderness, calling upon his brethren on the Left to rediscover the merits and virtues of Enlightenment universalism, instead of embracing the parochialism and xenophobia inherent in the tribalist politics of our troubled age.
Edith Sheffer’s Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna
In this well-written and rigorously documented history, the author dramatically and brilliantly shows how easy it was for well-educated professionals such as Hans Asperger and other psychiatrists to take on a “godlike autonomy” that determined “a child’s worthiness to exist.” The horrific result was that many children who simply did not satisfy the Third Reich’s standard of mental fitness were systematically murdered. A warning for our own age, in which the devaluation of vulnerable human beings often continues in subtle ways.
Leo Strauss’s Leo Strauss on Hegel
This transcript of Strauss’s 1965 seminar on Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History reveals a Strauss who deeply respects and appreciates Hegel’s synthesis of philosophy, history, and religion, despite his famous critique of modern historicism (which Hegel initiated). The introduction by Paul Franco is also excellent in relating this seminar to the rest of Strauss’s oeuvre.
Sara McDonald (Huron University)
Although this book is a collection of essays written throughout celebrated Canadian novelist, David Adams Richards career, the whole is more than the sum of the parts. It is a book that speaks to what it means to be human. And while it delves into the temptation for injustice, in the end it is about a life of love.
Michael Henry (St. John’s University)
Anyone familiar with what is going on in higher education knows much of what MacDonald reports, but she does provide much more detail concerning the ways in which knowledge and free inquiry are being subordinated to leftwing ideology.
This is mostly about what has been going on in Europe without much reporting on it here. The Europeans seem to be far ahead of us in abandoning common sense and imposing what amounts to thought control concerning sex and gender.
An eyewitness account of the ways in which members of the Justice Department have abused their power, mainly by withholding evidence favorable to defendants.
Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster
After watching the first two episodes of the HBO series on Chernobyl I decided to read more. Higginbotham’s account is thorough in its accounts of the persons involved, the type of nuclear reactor and why its design flaws and the official refusal to acknowledge them , were a disaster waiting to happen, previous nuclear accidents in the Soviet Union that were never publicly acknowledged, and the aftermath of the explosion and how it affected the people who lived in the area. The HBO series changed some of the details but got the basic story right. This is a fascinating book, not least in its depiction of life under a government ideologically incapable of recognizing and admitting truth.
This is an excellent history of the role that the issue of fugitive slaves played in the coming of the Civil War and the final abolition of slavery. The book makes clear that the shooting Civil War was really the culmination of almost a century of wrangling over the moral and political issue of whether fugitive slaves who reached free states should be returned to their masters or should be considered free.
Promise Hsu (Independent Journalist and Scholar, and Editor of The Kosmos)
There are more than a half dozen works benefiting me in 2019 and thus worthy of recommendation for this Christmas season. But these three volumes above are exceptional in that I had the honor of receiving their physical versions in China from their authors in North America. The benefit for me is not just from what they write but also from who they are. It is like that the gift is not just the word but also the word becoming flesh. Given this, it is more than reading a book for me to figure out what it means that the founder of Eric Voegelin Institute publishes anew those untimely essays on the politics of truth in the so-called era of post-truth politics, the Book Review Editor of VoegelinView sees politics as friendship on this ever polarized globe, and the Editor of First Things regards nationalism and populism as not necessarily bad things for the West and the wider world.
Elisabeth Sifton’s and Fritz Stern’s No Ordinary Men: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi, Resisters Against Hitler in Church and State
This is a book that I received its physical copy this year not from its authors but from their fellow contributor to The New York Review of Books, Ian Johnson. With Ian’s own works, The Soul of China: The Return of Religion after Mao and Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China, this one helps me to learn further from those souls seeking liberty of conscience in Nazi Germany and Communist China in spite of controversies around some of them.
Lee Trepanier (Saginaw Valley State University)
How and to what extent do people take into account the intensions of others is the question The Anthropology of Intentions answers. By analyzing data collected over three decades in the U.S. and Samoa, Duranti shows that a variety of discourses exist where some communities avoid intentional discourse, speculate about their own intentions, or guess the intentions of others. To account for such variation, Duranti proposes an international continuum that draws upon phenomenology and analysis of face-to-face interaction.
Meeting with Remarkable Manuscripts is a magnificent achievement in not only revealing to us the beauty, power, and erudition of these twelve works but also introduce us to the medieval world of kings, queens, artists, and collectors. With each manuscript, Hamel traces its genealogy and his personal encounter with it, telling us the manuscript’s condition, weight, smell, marginalia as well as the problems with passing through the various security and academic bureaucracies to see the manuscripts. The account for each manuscript is learned but not academic, accessible yet not simple. When reading Meeting with Remarkable Manuscripts, you feel as if you are a companion with Hamel in his journeys to visit them.
The Theory of the Novel is an immense achievement for us to understand the novel and its significance. As perhaps the most important art form in the West today, Mazzoni traces the evolution of the novel from its humble origins to today’s status of rivaling science, philosophy, and religion for truth. To understand the world as it is portrayed, and the world as it actually is, The Theory of the Novel provides a path for readers to follow to make sense of the realm of the particular, psychology, and personal destiny.
The Temporality of Political Obligation is not only a significant contribution to the question of political obligation but to political theory itself. By putting time at the forefront of his analysis, Mueller demonstrates how political theorists can rethink and reconceive enduring political questions in new and exciting ways. It paves a new way for political theorists to explore political questions and is a model of what political theory at its best can accomplish.
Seoul: Memory, Reinvention, and the Korean Wave examines the history of the South Korean capital by combing the perspectives of architecture and historiography. It traces the history of the city from the Japanese colonization to today with a look at how the city continually reinvents itself as it faces new and different challenges. With photographs and diagrams to illustrate its points, Seoul: Memory, Reinvention, and the Korean Wave provides an account about Seoul that is both rewarding as it is enriching.
John von Heyking (University of Lethbridge)
Jean Vanier’s The Gospel of John: The Gospel of Relationship
The greatest Canadian passed away this past year. A philosopher, he wrote his dissertation on Aristotle, but most significant he was the founder of L’Arche, the worldwide system of communities of the severely disabled where he has shown the profound capacity of love. His reading of the Gospel of John blends both philosophical/theological erudition with the experience of the man who walked the walk, and shows friendship in its deepest and profound form.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Between Two Millstones
His autobiographical statement of the period between his exile and settling down in Vermont. He thought the Canadian wilderness would appeal to his Russian soul, but he found Canadians lacked spirit, so he headed south instead. The memoir also serves as a useful comparison between Pravda and the Western media.
Don’t read this book if descriptions of CCP torture methods bother you. Lin Zhao’s courage and faith is inspirational. During her youth she thought the CCP was a more effective way of bringing about social justice than the Gospel, a view her upbringing in Methodist Social Gospel pointed her toward. But it did not take long for her to get disabused of this notion, and the biography narrates her struggle against the Maoist regime, which was rooted in her faith. We can also be thankful that totalitarian governments are very good at keeping incriminating evidence, because the author was able to obtain all Lin’s writings that had been archived by the state.
Jean-Luc Marion’s In the Self’s Place: The Approach of Saint Augustine
This is perhaps the best philosophical treatment of Augustine’s Confessions. The author explains how Augustine seeks “a place” from which the self can think, will, and act. Without that “place,” the self persists in a state of “distensio,” instead of “extensio” or “metaxy.” The narrative of Confessions is Augustine’s narrative of finding that “place.” Along the way he convincingly shows how thinkers who have engaged Augustine on the question of the self, including Descartes, Rousseau, Husserl, and Heidegger, fail to understand Augustine properly, and by cutting off too early, they assert their own false “place” for the self, which in Augustinian terms ends up constituting different version of imperial selfhood. Marion’s analysis can be fruitfully compared with that of Voegelin, both with his early published meditations of Augustine and selfhood, and in his later, more mature work, which Barry Cooper has recently shown is quite Augustinian.