When I am drawn into a bookshop, which happens quite often, I am struck by the political bias of its contents. Heading for the politics section, usually found hugging the newly created environmentalism section to its chest, I find shelves packed with the works of Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein and their various disciples. Tome after tome condemns globalisation, the West and America in particular. All things green are praised and all things corporate condemned. Supermarkets which have brought us unprecedented choice and value are accused of all sorts of crimes against humanity. Where are the books explaining how free trade has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty, why the market is the only sensible economic system and that Chomsky is full of it?
I can’t believe that conservatives don’t read. And I know they can write – star newspaper columnists like Daniel Finkelstein, Michael Gove and Matthew D’Ancona are essential to my week. The conservative Spectator is an infinitely better bet for a train journey than the dull-as-dishwater New Statesman. So where are the books for the centre-right? Why do we have the progressive Verso publishing in the UK, but not the reactionary Regnery? The only conservative book I regularly see is James Delingpole’s How to be Right. Not intended to be serious, it is, in fact, sad to say, a bit silly.
So, as a public service, let me list a rare few of the essential reads for moderate conservatives. In the field of history, things are a bit better with Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson both in action for the right, so I will stick to politics, economics and science. Further suggestions would be very welcome.
The Blank Slate – Steven Pinker’s best book to date demolishes the idea that nurture trumps nature. In forensic detail, it explains why everything that the left think about human nature is wrong. Occasional dud chapters on art and violence do little to soften its overall impact.
Freakonomics – An academic and a journalist explain how to use statistics to understand the world. There is not all that much about straight economics and not everything here will gladden the conservative’s heart. But the sections on political funding, law and order and education provide much satisfying food for thought.
The World is Flat – Or why globalisation is a good thing. Taking a truly worldwide perspective, we learn how India and China are outpacing the West. Most of the myths about globalisation are attacked but the best thing about the book is the examples are all real people, not statistics. The problem is it is overlong and written in an annoying dialect of journalistic cliché.
The Undercover Economist – A journalist from the Financial Times elucidates economics for idiots (like me). This book explains why markets and free trade work and why the socialist alternatives don’t. We find out why Africa is really poor (it’s not western imperialism) and China is getting richer. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the driving forces of today’s world.
What’s Left? – An attack on leftist shibboleths by Nick Cohen, one of their own. I’ll be looking at the phenomena of the English neo-cons a bit later.
Just out is Sex, Science and Profits which explicitly links the rise of capitalism to the rise of science. It claims all those scientists demanding public funding for their work would be better off without it. It’s something else to add to the reading list. Any further ideas would be most welcome.
Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.