Packed with wisdom, history, and hope, these are worth your time.
1. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left by Roger Scruton
Roger Scruton provides a critical examination of the philosophies of various influential thinkers associated with the political left, including Jean-Paul Sartre, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and others. The book provides an invaluable historical perspective on leftist thought, tracing its evolution from Marx to the present day. Scruton argues that the political left has overlooked human nature in favor of seeing the world in terms of power and oppression (with the goal of overturning existing hierarchies and structures). He illustrates how the influence of postmodernism has led to a relativistic and anti-intellectual approach to truth.
2. Equality by Default: An Essay on Modernity as Confinement by Philippe Beneton
Beneton begins by examining the historical development of the idea of equality, tracing its roots to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. He argues that the original idea of equality was based on the notion of equal rights, but that over time it has been transformed into a demand for equal outcomes. Beneton critiques the modern notion of equality, arguing that it has led to a homogenization of society and a loss of individuality. He argues that the demand for equality often leads to a tyranny of the majority. Translator of the work into English, Ralph Hancock, says the book “Provides for our time a lucid account of the deep structure, intellectual and institutional, of threats to the human soul…However it is not a gloomy work as the author believes that we might still hope to preserve the last threads that tie our late-modern democratic individualism to a view of the transcendent dignity of each human being”
3. The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
Bloom argues that the decline of intellectualism in American universities has led to the death of critical thinking and cultural literacy among students–leading to severe consequences for American society and democracy. Bloom identifies universities’ shift from the cultivation of the intellect and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, resulting in a narrow and utilitarian approach to education. Bloom also discusses the cultural and moral relativism prevalent in American universities. He suggests that without a commitment to the pursuit of truth, democracy becomes vulnerable to demagoguery and authoritarianism. He discusses how the rejection of objective moral values has led to a loss of meaning and purpose in American society, which in turn has contributed to a rise in nihilism and despair.
4. Spe Salvi by Pope Benedict XVI
Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope) is the second encyclical letter by Pope Benedict XVI. It focuses on Christian hope in the modern age. Pope Benedict examines modern ideas about reason and freedom, discussing problems of ideology and warped pursuits. He argues that reason united with faith, and freedom for the good, are reason and freedom truly. He also describes a core problem which Marxism especially initiated in modernity: the ideal of a man-made, man-centered utopia. He says, “There is no doubt that a “Kingdom of God” accomplished without God – a kingdom therefore of man alone – inevitably ends up as the “perverse end” of all things.” He discusses the nature and object of hope–not simply a feeling or a wish, but a firm and certain expectation of what is good–and highlights how necessary hope is in the face of suffering and death.
5. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
The Gulag Archipelago is a powerful and disturbing account of the human cost of the Soviet system. Solzhenitsyn records four decades of Soviet terror, drawing from his own experiences as a Gulag prisoner as well as the testimony of other former prisoners. It gives a vivid image of life in the camps and the brutal physical and psychological suffering which prisoners endured. Solzhenitsyn holds an essential principle that the soul is capable on account of its freedom to be good or evil, that a person’s material circumstances do not dictate their choice to be good or evil – that is determined by a man’s heart. The work’s firsthand accounts of the horrors of the Gulag, are a powerful indictment of the Soviet regime and a testimony to the danger of totalitarianism. Solzhenitsyn’s descriptions of power and the poison of falsehood are stunning. His insights into the human condition, man’s capacity for good and evil, and the power of hope make the work a literary masterpiece. The Gulag Archipelago is considered one of the most important pieces of 20th-century literature.