book review

The Need for Roots by Simone Weil (Book Review)

Born in Paris on the 3rd February 1909, Simone Weil was the youngest of two children born to an intellectual and non-observant Jewish family. Stricken by appendicitis as an infant, Weil suffered from ill-health throughout her short life. Academically brilliant, intense and morally uncompromising, Weil intimidated and bemused those she encountered – her tutor, Emile Chartier, dubbed his otherworldly charge ‘the Martian’. Restless, and intent on understanding life outside of her natural, bourgeois, milieu, Weil spent time as a factory worker and fighting (briefly and ineffectually) for the anarchist CNT/FAI during the Spanish Civil War. Following a series of mystical experiences, Weil found herself drawn to the Catholic Church, though it is unknown whether she allowed herself to be baptised.

Exiled from her homeland during the Nazi occupation, Weil worked for the Free French in London, and there is reason to believe she had been accepted for training by the Special Operations Executive before ill-health intervened. In 1943, weakened by tuberculosis but refusing to eat more than was permitted to citizens of occupied France, Weil succumbed to cardiac failure in a Kentish sanitorium. Her resting place can be found in the Catholic section of Bybrook Cemetery, Ashford.

Weil’s writings have found enthusiasts as ideologically diverse as Albert Camus and T. S. Eliot. Her detractors range from Susan Sontag (for whom Weil was ‘fanatical… ridiculous…’) to her boss Charles de Gaulle, who derided her as ‘crazy’.


In 1942, the Free French invited Weil to submit her thoughts on the regeneration of France, post-liberation. Weil’s paper outlined her vision for the spiritual reinvigoration of her homeland, and is her most systemic treatise on political issues. Published posthumously as ‘L’Enracinement’ in 1949, the book was translated into English in 1952 with the title ‘The Need for Roots’. Originally published by Routledge, it appears in a new translation by Ros Schwartz, under the Penguin Classics imprint.

The Need for Roots is an eccentric and uneven work, too baggy and unfocused to offer a blueprint for political action. Like the best of Weil’s writing, its strength is in the originality of her thought – even where she is wrong Weil is wrong in interesting and original ways. Weil’s analyses, and her critique of the social cost of modernity – rooted in an organicist conception of society – will be of interest to the kind of conservatives who read The Mallard.


‘Roots’ and ‘rootedness’ – ‘racines’ and ‘racinement’ – enjoyed a vogue on the French right before Weil. Maurice Barrès, author of Les Deracines, outlined a republican vision of ‘la terre et les morts’ – the mystical bond shared by a people living on, and working, the land in which their ancestors enjoy their eternal rest.

Weil, ironically perhaps, understands roots in less mystical terms:

‘Human beings have roots by virtue of their real, active, and natural participation in the life of a community which preserves in living shape particular treasures of the past and particular expectations for the future.’

For Weil, roots arise organically among people thrown together by circumstance, and are multifaceted – anchoring the individual in, for example, a community, a nation, a professional milieu. Through these spontaneous bonds of language, culture and place the individual finds identity and meaning.

When roots are severed, the individual feels himself estranged, and is deprived of an opportunity to participate in the pursuit of a Good beyond himself. Enracinement provides the individual with meaning – imbuing his everyday relationships with eternal, even supernatural significance.

At a political level, roots give the individual ‘a sense of personal ownership’ of ‘public monuments… and the lavishness displayed in ceremonies’. The rites and rituals of civic religion orient the individual toward the Good, as his culture understands it. The individual witnesses a great ceremony of state – a coronation, or a military parade – and understands that the rite is just as much an expression of his identity as, for example, Sunday Mass at the village chapel. Through racinement, the individual understands himself to be a participant in his culture, and feels that he has an interest in the spiritual and cultural health of his community and nation.  

Deracinement, then, is a spiritual malady, an alienation from one’s culture and the conceptions of the Good that have shaped it. Uprootedness on a grand scale can be occasioned by revolution, military conquest or population displacement. It is interesting to speculate on what Weil would have made of the mass immigration that has transformed Europe in the post-war era.


Empathy, for Weil, is the soul of patriotism. It is easier to feel empathy for people with whom one shares bonds of language, culture and place. It is from these bonds of trust and social solidarity that, in a healthy society, order arises.

For Weil roots are the basis of order. Order is the pre-eminent human need – the guarantor of all subordinate needs. In a healthy society, order flows from the bottom-up; a product of ‘compassion’ and trust. This naturally-arising order is distinct from the ‘top down’ constitutional politics of liberalism.

Freedom, like order, cannot be imposed upon a people, rather it must emerge from among them. This is perhaps Weil’s most important lesson for the contemporary right. No western libertarian cites Somalia and Haiti as an ideal for his society to follow, despite both countries’ longstanding traditions of limited (or at least, weak) central government. It is not sufficient to simply limit the reach of the state. Rather, certain social preconditions, principally a culture of mutual trust, must exist if a free, orderly society is to flourish.

Whereas man under liberal democracy understands his relationship with the state formally, in terms of ‘rights’, through ‘enracinement’ the individual understands the interrelatedness between his rights and the obligations that he owes his fellows:

‘A right is not effective on its own but solely in relation to the obligation to which it corresponds.’


Liberalism, founded on a universalistic conception of human nature and the absolute sovereignty of the individual, is hostile to rootedness, and thus the organic ties of heritage, culture and place in which healthy identities are founded. And, as Weil observes, uprootedness has the dangerous quality of propagating itself.

Marxism, Weil suggests, is not merely driven by uprootedness, but seeks its universalisation – the reduction of everyone to the status of the proletarian. For Weil, uprootedness was exemplified by the industrial working class of her day; condemned to repetitive and physically exhausting labour, and forced to live in unlovable slums.

Industrialisation elevated the material standard of the common man, but did so at tremendous spiritual cost. The lot of the peasant was hard, but he at least enjoyed the consolations of meaningful labour and a life lived among natural beauty – often on land worked by his ancestors. The proletariat, by contrast, are inescapably aware that they are interchangeable cogs in an economic machine.

The strange revival of Marxist (or at least Marx-ish) politics in the post-Soviet era can be understood as a manifestation of alienation. It is not that Marxism offers a compelling alternative to the current order; rather, Marxism retains an enduring appeal to the uprooted. When people feel estranged from their culture, they desire its destruction. It is not enough for the Communist to triumph over the old order, he must destroy all vestiges of the past. Witness the mad vandalism of the Cultural Revolution, or, in our time, the toppling of statues by those who have been taught to consider western history as uniquely shameful.

In our era ‘deracinement’ manifests in many ways. Witness the proliferation of bizarre sexual subcultures; notably ‘trans’ and ‘non-binary’ identities; among educated left-leaning whites. Ersatz identities such as these provide a sense of belonging and an opportunity to pursue imagined ‘Goods’, in the form of liberation and ‘social justice’. But they thrive on angst and guilt – and propagate the dangerous idea that fulfilment is impossible without radical transformation of the self and society.
Contemporary uprootedness takes other, less dramatic forms: a tendency (found on both left and right) to confuse one’s personal and political identities, for example, or an exaggerated identification in the struggles of peoples very unlike one’s own. Alienated from their own political culture, Zoomers often fail to appreciate the cultural specificity of foreign issues – or, conversely, to map American racial politics onto their own (this writer recalls one especially pathetic incident in which demonstrators in London, protesting the homicide of George Floyd, an incident that occurred on another continent, chanting ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ at unarmed constables of the Metropolitan Police).

The European right, too, is tainted by the uprootedness of the modern world. Witness the awe in which post-war ‘conservatives’ have held America, a land of uprooted individuals, where history is shallow and order proceeds from the top down in the form of a Constitution and a Bill of Rights.


Weil’s most important lesson for the conservative movement is that man has needs beyond the economic. She stands against an era in which:

‘money and the state have come to replace all other bonds of attachment.’

An authentically conservative politics should define itself against the reduction of people to mere economic units; and towns, regions, countries as mere places. We are the custodians of the institutions and traditions that we have inherited. The triumph of capitalism over feudalism has undoubtedly improved life in material terms; but capital, unchecked, uproots peoples from traditional ways of life, destroying communities and cultures. As Weil argues, the destruction of the past is ‘perhaps the greatest of all crimes’, for, once destroyed, the past can never truly be recovered.

The ills that Weil identified in her own age have grown more acute in the post-war era, thanks both to the moral revolution of the 1960s and the triumph of the market in the 1980s. It is a sad but inescapable fact that ‘conservative’ parties, today dominated by different flavours of free-market liberal, have played their role in accelerating this process of deracination.

Conservatism – authentic conservatism – offers a politics that understands men as more than the sum of their appetites and ambitions. Weil’s prescient vision of European revitalization deserves a new audience on the right. It is time for conservatism to rediscover its roots.

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Mania by Lionel Shriver (Book Review)

Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, Mania, imagines a world in which the concept of intelligence has become taboo. ‘Dumb’, ‘stupid’, ‘moronic’ and every other synonym that might adequately describe the mentally deficient have become unspeakable terms of offence, while IQ tests and entrance exams alike are outlawed on the grounds of elitism. Idiots are not a protected class, however, because the prevailing ideology posits that idiots simply don’t exist. In this egalitarian utopia, everyone is equally smart. To suggest anything to the contrary is to commit a hate crime punishable by professional ruin and social ostracism.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Mania is a pointed parody of the socio-political logic of what Shriver, in a recent piece for UnHerd, described as the ‘collective crazes’ of the last decade: transgenderism, #MeToo, Covid lockdowns and Black Lives Matter. Her journalism has tackled each of these movements individually and collectively, but Mania is her first work of fiction to deal with the twin forces of political correctness and cancel culture head on. It’s perhaps worth pointing out that her recent novel, The Motion of the Body Through Space, featured as part of its subplot a diversity hire whose incompetence leads to the breakdown of the transport system in Hudson, New York – which landed Shriver in hot water during a promotional tour of the book. But critics will struggle to condemn Mania as offensive. For while the novel is implicitly critical of radical progressive politics, the Mental Parity movement is a squarely fictional creation. Even in the fragile political climate of 2024, the foolish remain fair game as an object of ridicule.

Mania’s characters are recognisable archetypes of any cowed and paranoid society. Plucky, witty and dangerously opinionated, Pearson Converse is one of Shriver’s most autobiographical protagonists, mirroring everything from the author’s overbearingly religious upbringing to the rebellious mentality it imprinted on her. Her defiance in the face of the Mental Parity movement makes Pearson a black sheep in polite society, but stems from a desire to protect her two eldest children, a pair of prodigies who in any other age would have a bright future lined up for them. It is the third child, Lucy, who, having grown up in an age in which Mental Parity has become the mainstream, constitutes an unlikely antagonist, blackmailing her mother and policing her language and behaviour. It is telling that Lucy’s ideological and cognitive equivalents throughout Mania are the teachers, politicians and television presenters, and that perhaps the only other thing they have in common is an unmerited power over those who dare to speak out.

But the real conflict that rages like a dynamo from Mania’s first pages to its dramatic conclusion is more nuanced, more complicated than a simple black-and-white battle between critical thinking Davids and knuckle-dragging Goliaths. Despite Pearson’s career as a university professor, the book focuses less on the shadowy cabal of academics pulling the strings of Mental Parity than on those who are complicit with the regime, or merely undecided. It is complacency that drives a wedge between Pearson and her comparatively apolitical husband, Wade, whom she accuses of ‘sit[ting] this whole thing out on the sidelines, watching, or declining to watch.’ Far more sinister is the character of Emory, Pearson’s lifelong pal, whose position on the whole thing is not neutral but ambiguous. What makes Emory particularly villainous is not that she is a believer, but that she is a non-believer, prepared to manipulate the burgeoning climate of paranoia for her own gain, advancing her career as a talkshow host by producing disingenuous op-eds on microaggressions or thought crimes and thereby embodying, by Pearson’s account, ‘the intelligent face of stupid’.

As Emory rides the coattails of this movement, Pearson’s own career – not to mention her family life and reputation – begins to spiral. Her first brush-in with the tyrannical power of Mental Parity comes when she assigns her literature class a novel that the self-anointed censors have exorcised from the Western canon. The scene is reminiscent of the opening of last year’s American Fiction, in which Monk, a black professor, writes on the class blackboard the name of a Flannery O’Connor story, only for a blue-haired white girl to object that she finds the title – ‘The Artificial Nigger’ – offensive. Monk is laid off from his job as a consequence. Pearson doesn’t quite lose her job for assigning Dostoevsky’s The Idiot to her class, but the stunt earns her the resentment of colleagues and students both, as well as a stern warning. What leads to her eventual dismissal is her later deployment of the word ‘retard’ during a tirade in class. Typically, the scene is filmed by every student in the class and uploaded to the internet. 

Pearson is not even safe within her own home, which she considers a sanctuary of normality – only for Lucy to report her to social services. As a result, Pearson is required to take a six-week Cerebral Acceptance and Semantic Sensitivity class, with the aim of weeding out elitist language from her vocabulary: 

Considering that ‘grasp’ could convey mastery some people lacked, we should instead ‘grip’ or ‘seize’ our coffee mugs. ‘Command’ could also mean an unjustifiable sense of intellectual dominion, so in a position of authority we should issue an ‘edict’ or ‘direction’. Admiring classifications such as ‘savvy’, ‘scholarly,’ and ‘erudite’ couldn’t help but imply the existence of benighted characters who exhibited none of these qualities, so if we were hell-bent on acclaiming colleagues, we should keep to wholesome, simplesorry, uncomplicatedcompliments such as ‘I like you’ or ‘That is good.’

If the attempt to jettison every contaminated word in the English language seems overkill, recall the institutional scramble only a couple of years ago, in which colleges across America issued ‘harmful language’ lists to students, singling out problematic obscenities such as ‘field’, ‘blackboard’, ‘straight’, ‘American’ and – you guessed it – ‘stupid’. Shriver herself conducted a highly entertaining takedown of this phenomenon for the Spectator. One gets the sense that this sterile dumbing down of the English language is what irks her the most, since the straitjacket of minimally offensive newspeak could not be further from the vibrancy and elasticity of the author’s own style. The unfortunate fact for her enemies is that Shriver is one of the most capable writers around. Her insights are profound and her prose is lucid, every sentence an immaculately crafted marvel of colloquial lyricism.

There is a disconcerting familiarity to the events of Mania, which echo some of the more maddening episodes of the last few years. From Sherlock to Columbo, films and TV shows which are seen to promote the notion of ‘cleverness’ are taken off air and removed from circulation. And a campaign to rename the city of Voltaire gains traction, since the views espoused by the author of Candide are no longer in step with those of its residents. 

In a conversational aside we learn that the rest of the world thinks the West has lost its marbles. It’s clear that Shriver has borrowed liberally from the events and controversies that have defined the zeitgeist, but Mental Parity is a creation all her own. Indeed, the titular mania is such a powerful force that it has the effect of sidelining all other social justice movements. Anders Breivik receives public sympathy after murdering 69 members of the Norwegian Workers’ Youth League for exhibiting ‘less than spectacular intelligence’. Not only is the concept of Islamophobia absent from political discourse, but Western society’s fascination with race itself has become blessedly passé – to President Obama’s detriment. ‘Nobody gives a crap anymore about his being a black president,’ Emory states, when the Mental Parity movement is still in its infancy. ‘He’s a know-it-all president. It’s death.’ His replacement is the ‘impressively unimpressive’ Joe Biden, acclaimed for his ‘delectably leaden’ speaking style. But when even the doddering ineptitude of a potentially demented president proves insufficient to satisfy voters, the Democrats find a new champion in the form of Donald Trump. Across the pond, meanwhile, the UK’s decision to leave the EU becomes a win for progressivism, given the tendency of many Remainers to demonise Brexiteers as stupid.

The good thing is that this imagined mania is so much worse – and therefore more entertaining – than any of the real manias currently afflicting the Western world. Thanks to the Mental Parity movement, food produced in the US is no longer safe to eat, nearly all fatalities in the armed forces are caused by friendly fire and a brain drain has left America stunted, handing China and Russia the keys to world domination. 

But while Mania is funny, razor-sharp and extremely readable, it’s also eerily realistic. For the seeds of Mental Parity may already have been sewn, and not just in the soil surrounding the R word. Universities are increasingly eschewing standardised examinations, while columnists wage war against the very idea of meritocracy. What’s more, in a further affront to the English language, last month it was announced that a new version of Scrabble was being released with simplified rules, in order to make the game ‘more accessible for anyone who finds word games intimidating’. If Lionel Shriver’s alternative history becomes the actual future, this fine novel will be the first for the chopping block. Read it while you still can.

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Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part III)

Following on from last years experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 11: The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

Read from: 28/10/2023 to 28/11/2023

Rating: 3/5

I had seen this book pushed quite heavily online before by certain influencers and I was always curious to see what it was about. Robert Greene appears to have written a considerable number of these types of books, so I was very intrigued to know what the fuss was. I thought the book was fine but definitely lacking in some areas.

The book is essentially a series of lessons regarding how to better navigate life in a more Machiavellian way to attain power. Some of the ideas put forward are genuinely very interesting, and it was nice to have certain topics explained a certain way. Other areas seemed a bit obvious and repetitive which was annoying whilst trying to get through the book.

A lot of Greene’s rules essentially boil down to ‘don’t tell other people what you are up to’, which I suppose is a pretty good rule to follow if you are hunting power. But there are only so many times you can hear that ‘rule’ phrased differently before you start getting bored.

Greene backs up his claims with a plethora of anecdotes which I mostly enjoyed. He fell into the same trap as before, however, in that a lot of the anecdotes start to blend into one after a while – especially after using the same anecdote repeatedly. If I never hear the name ‘Charles Talleyrand’ again it will still be too soon! I only become disillusioned with Greene’s anecdotes after he started discussing the English civil war – an area of his anecdotes I was much more versed in than revolutionary France or Renaissance Italy. He made some obvious oversimplifications which annoyed me and made me question the legitimacy of some of his other tales to back up his ideas. I don’t think that this invalidates what he was saying, I just wish he had left less up to speculation regarding whether or not he actually knew the history.

Overall, a good book which I would still recommend. His insight is useful, and this would be a pretty good primer for Machiavellian style thinking. I would say, however, that you should stick to the audiobook over the actual paperback – it will make it easier to digest.

Book 12: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Read from: 06/11/2023 to 09/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

I was strolling through Belfast on a trip there recently, when I picked up this book at a Waterstones for my flight home. Something short to keep me occupied and also increase my book tally on Goodreads before the end of the year. Sure enough, on my (very short) flight back to Newcastle the same day, I ploughed through about a third of it. I found it very difficult to put down and ignore, as I have my other books recently.

As the title suggests, the book tells the story of one day in the life of Ivan Denisovich – a prisoner at a Soviet Gulag in the early 1950s. It takes you through his agonising routine right from the moment he wakes up to when he finally goes to sleep again. It details the way in which he navigates the trials and tribulations of life in the Siberian gulag he is currently imprisoned in, and the many interactions he has with the other prisoners. The book is too short to summarise without spoiling the whole thing, so I won’t do that. I would highly recommend that you take the time to just read it instead.

There was something extremely biting about the way that this was written. The author, Solzhenitsyn, was a prisoner in a gulag for eight years, so he had a considerable amount of his own experience to draw from when writing this book. His main character, Ivan, is incredibly relatable and felt very human. Not necessarily a good or a bad person, just someone trying to survive and make the best out of a bad situation. Going so far as to describe his day as ‘a good one’ simply because he was able to get slightly more food after doing some favours for other inmates; routinely breaking minor rules to make his life easier, working cordially with his inmates, and doing everything possible to do as little work as possible for as much reward as he could.

Every aspect of the story felt very believable and not exaggerated; I never felt as though I was having the wool pulled over my eyes by what is, essentially, a piece of anti-communist propaganda. He describes the guards as harsh but lazy, the other inmates are not depicted as saints, but as a wide array of people with different motives and agendas – a very real and convincing story.

The book is very well written and was a genuinely fascinating insight into gulag life, an area which I have always been interested in but never researched much. It is a genuine ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in that aspect of Stalinist Russia and the early-cold-war Soviet system of punishment. It is also a delightfully short book and reads very easily. As I said before, I would thoroughly recommend reading this.

Book 13: Star by Yukio Mishima

Read from: 21/11/2023 to 22/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

I read two books by Yukio Mishima last year, and he is fast becoming one of my favourite authors. I was enticed to buy this book from the moment I saw it; a short story by Mishima is often a treat and I was not at all disappointed by this one.

The story revolves around the main character Rikio, a young Japanese actor in the prime of his career, and his ugly assistant and lover Kayo. The story revolves around his struggle with fame and the fleeting nature of his career; it also spends a fair amount of time touching on the absurdity of the film industry in Japan in the 1960s and 70’s (something which Mishima was personally accustomed to) and how Rikio navigates it as best as he can.

Due to the relatively short nature of the book, writing too long of a review would spoil it. However, I will say that I was absolutely entranced by Mishima’s style of writing and his amazing ability to describe some of the more vulgar elements of life (masturbation, sex, drug abuse, etc) in such a poetic and charming way. His powerful use of metaphor continues to amaze me with every book of his that I read. His characters feel painfully real, and his skill at describing scenes and people in such brevity are fantastic.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in getting into Mishima and Japanese fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Book 14: The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

Read from: 23/11/2023 to 27/11/2023

Rating: 5/5

Much like many other ‘American Classics’, the Call of Cthulhu is one of those books which seems to have considerable prominence in online circles solely due to the fact that large amounts of American teenagers are forced to read it at High School. As I am not (and never have been) an American teenager, I have had very little exposure to Lovecraft’s short stories besides the occasional reference on television or through conversations with American’s online. I must say, however, I was thoroughly impressed by this book and Lovecraft’s writing style.

The book is written from the perspective of a young man going through the notes of his dead relative, a university professor who seems to have stumbled on some kind of conspiracy regarding an ancient god-like figure, Cthulu, who drives people to madness. The story details, from the authors point of view, how he came to discover his uncle’s notes and the journey he went on to validate their authenticity. At the start of the book, he is quite the cynical sceptic; by the end of his journey, he is a terrified believer who wishes that his works are never found and is constantly paranoid that he will be murdered for what he has uncovered – that Cthulu is indeed real and that his very brief appearance made many ‘sensitive young men’ (artists, architects etc) all around the world go mad.

I am not a fan of horror films; I find them quite unpleasant. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading horror. The writer has no opportunity to shoehorn in cheap ‘jump scares’ and low budget special effects. Horror fiction has to be well written and, instead of a brief thrill, creates a genuine sense of dread. I could feel my own arm hairs pricking up with goosebumps whilst reading it.

I genuinely really enjoyed this book, and will be reading more of HP Lovecraft’s works in the future. A good read and a good introduction to his style of writing and short stories.

Book 15: The Shadow Over Innsmouth by H.P. Lovecraft

Read from: 27/11/2023 to 29/12/2023

Rating: 5/5

This was my final book of 2023 and was purchased alongside ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. I would have finished it much quicker if it weren’t for the many various Christmas festivities that fall at this time of year which has significantly impeded my reading progress.

The book follows the story of a young student who is touring the old towns and villages of the New England coast during a gap year in his studies. During his travels, he comes across the town of Innsmouth whilst making his way to Arkham. The town is shunned by the locals of the surrounding villages and is falling into a very ruinous state. During his visit, he meets an old drunkard who explains to him that the town is infested with fish-people who worship ancient eldritch gods and sacrifice people to the sea.

Due to its short length, to say any more about the plot would spoil it. However, I found the story very gripping and exceedingly exciting. I felt genuinely frightened during much of the latter half of the book and thoroughly enjoyed the way the town and its people were portrayed. Lovecraft does an excellent job at thrilling the reader and the book is worthy of the praise it receives.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in classic American fiction or someone interested in the works of Lovecraft specially. However, I would say that it would probably be better to read ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ first, as this book is referenced quite heavily near the middle and end of Shadow over Innsmouth.

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Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part II)

Following on from last years experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 6: Memoirs of a Kamikaze by Kazuo Odachi

Read from: 20/02/2023 to 23/04/2023

Rating: 5/5

I only came upon this book by accident whilst watching a video essay about Kamikaze pilots during the second world war. It was used as source material for the video, and was referenced frequently throughout. The gripping title alone was enough to get me interested in the story, and at the time I was in a bit of a frenzy of purchasing Japanese authored books (this can be seen in the chunk of Japanese books I reviews last year). Certain to say, I was amazed at the quality of this book, and the incredibly interesting story that it told.

The book was written by Kazuo Odachi, a now 96-year-old former Japanese fighter pilot who, after almost 70 years of silence on the matter, decided to tell his story in becoming a Kamikaze. The book details his childhood, and how growing up in a rural area of Japan meant that his main amusement was laying in tall grasses watching pilots train at the local aerodrome. At this age he would also discover the Japanese martial art of Keno, something which he talks about at great length in the latter half of the book, and clearly has had a huge impact of him. When the war began, he was still only a boy, and so he was only able to join up quite close to the end of the war. A very gifted young man, he was selected to become a fighter pilot, and would spend considerably time in the pacific engaged in various fighting missions.

Kazuo explains how, as the war began to turn against Japan, he – along with many of his friends – were forced to volunteer to become kamikaze pilots. He explains in painful detail the events which unfolded around them, and how they were powerless to decline the request to engage in suicide missions. Much mystery surrounds the motivations of Kamnikaze pilots, but Kazuo repeatedly states that no one actually wanted to be made to do it, but felt that it was the right course of action to preserve Japan and keep the country safe. He reflects on this a lot in the later half of this book, and states repeatedly that he lives his life to the fullest in honour of the men who gave their lives before him. Flying 8 unsuccessful Kamikaze missions (more common then you would think), Kazuo also goes over how lucky he feels to be alive and how easily it could have been him dead instead.

The second half of the book covers his life post-war, his time as a policeman and dealing with Tokyo’s criminal gangs. He also talks in great depth of his love of Kendo, and how he still continues to practice the martial art, even in his advanced old age.

I really enjoyed this book, it gave a very insightful view into a point in history which is cloaked in misinformation and ignorance of understanding. Kazuo eloquently and expertly paints a vivid picture of his experiences, and does not shy away from his more controversial opinions on the events that unfolded in his time before, during, and after the war.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Japan, the second world war, and especially anyone who wishes to know more about the motivations and feelings of the young boys sent off to die in Kamikaze missions. I would posit that it is also helpful in understanding the mindset of those people who commit contemporary suicide attacks today. An excellent read!

Book 7: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Read from: 23/04/2023 to 04/05/2023

Rating: 4/5

I found this book at the bottom of my brother’s old school bag whilst we were cleaning out the attic, safe to say it had been left there for quite a long time, probably around 5 years at this point. I am remarkably pleased that I came upon this old schoolroom copy because it came with a handy study/reading guide alongside it which added more historical and literary context to what was being said. I am glad for this because, as I am sure you can understand, a lot of what Shakespeare writes is not always easy to decipher given the differences between contemporary modern English and Tudor English – lots of ‘thys’, ‘thous’, and ‘thees’ can get a bit tedious after a while. If you’re going to try and read this, and you aren’t fluent in Tudor English, I would recommend finding a copy that comes with a study guide.

A thrilling tale with many twists and turns, Macbeth showcases Shakespeare’s ability to subvert the expectations of the reader (or viewer, as this is supposed to be a theatrical performance, not really a novel). The tale of Macbeth is based in medieval Scotland, and follows the titular Macbeth and his wife, as he navigates his options after being promised that he, but not his children, would become King of Scotland by three witches. Driven mad by their prediction, Macbeth’s attempts to secure Kingship and then ensure that his hypothetical children do proceed to be monarchs themselves, have tragic results. In a futile attempt to both secure and then change his own destiny, he betrays himself and everyone around him.

I wont spoil any major details of the story, at the very least because you were probably taught them at school at one point or another. I would instead like to talk briefly about the importance of this book for the English literary tradition and culture which it represents. Indeed, we often take for granted just how much of our contemporary understanding of ‘what makes a good plotline’ comes from Shakespeare and his influences at the time. The mans work stands high above contemporary work of its time, and it would be easy to forget just how ahead of his time he really was. His work stands as a testament to his genius, and to this day still casts a large shadow over what we consider a good or bad story. This is remarkably impressive for a man who lived a half a millennia ago.

Reading Macbeth, much like reading any of Shakespeare is a lot like learning Latin. You might not enjoy it; it’s very confusing; and a lot of the time you are left wondering what in the world anyone is talking about; but at the very least, it can give you a good and grounded understanding of the history of your own language, where certain tropes come from, and how you could use them yourself more often in your own speech.

Overall, I would recommend this book. I am disappointed that I never got to study it at school, and I am glad that I have been able to read it now instead.

Book 8: The History of the Spurn Point Lighthouses by G de Boer

Read from: 04/05/2023 to 18/05/2023

Rating: 4/5

I appreciate just how incredibly niche and uninteresting this book must seem to the average reader. I would argue that it is even less relevant than the ‘Trans-Siberian Rail Guide’ book which I read and reviewed last year (which was written to give directions to western travellers boarding the now obsolete Soviet railway system). However, as someone who actually lives very close to Spurn Point with a keen interest in lighthouses (yes, I am that boring) I found it quite an interesting read.

The book, as the title suggests, details the history of the various lighthouse projects which took place on the Spurn Point (for those who don’t know, this is a large sand bank at the mouth of the Humber estuary) from the early 1600’s to the 1960’s (when the book was written).

I completely understand why this seems uninteresting at first glance; but the book, almost accidentally, ends up discussing more about the complex social and legal situations in place in Britain in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries than it does about the lighthouses themselves.

The book details the true stories of the various warring factions in British maritime trade politics: the three Trinity House guilds (London, Hull, and Newcastle); sea captains; wealthy merchants; land developers; fleets of solicitors; ambitious venture capitalists; the fading aristocracy; parliamentary meddlers; and even the King of England (not to forget Cromwell of course). It provides a genuinely interesting insight into all of these interest groups and their constant struggle for control over the land and waterways of England, framed nicely around the construction of a highly controversial lighthouse in a rather uncontroversial part of Britain.

Perhaps you aren’t particularly interested in the history of lighthouses on Spurn Point, but if you would like to learn a little bit more about the seemingly ridiculous and overcomplicated nature of competing factions in Britain from the 1600s onwards, I would sincerely recommend this book. It’s short, it refuses to ramble on endlessly, and it has some genuinely amusing moments tucked away inside.

Book 9: Dune (Dune #1) by Frank Herbert

Read from: 18/05/2023 to 22/06/2023

Rating: 5/5

A couple of years ago my dad mentioned that he was really excited to see the new Dune film that was coming out… I was amazed by this statement – my father has never expressed any interest in any film made after 1990, and I was absolutely shocked to see him genuinely excited about a new film. After a bit of prodding, I discovered that the Dune series were his favourite books, and that he still had all his original copies stuffed away in the loft somewhere. Intrigued by this revelation, I watched the Dune film when it came out, and also thoroughly enjoyed it.

A few months later, after seeing how much I had enjoyed the film, I was bought a copy by a friend, and it had been sitting on the shelf at home ever since. I have an immediate disgust reaction to long books, they remind me too much of the musty yellow paged old tomes on my grandmas book case which I was forced to read as a child to ‘practice my grammar’. Perpetually worried that, once I started reading it, it would take me months to complete, I was overjoyed when I found myself unable to put the book down. It was a thoroughly brilliant read, and I cannot recommend it enough.

The book is set in the very distant future, where man has conquered much of the known universe, and a neo-feudal system has been established to govern it. Computers which mimic humans (referred to as ‘thinking machines’) have been completely abolished, and humanity relies heavily on a drug-like substance known as ‘spice melange’ to achieve a heightened state of clairvoyance to navigate the stars. Three main power structures exist in the setting: The Emperor (an all powerful ruler), The Lansraad (a group of all the noble houses), and The Spacing Guild (an organisation of space navigators). They control shares in the ‘CHOAM Company’ which is the main source of the ‘spice’ which can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis.

Duke Leto Atreides is forced by the emperor to govern Arrakis and take it out of the control of his bitter rival, Baron Harkonen. After arriving, it becomes clear that he has been put into a trap, and the forces of the Harkonens are very much still in place on the planet. Leto’s son, Paul, must work with the planet’s natives, the Fremen, to defeat the Harkonens and secure the future of his noble house.

I could write pages and pages more about this story, but I have no intention of spoiling the plot for you. This book is fantastic and had me totally gripped by it for the month I was reading it. It lives up to the hype and is absolutely fantastic, definitely one worth reading.

Book 10: How to be a Conservative by Sir Roger Scruton

Read from: 23/06/2023 to 31/12/2023

Rating: 3/5

If you truly enjoy political theory and are interested in learning about small-c conservatism, I would recommend the book. Scruton clearly and (somewhat) briefly lays out the case for it here. He uses it to discuss the truths in Socialism, Capitalism, and conservatism – which he seems to perceive as a middle ground between the two.

This book took me almost 6 months to read because large sections of it are painfully boring. I was devastated by how much of a slog fest this piece has been to get through. After finding myself unable to pick this book up, I let myself slide and just started reading the other books in my collection at the same time instead – something I have never done before.

I had the same reaction reading Marx and other political theory books last year and in the past. I just couldn’t bring myself to carry on. I find the subject extremely boring. I think my personal issue lies in the fact that these types of work are by no means fictitious but are also not truly non-fiction. Theory seems to lie in a cursed middle ground of quasi-non-fiction which I just don’t care for.

Some aspects of the book are genuinely very interesting – Scruton discusses his time in Communist Czechoslovakia before the collapse of the USSR dodging the StB secret police and giving lecturers to disenfranchised ‘pro-democracy’ students in attics; which was an insightful moment. He talks a lot about the importance of good aesthetics and beauty in public life, which was a refreshing chapter to read through. Unfortunately, the rest of the book comes across as a bit of a snooze-fest. He himself admits that it is difficult to make conservatism sexy, and this book is certainly a confirmation of that.

As stated at the beginning, I would recommend the book if you are genuinely passionate about political theory. Otherwise, it might be best to give it a miss. A friend of mine joked with my whilst I was reading it that “It’s a great book to quote from, not one to actually read”, and I think he is more or less correct about this.

This is the second installment in a three-part series. Follow The Mallard for part three!

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Ride (read) or Die: 2023 Book Report (Part I)

Following on from last year’s experiment of attempting to read at least 10 pages of a book a day to increase my reading, I found it thoroughly enjoyable and wished to continue my reading journey in 2023. About halfway through last year, a friend of mine suggested to me that the 10 pages target could be detrimental to my overall reading, as it would encourage me to simply put the book down after just 10 pages (something I later realised it was doing). This year, I chose to do away with the 10 pages target and have decided to just make a pledge to read every day. In the first week of the year, I have already read considerably faster than last year, so I think perhaps my friend was on to something.

I also realised, reading back on last years review scores, that I was a very generous reviewer. I think this was because I did not have enough experience to know what made a book good or bad. I hope that my reviews can be more reflective of the overall reading experience this year.

Book 1: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Read from: 01/01/2023 to 08/01/2023

Rating: 4/5

When I was about 12 years old, I read 1984. Perhaps a bit too young to fully grasp the meaning of the book, I was still obsessed by it. I fell in love the ‘alternative history’ genre, which is why I am so surprised that I did not read this book sooner. Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ gave me a great deal of nostalgia for my younger reading days. It brought back that same feeling of intrigue and dread which I had felt whilst reading Orwell’s work.

The book is set in the distant future, about 600 years after Henry Ford developed the assembly line and mass production. Ford is revered as a sort of semi-deity amongst the population, who regularly use his name instead of ‘God’. A society which praises stability and predictability above all else, no one knows of passion or love, no one is born naturally (instead being birthed through artificial methods), and a rigorous caste system is enforced by making some people stupid, and some people clever during the artificial birth process – alphas sit at the top, and epsilons at the very bottom. Children are ‘conditioned’ to be extremely comfortable with the roles they have been given in life, and to actively avoid intermingling and seeking activities the controllers of the world deem wrong. Sex is easily acquired, and children are encouraged to engage in ‘erotic activities’ with each other from a very early age. People live shorter but considerably happier lives with little to no unpleasant experiences, and regularly take ‘soma’, a near perfect drug with no hangover or negative side effects.

One of the main characters of the book, Bernard Marx, is a misfit. A designated Alpha, he is considerably shorter than his peers, and has been marked out because of this (as shortness is linked to being a member of a lower caste). He doesn’t understand why he is unhappy with the system around him, but he feels uneasy about it. For example, he has a strong attraction to another alpha, Lenina Crowne, but doesn’t understand why. He is skirting along the fringes of ideas like monogamy and chastity but can’t quite explain why he would want this.

Bernard takes Lenina to a ‘Savage Reserve’ (an area designated as not worth developing), and accidentally meets with a man called John who, through no fault of his own, has been stuck on this savage reservation, with the actual savages, since birth. Bernard takes the savage back to civilisation to attempt to learn more from him and his strange ideas about love, modesty, romance, and passion.

I really enjoyed the literary devices employed by Huxley in the book. His writing style is straight forward and relatively easy to follow. Sometimes it felt a bit too straight forward, however, with only one predictable twist and an ending which felt a bit flat and unexciting. Still, however, it was a pleasant read which conveyed the stories message (that a world free from want and sacrifice is not necessarily a good one) in a way that was subtle and very interesting. Overall, a book that I would thoroughly recommend.

Book 2: Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger

Read from: 08/01/2023 to 14/02/2023

Rating: 5/5

This book was given to me by a very good friend. He had, by some miracle, found this 1941 copy in a second-hand bookshop. Knowing that I was desperate to get my hands on an original translation copy of Storm of Steel before I had sullied myself by reading a more contemporary translation, he bought it for me to read.

What a superb book. What a fascinating read. Ernst Junger takes us on an incredible journey through his experiences in the first world war as a young officer in the German army with immense attention to detail and a spectacular writing ability. Alongside his more general accounts of the fighting, Ernst interweaves his own thoughts on the state of warfare, the reasoning behind conflict, and the virtue in soldiering. Ernst does not shy away from declaring that taking part in the first world war was one of the most foundational and important experiences of his life. He seems to have genuinely enjoyed his time as a soldier and was sincerely disappointed at Germany’s surrender. His rationale behind these beliefs are interesting, and he goes in to great detail to explain his personal philosophy around conflict, and why he believes that soldiering is inherently a good thing.

Not only does Ernst make haste to convince you of the benefits of being a soldier, but he also goes into detail to describe what makes a good person, or more specifically, a good man. Ernst talks a lot of honour, courage, and honesty in his writing. He speaks of his enemies, the English and French, in high esteem, and tells the reader that he tried to keep his own men in good standards. He discusses the importance of valour and of dying with courage (he himself never surrendered and was wounded multiple times). His philosophy on this is very interesting and has been a very jarring counter to the mainstream ‘war is bad’ angle that is taken by other accounts of World War One.

The general structure of the book is good. Ernst tries to remain as consistent as possible with his timing and pacing. However, due to the nature of a book about a war, it is not always possible to keep pacing at a consistent rate. This is understandable and does not detract from the book. Just be aware that there are moments when nothing is happening which are suddenly punctuated by moments in which everything seems to be happening.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the first world war. It has been an exciting and amazing read which has proven to be a favourite of the year so far. Thank you again to my friend Andrew for buying it for me, I appreciate it very much.

Book 3: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Read from: 14/02/2023 to 19/02/2023

Rating: 3/5

I only know about this book from various niche references and jokes on twitter. I assume this is one of those books that is compulsory for American High School students to read (as they seem to be the type most frequently discussing it online and in the review sections). The concept of the story interested me – a man becoming a bug, how absurd? But I really had no bias going into this book. I normally understand at least a little bit about the books I am reading before I read them, but I had absolutely no clue what I was getting into when I read this.

Kafka is known for his absurdist and transformative pieces of work, and I can understand why this short story has become his most famous. The book focusses on the story of Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a giant bug. You would assume at this point that more context would be given, but no. Kafka doesn’t supply us with anything else – only the knowledge that Gregor is now a bug and must live as a bug. Being the sole breadwinner for his parents and sister, his metamorphosis causes immediate problems for all of them, and forces his relatives to actually go out and find work in order to support themselves for a change. All while this is happening, Gregor is stuck at home and simply crawls around, as a bug would. Gregor becomes completely dehumanised whilst his family struggle and cope with their new situation, eventually not even being referred to as ‘Gregor’ but simply as a monster.

The book’s theme is heavily centred on the idea of dehumanisation and alienation. Gregor is beloved and revered by his parents and sister because he earns a very good salary and keeps them well. As soon as he is no longer able to do that (Kafka using the transformation into a bug as a metaphor for ‘becoming useless’) his family still care for him but grow to despise him as they are forced to take up all of the work that he once did to support them. His family, however, do become stronger without him. Suddenly forced into the ‘real world’ again matures them all. His father takes up a respectable job and literally becomes stronger and healthier. His sister matures and develops into a ‘full woman’, and his mother is able to cope with the grief and stress of life at home again in a less pathetic way. Overall, the experience is not entirely bad for the family. Kafka is using this to reflect how dependence can make a person weak, and having the rug finally pulled from under them can improve their lot.

The book is extremely short and can be read in a few hours if you were really desperate to finish it. Kafka is know for his novellas and short stories, and this is no exception. Overall I liked the book but I felt no great connection to it. It was ‘fine’. I often found myself bored by it and couldn’t be bothered to continue reading. Kafka’s writing style is not my favourite in this piece of work. Overall I would recommend it (especially if you want to get the kudos for reading a classic novella in a short amount of time), but I would say that you shouldn’t expect something breath-taking, its an alright book. I hope the next few short stories I read of his are a bit more engaging.

Book 4: In the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka

Read from: 19/02/2023 to 19/02/2023

Rating: 4/5

I only own this book because my copy of ‘The Metamorphosis’ came with it as well (along with ‘The Judgement). Kafka’s stories are very short, so it makes sense that they would bundle them all together like this, and I am glad that I can get a few different stories all together in one book.

This story is a very narrow one. A nameless visitor to a nameless penal colony is being shown around a piece of equipment by a nameless officer whilst a nameless soldier and a nameless condemned man watch on. The officer goes on to explain that this piece of equipment is a torture and execution device which was created by the penal colony’s previous commandant who is now dead. The officer laments the condition of the machine and says that executions have become very unpopular after the commandant’s death, and he is the sole advocate for it now (with promises that a silent majority still agrees with him).

The officer is desperately excited to explain how the machine works in excruciating detail. He is extremely persistent in explaining to the visitor why it is so important and why it is an effective method of punishment.

The overall meaning of this book is difficult to grasp specifically, but can be read in different ways. It can be potentially read as a critique of totalitarianism, with the officer taking the law into his own hands and becoming a tyrant. The book can also be read as an analogy to the Old and New Testament (the old commandant being an analogy for God in the Old Testament and the new commandant being an analogy for God in the New Testament). Another common reading of the book is that it is a critique of carrying out acts which no longer have meaning or relevance to the bitter end – few people like the machine, so why does the officer continue to use it?

This book is very short and can be comfortably read in a day. I preferred this book to The Metamorphosis. I am not sure why, I just felt more inclined to want to read it. The flow of the story is more readable, and I found the characters and their plots more engaging, hence the 4 out of 5 star rating instead of a 3. If you’re looking for a short classic, I would recommend it.

Book 5: The Judgement: A Story for F. by Franz Kafka

Read from: 19/02/2023 to 20/02/2023

Rating: 4/5

Much like the previous book, I only read this because it was at the back of my copy of ‘The Metamorphosis’. This is a very short story, the shortest of the three that I have read so far. Owing to that, please don’t expect a long review as there is not a great deal to talk about.

The book is very narrow and focusses on only two main characters, a son and his father. The son is in the process of inviting his friend, who lives in Russia, to attend his wedding. His father, who is clearly senile and afraid of being forgotten by his son, has a very strange reaction to this – initially claiming he doesn’t know the Russian friend, before finally admitting that he does know him and then claiming that he, in fact, is a far better friend to the Russian than his son is.

It is difficult for me to explain this book more fully without giving too much away, as it is such a short story. But I do find it very odd. Kafka’s style of writing and his general themes continue to boggle and confuse me, but I am glad for this – it is quite refreshing to read things which are so absurd and strange.

The more I read his work, the more I become interested in Kafka. When I first started reading him, I was quite put off. I found his style very rough and difficult to ease in to. But, after getting more acquainted with his work, I’m actually starting to enjoy the lunacy. I have a much better grasp on what ‘Kafkaesque’ means now, and I would be more than happy to read more of his work in the future.

Overall, a good book which can be read in less than an hour. If you were interested in getting into Kafka, this is a good one to start with given its shortness. After doing some research, I also discovered that Kafka himself thought that this was one of his best pieces of work – yet another reason to read this if you wanted to ‘get into’ Kafka.

This is the first installment in a three-part series. Follow The Mallard for part two!

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Between Tradition and Modernity: A Review of “British Conservatism: 2024 to 2044”, by Richard Cruston

This lively volume follows the development of right-wing thought in Britain between the beginning of the premiership of Labour’s Keir Starmer and the end of the presidency of Mark Hall of the United Party.

Richard Cruston, Professor of Political Theory at Trinity College, Cambridge, is a learned scholar who has written biographies of Edmund Burke, Roger Scruton and Jacob Rees Mogg. His deep knowledge of ideas and personalities were clearly essential in developing this book.

His story begins with the astonishing electoral failure of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in 2024 — ending almost fourteen years of more or less unrivalled Conservative success. In exile, the Conservatives found themselves fragmented, both politically, with the Johnson loyalists in a fiery campaign to make the unenthusiastic former Mayor of London and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Leader of the Conservative Party, and ideologically, with “post-liberals”, “national conservatives” and “classical liberals” vying for influence.

If conservative ideas mattered at all, it was in their influence on the Labour government. Professor Cruston is an authority on the development of post-liberalism — a communitarian trend which earned support in the wake of the 2028 London riots — which spread from the capital across provincial England — as its emphasis on order and localism chimed with the state’s management of societal division. Cruston suggests that there might have been the faint whiff of opportunism in the combination of communitarian rhetoric and neo-authoritarian security measures — with more of an emphasis on “community hubs” and “peace enforcement” than on family and faith —  but it was politically successful.

The 2030 blackouts were considered the beginning of the end for the Labour government. Prime Minister Meera Devi won the 2032 elections on a platform that some commentators called “neo-Thatcherite” — promising economic liberalisation, energy reform and closer links with what became known as “the younger powers”. Professor Cruston disapproves of what he describes “the fetishisation of the market” — though he doesn’t say where the power was meant to come from.

Devi’s government placed significant emphasis on character and individual responsibility. “Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important,” she was fond of saying, quoting Britain’s first female prime minister, “Is the high road to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.” Regrettably, her time in power was dogged by scandal, with ministers being accused of cocaine addiction, using prostitutes, doing cocaine with prostitutes and being addicted to doing cocaine off prostitutes.

Ashley Jones’ Labour premiership offered conservatives a chance to regroup. Had they forgotten the ends of politics as well as the means? Were they too focused on economics and not culture? Cruston is informative on the subject of the traditionalist “Lofftism” which flourished in the late 2030s, only being interrupted by the “Summer of Crises” which finally led to the United Party taking power in March 2039.

Conservative thought flourished in the early years of the 2040s, with generous funding being invested in private schools, universities, think tanks and private clubs. Here — if you were fortunate enough to be invited — you could hear about great right-wing minds from Hayek to Oakeshott, and from Kruger to Hannan. It was a time of intellectual combat but also intellectual collegiality. Millian liberals could debate Burkean conservative and yet remain friends. You could say anything, some intellectuals joked, as long as you didn’t influence policy.

With the unexpected departure of President Hall on the “New Horizons” flight the future of British conservatism looks mysterious. Professor Cruston counsels that we return to Burke — a voice that spoke in a time of similarly great upheaval. Perhaps we should heed his words.

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“Traditionalism: The Radical Project for Restoring Sacred Order”, by Mark Sedgwick (Book Review)

In 2014, speaking via Skype to a conference held at the Vatican, Donald Trump’s later advisor, Steve Bannon, casually mentioned Julius Evola (1898-1974), a thinker little known outside Italy, and who even within Italy was conventionally dismissed as a former Fascist whose writings still exerted a pernicious influence on the ’far right’. When that comment was unearthed by the US media in 2016, it sparked a furore amongst those desperate to discredit Trump as a danger to democracy. It also drew mainstream attention to a strange and possibly wide-reaching philosophy.

Evola’s Fascist sympathies went much deeper than anti-communist or nationalist sentiment, being rooted at least partly in a colourful and irrational worldview referred to by some authors (although not Evola) as ‘Traditionalism’. Through him, Bannon, and so by extension Trump, were potentially ‘linked’ to much broader intellectual currents, with connections across everything from the abstractest metaphysics to the earthiest ecologism. 

There existed, obscure but important scholars had long argued, a mystical ‘perennial philosophy’ of transcendent religiosity and social stratification that was simultaneously as ancient as origin myths and applicable to modern discontents. Over the centuries, this concept has attracted intellectuals as diverse as the 15th century humanist Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, and Brave New World author Aldous Huxley. Other than Evola, its best-known and most systematic modern exponents were two metaphysicians, the Frenchman René Guénon (1886-1951), and the Swiss Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), who issued writings and launched initiatives that channeled underlying cultural gloom, and still resonate powerfully. Like Evola, Guénon did not use the term Traditionalism, but his writings are regarded as key texts.

As well as Bannon, ‘Traditionalist’ sympathies of some kind were avowed by, or detectable in, influencers outside America – Hungarian politician Gábor Vona, the Russian ideologue Aleksandr Dugin (whom Bannon met in 2018, and who was supposedly an influence on Putin), and the Brazilian writer, Olavo de Carvalho, credited with helping Jair Bolsonaro win the presidency in 2019. Beyond politics, the connections were even more diffuse, with well-known academics, artists and even King Charles III (when Prince of Wales), articulating Traditionalist tropes to combat anomie and materialism, and promote organic agriculture, small-scale economics, traditional arts, and interfaith dialogue. But did all these different things have anything in common other than root-and-branch discontent with a drably dispiriting status quo? What possible relevance could Traditionalists’ distaste for democracy, and even politics, have for determinedly populist politicians? 

This is a long-standing area of interest for Oxford-educated Arabist, Mark Sedgwick, now professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at Aarhus University. His 2003 book, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, was the first to draw mainstream attention to Evola, Guénon, Schuon, and others dubbed or self-described as Traditionalists. He brings to this discussion special insight into Islamic influences on Traditionalism, from the inner ecstasies of Sufism to the academically distinguished elucubrations of the contemporary Iranian-American theologian, Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Along the way, he treats ably and interestingly of many subjects, from Hindu ideas about caste via 17th century theories of history to the trajectory of Western feminism, and analyses the influence of Jordan Peterson, whom he regards as a Traditionalist for the internet age. 

Traditionalism is a catch-all sort of term, and its outcomes are so diverse it is difficult to discern much consistency at all. Had it not been for Bannon’s remark, it is hard to imagine many even noticing Traditionalism existed. Conceptual complexity could help account for Traditionalism’s apparent ascent; as the author notes, “That which is not easy to understand is not easy to deny”. Sedgwick also suggests that Guénon’s theories may be fundamentally flawed because based on early 20th century understandings of ‘the East’ which are now regarded as too colourful and generic, even condescendingly ‘Orientalist’. Evola’s more dynamic and Western-oriented variant is likewise a product of its time, suffused with Nietzschean contempt for Christianity, and the epochal pessimism of thinkers like Oswald Spengler (even though he criticized both). Sedgwick nevertheless treats it as a coherent corpus of thought, with much relevance for today.

The central element of all variants of Traditionalism is ‘perennialism’ – the notion that beneath all the exoteric differences of world religions there is a unifying ‘sacred order’ understood only by the deepest thinkers, although hazily intuitable by the masses, if only they can be detached from the trammels of modernity. This is not just a tradition, but the Tradition that unlocks all cosmologies, and renders the most impassioned theological and political disputes not just superficial, but almost risible. Traditionalist writings are predictably esoteric, aimed solely at a supposedly more spiritually attuned elite. 

Traditionalists tend to be greatly interested in such things as hermetic philosophy, occultism, shamanism, and symbolism, and believe strongly in what the ethnomusicologist Benjamin R. Teitelbaum called “spiritual mobility” (see his 2020 book, War for Eternity). They regard 21st century preoccupations like equality, gender politics, individualism, material progress, and technology as mere aspects of modernity, harmful or simply inconsequential. 

The second ingredient is a belief in cosmic circularity, as opposed to the ideas of inevitable linearity inherent in mainstream Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and so throughout modern politics. The world, in this reading, goes through ‘ages’ of decline that can be followed by renewal. An original golden age of unity and quality is ineluctably succeeded by silver, bronze and ultimately dark ages of increasingly mechanistic reductionism – what Guénon memorably called the “age of quantity” – after which the cosmic wheel turns back to the start. 

‘Golden Age’ thinking is common to many civilizations, but there are especially close parallels with the four ages (Yugas) of Hinduism, with ‘Kali Yuga’ (the last, sin-filled age of conflict) a shorthand term for today among ‘Aryan’-interested Rightists. This process is almost irrespective of politics, although some theorists see an expeditious role for ‘disruptors’. Evola saw Fascism as a means of reconstituting the Roman Empire, and Bannon saw (and perhaps still sees) Trump as a kind of creative destroyer of consensus, but politics has been a lower priority for other Traditionalists, who concentrated instead on transformation through self-realization. 

It may easily be imagined that Traditionalists are prone to eccentricity; for instance, Evola believed that ‘Aryans’ were descended from an ethereal Arctic race which had decayed as they came south. In the 1980s, a writer calling herself “Alice Lucy Trent” officiated in County Donegal over a small community called the Silver Sisterhood, which worshipped a female deity, sported Victorian clothing, and refused to use electricity. Trent later changed her name to “Miss Martindale”, and moved to Oxford, to found a movement called Aristasia in a modest terraced house, where ambiguous persons wearing dresses and veils would hold ultra-reactionary court in a candle-lit, gramophone-sounding interior, and be seen driving around town majestically in a 1950s car. It was part-pantomime, part-serious critique, at once amusing and interesting. 

Sedgwick rues some Rightists’ co-option of some parts of Traditionalism. Indeed, perennialism can be hard to square with ideas about a “clash of civilizations”, or immigration, or belief in physical racial differences (which even Evola downplayed). He nevertheless examines their thinking with commendable fairness. He differentiates between genuinely traditional teachings about religion and society, which really can be millennia old, and 1920s-to-present-day attempts to turn some of these teachings into realities. For Sedgwick, whatever about the youthful Evola, by his late period he had become a “non-traditional Traditionalist”, and the Evolan phraseology deployed by some on today’s radical Right is therefore mostly “post-Traditionalism”. 

But logical consistency matters little in politics, even metapolitics. Traditionalism may persist as a presence on the Right, if sometimes more symbolically than as substance. Traditionalists’ emphasis on arcane knowledge is intrinsically appealing to some who aspire to be elite leaders. There are also similarities in outlooks and temperaments between Traditionalists and some Rightists – shared perspectives on the manifold problems of modernity, shared detestation of bleak materialism, and shared love of grand and sweeping narratives. As the once world-bestriding West shivers in winnowing new winds, and mainstream conservatism flounders, the epic appeal of a mythical past (and implied enchanted future) seems likely to grow. Sedgwick’s second book on this too long neglected theme makes another significant contribution to what may be an expanding as well as evolving field.

Book Details: Mark Sedgwick, London: Pelican, 2023, hb., 410pps., £25

My thanks to John Morgan for invaluable input on this article.

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Book Review: Return of the Strong Gods by R R Reno

One of the rare consolations of the Empire of Lies we’ve found ourselves in is occasionally encountering a sphere of truth. Such an event reassures us we’re not alone and that kindred spirits are still out there, patiently pushing back against the insanities of the age. One such spirit is the American Catholic author and editor of First Things magazine R.R Reno and his 2019 work Return of the Strong Gods.

Like contemporary efforts by Patrick Deneen and the Polish philosopher Ryzsard Legutko, Reno’s is a book which illuminates the errors of the age. It’s a work which neither succumbs to the easy evasions of the left nor to the vulgarity found on farther reaches of the right. Ultimately, it’s a book that rejects the notion that the post-war era has been the best of all Panglossian worlds.

Divided into five sections and written in simple yet succinct prose, the overarching theme is that the West has lost its way in an abyss of openness: that sine qua non of the present day. Opening at the Second World War and surveying the post-war era, Reno traces our failings back to Auschwitz and Hiroshima and the promise that ‘never again’ would we bear witness to such horrors.     

In light of such an overwhelming imperative, a rhetorical and practical pursuit of openness was initiated in what Reno dubs the “postwar consensus”. A stance which involved the marginalisation at best – and outright illegality at worst – of the noxious -isms that led us to 1914-1945. Nationalism, militarism and anti-Semitism were what caused our horrors, they were thus to be expunged from the public square.

Put simply, such ‘strong gods’ were too dangerous: they had to be banished from the realm. Yet precisely who these deities are, and what they mean in practice, is rendered by Reno deliberately vague. In essence, they’re the deeper – and often darker – parts of the soul such as pride, envy and a ‘love of one’s own’.

Yet Reno does provide us with a rough definition. As he states, the strong gods “are the objects of men’s love and devotion, the sources of the passions and loyalties that unites societies” – ”Truth is a strong god” as are “King and country.” Not all strong gods are malignant, however: they can just as well “be beneficent.” Still, the chief lesson of the twentieth century was that the strong gods of “militarism, fascism, communism, racism, and anti-Semitism” overwhelmingly “brought ruin.”

To this end, the Western post-war consensus, led by the United States, was to prioritise cultural weakening in the form of a near-unlimited openness. Out were truth, certainty and exclusivity; in were relativism, doubt and diversity. If these trends were ever queried, one only needed reminding of 1945 and was soon brought to heel. The post-war consensus – and its Manichean framing: either ‘openness or Auschwitz’ – was thus brought into being.

A stance that Reno then proceeds to illuminate, beginning with ‘the open society’. A notion coined by the author of the movement’s most emblematic and eponymous work, Austrian philosopher Karl Popper and his two-volume Open Society and Its Enemies. A book which was written in obscurity in New Zealand during the Second World War and in which Popper attacks Plato, Hegel and other giants of the tradition before coming down on the side of openness.

As Reno remarks, for Popper ‘our civilisation faces a choice.’ We “can live in a tribal or ‘closed society’or we can break free from this ‘collectivist’ impulse and build an ‘open society’”, one that ‘sets free the critical powers of man.’ And as Popper argued at the time, our future depended on choosing the latter: something we’ve dutifully done and which has set in train the decline that’s since followed.

The rest of the book is then an exploration of this one key theme; with Popper’s socio-cultural openness soon echoed on the economic plane by compatriot Friedrich Hayek: he of Road to Serfdom fame. Thus in a strange symmetry, the West ends up with two Austrian emigres erecting the twin pillars of its post-war world: the Popperian commitment to cultural openness and the Hayekian imperative of free markets.

As Reno remarks, these two men were “united by a commitment to individual freedom and a desire to prevent the return of authoritarianism.” A notion that encapsulates the last eighty-odd years as well as any other and that’s been reinforced through organisations like the Mont Pelerin Society, which Popper and Hayek were founding members, and through Popper’s most famous student, and current bete noir of the right, George Soros: he of his own Open Society fame.

Once established, then, the open-society framework of free markets, multiculturalism and the neutering of metaphysics – “The open society must be anti-metaphysical” – comes to characterise the West. A stance Reno then explores in an impressive overview of the major philosophical figures of the era. After Popper and Hayek, come the Americans Milton Friedman and William F Buckley; followed by a return to the German-speaking giants of earlier in the century, Sigmund Freud and Max Weber; before ending with the Francophone philosophers of the latter part of our era, namely: Albert Camus, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. 

Yet it’s Weber and his notion of the disenchantment of the world – i.e. the scientific erasure of the supernatural – that helps further explain our malaise. As Reno observes, Popper, following Weber, wants to rid us of the metaphysical. For as Reno adds, it’s been imperative to eliminate “the vestiges of sacred authority that blinker men’s reason”. A stance that many of us have come to believe is benign, yet it’s a trend which Reno intimates is ultimately suicidal as it “drains away the substance of Western Civilization’s beliefs in robust metaphysical truths.” That is, it erodes the religious substrate that has enabled us to flourish.

A posture that has been implemented practically by what Reno dubs our ‘therapies of disenchantment’. As although erasing the sacred is ultimately futile quest, our need for metaphysics can be tamped down by the political order. Something that has been done by “relativizing” such notions, by “putting them in their historical contexts” and “critiquing their xenophobic, patriarchal, cisgender, and racist legacies”.

From this, the cultural imperatives then follow: we must “celebrate diversity”, “cultivate transgression” and “problematize” our traditional ties. A stance accomplished by our elite as they “drive old loyalties to the margins of respectability, and otherwise advance the cause of an open society and open minds.”

This metaphysical poverty, allied with the imperative of openness and the eviscerating force of the free-market, have led us to the current impasse. One witnessed in the apparently inchoate actions of voters in their support for non-establishment actors like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. That is, in their clamouring for figures brave enough to enunciate the failures of the liberal order and able to address them.  

Something evident in what Reno calls the Homeless Society. One which is a natural reaction to the “embattled postwar consensus” and a “rebellion against the dogmas of openness”. As in opposition to the issues of 1945, we no longer face the same problems. Indeed, what ails us now is the direct opposite of that time.

Our issues revolve around an all-pervasive anomie. We are a culture that’s “imperilled by a spiritual vacuum and the apathy it brings”. A society that’s “politically inert, winnowed down to technocratic management of private utilities and personal freedoms”. Our main danger is thus one of “a dissolving society; not a closed one; the therapeutic society, not the authoritarian one.

A stance Reno expands upon as he notes the economic, cultural and demographic disasters that have arisen under the aegis of openness. A failure that has been overseen by what can only be described as an utterly inept and unpatriotic elite – or as Reno puts it, our Leaders without Loyalty. Indeed, the book can be read as one of the best indictments of our elites yet seen.

Simply put, our elites are hypocrites. They insist on ‘openness for thee, but not for me’ as they insulate themselves from the baleful effects of their dogma. As Reno notes: “For all their talk of an open economy and open society, those in the upper echelons of our society work very hard to protect [themselves and] their children”. They…choose homes in neighborhoods with goods schools” and condemn “traditional norms as authoritarian, but… keep their [own] marriages together.” Ultimately, “they shelter themselves and those whom they love” from the destructive effects of openness as they praise its putative virtues publicly.    

Given this hypocrisy, and the other failings of the liberal order, the post-war consensus is straining under the weight of its contradictions. It’s a case of ‘what can’t go on, won’t go on’ – and the current settings can’t go on much longer. Indeed, the anti-naturalness of the post-war project was inherent from the outset, but only now are the fissures impossible to ignore.

As such, we move back to the beginning: to the ‘return of the strong gods’. A notion that is not only the book’s title, but which was also an inevitable result of the liberal order. As despite the well-intentioned commitment to openness and the promise of ‘never again’, the post-war concord was always doomed to fail.

This is so as it doesn’t accord with underlying nature. For as many have come to realise, the liberal order is one big affect. Although largely peaceful and prosperous, the post-war consensus fails to fulfil a multitude of human needs. Socially, it’s a regime that doesn’t recognise the darker elements of the soul, like parochialism and ‘a love of one’s own’; not does it address the practicalities of life in a political community: such as a sense of belonging, a common culture and the stability we innately seek. While economically, the Hayekian imperative of unencumbered markets has left us as financially precarious as we are socially: afflicted by the dilemmas of the ‘double-dose’ liberalism to which many now allude, and that writers like Christopher Lasch and John Gray explicitly warned.

Which is why Reno finishes the book seeking an end to the ‘long twentieth century’ and a return to the politics of ‘shared love’. Our order failed as it rendered us homeless: lost in a sea of apathy with no place to call our own. As in spite of the left-liberals who treat our crisis “as an illusion” – with Trump and Farage mere manifestations of an aberrant electorate – Reno treats their rise as the logical result of the errors innate to the liberal order.

The mere fact of ‘populism’, then, is not an epiphenomenon of short-term economic or social angst; but of deeper and entirely legitimate “questions about national identity, immigration and foreign policy, all of which cast doubt on the legitimacy of the established leadership class in the West.”

As in advancing openness, our elite has eroded the solidarity we seek. As under our technocratic ethos, vast swathes of the human experience is marked verboten and placed outside the frame of debate. As Reno remarks, our elite “is so thoroughly blinded by the postwar consensus” it neglects “the actual problems we face – atomization, dissolving communal bonds, disintegrating family ties, and a nihilistic culture of limitless self-definition.”

We thus need to return to the strong gods: of love, solidarity and genuine community. It requires our leaders “to ask question they have been trained to supress”. It needs them to realise that, as the philosopher Leo Strauss observed – in direct opposition to Popper – that ‘the society by nature is the closed society’. A notion to which Reno alludes when he references that well-known saw about human nature: that “blood is thicker than water.”

Which in essence is all that is wrong with the post-war order and why it’s now falling apart. As although the initial desire to prevent future holocausts, gulags and atomic explosions was clearly laudable, these events did not to change human nature. That is, a nature which still seeks solidarity and a sense of the sacred; one that sees our “private interest as part of a larger whole”; one with a “love of our land, our history, our founding myths, our warriors and heroes”. Simply put, we need a renewed patriotism: we need ‘to renew the “we”’.

There is thus very little to critique in Reno’s work. Being an avowed Catholic, his remedies tend towards the Christian, which may rankle the less religious, yet he wears his religion lightly and the book is never in danger of dogmatism. There is an argument to be made, however, that by anchoring the book to the motif of socio-cultural openness, other factors, like the importance of economics – and the centrality of economic growth to the post-war era- are not given the import they deserve. There is also an incongruous attempt to smuggle in some American-style civic nationalism that is understandable even though it’s completely contradictory to the spirit of the work.Nevertheless, this is a highly commendable work. Like Deenen’s and Legutko’s, it’s one of few recent books that drives to the heart of our malaise and that honestly elucidates the errors of our age.

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