Earlier in the year, I produced what I described as my lockdown reading list for conservatives. A confinement later, and things are starting to look up. We are in many ways starting to see the back of the Coronavirus, with vaccine rollouts seemingly having pushed the virus back. As such, millions of people are getting ready to enjoy their summer holidays away from home. However, that shouldn’t stop us from being able to find time to enjoy a good book, by the pool, up a mountain, or on a lawn chair in the garden.
Here are my picks for the top reads for conservatives this summer:
DOOM: The Politics of Catastrophe – Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson has never shied away from tackling large, and difficult subjects. His book ‘The Ascent of Money’ explained the evolution of financial markets, from the birth of debt to the great recession of 2007, in a way that made it easy to read and accessible for everyone. The same again was true of his 2017 book ‘The Square and the Tower’, which broke down the importance of networks throughout history, and the spread of ideas via interconnected groups around the world.
Ferguson’s most recent work, which arrives as timely as ever, explores why it is that societies are so constantly caught out when it comes to disasters. At the core of his thesis, Ferguson points to the fact that ‘governments never get the disaster it prepared for’. His explanation for this, is that disasters are not predictable, but rather occur randomly and unevenly distributed.
The broad hypothesis of the book can be applied to just about any disaster. Take for example, the recent flooding in Western Europe. Whilst it would be expected that low lying towns on the banks of rivers that have experienced historical flooding should be prepared, the reality was that they were taken by surprise. It wasn’t that the governments of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany didn’t have plans in place if water levels should rise, but rather that they weren’t implementable. And finally, that the flooding should have wide reaching consequences beyond the physical damage sustained, such as avoidable economic harm or political upsets.
This book perhaps serves best as a tool for trying to understand how it is we can be better prepared, and how to accept that as much as we might plan, we will never truly be ready. Instead that we should focus on ensuring that our institutions and societies are more resilient so that when disaster does strike, we are able to pick ourselves back up again. As General Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are useless, planning is everything”.
Greater: Britain After the Storm – Penny Mordaunt MP & Chris Lewis
What is it that makes Britain so great? Is it its openness to new people and new ideas? Or is it its commitment to upholding traditional values and institutions? According to former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, and her writing partner Chris Lewis, it’s both.
This book, which admittedly is more aimed at the home market, captures the true essence of what it is to be British, and what makes the country as great as it is today. However, it also comes with a warning, that our society is becoming complacent, and our institutions need shoring up. Rather than just being a book about British exceptionalism, it faces up to the myriad of problems that the country faces as it leaves the Coronavirus pandemic. Offering constructive answers to the big questions.
How should we be governed? How do we defend our democracy? How do we fix the systemic gaps in our society? How do we support the local in an increasingly global world? This book aims to put forward answers to these questions, setting out clear and achievable conservative solutions. Embracing localism, adopting a voluntarist society, giving people back their sense of agency, trusting the public to know what they’re doing, allowing the market to pick up the slack when the state can’t always provide.
Of course, aside from the excellent and engaging writing, the other reason to read this book is that it offers an insight into the world view of someone who is widely seen as being a future face of the British Conservative Party.
Regardless, this fantastic book offers an interesting perspective on how the UK can truly build back better, stronger, and more unified as it comes out of the global pandemic.
How Innovation Works: And why it Flourishes in Freedom – Matt Ridley
It’s hard to express how widely the net is cast when looking at the scope of topics covered by this book. Viscount Ridley, an evolutionary biologist by academic background, manages to capture the evolution of several key sectors chapter by chapter in fascinating detail. From the connection between the steam engine to the LED lightbulb to nuclear power, from potatoes to fertilizer to land ownership this book covers it all. But perhaps more importantly, it does so by looking at what it is that truly drives innovation.
The second half of the book is dedicated to an in-depth analysis of how it is that free societies get ahead in the battle for ideas. And how it’s through a process of ideas reproducing, and finding partners, that new ideas come about. Perhaps most importantly of all, Viscount Ridley makes clear that innovation is a purely bottom-up phenomena, and that ideas only truly flourish when they are adopted voluntarily.
What perhaps makes this book so interesting, is the way in which Ridley applies his biology background to understanding the taxonomy of these ideas as only an evolutionary biologist can. Each set of ideas comes from a clear breeding ground, mixing as they evolve with other schools of thought and ideologies, before arriving at the beautiful notions that we have today. However, above all, this book is full of the same optimism as his other works.
Twenty-Five Liberal Conservative Thinkers – Hannes H Gissurarson
The history of the liberal conservative movement is best told through the stories of the people who made it. Whilst Matt Ridley looks at the history of innovation from the perspective of inventions that have changed our world, Hannes Gissurarson looks at the history of an ideology in the same way, by exploring the views of those who made the movement what it is today. Not through the politicians, but through the lives of the great thinkers.
What makes these two volumes special is that whilst there are the usual favourites, Edmund Burke, John Locke, Adam Smith, Frederick Hayek, Milton Friedman, Alexis de Tocqueville, and many others – it also looks at it from the perspective of those conservatives one might not normally associate with the movement: Ayn Rand, Snorri Sturluson, St Thomas Aquinas, Robert Nozick, and Carl Menger.
This book offers something for everyone – from those who are just beginning to dip their toes into conservative thought, to those who have been lifelong members of the movement looking for a new perspective on the history of the ideology. This informative, and thanks to a number of personal anecdotes, entertaining book is a must read for those who better want to understand where we have come from, and where we are going.
Both volumes of the book are available for free on the website of New Direction the Foundation for European Reform.