At its best, conservatism is about learning the lessons of the past and applying them to today. Conservatives cannot expect for one second to get an accurate representation of this past from the corporate press, let alone an entertainment industry where matters have to be simplified and edited simply as a function of the medium.
While there are many lists of books that validate conservatism and celebrate its accomplishments, this list is something else entirely. Here are 10 books that undercut the misinformation put forth by the culture at large and that every conservative should read to fill in gaps in contemporary conservative discourse.
1. ‘Economics in One Lesson,’ by Henry Hazlitt (1946)
Borrowing the broken-window fallacy expounded by Frédéric Bastiat, Hazlitt discusses bad economics, which focuses on seen, short-term benefits, against good economics, which contrasts those benefits against unseen broader costs. Crystal-clear in its exposition, this short work will allow every conservative to examine political proposals in an entirely new light.
2. ‘The Black Book of Communism,’ by Stéphane Courtois, et al. (1999)
Conservatives often like to dismiss socialism as identical to communism, but this is far too simple an analysis. The most damning anti-communist book was written by several academics, including some socialists. Nation by nation, the authors discuss the levels of depravity visited upon populations by their own governments, from genocides to concentration camps to torture and everything in between. Conservatives are fully aware that evil walks the earth: Here are the receipts, paid in the blood of literally tens of millions of innocents.
3. ‘Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s,’ by Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley (1998)
To this day, children are taught in government schools that those blacklisted by Hollywood were punished for merely having a different point of view. In fact, they were members of a secret organization, taking direct orders from a foreign enemy that killed millions of its own citizens and was dedicated to the violent overthrow of the American government. To understand what America realized in the 1950s, one must learn of all the machinations that occurred previously — scheming that effectively turned Hollywood into a foreign propaganda machine on American soil.
4. ‘Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship,’ by Richard Aldous (2012)
In this masterpiece of history as nowhere else, the two giants of 1980s conservatism come to life. Rather than focusing on their much-publicized — and sometimes inaccurate — partnership, Aldous discusses the frequent drama behind the scenes when British and American interests did not align.
The two kindred spirits found themselves in opposing positions far more frequently than they ever let on. It all builds up to winning the Cold War, freeing half the world without having to fire a shot, and it highlights the frequent lack of acknowledgment for the pair’s historic accomplishment.
5. ‘A Renegade History of the United States,’ by Thaddeus Russell (2010)
Conservatives often ignore huge swaths of American history and thereby cede entire subcultures to the left — even when, historically speaking, it was progressives themselves who were the villains in the picture. Russell’s unique spin on history focuses on those who were historically regarded as deplorable, and how their lack of respectability allowed them to push for freedoms that the rest of us nowadays take for granted. It is shocking but indisputable that Nancy Reagan’s fondness for wearing red, for example, a century prior would have been an unambiguous code for being a prostitute.
6. ‘Gay New York,’ by George Chauncey (1994)
“I’m a conservative, what do I care about gay history?” you might ask. Both Clintons campaigned on, championed, and were instrumental in passing anti-gay legislation while in office. As reported in BuzzFeed and elsewhere, when John Kerry privately asked Bill Clinton in 2004 for advice on how to get elected president, Clinton told him to run against gay marriage.
Yet the media and entertainment industry now uphold the Clintons as brave heroes in the fight for gay rights, and conservatives don’t know enough of the history to call out their hypocrisy. Don’t expect leftist outlets to point out how it was progressives who took the lead in destroying an open gay subculture about a century ago. The conservative opposition to gay rights should not include an opposition to learning the surprising historic facts.
7. ‘Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston,’ by Valerie Boyd (2002)
Hurston rose from the rural South to become the queen of Harlem Renaissance — a period that compatriot Langston Hughes ironically referred to as the time “When the Negro Was in Vogue.” Southern racism and Jim Crow remain a constant refrain, but the black experience in the North during this period is far more rarely discussed.
As soon as the Great Depression hit, Harlem’s young black creatives were tossed aside without a moment’s thought by those who swear by The New Yorker. The utterly unique Hurston was derided as racist for her insistence on capturing the voices of Southern blacks in their native dialect, and was against forced integration: “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?”
African American history is American history, and Hurston’s story is quintessentially American and enormously thought-provoking.
8. ‘Public Opinion,’ by Walter Lippmann (1922)
Conservatives routinely discuss how the press forms a “narrative,” and the late Andrew Breitbart constantly attacked what he called the “Democrat-Media Complex.” Yet almost a century ago, Lippmann was freely musing about how the media creates an environment for the masses and how that environment can be used for social purposes. Before propaganda was a dirty word, Lippmann was advocating for its application — and seeing his plans from 1922 will chill conservatives who believe this all to be a relatively recent phenomenon.
9. ‘Good White People,’ by Shannon Sullivan (2014)
From Colbert to the Washington Post, progressives routinely receive scripts to diffuse conservative criticisms. The routine has become so distilled that simply using the terms “racist” or “white supremacy” is enough to end conversation and declare oneself the winner.
What these types are utterly unprepared for, however, is criticism from the principled left. Sullivan is relentless in deconstructing the classist basis of contemporary, urban anti-racism, and harshly condemns progressive whites for viewing black Americans not as human beings but as tools for white salvation.
10. ‘The Righteous Mind,’ by Jonathan Haidt (2012)
Anyone frustrated by brazen political hypocrisy — and there is plenty of hypocrisy to be found across the political spectrum — needs to read this book. Haidt’s insight concerns how we come to our moral and thereby political conclusions. Since these views are often a visceral response, drawn-out rational discussion will frequently be pointless or even counterproductive.
Conservatives often tweet that “liberalism is a mental disorder.” But this is simply to admit that one’s opponents’ thinking is incomprehensible and largely immutable. Neither is true, and Haidt explains why.