Henry James famously put the word “summer” amongst the “most beautiful words in the English language.” Depending on where you are in the world – and whether you work, study, or both – summer may be finished. However, for many workers and students, August is still synonymous with summer holidays. Oftentimes, summer is the moment to start reading the books and magazines that have been waiting all year long. However, it can also be a great opportunity to catch up with the best releases of the last six months.
My shortlist includes three books, each of which offers an opportunity to think with one’s own head. In a sense, this is the essence of being conservative nowadays.
Looking inward — Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
Truly, few scholars can claim Harvard’s Professor Benjamin M. Friedman’s expertise and renown when it comes to political economy. At 77, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Brookings Institute, and Encyclopedia Britannica’s editorial board. With his latest book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Friedman uncovers the roots of the economic thought that spawned capitalism. Predictably, amongst the main protagonists of this reconstruction is Adam Smith. However, the book’s analysis is original in that it goes beyond Smith as an exceptionally intelligent individual. To do so, Friedman links Smith to the changes in Protestant theology that took place in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Those who have studied social sciences will likely remember a similar argument. In fact, Max Weber had already advanced an analogous hypothesis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. But Friedman takes Weber’s idea a step forward. He turns this theory from a rumination on the past into a self-reflection on Westerners’ identity and way of life. Looking at the Cold War, Friedman tries to explain the origins of contemporary religious conservatism in the United States. In fact, the book argues that it was communism’s double enmity to religion and capitalism that shaped this mighty ideological alliance.
Looking outward — How China Escaped Shock Therapy
An assistant professor at Amherst, Isabella Weber is a relatively new voice in the economic-policy debate on China. Nonetheless, her How China Escaped Shock Therapy is one of the best recent books on the ‘China Model.’ The book shakes at the foundations of many conservatives’ long-held assumptions on the link between markets, wealth, and a thriving democracy. Weber explains how communist China evaded the shock therapy the West imposed on Eastern Europe and, thus, developed an alternative.
At the core, she argues that Beijing has turned markets into means to pursue “its larger development goals.” Surely, the Beijing model has been successful. But the jury is out on whether it can last as it is. And the jurors should read this book.
Looking forward — Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil
There is a stellar team of authors behind Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil. From Kenneth Cukier, a big-data journalist at The Economist, to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, an Oxford professor, and Francis de Véricourt, a professor at the European School of Management and Technology Berlin. Fundamentally, it is a book about the future and human survival in an age of technological change. The three produced an amazing, insightful, and complex book that’s worth a read.
Therefore, it is even more difficult to try to summarize Framers’ content. Paradoxically, the best point to start is… the end. The last chapter discusses the key strategy to ensure humanity’s survival, under the headline we must not cede our power. But the book declares that “the source of human power is neither muscle nor mind but models.”
“We use mental models all the time, even if we are not aware of them. But […] when […] we need to make a high-consequence decision […], it can become apparent to us that our decisions are not simply based on the reasoning we apply, but on something more foundational: […] our sense of how the world works. That underlying level of cognition consists of mental models.”
Thus, what mankind needs to keep vigilance on is its ability to forge new models to interpret the world. Otherwise, the flood of information and ever-shifting variables that characterize our complex present will lead individuals and collectives astray. How to do it? This is hard to say. But reading the Framers can be a useful starting point.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.