Books

How to be a conservative

Here is an enlightening interview with Roger Scruton from Prospect magazine. Here is the intro:

Conservatism, the philosopher Michael Oakeshott once wrote, is not a creed so much as a “disposition,” a cast of mind rather than a set of beliefs. Roger Scruton echoes Oakeshott when he writes, in the preface to his new book “How To Be a Conservative” that the “conservative temperament is an acknowledged feature of human societies everywhere.” The conservative, in Scruton’s sense, asserts that “we have collectively inherited good things that we must strive to keep,” and is sceptical of large-scale attempts to remake the world in the image of abstract ideals. “Good things,” Scruton writes (and among those good things he numbers “law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life”), “are easily destroyed, but not easily created.”

Read the whole interview here and buy one of Scruton’s books.

Five articles you need to read today

From the Washington Post, Five economic lessons from Sweden, the rock star of the recovery, of particular interest to Ontario is lesson number one:

1. Keep your fiscal house in order when times are good, so you will have more room to maneuver when things are bad.

In 2007, before the recession, the U.S. government had a budget deficit equivalent to 3 percent of its economy, as did Britain. Sweden, meanwhile, had a 3.6 percent surplus.

So when the recession hit, that surplus gave its government a cushion in the downturn and it didn’t run up the huge debts that in other advanced nations have now created the risk of a future crisis. Sweden’s gross debt is set to reach 45 percent of the size of its economy this year, as the United States closes in on 100 percent.

This was a lesson Sweden learned from its early 1990s crisis, in which a collapse in commercial real estate and the banking sector was exacerbated when the budget deficit rose to such high levels that the country had trouble borrowing money and the value of its currency collapsed.

The nation set a goal of averaging a 1 percent budget surplus over time and held to it — which left the government with lots of flexibility to engage in deficit spending when the economy went south.

“If you don’t have a fiscal problem, you have more degree of freedom,” said Stefan Ingves, governor of Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, in an interview. “This time around, the issue was not ever even close to being about solvency.”

From The Guardian (UK), Why it’s so much harder to think like a Conservative, by Roger Scruton.

Conservatism, I [Scruton] argue, is not a matter of defending global capitalism at all costs, or securing the privileges of the few against the many. It is a matter of defending civil society, maintaining autonomous institutions, and defending the citizen against the abuse of power. Its underlying motive is not greed or the lust for power but simply attachment to a way of life. [emphasis is mine]

From Patheos, a review of Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry.

A number of prominent Bible scholars believe that Richard Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses just might be the most important book of New Testament scholarship in many decades–the kind of paradigm-shifting work that will be ignored by most current scholars and only taken up by a new generation, as science advances “one funeral at a time”.

In a word, the book argues that the Gospels are books of oral history; in other words, that they are based on the direct accounts of specific, named eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus. This is contrary to the assumption of most New Testament scholarship, drawn from the form criticism of the early 20th century, that the Gospels are works of oral tradition, in other words collections of anonymous traditions passed down through many iterations between the actual witnesses and the writers of the Gospels.

From Urban Velo, a mini review of Trek’s new commuter bike, Lync:

Trek has upgraded their commuter line with the Lync, a commuter ride decked out with integrated lighting and bluetooth compatible monitoring. Instead of buying a commuter and having to select various lighting, phone mounts, and software additions, new purchasers can have a ride that is ready to go without aesthetic adjustments.

From First Things, A Theory for Tattoos.

That’s the theory of body art. It spells a transition from the body as physique to the body as text. You can write yourself upon it. As a friend put it to me: A tattoo isn’t the Word made flesh, but the flesh made word. It may strike old-fashioned types as pedestrian narcissism and adolescent conformity, and sometimes it surely is. But in a deeper and more troubling way, it is canny and subversive artifice, spiced with a moralistic claim to personal liberation. A tattoo is a personal statement but also an anthropological position that accords with the prevailing transvaluations of our time. It’s a wholly successful one, too, judging from the entertainment and sports worlds, and youth culture. With the mainstreaming of tattoos, another factor in the natural order falls away, yet one more inversion of nature and culture, natural law and human desire. That’s not an outcome the rationalizer’s regret. It’s precisely the point.

 

Against Empathy

Courtesy of Prufrock, here’s an interesting essay from the Boston Review in which Paul Bloom takes a position against empathy.

When asked what I am working on, I often say I am writing a book about empathy. People tend to smile and nod, and then I add, “I’m against it.” This usually gets an uncomfortable laugh.

This reaction surprised me at first, but I’ve come to realize that taking a position against empathy is like announcing that you hate kittens—a statement so outlandish it can only be a joke. And so I’ve learned to clarify, to explain that I am not against morality, compassion, kindness, love, being a good neighbor, doing the right thing, and making the world a better place. My claim is actually the opposite: if you want to be good and do good, empathy is a poor guide.

Read the whole thing here.

My summer reading

I actually started Knausgaard’s A Man In Love in the Spring but it’s a struggle. And there are six volumes!!

Road To Valour is a biography of Gino Bartali, the Italian cyclist who won the Tour de France in 1938, before the Second World War interrupted the Tour, and won again after the war in 1948. This book describes his compassion and bravery during WWII.

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My advice: read everything and anything W.G. Sebald has written. A Place In The Country is a series of essays published for the first time in book form in February 2014. I read most of this at the cottage. It’s too bad Sebald died in a car crash in 2001.

I like Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms because I can read any chapter I feel like reading without having to read any other chapter before it. The book is a great reminder that nothing lasts forever.

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