Posted on December 28, 2016

The Gift of the MAGA: An American Greatness Symposium on Great Reads for the Greatness Agenda

AmGreatness, December 21, 2016

We come bearing gifts of book recommendations for your holiday break and for making America great again!


Ben Boychuk

Remember, Christmas in the Orthodox tradition runs through January 6, so you still have plenty of time to bestow your friends and loved ones with the Gift of the #MAGA.

If the gift is a somewhat better understanding of the Greatness Agenda — a strong border, economic nationalism, and an America-first foreign policy — then until Publius Decius Mus or any number of American Greatness writers publish their books in the next year, we’re left with what the market already has to offer.

On immigration, one of the best books to frame the question in terms of consent of the governed is Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity by Peter H. Schuck and Rogers M. Smith. The book is more than 30 years old and hopelessly out of print, but you can still find used copies on Amazon for a reasonable sum. Schuck and Smith make the rather unremarkable claim that “permitting a democratic community the power to shape its own destiny by granting or refusing its consent to new members is essential.” That their view is at once neglected and yet controversial today tells us much about the paltry state of our politics. But their argument is also the one we need to have right now.

On economic nationalism, we’re really talking about the Republican Party’s painful re-thinking of free trade. Here I would suggest two books to get the discussion started: The Myth of Free Trade by Dr. Ravi Batra and American Made: Why Making Things Will Return Us to Greatness, by Dan DiMicco. Batra’s book is a little more than 20 years old now, but it distinguishes itself as a fairly straightforward case against the bogus global “free trade” regime that has steadily hollowed out our middle class. DiMicco is the former CEO of Nucor and was the Trump campaign’s advisor on trade, so if you want to understand where Trump is coming from, DiMicco is a good place to start.

Finally, a brief word about “America First,” which is a much-maligned term in our politics today. For a lively history of the idea and the political movement in the United States, check out Bill Kauffman’s America First!. Kauffman is an unapologetic isolationist, but if you read his book with open eyes and a charitable mind, you might come to see why the term shouldn’t be such a term of abuse. (Feel free to skip the lame and tendentious introduction by Gore Vidal, however.)

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness.


F.H. Buckley

If we’re to pick a book that explained the election, then Peter Schweizer’s take-down of the dragon lady of the Clinton Cash machine was the book of the year. But as it is almost too obvious a choice, let me mention a lesser-known book that spoke to an issue quite as important as public corruption, the manner in which our Judeo-Christian heritage has shaped our Western political traditions. Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism shows how our democratic institutions and ideas about personal rights derive not from Locke but from our religious beliefs that we all have souls and that salvation is individual. The Voltairien who seeks to efface this reveals his ignorance of our history and culture, and today’s progressive epigones have shown how easily Godless liberalism can descend into oppression and illiberalism. Those raised in a religious tradition will understand this, and when Solicitor General Verriilli told Justice Alito that a college which opposed same-sex marriage might lose government funding, he revealed for all to see the threat to religious liberty. In the end, the greatest of swing blocks, Catholic voters, broke plus 2 for Trump and plus 10 for white Catholics. Let me spell it out for you: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan.

F.H. Buckley is a law professor at George Mason University. His most recent book, The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America (Encounter) explains the urgent need for legal immigration reform.



RJ Caster

In the introduction to Peter Thiel’s book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future he lays out a scenario where the reader imagines himself in a face-to-face in an interview where he is pressed with the question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” No matter what settled opinions the reader believed before opening the book Thiel’s line of questioning will force him into a contrarian mindset right from the start. This masterfully primes the reader to receive what many might consider Theil’s own “contrarian truths.”


RJ Caster is a former Congressional staffer and current digital campaign strategist.



Roger Kimball

The philosopher James Burnham’s Suicide of the West: The Definitive Analysis of the Pathology of Liberalism, first published in 1964, was long out of print when a new edition was brought out in 2014. In some ways, the book is a period piece. A product of the Cold War, written by an ardent Cold Warrior, many of its examples are dated. But in its core message it is as relevant today as ever. At the center of the “pathology” Burnham anatomizes is an awful failure of understanding which is also a failure of nerve, a failure of “the will to survive.” “Suicide” and “pathology” may seem like hyperbolic terms, Burnham admits. But it is part of the pathology he anatomizes that such objections are “most often made most hotly by Westerners who hate their own civilization.” In his view, the primary function of liberalism was to “permit Western civilization to be reconciled to dissolution,” to view weakness, failure, even collapse as not as a defeat but “as the transition to a new and higher order in which Mankind as a whole joins in a universal civilization.” Sound familiar? Burnham excoriated “that jellyfish brand of contemporary liberalism — pious, guilt-ridden, do-goody — which uses the curious dogma of ‘some truth on both sides’ as its principal sales line.” He was, one admirer noted, “the living embodiment of what would later come to be known as political incorrectness.” I am sorry James Burnham is not with us today. An ardent champion of “the absolute value of the single human person,” he would be celebrating the extraordinary opportunity we have been vouchsafed, at the last possible moment, to make America great again.

Roger Kimball is an American art critic and social commentator, is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the publisher of Encounter Books.


Julius Krein

In The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World (1941), James Burnham explains the economic and intellectual history of the new “managerial” society that supplanted entrepreneurial capitalism over the course of the twentieth century. Closely connected with this economic transition is the shift from parliamentary and constitutional government toward administrative bureaucracy. Any work of this type will contain some anachronisms and mistaken predictions, but many of Burnham’s insights may seem more relevant now than at the time of writing, as the trends that he identified have only accelerated since then.

While rising “populism” receives significant attention today, our understanding of the composition and interests of the so-called “elite” is severely lacking. On one hand, “Conservatives” typically denounce the “adversary culture” and “postmodernism/relativism” of today’s intellectual elite, yet too often remain blind to the economic realities behind political and social transformations. “Progressives,” by contrast, protest rising inequality, yet ignore important differences between today’s elite and that of prior periods, specifically the separation between ownership and control that prevails in managerial arrangements and distinguishes them from classical notions of capitalism.

This failure to understand the nature of the current political and economic “elite” explains why so many politicians and intellectuals of the left and right have failed to understand voters’ dissatisfaction with the status quo. Reading Burnham is essential to correcting this misunderstanding and for developing better responses to present policy problems.

Julius Krein is the editor of American Affairs, a forthcoming quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.



Jesse Merriam

One of the best ways I can recommend spending the Christmas Break is drinking a glass of eggnog, doused with a heavy shot of bourbon, while reading Professor George Hawley’s Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism.


You will find in this book an incredibly erudite and even-handed coverage of a dizzying array of intellectuals – radical libertarians, paleoconservatives, and dissident right thinkers – all of whom have been purged by a conservative movement that has become increasingly preoccupied with currying favor with the Left, so as to adjust to a changing America and be on “the right side of history.”

Reading this book after the election, you will now see in this book not only an explanation for the Trump phenomenon but also the intellectual infrastructure for the Trump platform. Indeed, Professor Hawley’s timing could not have been better, as he has been interviewed over the last couple of months by various media outlets seeking to understand the election.

Moreover, you will see in this book precisely why America has been losing its greatness: A political system, in which the two major parties converge on issues on which millions of Americans diverge (e.g., trade and immigration), and in which the party of conservation mimics the party of progress, cannot secure greatness. Greatness requires representatives tethered to the electorate, bound by and with the root and anchor of the nation’s heritage.

I could think of few better ways to prepare for the coming gift of Making America Great Again than by ruminating with Hawley’s compendium of conservative critics about what American conservatism should look like in the 21st century.

Jesse Merriam, Ph.D., J.D., is assistant professor and pre-law Advisor at Loyola University, Maryland.


Ken Masugi

Conservatives should read more classics, it often (and rightly) has been preached. These great books would be lifetime companions, trans-political and thereby more authoritative in their political teaching.

The classic work that best explains Trump is Aristotle’s “philosophy of human affairs,” as described in his Politics (Sachs translation) and Nicomachean Ethics (Bartlett translation). The middle books (3-6) of the Politics inspired both Madison (see Federalist 10) and Jefferson (his praise of farmers) and advise how to create middle-class republics as not only the most stable but also the most just political communities. But unless these political communities produce virtuous citizens who are also good human beings they fall short of being good republics.


Ken Masugi has been a speechwriter for two cabinet members and for Clarence Thomas, when he was Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He has taught at the U.S. Air Force Academy, James Madison College of Michigan State University, the Ashbrook Center of Ashland University, and Princeton University.



Gladden J. Pappin

“If we do not succeed in tightening the dangerously loosening bonds in the Western world between human communities and the political action of their governments,” writes Pierre Manent in the headline essay of Democracy Without Nations?: The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, “the divorce between the nation and democracy will be no less dangerous for democracy than for the nation.” For many years, Americans who admired Manent’s criticism of the burgeoning European superstate had the luxury of adopting those criticisms from afar. But the prying apart of human communities and political action has been proceeding steadily in the U.S. as well.


Gladden J. Pappin is research assistant professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, and political theory fellow of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. He is the associate editor of American Affairs, a forthcoming quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.


Julie Ponzi

While I have long understood the revolutionary character (or should I say the counter-revolutionary character?) of Progressivism — that system of thought imported from Europe to supplant America’s original and truly revolutionary central idea as articulated in the Declaration of Independence — it was only during the last year that I came to understand the necessity of pushing back against it in such a way as to lend it zero legitimacy. I came to that realization as a result of reading Michael Walsh’s seminal work, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace:  The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West as well as his earlier work (published under the pen name, David Kahane), Rules for Radical Conservatives:  Beating the Left at its Own Game to Take Back AmericaPrior to reading these books and the emergence of Donald Trump with his forceful rejection of leftist tropes, I was attached to the quaint (and very unreasonable) opinion that one could fight the unreasonable Left with reason alone and still win.


Julie Ponzi is senior editor of American Greatness.


Publius Decius Mus

In a recent interview about my amateur career as a pro-Trump intellectual, the first question was: what issue was the gateway to your journey away from Beltway “conservatism” and toward Trump?

My unhesitating answer: income inequality. This is not supposed to be of concern to conservatives. In a country where even the poorest have enough on which to live, and often much more, we are told to let unequal talents play out as they may and not worry about the result.

Yet I worry. F.H. Buckley’s The Way Back: Restoring the Promise of America explains why, better than I possibly could. First, while not abandoning alarm over inequality, Buckley explains that mobility is actually the more fundamental concern. Mobility is the lubricant of a classless society. Without it, we have patricians and plebs, de facto if not de jure, with all the attendant injustices and costs.

The Way Back was not written as a Trump book; it was completed before Trump even announced his candidacy. Yet it is the indispensable guide to our times. Buckley describes with unfailing accuracy the socio-economic arrangement — top plus bottom versus middle — against which Trump voters rebelled. And he delivers on the promise of his title, showing how to deliver “socialist ends through capitalist means.”

There’s a phrase that once would have made my hair stand on end. Back when I was a “conservative.”

Publius Decius Mus, or “Decius,” is a Contributing Editor of American Greatness


Mike Sabo

Essential reading for those looking to Make America Great Again is Ann Coulter’s fiery polemic Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole. Through an oftentimes hilarious and sometimes shocking investigation, Coulter makes the case why our bipartisan immigration policy has been an utter disaster for the country.

As she argues, rampant illegal immigration and mass legal immigration are slowly eating away at the fabric of our nation, driving down wages and producing rampant crime. Programs intended to bring in the best and the brightest from around the world are now vehicles by which entire generations of families are brought to our shores with little regard for our national interest.

Returning the principle of securing the common good back to the center of our politics — which was the central principle underlying President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign — is the book’s most important theme. Voters have consistently rejected “comprehensive” immigration reform such as the infamous bipartisan Gang of Eight bill, because they know that such schemes benefit political elites at the expense of the public good.

Having read the book “cover to cover,” hopefully Trump follows through with correcting the manifest problems Coulter outlines.

Mike Sabo is a recent graduate of the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. He and his wife live in Alexandria, VA