Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Penitential Lenten Reading List for Tories (Pt. One)

When I've been doing my reading the last year it's often occurred to me that in order to understand the era I'm reading about I need to know more about a leading man of the Left of that era. To understand the parlous state of conservatism in England in the long period of exile 1715 you need to know something about the slimy and  oleaginous Robert Walpole. To understand the terrible period of desolation in Canada after 1921 you need to understand something about the tricky and strange William Lyon Mackenzie King. To understand the forces that set the nationin the path leading to violent dissolution  towards war in the U.S. before the War Between the States you need to know something about Andrew Jackson.

The problem is that for any true blue conservative, the very thought of reading about a creature like Pierre Trudeau or Oliver Cromwell makes one's flesh crawl. To make it worse, their biographers tend of course to fawn and slobber over these monsters. In the John English biography of Trudeau you supposedly get a worshipful account of Trudeau's romantic adventures. Yuck.

So it occurred to be something during the last year that the project of necessary reading about notorious leftists should be approached in a penitential spirit, as a kind of spiritual discipline (I guess I'll call it a political discipline), a mortification of the mind, like wearing a hairshirt or scourging yourself.) So here's my top 10 Notorious Men of the Left reading list. It's constrained by availability of books at my library (you don't think I'd buy any of this filth, do you?) Otherwise worthy figures such as Mackenzie King and Earl Warren would appear on this list.I like to do these lists 10-to-1, to build suspense.

10.   Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson was in essence a street thug who,as sometimes happens, finds that the military was just made for him. Jackson would duel at the slightest provocation. He was in somewhere between 13 and over 100 duels in his life. According to Paul Johnson, a man duelling Old Hickory once had to be physically held in his place by the seconds --flat out murder.  As President, Jackson naturally battles basically everyone decent in politics, including John Quincy Adams, John C. Calhoun,  and Henry Clay. The book to read seems to be Robert Remini, Andrew Jackson. As a special act of penance you might instead choose Arthur Schlesinger's hagiographicThe Age of Jackson.

9. Mitch Hepburn

I once worked for a man who was around and active in Hepburn's time. He used to say that the Conservatives had proof that Hepburn had setup a whole floor in the Royal York and was having orgies with multiple prostitutes and everything. "We had the affidavits and all." Someone must have got cold feet.

Despite his total unsuitability to be premier of anything, I don't know of anything Hepburn did to permanently harm Ontario, which is why he is so low on this list. His battles with Mackenzie King area militate in his favour as well. John Saywell's Just Call Me Mitch: The Life of Mitchell Hepburn seems to be the authority here.

8. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson was a southerner, the first president associated with the presidency since Andrew Johnson. (Harry Turtledove has him as President of the Southern Confederacy in his alternate history series.) He makes the partly for his leadership of the progressive cause, partly for his imbecilic activities after WWI. His Fourteen Points are the absolute epitome of soppy sentimentality codified into ludicrous principle and proudly brandished as a serious programme that other nations were supposed to endorse. After reading #1 (Open covenants of peace openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but normal diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.) world leaders must have been splitting their sides laughing. Wilson was perfectly suited for one job: University president,and he was President of Princeton for a few years. August Hecksher's Woodrow Wilson appears to be the best recent biography.

(To Be Continued...)