Saturday, October 02, 2010

Their canon, Our canon

Completely brilliant article today in the NY Times on what radical conservatives are reading these days -- and how these writings are showing up in the speeches and plans of Republican candidates and office holders.  I highly encourage you to read the whole article, Movement of the Moment Looks to Long-Ago Texts by Kate Zernike.  So what are crazy Republicans reading these days?

"The Road to Serfdom" by Friedrich Hayek (1944)
"The Law" by Frédéric Bastiat (1850)
"The 5000 Year Leap" by W. Cleon Skousen (1981) 

Like the bible of modern conservatism, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, these books are basically conservative porn made up of fantasies about a return to the 19th century when white men still ruled the planet and everyone else took orders from them.

But the article got me thinking about what a progressive canon might be and what foundational texts should inform our movement.  And it was harder to come up with a list of foundational books than I imagined.  I've come up with a few (none by economists by the way) but I'd welcome any additional suggestions from you in the comments below. 

I think every good progressive should read:

The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen
A People's History of the United States by  Howard Zinn
No Logo by Naomi Klein
Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

But what's interesting about each of these books (and this is a self criticism more than anything else) is that they are all long on what is wrong with conservatives but short on what we would do if we were actually in power.  Derrick Jensen has the most brilliant analysis of modern culture that I've ever read but his remedy is for us to return to being hunter gatherers (which is a nonstarter for most people).  Howard Zinn would have us kill fewer people in wars of aggression (always a good idea) but as far as I know, he doesn't necessarily provide a comprehensive political program for how one might achieve a world at peace.  And Naomi Klein (in Shock Doctrine) provides a robust defense of Keynesianism, which is great, but I gotta figure that ultimately progressives should be fighting for more than just a return to Keynes. So anyway, if you have a chance please list what books you think should inform the progressive canon in the comments below (no sign in required -- but haters, as always will be deleted).