[BOOKS] Did Christianity Create Liberalism?


Samuel Moyn writes: A generation ago the political philosopher Larry Siedentop published an essay called “Two Liberal Traditions,” its title a nod to his teacher Isaiah Berlin’s celebrated lecture “Two Concepts of Liberty.” An American, Siedentop had traveled to the University of Oxford in the 1950s to study under the great Cold War liberal, and later he taught there for decades.

“How, against its original purposes, was the Gospel’s message brought down to earth?”

In his still mandatory essay, Siedentop persuasively argues that Anglo-American liberalism has never been the sole version of the tradition. There is also, Siedentop contends, a characteristically French approach, more historicist and sociological than conceptual and normative in making the case for modern liberty. Great nineteenth-century French thinkers such as Benjamin Constant, François Guizot, and Alexis de Tocqueville generally cast liberal values such as individual freedom as complex social achievements won over long periods, to be treasured and fostered precisely because they reflect collective advancement, not merely moral truth.


“There was a time before the individual, and Siedentop spends his first few chapters dwelling on it: the ancient world, in which individuals were wholly subordinated to family structures. No matter that admirers from the Renaissance and Enlightenment appealed to the classical past in order to attack Christian oppression, Siedentop says: they ignored the fact that no ancient society embraced the value of individual freedom.”

This line of thought suggests that history and experience are central to the making of liberal values and not simply the storehouses of wisdom for conservatives, better known for appealing to the past. Unlike their Anglo-American counterparts from Thomas Hobbes to John Rawls, Frenchmen did not rely on the thought experiment of the social contract to motivate allegiance to liberal norms. Thus their approach, as Siedentop describes it, is an indispensable counterpart to the usual focus in our own liberal tradition, 41ncnodwApL._SL250_which prizes normative justification rather than a story about how we came to defend liberal values, through what institutions and practices.

[Check out Larry Siedentop’s book “Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism” at Amazon]

Of course, a lot turns on how believable the narrative is. In his new book Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism, Siedentop tries his own hand at telling how modern freedom came about. Channeling the project of the French tradition, he leans heavily on the almost-forgotten Guizot, the political theorist and government minister whose History of Civilization in Europe (1828) Siedentop in effect revives and updates. (If readers have any recollection of Guizot, it is probably because in the opening lines of The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx denounces him as a leading statesman of a conservative entente that had brought stability but not justice to post-Napoleonic Europe.)

There are a few powerful components to Siedentop’s rehabilitation of the French tradition. The most important follows that tradition’s most promising move, which is to treat modern individualism as a historical product rather than a natural fact. There was a time before the individual, and Siedentop spends his first few chapters dwelling on it: the ancient world, in which individuals were wholly subordinated to family structures. No matter that admirers from the Renaissance and Enlightenment appealed to the classical past in order to attack Christian oppression, Siedentop says: they ignored the fact that no ancient society embraced the value of individual freedom. “They failed to notice,” Siedentop comments mordantly, “that the ancient family began as a veritable church.”


This history may be news to Anglo-Americans liberals, who routinely take the individual as a natural given. In the social contract, individuals are a premise, not a product. In economics, the satisfaction of individual preferences is the self-evident goal, but this is never explained or justified, even though it is an astonishingly rare commitment across the sweep of time. Siedentop wants to treat such first principles as the result of a history that made liberalism conceivable in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »

Ian Fleming Classic: ‘Casino Royale’


Casino Royale is the first novel by the British author Ian Fleming. Published in 1953, it is the first James Bond book, and it paved the way for a further eleven novels and two short story collections by Fleming, which was followed by numerous continuation Bond novels by other authors.

The story concerns the British secret agent James Bond, gambling at the casino in Royale-les-Eaux to bankrupt Le Chiffre, the treasurer of a French union and a member of the Russian secret service. Bond is supported in his endeavours by Vesper Lynd, a member of his own service, as well as Felix Leiter of the CIA and René Mathis of the French Deuxième Bureau. Fleming used his wartime experiences as a member of the Naval Intelligence Division, and the people he met during his work, to provide plot elements; the character of Bond also reflected many of Fleming’s personal tastes. Fleming wrote the draft in early 1952 at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica while awaiting his marriage. He was initially unsure whether the work was suitable for publication, but was assured by his friend, the novelist William Plomer, that the novel had promise.


Within the spy storyline, Casino Royale deals with themes of Britain’s position in the world, particularly the relationship with the US in light of the defections to the Soviet Union of the British traitors Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean. The book was given broadly positive reviews by critics at the time and sold out in less than a month after its UK release on 13 April 1953, although US sales upon release a year later were much slower.

Since publication Casino Royale has appeared as a comic strip in a British national newspaper, The Daily Express. It has been also adapted for the screen three times, a 1954 episode of the CBS television series Climax! with Barry Nelson as an American Bond, a 1967 film version with David Niven playing “Sir James Bond”, and a 2006 film in the Eon Productions film series starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. Read the rest of this entry »

Barbra Streisand Tells Axelrod that the President Needs to Talk to People in Simpler Terms: ‘I Hate to Say it, but People are Stupid’


Book Review: ‘Believer’ by David Axelrod

Daniel Henninger writes: The Obama presidency doesn’t arrive in David Axelrod ’s 500-page memoir, “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics,” until the book is about two-thirds over. But it is worth the wait, or at least the wading.

President Obama is in the middle of his fight to pass the Affordable Care Act. This is the book’s most politically compelling chapter, though the word “ObamaCare” is entirely absent. Some in the White House, such as chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, worry that the stumbling, unpopular effort to pass the ACA will damage Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections. “Rahm recommended scaling back to a plan that would cover fewer people, but garner more votes,” Mr. Axelrod writes.


Senior White House Advisor Barbra Streisand

When President Obama asks what the odds are of passing the most ambitious bill possible, his congressional liaison, Phil Schiliro, replies, “Depends how lucky you feel, Mr. President.”

Mr. Obama smiles and says: “Can I say this? I always feel lucky. Let’s go all in. When your name is Barack Obama and you’re the president of the United States, how can you not feel lucky?”BN-GW407_bkrvax_FR_20150209125634

Mr. Axelrod’s name will be yoked forever to that of Mr. Obama, though people often misconstrue his role. Mr. Axelrod was not the Obama campaign manager in 2008. That was David Plouffe. He was not President Obama’s first chief of staff. That was Rahm Emanuel.

[You know you want to…order Axelrod’s book “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics” from Amazon]

A fair summary of Mr. Axelrod’s role would be to say that until he left the White House in February 2011, he was in charge of the Obama “message.” Normally in politics, “message” has a particular meaning—using media to promote a set of ideas and positions. Mr. Axelrod, however, believes (thus, the book’s title) that he was involved in something larger than the mere grubwork of political messaging. Describing his position in the 2008 presidential campaign, he writes: “My role was Keeper of the Message and, I believed, the idealistic flame.”

Mr. Axelrod describes how that idealistic flame ignited early in his life, at the age of five. He was taken to a John F. Kennedy campaign rally in New York City, where he says he “somehow” absorbed the message axelrod-obama“we are masters of our future, and politics is the means by which we shape it.”

“It has been said that Mr. Axelrod was Barack Obama’s Svengali. Reading “Believer” made me think you could as easily say that Mr. Obama was David Axelrod’s Svengali.”

At nine, he took himself to the local Manhattan Democratic club to volunteer for Bobby Kennedy ’s New York Senate campaign.

Politics pulled him in because he sensed “it was about big, noble ideals. It was about history and historic change.” Years later—by now a Chicago political consultant whose clients had included Sen. Paul Simon, Mayor Harold Washington and Gov. Rod Blagojevich—he was working to make Barack Obama president.

It has been said that Mr. Axelrod was Barack Obama’s Svengali. Reading “Believer” made me think you could as easily say that Mr. Obama was David Axelrod’s Svengali. Read the rest of this entry »

Vintage Book Cover: The Smasher, 1959


The Smasher

1959 MacMillan hardcover

1960 Ace Double paperback reissue

Seattle Mystery Bookshop – pulpcovers

Pocket Book Vintage Paperback: Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘The Case of the Lucky Legs’


February 1934 Morrow hardcover 1956 Pocket paperback reissue 3rd Perry Mason novel
Seattle Mystery Bookshop

The To Kill a Mockingbird Sequel’s First Printing Will Be 400 Times Bigger Than the Original

Originally posted on TIME:

To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee is set to publish her first book in 55 years this summer, and many in the literary world are rejoicing.

The legendary one-book writer decided to end her career as a novelist to avoid the publicity she faced following Mockingbird‘s massive success, which included a Pulitzer Prize and an Academy Award-winning film adaptation. Mockingbird’s popularity means it’s no surprise that the sequel, Go Set a Watchman (which Lee wrote in the 1950s but set aside), will have a first printing of 2,000,000 copies.

That’s a massive number for a first printing, which represents a publisher’s estimate for a book’s immediate demand. It’s even more notable considering Watchman isn’t part of a beloved fantasy or thriller series, which often see high first printing counts.

Here’s how Watchman‘s first printing stacks up against other heavily hyped novels, from the final books of the

View original 60 more words

Vintage Book Cover: ‘Moby Dick’

Pulp Fiction: ‘Murder of a Mistress’, 1957


1957 Perma Books paperback original

Seattle Mystery Bookshop – flickr.com

Crime Fiction: ‘Enter a Murderer’, 1941


November 1941 Pocket paperback, 4th printing

Seattle Mystery Bookshop

Vintage Paperback: ‘World Without Men: They Had Forgotten What Men Look Like’

Ace D-274 Paperback Original (1958).  Cover Art by Ed Emsh

Ace Books D-274: World Without Men by Charles Eric Maine, 1958. Cover by Ed Emshwiller.


Vintage Paperback Crime Fiction: Agatha Christie ‘An Overdose of Death’, 1960


January 1960 Dell edition, first printing

Seattle Mystery Bookshop

Pulp Fiction: ‘Vertigo’


Dell 977 (by uk vintage)

Cover art by Robert Maguire

Pulp Fiction Cover: ‘Murder for the Asking’


1939 Knopf hardcover

1944 Dell paperback reissue

Cover art by Gerald Gregg

First novel featuring Maxfield Chauncey Hale

Seattle Mystery Bookshop – flickr.com

Happy 206th Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe


Banned Books: A Reading Challenge For 2015

Pulp Fiction Cover: James P. Duff’s ‘Las Vegas Slay Ride’ & ‘Dangerous to Know’, 1959


James P. Duff – Dangerous to Know
Ace Books D-361, 1959


Jeffrey Goldberg: Europe Is Under Siege


The Charlie Hebdo massacre represents a direct attack on perhaps the most crucial Western ideal.

 writes: The European Parliament complex in Brussels, where I happen to be sitting at the moment, is meant to be a monument to post-World War II continental ideals of peaceable integration, tolerance, free speech, and openness. All of these notions seem to be under attack at once, and what is striking to me, as a relatively frequent visitor to Europe over the past year, is that not many people—until a few hours ago, at least—seem to believe that their union, and their basic freedoms, are under threat.


The massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo falls into the category of events that are shocking in their intensity and brutality, but not at all surprising. This attack, which killed at least 12 people, including journalists and two police officers, was utterly, completely predictable.prisoners-goldberg

[Check out Jeffrey Goldberg’s book “Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror” at Amazon]

The brittle, peevish, and often-violent campaign to defend the honor of Allah and his prophet (both of whom, one might think, are capable of defending themselves with lightning bolts and cataclysmic floods and such, should they choose to be offended by cartoons) has been pursued in earnest since the 1989 Iranian-led crusade (I use the word advisedly) to have Salman Rushdie murdered for writing a book. In 2011, of course, the offices of Charlie Hebdo were firebombed—the equivalent of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, an attack that should have told us more about long-term jihadist intentions than it unfortunately did.

Anti-Israel demonstrators atop a Trafalgar lion (Luke MacGregor/Reuters )

Anti-Israel demonstrators atop a Trafalgar lion (Luke MacGregor/Reuters )

And Europe has had specific, sometimes fatal, warnings about the capabilities and desires of jihadists in recent months—the car attacks in France, conducted by men shouting “Allahu Akbar,” and, most obviously, the assault on the Jewish Museum in Brussels last May, in which four people were murdered, allegedly by Mehdi Nemmouche, a French citizen of Algerian origin who apparently spent time in the Middle East in the employ of ISIS. Read the rest of this entry »

[BOOKS] ‘No Wings on a Cop’


No Wings on a Cop

1950 Quinn/Handi Books paperback original

second book with Lt. John J. Shannon

cover art by Mike Privitello

expanded in 1953 by Robert Leslie Bellem

Seattle Mystery Bookshop


[BOOKS] Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘This is Murder


This Is Murder (1960)

1935 Morrow hardcover published under the pen name Charles J. Kenney

This was his seventh published novel, after the first five Perry Mason books and one with the pen name Carleton Kendrake the year before.

pulp covers – Seattle Mystery Bookshop


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