By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
I have often wondered what I would select if someone asked me to put together a list of five or ten books that I would recommend to a young Catholic to help them understand the great cultural and political issues that divide the left and the right in Western society.
Whenever I try to devise such a list, I experience the same reaction as when someone asks me to list my ten favorite movies or songs. Within seconds of finishing the list, I smack my forehead over four or five favorites that I have left out.
Still, I can say with confidence that my list of books would include a title or two from Paul Johnson, maybe The Intellectuals, Modern Times, or The Birth of the Modern. I’d be tempted to list all three, except that doing so would exclude too many other authors of great merit. Johnson is that good. There was a time in the 1990s when younger conservative intellectuals would refer to Johnson as “Chairman Paul,” whimsically comparing his influence to that of Chairman Mao in China.
The recent terrorist attacks in Paris illustrate why it is well worth it to spend serious time with Johnson’s work.
In the mid-1960s, at the height of the Cold War, James Burnham wrote Suicide of the West, one of the most widely discussed books at the time in conservative circles. His theme was that liberalism was undermining the cultural and political heritage in the countries that were part of what was once routinely called the Christian West. Paul Johnson updates the scenario. … Continue Reading