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Modern Conservative Thought: A Personal Odyssey

Apr 17, 2020

And for something different, some insights into my life and the first book I wrote:

With all the gloom and doom about corona, and over three dozen articles so far on this site covering the issue, it might be time for a change of pace. So this article will speak nothing about viruses, death and lockdowns. It will instead be a bit about myself and about the very first book I wrote. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it should get your minds off the current crisis for a few minutes at least.

I started an article a while back with the title, “Ten Things You May Not Have Known About Me.” I never finished it, mainly because I could not come up with ten things that folks might be interested in and would want to read about! Hmm, I guess I lead a pretty dull life!

Last night, however, as I was reflecting on my three decades in Australia, one thing did occur to me that might – just might – be of interest to some. It has to do with a bit of my political and intellectual journey, and a book that most folks do not know I have written. So for those who might be interested, here is that story.

As I discussed in my 4-part testimony of how I became a Christian back in 1971, I was a political radical in my teens. From around the age of 14 to the age of 18 (when I became a Christian) I was heavily into leftist and even Marxist thought and politics. I discuss that here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/

But when I did get saved, my interest in politics and social issues took quite a dive. In fact, for a decade or so I was basically pretty much apolitical. Reading theology and the like became my new interest, and I had little to do with the issues of the day.

But for various reasons that began to change in the early to mid-80s. At the time I was a missionary in Holland, and one or two friends got me interested in conservative magazines and periodicals such as National Review. With the Cold War still bubbling along big time back then, I became quite interested.

Other publications such as Commentary and the American Spectator became part of my steady reading diet. And of course getting books on politics, economics and social issues from a more or less conservative point of view consumed much of my budget.

All this was of course quite a different take on things than the leftist and Marxist ideology that I had been steeped in. So some 15 years after my conversion, I had had a real turn around when it came to my political views. And I have explained often now why it seems to me that conservatism is more in step with biblical Christianity than leftism. See here for example: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2010/08/24/what-is-conservatism/

After five years in Europe my Australian wife and I returned to America, where I finished my BA, this time at Wheaton College in Chicago. One day I invited a political science prof that I quite liked over to our place for a quick lunch. He glanced at my humble bookcases and said “You have good book sense” or words to that effect.

Yes, I have long thought that I am fairly adept at identifying good books, good authors, and good publishers. I can usually discern what are some of the better titles and writers on a given subject that I am interested in. As one indication of this interest, my website has many dozens of extensive bibliographies on various topics.

As an aside, while in Chicago for a year and Boston for two years doing my MA, I regularly scoured the second-hand bookstores. And I kept an eye out for cheapish but great titles for a few overseas friends. I must have bought and shipped over 100 books during that period. Hmm, I wish I had friends doing that for me!

So my library of conservative titles was growing apace, and by the time we moved permanently to Australia in 1989, I ended up getting a job for a while at the conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs. Part of the reason I got the job was because I showed one of the leaders there a manuscript I was writing on conservative books.

The IPA agreed to publish it, so in 1990 Modern Conservative Thought: An Annotated Bibliography was released. It was a fairly unique book in many ways, and comprised paragraph-length descriptions of various conservative titles – 714 to be exact.

Those books are broken down into 11 main sections: Economics and Welfare; Marxism, Communism and East-West Relations; Liberation Theology; War, Peace and Nuclear Issues; Law, Legislation and Constitutionalism; Education; Religion and Politics; Sexual and Biomedical Ethics; Science and the Environment; the Media; and Miscellaneous and General.

The first two chapters, as might be expected, are the longest, with around 200 titles found in each. Consider just some of the authors featured in the first chapter: P. T. Bauer, Peter Berger, Milton Friedman, George Gilder, Friedrich Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Charles Murray, Michael Novak, Murray Rothbard, Thomas Sowell, Ludwig von Mises, and Walter Williams, to name but a few.

As can be seen, I featured mainly more or less contemporary authors in my book. Some older classic works are of course featured, but mainly I have authors from the past century. With so many titles to choose from, I do list ten titles in an epilogue of what are some of the more important books to be aware of. Here is that list

P. T. Bauer, Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion.

Peter Berger, The Capitalist Revolution.

Whittaker Chambers, Witness.

George Gilder, Wealth and Poverty.

Paul Hollander, Political Pilgrims.

Paul Johnson, Modern Times.

Russel Kirk, The Conservative Mind.

Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

Jean-Francois Revel, How Democracies Perish.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago.

Some of those books I have discussed in much more detail over the years, such as here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/08/24/what-is-conservatism/

And here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/02/14/in-defence-of-freedom-and-free-markets/

Now I fully understand that every time I write about books and the like, my readership plunges somewhat. And narrowing things down to only conservative titles may well lose a few more readers. But some of you will be interested in all of this nonetheless.

And for that small handful of folks who are interested, I can say this: I do have a few copies of the book left – around a dozen. I am not sure how many copies the IPA originally printed, but when I no longer worked there, and they moved to a new location, they seem to have disposed of the books (I was told ‘they fell off the back of the truck’!). So if anyone is really keen to get a copy, let me know, and we can work something out.

Well, there you have it: a bit more about my life – or parts of it. And a bit about my first published work. You better enjoy this article, because tomorrow I will likely again be writing about the ongoing gloomy topic of corona.

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10 Responses to Modern Conservative Thought: A Personal Odyssey

  • I am almost finished reading REDEMPTIVE REVERSALS by G.K. Beale, which is the last book that I purchased on your recommendation and it has held my attention. Thank you. I confess to being a bit of a bibliophile, ever since my father signed me up as a Junior Member of our local library at around eleven years of age. Whilst not having read many of the academic titles you list here (I’m still trying to remember what ‘Keynesian’ economics is), I enjoyed Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO when it was published. I read Orwell and select works of the Western classical canon later in life. I have ordered at least two books online this week and have another three up my sleeve. The local library struggles with some of my requests, but one thing I have noticed is that they have divested most, if not all, of the classic Australian literature titles in favour of certain new releases. I guess it’s a matter of space. So why don’t they have bigger buildings? Don’t get me started. The local librarian tries to hide when I appear. Please keep writing these kinds of posts as they certainly give satisfaction and a break from the disasters.

  • Looks like you were right about your readership plunging, but with such a cast of subjects and writers, your book is somewhat intimidating. However, I have Googled Keynesian economics, although you didn’t mention Keynes, but Milton Friedman, who opposed his theories. It brings to mind DEEDS THAT WON THE EMPIRE, published in 1897 by W. H. Fitchett and said to be one of Churchill’s favourites. How does one obtain a copy of your book and what is the cost?

  • Thanks Russell. Well, if you lived in Melbourne that can easily be arranged. otherwise we can work something out!

  • “I guess I lead a pretty dull life!” I had to laugh because a few years ago I decided to get into photography and video only to discover the same thing about myself. Funnily enough, when I stopped videoing etc. my life seemed to become much more interesting. Go figure. Maybe there’s some sort of weird correlation with the double-slit experiment or maybe it’s just ignorance is bliss.

  • I was thinking that this article would recall all the “mundane” details of your family’s background, of your hippie life, what led to your conversion to Christ, how you found your Australian wife and the new course of your life. But then you have probably written several times on this theme, and all you need to do is re-publish these messages or simply give me the internet sources of them to discover for myself….greatly enjoy all your articles…..often pray for you.

  • Thanks Spero. Well, I did have this link in my article: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/06/27/coming-home-my-testimony-part-1/

    It is the first of a 4-part, 10,000 word article discussing in great detail my hippy past and my conversion. Check it out!

  • Dear Bill,
    I am an avid reader of your website and often look to your views to help me make sense of the many contemporary and contentious issues of our times.
    Through your articles and recommendations I have come to know of, and read, Vishal Mangalwadi’s “The Book That Changed Your World” and several books by Prof. Rodney Stark.
    Is your 1990 book, “Modern Conservative Thought: An Annotated Bibliography” still available, either through you or the IPA?

    God bless you and your work,
    Nik

  • Thanks Niklas. Yes I still have copies of it.

  • Hey Bill personally I try to read all your reviews. I have put several books in my wish list on Amazon and purchased a few. Your book would be an invaluable resource but not sure if my being in the States complicates things too much???

  • Hi Bill, thanks again for a great article, I love reading, although my library is very small… I live in Queensland and would be very interested in purchasing your book, please let me know the process….

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