Ryan Anderson’s Christmas Book List

Published December 14, 2022

Claremont Review of Books

From Claremont: In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago (the 2010s), we at the CRB had a tradition of inviting our whole merry gang of writers and readers to contribute a few book recommendations to close out the year. Back now by popular demand, here is our list of books we’ve loved this year—perfect for stuffing into a stocking or cracking open by the fire. Enjoy!

In the middle of 2020, while the world was in lockdown due to COVID-19, Carl Trueman published one of the most important books of the past several decades. In The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to the Sexual Revolution(Crossway, 2020), Trueman built on insights of contemporary writers such as Charles Taylor, Philip Rieff, and Alasdair MacIntyre to show how modern thinkers and artists such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Percy Shelley, and William Blake gave expression to a transformative worldview. This worldview—what Taylor calls a “social imaginary”—made possible and plausible the arguments of the theorists who shaped the postmodern sexual revolution: people such as Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, and Herbert Marcuse. Trueman’s is a penetrating analysis of several hundred years of recent intellectual history, showing why people are willing to believe ideas today—without need of argument, evidence, or proof—that every one of our grandparents would have rejected out of hand.

The only problem? The book was over 400 pages long. And most people have never heard of—let alone studied—many of the names I listed above. While a pointy-headed academic like me viewed that as a feature, not a bug, in a learned tome of intellectual history, I knew that many of Carl’s potential readers would not have the time or appetite to wade through some of his finer, more nuanced discussions. So I emailed Carl, praising the book as essential reading for our moment. But I also suggested that he consider writing a shorter, more accessible version of the basic argument for non-specialists who would benefit from the essential narrative, to better understand the historical moment in which they find themselves and to inform the work they do in ministry, culture, politics, business, and, most importantly, raising the next generation. Carl has now produced that volume, and it sparkles on every page. Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution(Crossway, 2022) is the indispensable primer for every American who cares about a sound anthropology and healthy culture. I have long admired Carl’s popular essays and academic books. This book is the best of both, combining his deep learning with accessible writing.

In 1999, Alasdair MacIntyre published his book Dependent Rational Animals(Open Court, 2001). Things go wrong when we forget that each of those three words is key to a full and true understanding of human nature—for example, consider feminism. 

Historically, many cultures denied or downplayed the full rationality of women. A defense of that innate reason and all it implied was the impetus behind many of the original advocates for the rights of women. Today, many of their putative heirs, the so-called “second-wave” feminists, deny, downplay, or distort the last word in MacIntyre’s title, “animal.” They resist women’s embodiment as female. Too much of contemporary feminism tries to force women to live, learn, love, and work as if they were men—as if female bodies were just defective instances of the normal male body.

So if the modifier “rational” was denied historically, the noun “animal” gets the same treatment today from mainstream feminists. That leaves the first word in the title: dependent. And most everyone in America seems embarrassed to acknowledge—and craft law and policy based on—our dependency. Dependency is crucial to our lives: it should shape our relations with mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, our extended families, our friends and neighbors, our cities, state, and nation. The American political ideal of independence, when detached from a firm anthropology, can lead to atomized, isolated individuals—what Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel refers to as the “unencumbered self.”

To my mind, Erika Bachiochi’s new book is a worthy embodiment of the philosophical anthropology and communitarian political theory that MacIntyre and Sandel have spent careers developing and defending. As the title suggests, in The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision(University of Notre Dame Press, 2021), Erika explores a forgotten pioneer (Mary Wollstonecraft) and a modern trailblazer (Mary Ann Glendon) to present an alternative approach to thinking about women, their rights, and all of our duties.

Erika’s book is simply fantastic, and it can be usefully read as a contribution to any number of timely contemporary debates. By that I mean she engages with debates about feminism and its various waves, lost histories, and possible alternatives; debates about family policy focused on child tax credits, paid family leave, and how public goods of family might best be supported by the public; debates about abortion, especially sex discrimination and constitutional law, with penetrating insights into how the asymmetrical nature of reproduction applies to privacy and equality; debates about rights, duties, and virtues, offering an alternative theory of rights from that of the state of nature and social contract thinkers, where rights exist to create space to fulfill duties and practice virtue; and finally, debates about liberalism and the relationship between liberty and common good, virtue, and freedom, all of which must be based on sound philosophical anthropology and a sound vision of human flourishing.

When Covid first struck, Dr. Aaron Kheriaty suited up and treated patients. He was the chair of the committee on ethics for his university hospital (and eventually, the entire university system) where he did important work in guiding physicians and administrators through the early COVID-related moral quandaries. Less than two years later, he was fired for declining vaccination. (His lawsuit still pends.)

Now a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Aaron leads our Bioethics and American Democracy Project. In his brilliant new book, Dr. Kheriaty brings together the expertise of a seasoned medical scientist, the wisdom of a true philosopher, and the acuity of a keen political observer. The New Abnormal: The Rise of the Biomedical Security State (Regnery, 2022) is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand how we have gone so wrong, and what we need to do now to chart a more humane path forward.

Aaron goes deep here, far beyond the recent history of the COVID lockdowns, to bring up the roots of our looming “technocratic dystopia” in the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century and their techniques of control and debasement. Drawing on vital work by thinkers as diverse as C.S. Lewis and the Italian philosophers Augusto Del Noce and Giorgio Agamben, Dr. Kheriaty engages deeply with the legal excuses, medical malpractice, technological surveillance apparatus, and political cowardice that threaten to transform our society. It is a terrifying picture he paints, and it makes for a powerful exhortation to interrogate and resist these anti-human trends before it’s too late. 

George Weigel is perhaps the most well-known and influential Vatican-watcher and public theologian in America. The author or editor of over 30 books, he is best known to many readers for his award-winning, best-selling biography of Pope Saint John Paul II, Witness to Hope(Harper Perennial, 1999). Now, on the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, Weigel turns his attention to why the Council was needed, what’s gone well, what’s gone poorly, and where we go from here. In To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II(Basic Books, 2022), Weigel tells the story of the most important event in the life of the Catholic Church since the 16th century. He applies his deep familiarity with the inner workings of the Vatican and the fruit of decades of learning to explain why Pope John XXIII called the Council, the situation the Church found itself in at the precipice of our postmodern condition, and how the documents the council fathers left continue to show the way forward for a society based in freedom and the dignity of the human person, guided by a Church centered in Christ’s love, with the mission to spread the Gospel and the way of truth to all people. This legacy was hard fought, and George leaves his readers with a firm grasp of the drama and debates that animated the council for years during the 1960s. He shows how the principles that triumphed there, and later shaped the core of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, are more relevant to a world that denies the truth about man, about society, and about his ultimate calling than ever. 

Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

Ryan T. Anderson, Ph.D., is the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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