It’s the season to grab a good book and enjoy some warm summer days. However, we’re also approaching another election year where tough questions will be asked, stances will be taken, and ideas will be stress-tested in the public square.
What better way to refresh your own conservative beliefs than to compare them to the thought leaders that helped define American conservatism for a new age? Books from prominent authors you’ve probably heard of, and some you probably had no clue about prior to reading this.
Here is a list of the five most definitive books every conservative should add to their collection and study.
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The Definitive List
“The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot” by Russell Kirk
This seminal work put pen to paper and outlined the basis of beliefs for the American Conservative. Kirk’s work outlines the foundations of our ideological beliefs from their roots in British conservative thought and brought them into the 20th century.
Kirk covers many areas of importance, but most notably he emphasized the utter necessity for institutions, ranging from the family, community, and role of religious organizations and how they all play a role in structuring a stable society, as well as why conservatives should fight to preserve them for future generations to inherit.
“Conscious of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater
Written by perhaps the most influential conservative of the 20th century, second only to President Ronald Reagan, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater published this book in the lead up to his 1964 presidential campaign in order to articulate what he felt were principles most Republicans were either drifting away from or could not formally articulate to the masses.
The book specifically argues in defense of limited government, individual freedom, and free markets; the three major tenants central to modern American conservatism.
“Conscious of a Conservative” played a major role in shaping the modern conservative movement, which had been stagnant for many decades in American political thought after the New Deal era. Reading this book will help conservatives new and old familiarize themselves with the key ideas and arguments which have since forged the direction of the conservative moment for years to come.
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“Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman
Nobel laureate Milton Friedman introduced a new generation of policy wonks, economists, and politicians to the true mean of voluntary exchange and free markets.
Friedman’s defense of free-market capitalism was attacked from every angle, so in publishing this book, he took every major argument against his ideas into account in order to establish the definitive, solid answers as to why free-markets beat centralized planning all the time, every time.
More importantly, Friedman explained why free-market capitalism was tied to the state of the individual liberty and economic prosperity free societies enjoyed. You don’t have to be an economist to understand this book, you just have to be truly open minded.
“The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek
Austrian school economist Friedrich Hayek’s book warns the free world of the very real dangers of collectivism and government control and how they can take one’s prosperity and turn everything upside down into complete tyranny.
Like the others, Hayek makes his own argument for limited government and individual liberty, reflecting the ideological conflicts of the post-WWII world at a time when socialism was beginning to spread throughout Europe especially.
Notable in this book is Hayek’s critique of democracy, and specifically how that form of government incentivizes the worst people to make it to the top, rather than the best. A must read!
“Witness” by Whittaker Chambers
If you’re looking for a non-fiction book that reads almost like a Cold War espionage novel, look no further. This memoir by former communist turned conservative activist and thinker, Whittaker Chambers, explores his individual journey through life that woke him up to the horrors of Stalinist communism, and why he ultimately came to reject those ideas completely.
This book also was one of President Ronald Reagan’s personal favorites and cited as one of the most influential books he had read during his life. He credited Chambers’ memoir for helping him truly understand what Communism was, and how the communist mind worked, helping him better understand his geopolitical opponents better during the Cold War.
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A Few Honorable Mentions
This was a hard list to narrow down, and while I absolutely agree that the books listed above are “must-reads” if I only had to narrow them down to five, I wanted to include a few of my personal favorites that just barely made the list.
- “The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right’s Future” by Charles C.W. Cooke
- “The Revolution” by Ron Paul
- “Economic Controversies” by Murray Rothbard
What are your favorite books by conservative figures that influenced you? Let us know in the comments below and across social media.
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