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"'Return of the Strong Gods,'...is a thoughtful contribution to American political debate. It is incisively written and full of modern observations. Mr. Reno explains, better than any book I can remember, the present-day progressive's paranoid fear of fascism and neurotic determination to ferret out racism where none exists." —The Wall Street Journal After the staggering s "'Return of the Strong Gods,'...is a thoughtful contribution to American political debate. It is incisively written and full of modern observations. Mr. Reno explains, better than any book I can remember, the present-day progressive's paranoid fear of fascism and neurotic determination to ferret out racism where none exists." —The Wall Street Journal After the staggering slaughter of back-to-back world wars, the West embraced the ideal of the “open society.” The promise: By liberating ourselves from the old attachments to nation, clan, and religion that had fueled centuries of violence, we could build a prosperous world without borders, freed from dogmas and managed by experts. But the populism and nationalism that are upending politics in America and Europe are a sign that after three generations, the postwar consensus is breaking down. With compelling insight, R. R. Reno argues that we are witnessing the return of the “strong gods”—the powerful loyalties that bind men to their homeland and to one another. Reacting to the calamitous first half of the twentieth century, our political, cultural, and financial elites promoted open borders, open markets, and open minds. But this never-ending project of openness has hardened into a set of anti-dogmatic dogmas which destroy the social solidarity rooted in family, faith, and nation. While they worry about the return of fascism, our societies are dissolving. But man will not tolerate social dissolution indefinitely. He longs to be part of a “we”—the fruit of shared loves—which gives his life meaning. The strong gods will return, Reno warns, in one form or another. Our task is to attend to those that, appealing to our reason as well as our hearts, inspire the best of our traditions. Otherwise, we shall invite the darker gods whose return our open society was intended to forestall.


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"'Return of the Strong Gods,'...is a thoughtful contribution to American political debate. It is incisively written and full of modern observations. Mr. Reno explains, better than any book I can remember, the present-day progressive's paranoid fear of fascism and neurotic determination to ferret out racism where none exists." —The Wall Street Journal After the staggering s "'Return of the Strong Gods,'...is a thoughtful contribution to American political debate. It is incisively written and full of modern observations. Mr. Reno explains, better than any book I can remember, the present-day progressive's paranoid fear of fascism and neurotic determination to ferret out racism where none exists." —The Wall Street Journal After the staggering slaughter of back-to-back world wars, the West embraced the ideal of the “open society.” The promise: By liberating ourselves from the old attachments to nation, clan, and religion that had fueled centuries of violence, we could build a prosperous world without borders, freed from dogmas and managed by experts. But the populism and nationalism that are upending politics in America and Europe are a sign that after three generations, the postwar consensus is breaking down. With compelling insight, R. R. Reno argues that we are witnessing the return of the “strong gods”—the powerful loyalties that bind men to their homeland and to one another. Reacting to the calamitous first half of the twentieth century, our political, cultural, and financial elites promoted open borders, open markets, and open minds. But this never-ending project of openness has hardened into a set of anti-dogmatic dogmas which destroy the social solidarity rooted in family, faith, and nation. While they worry about the return of fascism, our societies are dissolving. But man will not tolerate social dissolution indefinitely. He longs to be part of a “we”—the fruit of shared loves—which gives his life meaning. The strong gods will return, Reno warns, in one form or another. Our task is to attend to those that, appealing to our reason as well as our hearts, inspire the best of our traditions. Otherwise, we shall invite the darker gods whose return our open society was intended to forestall.

30 review for Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West

  1. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    The early-20th century is a nightmare from which Europe and the United States have never fully recovered. Immediately after World War II, to stall away nightmares of death camps and nuclear bombs, a programmatic effort was undertaken by sociologists and economists to disenchant the West of its strong beliefs. The goal was defined by Karl Popper as the "Open Society," and it is towards this goal that the postwar consensus has oriented itself. On the cultural front it means openness as a default, The early-20th century is a nightmare from which Europe and the United States have never fully recovered. Immediately after World War II, to stall away nightmares of death camps and nuclear bombs, a programmatic effort was undertaken by sociologists and economists to disenchant the West of its strong beliefs. The goal was defined by Karl Popper as the "Open Society," and it is towards this goal that the postwar consensus has oriented itself. On the cultural front it means openness as a default, along with a relentless critique of ones own cultural and religious tradition until it is disenchanted of anything that could be described as seriously as Truth. Economically it has meant a parallel openness to unhindered international trade and a society of individualized economic competition, with the "closed" backstop of a welfare state increasingly described as a precursor to tyranny. Metaphysics have theoretically been banished today in favor of a minimalist anthropology focused on therapy, economics, and rational social organization. This is the disenchanted world most people inhabit today, where perhaps the only acceptable strong belief is that nothing should be believed too strongly. As Reno argues, such a way of thinking about the world, which has indeed become hegemonic by now, is not conducive to human flourishing. It may work for an elite that benefits from globalization economically enough to offset its other social costs, but for those left behind by liquid modernity the experience is destructive indeed. The critique and reduction of all traditional social institutions has left people adrift in the face of market forces and enervating cultural instability. Moreover any protest against these changes is pathologized as the first step towards reopening death camps and empowering the paradigmatic authoritarian personality. With their metaphysical convictions critiqued into oblivion people have become either disoriented or spiritually weakened to the point that they're unable to stand up for any conviction other than openness. All this has created a debilitating weakness of "Being" in modern Westerners. True, they may not have any world wars, fascism, or communism, but this is because a cultural wound has been inflicted that drains anyone of the ability to care or sacrifice on the level required for even such ill-endeavours. More pressingly, it also makes positive collective action impossible. People are bound together in collectives based on what they love. Whether that is love for Hazrat Isa (Jesus Christ), the ancient nation of Israel, or the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, it is able to turn a group of people into a community oriented towards a collective goal in the present and vision for the future. If the highest love is simply for ones individual self and the principle of not loving anything else too much, people risk becoming like "flies in the summer" who live aimlessly and die out within a generation. People are homeless, culturally and spiritually, and this homelessness is becoming a political force in our time. This book is good at documenting the problems in our status quo, though it doesn't fully grapple with the risk that reawakening the strong gods of solidarity wouldn't indeed result in some new terrible catastrophe. Perhaps that would be better? It's hard to say that (I wouldn't) and Reno does not venture such an opinion himself. The call to a renewed nationalism seems in line with the convictions expressed by other conservative intellectuals today but seems unlikely of achieving its goals, at least not in the dignified manner that its stronger proponents desire. The old conservatism of Burke, which, say what people will, had something to recommend it, is perishing in a blaze of Q-Anonism, technological disorientation, celebrity culture. What's left today is unclear.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    Rusty Reno, editor of the prominent religious conservative journal First Things, here couples an original diagnosis of how we got to the vicious decay of now with very muted prescriptions. This is a good enough book, earnest and intent, but it is cramped. Reno offers as an alternative not strong gods, nor even coherent positive visions of the nationalism and populism of the title, but only the tired and repeatedly failed call to return, though some unspecified mechanism, to vaguely conceived vir Rusty Reno, editor of the prominent religious conservative journal First Things, here couples an original diagnosis of how we got to the vicious decay of now with very muted prescriptions. This is a good enough book, earnest and intent, but it is cramped. Reno offers as an alternative not strong gods, nor even coherent positive visions of the nationalism and populism of the title, but only the tired and repeatedly failed call to return, though some unspecified mechanism, to vaguely conceived virtue. I’m all for virtue, but Reno refuses to acknowledge that, more likely, and more desirable, the strong gods are those who will inevitably, as Kipling said, with fever and slaughter return, to scour the Earth in preparation for the rebirth of actual, living virtue. In brief, this book is an extended attack on the so-called open society, created by the so-called postwar consensus of how the West should believe. We are all indoctrinated that the open society, never really defined, is wonderful, so Reno’s attacking it at first seems like attacking Nutella. This is true for liberals, for whom unlimited openness has been the goal since John Stuart Mill, and for twentieth-century conservatives, who were long taught to associate openness with anti-Communism, and thus saw no reason to question it, until its poisoned fruits came to full ripeness. I don’t disagree with any of Reno’s extended history and analysis of the open society; I just think it’s too limited. As with Reno’s 2017 book, "Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society," he is too abstract, and will not grapple with what can be, and with what must be, done. I am much exercised, as regular readers know, with the very recent split among conservatives, between those who have come to reject the whole of the Enlightenment as a dead end, broadly speaking characterized as post-liberals, and those who accept Enlightenment principles, and thus the premises of their enemies, and merely want to dial back some excesses, or if denied that by their masters, reach Left goals a little slower. No points for guessing which group has been in charge while conservatives have gone down to crushing defeat again and again. Reno does not fall clearly into either group, which I think is meant as a compromise among ever-louder competing voices, but is really an unstable balancing act, in which Reno finally falls between two chairs. He starts by acknowledging post-liberals such as Patrick Deneen and (an early voice) Alasdair MacIntyre, and if I had not read this book, I would have guessed that Reno mostly agrees with them. Yet, after some wavering, he comes down on the side of the Enlightenment—that is, of liberalism, of atomized freedom, and the destruction of all unchosen bonds in a desperate quest for total emancipation. For Reno, we find, it was not 1789, but 1945, which was the year that it all went wrong. As Reno sums his view up, in his own italics, “The distempers afflicting public life today reflect a crisis of the postwar consensus, the weak gods of openness and weakening, not a crisis of liberalism, modernity, or the West.” Reno’s argument is that after the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century, the ruling classes of the West chose to create societies of “openness, weakening, and disenchantment,” in an explicit attempt to prevent the “return of the strong gods”—“the objects of men’s love and devotion, the sources of the passions and loyalties that united societies.” Rather than simply trying to wall out only the terrible strong gods, the ruling classes chose to wall them all out: truth along with fascism; loyalty along with Communism. At least Reno openly rejects any need for pre-emptive apologies, wherein as a conservative he would, in the past, have been expected to first talk at length about the evils of Nazism and fascism, and dissociate himself from them. He refuses, since he knows this is a propaganda trick used to make conservatives behave and look weak. Instead, he begins with something unexpected, but apt—a lengthy attack on Karl Popper, whose The Open Society and Its Enemies he identifies as the first philosophical attempt to create the postwar consensus under which openness was the first and only commandment. Popper rejected claims of metaphysical truth and insisted we must each seek, and create, our own meaning—not truth, merely meaning, a small and ambiguous word. Reno then draws a straight line from Popper to George H. W. Bush’s infamous 1990 address to the United Nations, where he demanded that we create “a new and different world . . . of open borders, open trade, and, most importantly, open minds.” With the Left, all words have special meanings, and here it is no different. “Open” here means not actually open, but closed against the strong gods and minatory toward their adherents. “Open” does not mean free, but coercive—Ryszard Legutko’s “coercion to freedom,” where “democracy” only happens when votes are for the Left, and “liberalism” is where Left social goals are realized. It is no coincidence that that evil little troll George Soros was a student of Popper, and named his left-wing pressure group, most famous recently for losing the vicious battle it waged against the Hungarian people, “The Open Society Institute.” But none of this is acknowledged by Reno, who does mention Soros, but fails to draw the obvious conclusion: that calls for the “open society” have, and always had, a double purpose—to avoid totalitarianism of the Right, and, just as importantly, to enthrone totalitarianism of the Left. He is so busy being thoughtful that, as in the Edgar Allan Poe tale “The Cask of Amontillado,” he is walled in by his enemies by the time the talking is done. In Reno’s analysis, Popper was followed and reinforced by many others: men such as Arthur Schlesinger and Theodor Adorno, avatar of the Frankfurt School and author of The Authoritarian Personality. Critically, though, it is not only from such obvious leftists that Reno derives the “postwar consensus.” He also identifies conservatives equally responsible. For example, he draws a tight connection between Popper and Friedrich Hayek. Hayek’s main target was central economic planning as leading to totalitarianism, but in so doing, Hayek exalted individual choice and rejected any concept of the common good, except as arising through individual choice. Government regulation was permitted, to be sure, but only to effectuate individual choices in achieving maximum freedom of play. Social consensus for Hayek was a threat, if it was anything but hortatory, unless it was directed to achieving freedom of individual action. During the Cold War, this was a powerful anti-Communist vision, which conservatives endorsed, not seeing the sting buried within. Reno points out that “Like those in the 1990s who predicted that capitalism would bring democracy and freedom to China, Hayek believed that the market mechanism is intrinsically anti-totalitarian.” Hayek was wrong, as we can see both from China, and from our own budding totalitarian combination of the Lords of Tech and woke capitalism. And, compounding his sin in the eyes of elderly conservatives who, for some reason, still burn incense at the altar of William F. Buckley, Reno analyzes how Buckley, starting with God and Man at Yale, similarly rejected in practice any focus on the common good and himself exalted atomized individual choice—probably helped along by being called a racist and fascist for even the modest endorsement of public virtue in his first book, combined with his keen desire to continue to be socially accepted by Left circles in New York, which the name-calling threatened to prevent. As we all know, Buckley spent much of his energy for decades thereafter policing the Right, throwing out anyone who was anathema to the Left, and ended his life having accomplished nothing. He didn’t fight Tolkein’s Long Defeat, he fought his very own Short Defeat, and took us down with him. Reno attributes Buckley’s insipid approach to that “he intuited, at least in part, that he could engage in public life only if he adapted his arguments to the growing postwar consensus in favor of the open society. That meant no strong gods—no large truths, no common loves, and no commanding loyalties.” (This is the closest Reno gets to actually defining the “strong gods.”) Hewing to this line was the only way to “give conservatives a place at the table,” but over time, “the tactic became a strategy.” Maybe so, but more likely Buckley was simply not the right man for the job. That doesn’t mean there was a right man for the job—Reno endorses Yuval Levin’s thesis in The Fractured Republic that postwar America was doomed to follow this path. At this point, though, who knows? In any case, that’s all in the first chapter; it’s mostly history. Unfortunately, three-quarters of the book is mostly history, and repetitive history at that, viewing the creation of the open society from slightly different angles. Reno, for example, ties the initial impulse to avoid totalitarianism to the growth of multiculturalism, a “therapy of disenchantment” that denies any role for the strong gods of one’s own society. In another thread, Reno describes how, for a time, the Great Books were emphasized, not to teach truth, but to allow each reader to draw his own conclusions. Reno does not engage Patrick Deneen’s argument that the Great Books themselves are, mostly, part of the problem rather than the solution, since most of them are works of the Enlightenment. Since Reno denies that there was any societal problem prior to 1945, that is no surprise, but again, it makes Reno’s argument neither fish nor fowl among contemporary conservative debates, and it feels like whistling past the graveyard. Thus, Reno attributes the decay that began in the 1960s and accelerated thereafter to an excessive attachment to the open society, not to Enlightenment principles. For him, it is a problem of disenchantment, and he seems in some places to think that we could have held the center if not for that obsession. The truth is that the open society is, of course, merely a later manifestation of John Stuart Mill and his kind. While Reno mentions Mill in passing, he insists that all this is a postwar phenomenon. This is unconvincing. The open society is merely the latest guise of the Enlightenment project, protean as usual, able to pretend in one decade that it is the antidote to fascism and in another to fascistically force bakers to bake cakes for perverts. Reno simply skates on by these crucial matters. Regardless, we are taken on a long ride, through Milton Friedman through Jacques Derrida and, oddly, repeated references to the lightweight economics blogger Tyler Cowen, along with a long discussion of Italian writer Gianni Vattimo. We also touch on modernist architecture as emblematic of the open society, identity politics as the Caliban of the open society, and, citing Douglas Murray, how the open society results in leaders who hate their own people, something even more on display in Europe than here, though Hillary Clinton certainly gave Angela Merkel a run for her money. Finally, we get to solutions. Well, not really. We instead get Émile Durkheim, who first pointed out, in 1912, that the Enlightenment had destroyed the old gods, and new ones were yet to be born. (Reno does not seem aware that his endorsing Durkheim suggests that he is wrong that the problems arose primarily after 1945.) We get a Durkheimian definition of the strong gods: “whatever has the power to inspire love.” We get talk of “we” and of the res publica, and a note that “the open-society therapies of weakening” cannot overcome the bad strong gods, “the perverse gods of blood, soil, and identity.” Then we get a petering out, ten pages of rambling about “us” and recovering virtue, recommending mild nationalism and highly limited populism, “new metaphysical dreams,” concluding “Our task, therefore, is to restore public life in the West by developing a language of love and a vision of the ‘we’ that befits our dignity and appeals to reason as well as our hearts.” What this would look like or how to get there we are not told. Weirdly, Reno is even aware that this is totally unsatisfactory, noting in his Acknowledgements that all his readers “warned me that I come up short in my final chapter.” If I were told that, I would rewrite my book, but Reno seems to think this is some kind of virtue. Throughout the book, Reno is unwilling to follow his own thoughts, shrinking time after time from the obvious conclusions because he is afraid of being seen as too devoted to the wrong strong gods. For example, after noting the deficiencies of mass democracy, he maintains that it is a “blessing,” because, you see, it “encourages [the populace] to transcend their me-centered existence,” a thesis for which he gives no evidence and which is contrary to all historical fact. He even points out that “the freedom Romans loved was not individual freedom but the freedom of the city, the liberty of a people to make its own laws and embark on its own projects.” Yet he cannot see that exalting autonomic individuality is fatal, and its origin has nothing to do with 1945. Self-hobbled, therefore, Reno offers not strong gods, but merely what remains of the strong gods after being emasculated by the Enlightenment, and he has no plan for releasing even them from the pen in which our rulers have confined them. But you are in luck today. I’ll do what Reno fails to do—I’ll tell you what should be done with the strong gods, or rather, what will happen with the strong gods, who, after all, exist whether we want them to or not. . . . . [Review completes as first comment.]

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vagabond of Letters, DLitt

    6/10 Good for a mild wakeup call to the center-right/center-left, but still far too centrist. Made me want to say 'okay' to a boomer a couple of times. 6/10 Good for a mild wakeup call to the center-right/center-left, but still far too centrist. Made me want to say 'okay' to a boomer a couple of times.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alan Tomkins-Raney

    This one was a bit of a chore. Thank God it was short, 166 pages; it felt longer. The first two thirds of the book were particularly weighty and rather dry. I do, though, feel it is an extremely well argued and important work of political philosophy and sociology by one of the most intelligent authors I've ever read. Think of William F. Buckley on steroids...but less engaging and not humorous at all. In hindsight, you could probably read the final two chapters and get the gist well enough. A mor This one was a bit of a chore. Thank God it was short, 166 pages; it felt longer. The first two thirds of the book were particularly weighty and rather dry. I do, though, feel it is an extremely well argued and important work of political philosophy and sociology by one of the most intelligent authors I've ever read. Think of William F. Buckley on steroids...but less engaging and not humorous at all. In hindsight, you could probably read the final two chapters and get the gist well enough. A more readable treatise on conservative nationalism is Colin Dueck's "Age of Iron."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jon Beadle

    Excellent summary of the many problems inherent in the post-war consensus that still dominates left/right anti-politics politics.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eren Gündemir

    " Serbest Piyasalar yanıldı, serbest piyasanın hürriyet getireceğini belirten Hayek yanıldı. Open Minds, popülizme karşı yenildi." Bu fikri belirten güzel kitap, bu yıl içerisinde okuduğum en iyi kitaptı. Keşke sosyalistler, ve komünistler serbest piyasanın iktisadi açıdan öldüğü üzerinden serbest piyasaya eleştiri yapmasalar da, sosyopolitik, dünyanın geldiği otoriterleşme ve popülizm üzerinden serbest piyasayı eleştirse. Reno diyor ki: "We desire to live shoulder to shoulder with our fellow man " Serbest Piyasalar yanıldı, serbest piyasanın hürriyet getireceğini belirten Hayek yanıldı. Open Minds, popülizme karşı yenildi." Bu fikri belirten güzel kitap, bu yıl içerisinde okuduğum en iyi kitaptı. Keşke sosyalistler, ve komünistler serbest piyasanın iktisadi açıdan öldüğü üzerinden serbest piyasaya eleştiri yapmasalar da, sosyopolitik, dünyanın geldiği otoriterleşme ve popülizm üzerinden serbest piyasayı eleştirse. Reno diyor ki: "We desire to live shoulder to shoulder with our fellow man in the service of shared loves. So no, we are not safer with never-ending critique, the spontaneous order of the free market, technocratic management of utilities, and the other therapies of weakening. Disenchantment will not make our society more humane. When the open society becomes an enemy of shared loves, when critical intelligence wages total war against our anchoring convictions, our spiritual, cultural, and political consensus becomes anti-human." Serbest piyasada ekonomi dalgalıdır, arada küçülebilir ekonomin, arada resesyon yaşanabilir bu sorun değildir. Fakat serbest piyasanın, Sovietlerin yıkımından başlayan, "ONE WORLD" kavramının git gide hasar alıp en sonunda serbest piyasa, open mind, open society kavramının bir işe yaramaması, bütün ülkelerin popülizme ve militarlaşmaya kurban gitmesi, işte bu serbest piyasanın hasar aldığını belirten şeylerdir. Japonya'da 94'ten beri tartışılan Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution mesela, Abe ile birlikte son durağa ulaşıldı ve artık kaldırılma noktasına geldi. Japonya artık militarlaşabilecek, gerektiği zaman savaş açabilecek, ülkelerin üzerinden uçak uçurabilecek. Netenyahu'nun durumu ortada, Anayasayı by-pass eden bir Erdoğan v2, yalnızc Abraham'ın soyundan geliyor tek fark o Erdoğan ile. Ve bu adamların bütün ortak özelliği Liberal partilerden çıkıyor olmaları. Liberalizm ve serbest piyasa kendi içerisinden popülist adamları doğurmaya başladı. Tek Adam'ın yazarı olan Şevket Süreyya Aydemir diyor ya, "Ihtilal önce padişahı yer, sonra kendi çocuklarını". Liberalizm, serbest piyasa önce gerçek otoriterleri, Hitler ve Stalin'i, yedi ardından ise, liberal olanları otoritere dönüştürdü :) Umarım aptalca konuşan bir dangalağımdır da bu yazdıklarımın hepsi benim hayal ürünüm olsun, tek dileğim benim kafayı sıyırmış olmam. Son olarak kitaptan bir alıntı. “There is nothing in the basic principles of liberalism to make it a stationary creed,” Hayek writes. The essence of individualism is the freedom of every individual to be “the ultimate judge of his ends.” I must have the liberty to decide what is good or bad for me. By “good or bad,” the economist Hayek undoubtedly means increasing or reducing my utility rather than congruent with morality or not. Nevertheless, in a number of passages, Hayek, like Popper, treats metaphysical realities—the social bond, moral truth—as threats to the individual. He, too, advocates a severe intellectual asceticism.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ernst

    A maddening book, most of which is intriguing, but the first and last chapters are obnoxious. Begins by saying that the rise of Orban, Trump, and the nativist right are not as threatening to him as the Southern Poverty Law Center and people who interrupt him to demand that he not criticize homosexuals and other people he would like to criticize. Then moves into a worthwhile, if idiosyncratic, reading of Camus, Derrida, Friedman, Hayek, Popper, Rawls and others who, he maintains, ended up creatin A maddening book, most of which is intriguing, but the first and last chapters are obnoxious. Begins by saying that the rise of Orban, Trump, and the nativist right are not as threatening to him as the Southern Poverty Law Center and people who interrupt him to demand that he not criticize homosexuals and other people he would like to criticize. Then moves into a worthwhile, if idiosyncratic, reading of Camus, Derrida, Friedman, Hayek, Popper, Rawls and others who, he maintains, ended up creating a twentieth century consensus which he would like to refute. An unusual thesis, but positively argued, well argued, and well worth reading. This is over 100 of the book’s 170 pages. Then he returns to stuff – we must go back toward the times when men and women knew their place which is the center of society, everyone has to stand up for the national anthem, and on and on. The last pages become surreal – he gives his experience reading James Baldwin, ending with a declaration that James Baldwin is his brother, and then of watching a documentary about the Tuskegee Airmen. These experiences do not lead him to think that maybe he should speak more sensitively to or about homosexuals, but do convince him that the West needs to return to the wisdom of the German writer Ernst Junger (?!), who I think has not been mentioned previously in the book, and is not listed at all in the index (which also omits Victor Orban, who the reader can find on page XVI.) Junger as prophet of the twenty first century is also an unusual thesis, but not as interesting as the author’s ideas about the twentieth century consensus. Just before the author gets to Victor Orban the author writes, “Perhaps I’m overreacting, responding to the anti-fascist and anti-racist hysteria of the present moment with my own hysteria. One reason I wrote this book was to stem this tendency within myself.” So maybe, having got his thoughts down on paper, he will rethink some of them. I myself have concerns that we are told we must read White Fragility, White Rage, Tears We Cannot Stop, and The Half Has Never Been Told but no one is saying we need to read Strangers In Their Own Land, Down at the Docks, Chesapeake Requiem, or Janesville to learn about other people who have been excluded from the upper class. However as the book was published I give it three stars for those who check it out of the library and read chapters 2 through 4, which I think people will all find provocative and useful, and fewer stars for people who try to read the whole thing.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    Nice try. While the book is well written and even moving in parts, I am not convinced and I do not think that R.R. Reno has made his case. My rating involves some benefit of the doubt. I originally thought the book would be concerned with the rise of aggressive nationalist and populist movements in the West in the past few years. That is not on offer, however, and it would have been helpful in clarifying Reno’s arguments had it been on offer. The objectionable side of these movements is more or l Nice try. While the book is well written and even moving in parts, I am not convinced and I do not think that R.R. Reno has made his case. My rating involves some benefit of the doubt. I originally thought the book would be concerned with the rise of aggressive nationalist and populist movements in the West in the past few years. That is not on offer, however, and it would have been helpful in clarifying Reno’s arguments had it been on offer. The objectionable side of these movements is more or less brushed to the side while the main agenda of the book is pursued. OK, but what is the main agenda of the book? The idea seems to be that the current disruptions and controversies in the West stem from the collapse of the 1945 consensus of western elites to fight the evils of totalitarianism by promoting the “open society” and “critical thinking” and all that such promotions entail. This discourages attachments to ideologies and other belief systems and harness human motivations and needs in the service of destructive collective goals (conquest, genocide, exploitation). This consensus has proven powerful and is apparent in a very wide range of intellectual developments that have been adopted by intellectuals since 1945 even supposedly subversive ones including such present concerns as diversity, anti-racism, identity politics, deconstruction, and the like. This is initially presented in terms of an intellectual consensus but it soon becomes clear that this also includes economic doctrines and policies, especially the pro-market and even libertarian doctrines of Hayek, Friedman, Becker, and others. So powerful has this consensus been that it has come to control both left and right - the left in its cultural/pro diversity side and the right in its emphasis on free markets and competition as the source of positive societal growth. (This is only a thumbnail sketch.) So how do we get to the present day? Well it appears that the key is the economy - which has only continued to benefit elites and has left the remaining 80+% without growth for decades. In addition, the hollowing out of the economy has reduced the possibilities for most to eventually benefit from the economy - they are to remain stuck in economic stagnation. So more than a little unrest follows and the bottom 80% do not have the societal value system to support them - the 1945 consensus leaves them out of the mix and looking for alternatives. On a critical note, these last points above have been raised in some form by more than a few other commentators and go a long way towards explaining current unrest, malaise, Trump, and the like, without much need to look into the macro intellectual context of Foucault, Derrida, or anyone else. But what about the 1945 consensus argument? I have a number of issues needing clarification. First - where is the agency? Who is the actor behind this consensus and how does it work? It is not convincing to claim that a small set of Washington bureaucrats in 1945 could control the intellectual course of the West for seven decades. Perhaps the control is a bit looser, so that different variations in different places serve to support the consensus, even without explicit agency? That strikes me as a cop out and an abuse of “functional” analysis. Compare it to critiques of the strength and continuity of systemic racism in contemporary society. While there may be some basis, it is still a way of sneaking agency into the argument and weaponizing it where possible. If one wishes to extend this argument to academia, I will grant the possibilities but will also not that academia is fraught with turmoil and controversies that make the workings of a strong consensus questionable. You would have a better chance of finding unified action in a flock of waterfowl during a thunderstorm. A second issue is that the argument grossly overstates the influence of academia on the macro culture, especially as it would affect popular movements. Note, for example, that the most credible economic analyses of voters aligned with Trump and other potential populists uses categories like “White working class non-college-educated”. See the work of Caves and Deaton on this. How would the pronouncements of the cultural studies departments influence them? Besides, large numbers of students do not study the humanities and so would not be exposed to theses conflicts. Bottom line: even if I accept the arguments about the consensus, how does it contribute to the societal torpor that Reno is focusing upon in the book. I could go on but will mention one other issue - why is the Popper’s “The Open Society and Its Enemies” the focal point of villainy here? I actually read that book (both volumes) in my college years (although it was not assigned) and loved it. It is an intelligent, thoughtful, and even moving book and it is hard to describe the effect it had on me in my first encounter. It is difficult to see how a book like this could be the focal point for a global consensus to subvert religion and values. To anyone who doubts this, I would suggest that they actually read the book and see what they think. It is long and complicated. It even requires looking up other ideas that pop up in the text. I would doubt that these are properties of a bestseller, let alone a book that can shape subsequent intellectual history. Agree with Popper or disagree, I do not see how it can fill the role that Reno claims for it in this book. It also seemed like there was a bit of a “bait and switch” in the book. At the beginning, the 1945 consensus was crafted to fight the reemergence of violent state backed totalitarian mass movements like Nazism or Communism. But by the end of the book, the 1945 consensus has served to subvert any potential transcendent values such as those associated with religion, marriage, families, and the like. But it was never claimed by Reno or others that such restrictions were key to the original consensus. How do they make it into the mix by the end? ...and in looking at the developments in the US and Europe regarding populist movements, it does seem like there are similarities with the mass movements around the World Wars, which are precisely what the consensus was directed towards. I grant Reno’s good intentions and can accept some of his insights. On the whole, however, I am not convinced and did not find his book helpful in sorting out issues.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jalen

    The heart of this book is an effort to explain why so many Americans elected Donald Trump to the highest political office in our nation, why Brexit happened, and why nationalist and populist movements are gaining momentum throughout Europe and the West generally, etc. Although many of our nation's elites remain befuddled and dismiss this phenomena as the "close-minded" behavior of the unwashed, uneducated, god-fearing masses of the "fly-over" territories, Reno suggests that there are more profou The heart of this book is an effort to explain why so many Americans elected Donald Trump to the highest political office in our nation, why Brexit happened, and why nationalist and populist movements are gaining momentum throughout Europe and the West generally, etc. Although many of our nation's elites remain befuddled and dismiss this phenomena as the "close-minded" behavior of the unwashed, uneducated, god-fearing masses of the "fly-over" territories, Reno suggests that there are more profound, genuine political needs and desires at the root of these movements that have been ignored for far too long. These desires have arisen as a reaction to what the author calls the "postwar consensus," a philosophical and cultural movement which sought to deliberately weaken and "lighten"--through deconstruction, critique, an emphasis on relativizing doctrines and political correctness--any strong bonds or shared loves (the strong gods) that we hold in common. These strong passions--patriotism, love of one's own, love of God, "traditional" moral values, etc.--were thought to be the sources of conflict and the deeper causes at work underneath the fascist totalitarian regimes that wreaked havoc upon the world in the 20th century. Reno traces a line of thought through an analysis of influential 20th century thinkers of various stripes: philosophical (Popper), economic (Hayek), literary (Derrida). His analysis here of the concerted effort to fashion an "open-society" after WWII is accurate and compelling. This is where the book really shines. The author honestly admits in the acknowledgments at the end of the book that the second half of the reflections, the "what do we do now?" section, falls a bit short. The expression "shared loves" remains somewhat vague (this may be inevitable to a certain extent since this depends very much on how particular groups of people live), and the author seems reticent to really take a stance here and declare what these strong gods ought to be. In truth, the solution, or the ideas he offers here in the second half of the essay, are never clear or half as compelling as the diagnosis. This same thing happens in Patrick Deneen's essay "Why Liberalism Failed." His diagnosis is very insightful and accurate as well, but the end of the essay--beyond some references to Wendell Berry--does not offer any real answers about where to go next. Likewise, the second half of Reno's essay, rather than moving forward, becomes very repetitive and restates too many times points that were already well-established in the first half of the essay. Perhaps it would have been better here to just cut things short or pose a question or challenge for others to answer. I think it is important to respect the reader's intelligence and ability to follow the argument and perhaps lead them into areas for deeper consideration rather than cause frustration through redundancy. In fact, I think it's very much worthwhile just to have someone clearly articulate the diagnosis, and I don't see why the same author necessarily needs to attempt to solve the problem or even gesture towards a solution. This may be frustrating to some people, but the solution—if there even is one—is clearly very challenging to discover and maybe its better to just say honestly that you don’t have an answer. Incidentally, I just finished a book by Richard Lewellyn called “How Green was My Valley” about a small Welsh coal-mining community set in the early 1900’s and I have to say that it seems to embody very closely the kind of community that Reno envisions. It is filled with strong loves: religious devotion, passionate family bonds, national pride, etc. It is also lyrical and profoundly moving in many places. Could a community like this be possible again, would such a thing even be desirable enough, and to enough people? My only other quibble is that in the beginning of the book, at the end of the Introduction, the author states emphatically that the current state of the West is NOT due to deeper philosophical and historical causes like the natural consequences of late medieval nominalism, enlightenment liberalism, and the effects of the reformation in the economic and political order, but rather to the "postwar consensus" for which he argues in the book. Isn’t this an unnecessary dichotomy? The loss of truth in favor of meaning does have its roots in nominalism, unbridled self-will, the so-called “freedom of indifference,” does trace its genesis to liberalism, and modern economic theory was undoubtedly and very strongly influenced by Protestantism. In other words, why can’t we check all of the above?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Luke Lyman

    Valuable for its unique/fresh/unexpected treatment of Popper, and certainly pressing. The last ~40 pages far outshine the rest of the book as its focus turns to the role of love in the political realm, and they alone make it a worthy read. Here’s one of the most outstanding quotes: “But love is always eccentric. It impels us outside ourselves, breaking the boundaries of me-centered existence. Love seeks to unite with and rest in that which is moved. This outflowing of the self makes love the engi Valuable for its unique/fresh/unexpected treatment of Popper, and certainly pressing. The last ~40 pages far outshine the rest of the book as its focus turns to the role of love in the political realm, and they alone make it a worthy read. Here’s one of the most outstanding quotes: “But love is always eccentric. It impels us outside ourselves, breaking the boundaries of me-centered existence. Love seeks to unite with and rest in that which is moved. This outflowing of the self makes love the engine of solidarity. The strong gods of public life are quite simply the objects of our shared lives. They are whatever arouses in us an ardor to add our destinies to that which we love.” Certainly worthwhile, esp if one is seeking to understand the deep philosophical underpinnings of countercultural conservatism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    The argument is that in the post- war era there was a reaction against dogma and authoritative truth claims. It was a reaction to the totalitarian movements of the war and thereafter. Popper’s Open Society is the queue for Reno”s explanation of what comes next: “openness” becomes the key virtue and replaces truth and from thence the flood gates are opened for all that comes next.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jason Reese

    This book presents an intriguing lens through which to consider Western history for the past 80 years. Surprisingly, it ends on a hopeful note. A thought I will keep with me: the word “we” is very powerful.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Achord

    I’d give it a 3.5. As with most conservative writing, his analysis is on point but his prescriptions are wanting. The book begins promisingly, with incisive explications of the purposeful weakening or relaxing of western convictions as a means of warding off the “strong gods” of Christianity and fascism. But Reno’s writing belabors the point and grows cumbersome with examples. Also, the work spends much too little time actually talking about the return of the strong gods. Given the title, one ex I’d give it a 3.5. As with most conservative writing, his analysis is on point but his prescriptions are wanting. The book begins promisingly, with incisive explications of the purposeful weakening or relaxing of western convictions as a means of warding off the “strong gods” of Christianity and fascism. But Reno’s writing belabors the point and grows cumbersome with examples. Also, the work spends much too little time actually talking about the return of the strong gods. Given the title, one expected the majority of the book not to be the gods’ dissolution but their, you know, actual return. Instead, we get a scant ending chapter that really is uninspiring.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

    Another topnotch entry in the world of populism and nationalism. Essentially, it argues for a centrist position between the strong and weak gods of faith, politics, and culture. That may not be realistic. Once the energies of the strong gods are released the world will have to ride the whirlwind. Once the energies are exhausted we may return to the political center but between here and there it should be one heck of a ride. Highly Recommended. One of the Best Books of 2019 Rating: 5 out of 5 Sta Another topnotch entry in the world of populism and nationalism. Essentially, it argues for a centrist position between the strong and weak gods of faith, politics, and culture. That may not be realistic. Once the energies of the strong gods are released the world will have to ride the whirlwind. Once the energies are exhausted we may return to the political center but between here and there it should be one heck of a ride. Highly Recommended. One of the Best Books of 2019 Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

  15. 4 out of 5

    Drew Tschirki

    A better title would be “The Occasionally Coherent Ramblings of a Conservative Man Who is Angry the World is Changing as He Waves His Fist at the Sky.” Essentially Reno’s argument is centered on a mythical “postwar consensus” that decided after WW2 on openness and relativity. This consensus is uprooting the moral fabric of society. Openness refers to open borders, open mindsets, and so on. It is a reaction to totalitarianism, and the West’s postwar mindset has evolved to be anti anything perceive A better title would be “The Occasionally Coherent Ramblings of a Conservative Man Who is Angry the World is Changing as He Waves His Fist at the Sky.” Essentially Reno’s argument is centered on a mythical “postwar consensus” that decided after WW2 on openness and relativity. This consensus is uprooting the moral fabric of society. Openness refers to open borders, open mindsets, and so on. It is a reaction to totalitarianism, and the West’s postwar mindset has evolved to be anti anything perceived to perpetuate totalitarianism or any racist or negative institutions that were upheld by western society. They reject any metaphysical claims to authority (religious, political) and accept relativity and tolerance as their weak god. Open borders refers to both national borders and also the blurred boundaries between men and women (transgenderism and anything LGBT+) and our social roles. Universities may still use authoritative classics (Plato, the Bible) but instead of teaching authoritative truth, teaches students to critically analyze the texts. God forbid we use our own minds to critically analyze texts claiming moral authority without blindly accepting them as truth! It was a struggle to read this. I forced myself to finish as I don’t want any completely unread books books on my shelf. I should be fair. I do think he makes an intriguing argument, albeit a flawed one. I do believe his conclusions in believing that we need to turn back to God, religious morals, patriotism (maybe), and doing what is best for our nations isn’t necessarily wrong. I think there would be many benefits to our society to do so. I do not think Reno’s arguments he made to get to the conclusion were necessarily correct nor logical. He speaks about Trump often in the introduction but his conclusion is a call to return to God. His thesis and and conclusion hardly are hardly aligned. Also he believes that white supremacy is a result of biological advancements and is perpetuated by the left. I literally laughed out loud.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Miguel Garzón

    First of all, the title can lead to confusion. Strong gods' can be found healthy nowadays. The definition after it is convincing, but It lacks of a clear separation between strong gods as streghtening and dark ones as weakening. The criticism to the concept of 'open society' is also intelligent, however can simplify the arguments used by Hayek and Popper, who wanted to diminish the state's power, not the civic life. The end of the book is its best, in my opinion, defining very well the anguish of First of all, the title can lead to confusion. Strong gods' can be found healthy nowadays. The definition after it is convincing, but It lacks of a clear separation between strong gods as streghtening and dark ones as weakening. The criticism to the concept of 'open society' is also intelligent, however can simplify the arguments used by Hayek and Popper, who wanted to diminish the state's power, not the civic life. The end of the book is its best, in my opinion, defining very well the anguish of feeling in a permanent danger of losing our position, work, status and sacred places; this anxiety about a future that does not hold a place for trascendence. This is intertwined with the issue of the 'We', who are we, who we want to be, how to combine individual legitimate appetites and loyalties to our communities. An interesting and thought-provoking essay that can be helpful to reflect about our place (in the world, in history) and expectations. The topic is too complex to be reviewed thoroughly in a single book, but the focus on the forces that weaken and dissolve societies is honest, smart and profound. Good read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mains

    Well written. Insipid This book could have used fleshing out and a better editor. He gestures at Plato as being the foundation of Western thought but betrays no understanding of what Plato says in The Republic. At the very end, he makes an out of nowhere reference to unfettered capitalism, with no awareness that Trump, his strong god is the only president in living memory to reduce regulation. Had he investigated what he likes about Plato or discussed what economic fetters are, he might have real Well written. Insipid This book could have used fleshing out and a better editor. He gestures at Plato as being the foundation of Western thought but betrays no understanding of what Plato says in The Republic. At the very end, he makes an out of nowhere reference to unfettered capitalism, with no awareness that Trump, his strong god is the only president in living memory to reduce regulation. Had he investigated what he likes about Plato or discussed what economic fetters are, he might have realized his thesis doesn’t cohere.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jon Trainer

    Excellent analysis and review of historical background material. Finds the roots of contemporary problems in postwar openness versus Progressive Age thinking, though one leads to the other. Sources and bibliography worthwhile. Weak on the way forward from here. Definitely recommend. Gilbert Meilaender posts his thoughts at the link below: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2... Excellent analysis and review of historical background material. Finds the roots of contemporary problems in postwar openness versus Progressive Age thinking, though one leads to the other. Sources and bibliography worthwhile. Weak on the way forward from here. Definitely recommend. Gilbert Meilaender posts his thoughts at the link below: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2...

  19. 4 out of 5

    John A

    Revolutionary This book will completely transform the lens I use to gauge contemporary politics and issues. For anyone open to finding a way past the current stalemate of "liberal vs. conservative," this work could give one a place from which to start deeper reflection toward creating a new paradigm. Revolutionary This book will completely transform the lens I use to gauge contemporary politics and issues. For anyone open to finding a way past the current stalemate of "liberal vs. conservative," this work could give one a place from which to start deeper reflection toward creating a new paradigm.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Paul moved to LibraryThing

    Very eloquent, aside from the inexplicable kicking Karl Popper gets. Ends without a resolution, just a litany of well wishes. The book shows a very limited number of options, either go back to the past or perish following the current path. There are different directions to try other than back.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jacktastic

    Incredible theory on the rise of populism. Weak gods vs. strong gods. No wonder people are pissed!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Lauzon

    At least it was short.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    A fascinating explanation of how our politics got so populist and tribal. But lacking in any workable remedies for his critiques of what ails us.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gay

    Excellent interview on Radio Free Hillsdale 10-24-19.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Geir Gunderson

    This is a great book and a deep book. In fact, it is so deep, it almost qualifies as a philosophy book. I enjoyed it immensely. It really opened my mind to many things. But then, in the end, as the author R.R. Reno writes his conclusion, or "afterword" I was left dumbfounded. In just a few paragraphs, he offered his "solutions" or "ideas" as to how to fix this mess that has been building since the end of 1945. I found his "solutions" simplistic and naive: unworthy of a man who had just written o This is a great book and a deep book. In fact, it is so deep, it almost qualifies as a philosophy book. I enjoyed it immensely. It really opened my mind to many things. But then, in the end, as the author R.R. Reno writes his conclusion, or "afterword" I was left dumbfounded. In just a few paragraphs, he offered his "solutions" or "ideas" as to how to fix this mess that has been building since the end of 1945. I found his "solutions" simplistic and naive: unworthy of a man who had just written one of the most thought provoking books I have ever read. So, I recommend the first 98% of the book. Just skip the "afterword."

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rod

    Analysis of the roots of our current political crisis First things publisher Rusty Reno addresses the roots of the current crisis in political and national life. He suggests the reaction to the dreadful atrocities committed by governments in the 20th century led to the demand for open societies with open borders, as well as with an open economy and an open culture. Both Karl Popper and Frederick Hayek had roles in creating this environment.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Don Lowrance

    You don’t know what you don’t know. I can no longer read the sign of the times without the vocabulary and the explanations it provides. After reading and listening to it, I have begun to study it and define the terms used in writing. This has given me the vocabulary and facts I need to talk with others of a different mindset and actually be listened to and not dismissed. Pick the form you use (I use all three) and get to work. I gave it a rare 5 based on how personally useful it is to me.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alan C. Farmer

    Challenging The book was a challenging read but insightful. Shows our human tendency to react the wrong way based on a superficial view of a problem.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Annika

  30. 4 out of 5

    jc628804

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