Sahil, a loyal MR reader, asks:
read your blog post about Roger Scruton’s new book, which you praised
for giving a "good sense of just how much cultural background is needed
to sustain liberty." That’s an interesting notion. Do you have
recommendation for books that examine this very idea in a more
systematic way? I’m sure they’re out there, and I’d be interested to
I’ll offer a few suggestions: all of Max Weber, the books by Lawrence Harrison, Alan MacFarlane on English individualism, Jonathan Israel on the Dutch Republic, Joseph Conrad, Levi-Strauss’s Triste Tropiques, Rene Girard on Christianity, anything good on English history, Hoskyns on Russian history, Albion’s Seed, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, Gilbert Freyre on Brazil, de Tocqueville, Sarmiento on Argentina, Louis Hartz, and John Gunther on America. The book "The Influence of the African-American Tradition on the American Ideal of Liberty" remains to be written. Nor have I scratched the all-important and largely non-European notions of liberty from the Nordic regions, which fed into the English success.
Pro-commercial norms are not scarce, as is evident here in Zanzibar. But those norms get you only to a medieval standard of living; as Mancur Olson stressed, they do not on their own support the structures of large-scale capitalism. It is harder to convince people to place larger abstract ideas above immediate duties to friends, family, and clan, but that is indeed the central feature of the problem.
Comments are open, what do you all recommend?