DW: What books are currently on your nightstand?
MK: On my nightstand at the moment are The Managerial Revolution by James Burnham and The Complete Father Brown Stories by G.K. Chesterton. The long-neglected Burnham, a Trotskyite-turned-conservative philosopher, seems to have understood the true character of the mediocrities that have come to rule us better than just about any other political observer since. And a single Father Brown story contains more wisdom than most full-length books.
DW: Do you read multiple books at a time or dedicate your energies to just one?
MK: I read multiple books at a time. Usually I have about four books going at the same time: two physical, two audio.
DW: What’s the last truly great book you read?
MK: I very much enjoyed Elizabeth Lev’s How Catholic Art Saved the Faith. As far as canonized “great books” go, I picked up Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy again a couple of months ago for the first time since college, and it only gets better with age.
DW: Which writers working today do you most admire? And who today are the best writers on American politics?
MK: I rarely read contemporary fiction, but when I do it’s by Andrew Klavan since I can pilfer the paperbacks from his house. In the world of non-fiction political writing, (Spencer) Klavan the Younger makes the list, as do Roger Kimball, Victor Davis Hanson, Yoram Hazony, Adrian Vermeule, Patrick Deneen, Tim Gordon, and all the Claremont/American Mind guys, to name just a few. But it bears mentioning that some of the best political commentary around today is published by pseudonymous Twitter accounts with names that pun on long-dead philosophers.
DW: What book most influenced your approach to Catholicism?
MK: The books, homilies, and columns of Fr. George Rutler have greatly shaped my spiritual outlook. Newman, Chesterton, Scupoli, and C.S. Lewis — damned Protestant though he was — have influenced my thinking as well. But pride of place on the list of writers goes to the divine poet, Dante.
DW: As a devout Catholic, which portion of the Bible is your favorite?
MK: I prefer the term “practicing Catholic” inasmuch as I intend to keep practicing until I get it right. Is it cheating to say that the gospels are my favorite part of the Bible? Well, too bad, because they are. The book I have read more than any other is Genesis, both for its unsurpassed wisdom into human nature and also because I always manage to get through it on my many failed attempts to read the Bible cover to cover within the span of a year. In my defense, Catholics prefer to read the Bible liturgically — which reminds me not to forget the Book of Revelation, which is itself a mystical reading of the Holy Mass.
DW: Do you consider yourself a fiction or nonfiction person? What’s your favorite genre? Any guilty pleasures?
MK: Unlike most people, I tend to read fiction for work and non-fiction for pleasure. I generally read philosophy, theology, or history, though detective stories are a guilty pleasure.
DW: What moves you most in a work of literature? Do you read poetry?
MK: In the introduction to The Nigger of Narcissus, Joseph Conrad defines art as “a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect.” Art, therefore, “appeals primarily to the senses,” and literature attempts “to make you feel…[but] before all, to make you see.” I love poetry — mostly the kind written by dead, Italian men but also some written by dead Englishmen and even a handful of poems written by living men such as Dana Gioia and A.M. Juster.
DW: What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
MK: Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed The Movement.
DW: How have your reading tastes changed over time?
MK: The genres have not changed, but the authors have. In my wayward youth, I enjoyed the popular writings of libertarians, neoconservatives, and the most excitable “Enlightenment” thinkers. Since that time, I have moved on to sturdier minds.
DW: What books most shaped your political ideology? What book has had the greatest impact on you?
MK: Michael Oakeshott’s Rationalism in Politics helped to shape my political ideology by convincing me to eschew ideology, which he describes as “the formalized abridgment of the supposed substratum of rational truth contained in the tradition.” Edmund Burke persuaded me to prefer “the age of chivalry” to “that of sophisters, economists, and calculators,” and he demonstrated the superiority of “generous loyalty to rank and sex,” “proud submission,” “dignified obedience,” “the unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise,” and the “subordination of the heart which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom” to the shallow theorizing of the latest radical and his five-point plan.
DW: If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
MK: Probably St. Thomas Aquinas, whom I would ask to describe what he saw that made all his writing seem like “so much straw,” though I suspect he couldn’t tell me.
DW: If you could require the President to read one book, what would it be?
MK: President Biden? The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
DW: What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from one of those books? Is there one book you wish all children would read?
MK: My favorite book as a child was Make Way For Ducklings, and I just bought a copy to read to my son. When I was a bit older, I greatly enjoyed Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard.
DW: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? What was the last book you just couldn’t finish?
MK: I’ve spent months working through Spengler’s idiosyncratic Decline of the West and years chipping away at Ayn Rand’s lexical chloroform, Atlas Shrugged. I feel that I ought to read both, so I persevere.
DW: You’re stuck on a desert island, which four books would you want with you?
MK: The Bible (Douay-Rheims), the Divine Comedy, the complete works of Shakespeare, and the Odyssey (to help get me home)
DW: What’s the best book on politics you’ve ever read? The worst?
MK: Aristotle’s Politics is probably the best. In the interest of charity, I will refrain from naming bad political books that I have read recently, with the exception of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, which is both inane and poorly written.
DW: Your new book Speechless comes out this week, what books or authors influenced your writing?
MK: An eclectic group of writers influenced the book, including Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, Simone de Beauvoir, Ruth Perry, Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse, Allan Bloom, John Milton, George Orwell, Theodore Adorno, Roger Kimball, Jacques Derrida, Wilhelm Reich, Martin Jay, Paul Kengor, Niccolò Machiavelli, Robert Hughes, Stanley Fish, John Locke, Carol Hanisch, and William Bradford, among others.
DW: What’s the book you wish someone else would write?
MK: At our present moment of confusion, I am eager to read an account of where precisely the West went wrong — if such an account is even possible. I have a hunch I know the answer, but in the spirit of ecumenism I will refrain from venturing the guess until someone publishes a persuasive account or I do the requisite research to put one together myself.
DW: Anything you feel embarrassed never to have read?
MK: There are many books that I have always meant to read and not yet gotten around to reading, and there are many books I am embarrassed not to have finished, not the least of which is War and Peace.
DW: What’s the best book you’ve read lately? What’s the most interesting thing you learned from it?
MK: The Messianic Character of American Education by Rousas John Rushdoony revealed to me just how deep the rot in our school system runs.
DW: What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
MK: Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield.
DW: Do you have an all-time favorite author?
MK: Taking Dante and Shakespeare off the table to give mere mortals a chance, I always find myself going back to Lewis and Chesterton.
DW: If someone walked into your office while you were writing, what would they see?
MK: They would find a 2013 Macbook Air if I’m feeling modern and practical, an Olivetti Lettera 35i if I’m feeling nostalgic.
DW: Despite opposing views, is there a writer from the other side of the political spectrum that you respect?
MK: There are many writers from the other side of the political spectrum whose views I find worthy of contemplation — notably Marx and Marcuse. I shudder to think what they are contemplating from the other side of the ground.
DW: Whom would you want to write your life story?
MK: Andrew Klavan would be a good choice since he is an excellent writer and knows that I would haunt him if he were too hard on me. He is also in good health and stands to live a long time unless he keeps smoking my cigars.
DW: What do you plan to read next? How do you make that decision?
MK: I plan to keep slogging through Spengler and Rand, lest they defeat me. But, in the words of Robert Burns, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley, an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, for promis’d joy! […] But och! I backward cast my e’e, On prospects drear! An’ forward tho’ I canna see, I guess an’ fear!”
The Daily Wire’s Matt Kemp and Jacob Falach contributed to this feature.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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