Monthly Reading Recommendations – March 2022

Painting: Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Rubens, 1610.

The Golden Bough by Sir James G. Frazer

A world classic. The Golden Bough” describes our ancestors’ primitive methods of worship, sex practices, strange rituals and festivals. Disproving the popular thought that primitive life was simple, this monumental survey shows that savage man was enmeshed in a tangle of magic, taboos, and superstitions. Revealed here is the evolution of man from savagery to civilization, from the modification of his weird and often bloodthirsty customs to the entry of lasting moral, ethical, and spiritual values.

Candide by Voltaire

Candide is a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, a philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment. The novella has been widely translated, with English versions titled Candide: or, All for the Best (1759); Candide: or, The Optimist (1762); and Candide: or, Optimism (1947). It begins with a young man, Candide, who is living a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise and being indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism (or simply “optimism”) by his mentor, Professor Pangloss. The work describes the abrupt cessation of this lifestyle, followed by Candide’s slow, painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world. Voltaire concludes with Candide, if not rejecting optimism outright, advocating a deeply practical precept, “we must cultivate our garden”, in lieu of the Leibnizian mantra of Pangloss, “all is for the best” in the “best of all possible worlds”.Candide is characterised by its sarcastic tone as well as by its erratic, fantastical and fast-moving plot. A picaresque novel with a story similar to that of a more serious bildungsroman, it parodies many adventure and romance clichés, the struggles of which are caricatured in a tone that is mordantly matter-of-fact. Still, the events discussed are often based on historical happenings, such as the Seven Years’ War and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. As philosophers of Voltaire’s day contended with the problem of evil, so too does Candide in this short novel, albeit more directly and humorously. Voltaire ridicules religion, theologians, governments, armies, philosophies, and philosophers through allegory; most conspicuously, he assaults Leibniz and his optimism.As expected by Voltaire, Candide has enjoyed both great success and great scandal. Immediately after its secretive publication, the book was widely banned because it contained religious blasphemy, political sedition and intellectual hostility hidden under a thin veil of naïveté. 

Man and His Symbols by Carl Jung

Man and His Symbols owes its existence to one of Jung’s own dreams. The great psychologist dreamed that his work was understood by a wide public, rather than just by psychiatrists, and therefore he agreed to write and edit this fascinating book. Here, Jung examines the full world of the unconscious, whose language he believed to be the symbols constantly revealed in dreams. Convinced that dreams offer practical advice, sent from the unconscious to the conscious self, Jung felt that self-understanding would lead to a full and productive life. Thus, the reader will gain new insights into himself from this thoughtful volume, which also illustrates symbols throughout history. Completed just before his death by Jung and his associates, it is clearly addressed to the general reader.

Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country by William Greider

In the American system, citizens were taught that the transfer of political power accompanied elections, formal events when citizens made orderly choices about who shall govern. Very few Americans, therefore, understood that the transfer of power might also occur, more subtly, without elections. Even the President did not seem to grasp this possibility, until too late. He would remain in office, surrounded still by the aura of presidential authority, but he was no longer fully in control of his government.

The American system depended upon deeper transactions than elections. It provided another mechanism of government, beyond the reach of the popular vote, one that managed the continuing conflicts of democratic capitalism, the natural tension between those two words, “democracy” and “capitalism.” It was part of the national government, yet deliberately set outside the electoral process, insulated from the control of mere politicians. Indeed, it had the power to resist the random passions of popular will and even to discipline the society at large. This other structure of American governance coexisted with the elected one, shared power with Congress and the President, and collaborated with them. In some circumstances, it opposed them and thwarted them.

Citizens were taught that its activities were mechanical and nonpolitical, unaffected by the self-interested pressures of competing economic groups, and its pervasive influence over American life was largely ignored by the continuing political debate. Its decisions and internal disputes and the large consequences that flowed from them remained remote and indistinct, submerged beneath the visible politics of the nation. The details of its actions were presumed to be too esoteric for ordinary citizens to understand.

The Federal Reserve System was the crucial anomaly at the very core of representative democracy, an uncomfortable contradiction with the civic mythology of self-government. Yet the American system accepted the inconsistency. The community of elected politicians acquiesced to its power. The private economy responded to its direction. Private capital depended on it for protection. The governors of the Federal Reserve decided the largest questions of the political economy, including who shall prosper and who shall fail, yet their role remained opaque and mysterious. The Federal Reserve was shielded from scrutiny partly by its own official secrecy, but also by the curious ignorance of the American public.

On Power: The Natural History of its Growth by Bertrand de Jouvenel

Documenting the process by which government and controlling majorities have grown increasingly powerful and tyrannical, Bertrand de Jouvenel demonstrates how democracies have failed to limit the powers of government. Jouvenel traces this development to the days of royal absolutism, which established large administrative bureaucracies and thus laid the foundation of the modern omnipotent state.

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