Sunday Book Reviews – 8/9/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

The Liberty of the Ancients Compared With that of Moderns by Benjamin Constant (1819)

This is not properly a book, although it has been circulated in pamphlet form or as part of compilations since the time of its issuance. It is a speech given by Benjamin Constant at the Royal Athenaeum in Paris, and as such it has the familiar format of an address to masses and is relatively short. Its length should not dissuade anyone from reading it. Due to its age and brevity, it is readily available online.

The purpose of the speech is to chart not simply the difference between the classical views of liberty, which were geared more toward participation in the state, and the modern views of liberty, which are geared toward individual goals. Constant lays out his rationale for why the two models are fundamentally incompatible and attempts to dissuade his countrymen from attempting to reconcile them. Instead he argues firmly for the embrace of modern liberty.

Anyone wishing to differentiate between nationalism and American patriotism would be well advised to read this essay. The nationalist ethos corresponds with classical interpretations of liberty on the civil scale, even as some of the adherents demand the benefits conferred by modern liberty on the individual level. They were not compatible two hundred years ago, and they remain incompatible today.

The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson (1965, Doubleday)

Zenna Henderson was a science fiction author best known for her stories of “The People”, an alien race stranded on Earth and dealing with the issues of integrating into American life while retaining elements of their own culture. Her stories are often focused on isolation and cultural development, and as such children and teachers are often used for her characters.

The stories are pretty, in a rough way; there is significant art present in her storytelling but she is not ostentatious about it. Readers aren’t likely to be hunting through a dictionary to identify an obscure word or reflect on how nicely a turn of phrase might fit into a poem, but they are going to be treated to a number of tales that are pleasantly thought-provoking.

Henderson, had she been more prolific, would draw regular comparisons to Ray Bradbury. Unfortunately, she produced only a few dozen stories and one full novel. She’s worth picking up even for people who typically avoid science fiction.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.