On Modern Manners is my 22nd book written since 1996. Most of these books are academic monographs or textbooks, which are perhaps now only of interests to students and specialists . However, there are three books, all published since 2014, that are in some ways precursors to On Modern Manners. These are not books of aphorisms, but deal with my concerns about modernity, antimodernism and conservatism.
THE ANTIMODERN CONDITION: AN ARGUMENT AGAINST PROGRESS (ROUTLEDGE, 2014)
Much of social and political thought over the last three centuries has been concerned with transgression and change, with progress and a focus on creating something ‘better’ than we have now. But when many of these ideas are put into practice the result has been violence, turmoil and human misery. This, we might say, has been the result of grand ideals taking precedence over the interests of ordinary people.
This book presents an alternative view: the antimodern condition. This involves the rejection of change and progress and instead seeks to promote certainty, permanence and settlement. The antimodern condition is where we are in place and settled. It is where we are part of the world around us and not at war with it. It is where we accept our place: we are with those who we care for, and so we are theirs.
The antimodern condition is where we recognise that we dwell within traditions, which may evolve and change, but which keep us within the bounds of what is known and what works.
This book takes a cross-disciplinary approach, integrating ideas from politics, philosophy, social theory and architecture to present an alternative to progress and other modern conceits.
KEEPING THINGS CLOSE: ESSAYS ON THE COINSERVATIVE DISPOSITION (ARKTOS, 2015)
We do not love what we do not know. We love what is close to us – the people, objects and memories – and do so because they matter most to us. We trust the things that are familiar and seek to nurture and protect them. Our lives are habitual, based on routine. They have meaning because of regularity, the continuity of known faces, and the ability to exclude others. We depend on a few others who we are committed to, and who are committed to us. We wish to include them in our lives, to be included by them, and to do this we have to be able to exclude others.
This book presents a particular vision of conservatism: one that is primarily concerned with just carrying on, for continuing as we are. Most of us, most of the time, live quiet and ordinary lives, and are quite happy that we do. We do not experience great upheaval or flux, nor do we wish to. We do not relish unpredictability and when it does come, we hope it is the exception rather than the rule. Likewise, we are not habitual rule-breakers. We are happy to play the game by the rules. We simply want to lead our lives, care for our loved ones, and be able to set our own goals.
The essays in this book show how we are able to make sense of a complex world consisting largely of strangers, who, being already preoccupied with their own matters, have little time for us. And the fact that they generally ignore us makes our lives possible. We are nurtured by those things we are able to keep close.
HERE AND NOW: SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WORLD AND HOW WE FIND IT (ARKTOS, 2015)
The world in which we live is all that we have. We may find that there is much wrong with that world and we may look back to better times. This may cause us to dwell on what has been lost and this might make us angry and desperate for change. But we only have one life, and so instead of mourning what we have lost, we should instead celebrate what we still have.
Antimodernism may be defined by what it is against, but the case for antimodernism can be stated positively. If modernism can be defined by its emphasis on change and transgression, antimodernism can be characterised as the love of home. It is this beguilingly simple idea that is at the heart of the antimodern condition. Home is a store of memory and a place of comfort and security, a refuge from the world and a place when we can be ourselves. This sense of home, which extends beyond merely the place in which we live, encloses a particular culture and a way of life. This book presents a positive description of the antimodern. It does this not by looking backwards, but by focusing on what we have here and now and how we can live in the only world we have.
The history of these three books partly explains why I am no longer work at a university. As an academic I was paid to teach and to research, which in my case meant writing books and articles. In order to count as ‘research’ this work has to be peer reviewed and published in either a a good quality journal or an academic press. Accordingly, The Antimodern Condition is presented as an academic monograph and was published by a reputable academic publisher. But the consequence was that it was obscenely expensive (its current price is £120/$165 for 120 pages). Academic publishers assume that the main market for academic monographs are university libraries and price their books accordingly.
Now I knew this when I signed the contract, but it became clear to me as I wrote the book, and even clearer when it came out, that the real market for The Antimodern Condition was not academics, but the intelligent layperson interested in conservatism or traditionalism. I have lost count of the number of people wanted to read the book but couldn’t or wouldn’t because of the price or their lack of access to a university library. Not surprisingly, then, the book sold in small numbers and had much less of an impact that it might have done.
So I started to question what I was doing and whether I should be trying to something different, and the two books published by Arktos in 2015 are the results of this rethink. In truth, there is a good deal of overlap between The Antimodern Condition and Keeping Things Close and Here and Now. This is deliberate, as I wanted the ideas to reach a wider audience. But these latter works are not aimed at academics only and nor are they anywhere near so expensive (they are currently prices at around £10/$16 each).
If asked which book offers the fullest presentation of my views I would offer Keeping Things Close. This is the book on conservatism and antimodernism that I always wanted to write and struggled to work out as an academic. It was only when I realised that the problem was the imperative for any writing to count as ‘research’ that I saw a way to writing it. I now no longer undertake ‘research’ and publish to achieve some supposedly quantifiable ‘impact’. Instead, I write because I enjoy it and stop when it becomes a pain. In my view, the books are better targeted, as well as being considerable cheaper!
So while it is not in my interests to see my books in competition with each other, if you only want to get one of these books then go for Keeping Things Close. Of course, you should only do this after having bought and read On Modern Manners.