“A book is a word spoken into creation. Its message goes out into the world. It cannot be taken back,” Michael O’Brien warned as well as assured in his magisterial novel, Sophia House. Just as each word is a reflection of The Word (Logos), so each book is a reflection of The Book. While Christians have come to have a sort of monopoly on The Word and its greatest meaning and exemplar, others—such as the Stoics—embraced the Logos as well. And, while Christians have also come to have a sort of monopoly on The Book, others—such as the Stoics—embraced a variety of works. Here are ten books written by non-Stoics that greatly influenced Stoicism.
At the beginning of Stoic philosophy stands the first great work of philosophy itself, Heraclitus’ Fragments. In them, Heraclitus recognized and embraced (or perhaps even truly created) the notion of the Logos, the thing common to all. “For this reason it is necessary to follow what is common,” he lamented. “But although the logos is common, most people live as if they had their own private understanding.” Further, he continued, “Those who speak with understanding must rely firmly on what is common to all as a city must rely on law, and much more firmly. For all human laws are nourished by one law, the divine law; for it has as much power as it wishes and is sufficient for all and is still left over.” These ideas form the basis of Stoicism.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/05/10-ancient-books-influenced-stoicism-bradley-birzer.html
I’m thrilled to have my article, “The Dark Virtues of Robert E. Howard,” in the latest issue of MODERN AGE (Spring 2021). A huge thanks to Daniel McCarthy for inviting me to write this, and to Anthony Sacramone for editing it so perfectly. It’s a really excellent issue, despite my contribution!
If you’re interested, here are the sources I used (plus a few excellent articles by John J. Miller):
“Mother, Son to Be Buried.” Abilene (TX) Morning Reporter News, June 14 1936, 7.
“Death Ends Young Texas Writer’s Vigil,” Brownsville (TX) Herald, June 11, 1936, 8.
Busiek, Kurt. Conan the Barbarian. New York: Marvel, 2020.
Cassell, Dewey. “Conan the Syndicated Barbarian.” Backissue 121, no. 1 (September 2020): 40-46.
de Camp, Catherine Crook, and L. Sprague de Camp. Science Fiction Handbook, Revised. Philadelphia, PA: Owlswick, 1975.
de Camp, Catherine Crook, L. Sprague de Camp, and Jane Whittington Griffin. Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard, the Creator of Conan. New York: Bluejay Books, 1983.
Derie, Bobby. “Fragments from the Lost Letters of H.P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard.” Lovecraft Annual (2016): 199-204.
Dowd, Christopher. “The Irish-American Identities of Robert E. Howard and Conan the Barbarian.” New Hibernia Review 20, no. 2 (Summer 2016): 15-34.
Ellis, Novalyne Price. Day of the Stranger: Further Memories of Robert E. Howard. Edited by Rusty Burke. West Warick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1989.
———. One Who Walked Alone, Robert E. Howard: The Final Years. Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant, 1996.
Finn, Mark. Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard. Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, 2013.
Gruber, Frank. The Pulp Jungle. Los Angeles, CA: Sherbourne Press, 1967.
Howard, Robert E. The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard. New York: Ballentine, 2008.
———. Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian Barbarian. Corvalis, OR: Pulp-Lit Productions, 2017.
Howard, Robert E., and H.P. Lovecraft. A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, 1930-1932. Edited by S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz and Rusty Burke. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2017.
———. A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, 1933-1936. Edited by S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz and Rusty Burke. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2017.
Joshi, S.T. Sixty Years of Arkham House. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1999.
King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. New York: Gallery Books, 2010.
Lord, Glenn. The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert Ervin Howard. West Kingston, RI: Donald M. Grant, 1976.
Lovecraft, H.P. “Robert Ervin Howard: A Memoriam.” In Skull-Face and Others, edited by August Derleth, xiii-xvi. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1946. Reprint, Jersey, ENG: Neville Spearman, 1974.
———. “Letters to Farnsworth Wright.” Lovecraft Annual, no. 8 (2014): 5-59.
Lovecraft, H.P., and August Derleth. Essential Solitude: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth: 1932-1937. Edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2013.
———. Essential Solitude: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth: 1926-1931. Edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2013.
Lovecraft, H.P. and Divers Hands. Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1990.
Moskowitz, Sam. Seekers of Tomorrow: Masters of Modern Science Fiction. New York: Ballantine, 1967.
Price, E. Hoffman. “A Memory of R.E. Howard.” In Skull-Face and Others, edited by August Derleth, xvii-xxvi. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1946. Reprint, Jersey, ENG: Neville Spearman, 1974.
Thompson, Steven. “Conan Goes to Adventure Town.” Backissue 121, no. 1 (September 2020): 3-14.
Vick, Todd B. Renegades and Rogues: The Life and Legacy of Robert E. Howard. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2021.
Those of us who seek to preserve the Good, the True, and the Beautiful are aware, as the old saying goes, that “there be dragons” in the world who seek to destroy the invaluable inheritance that is Western Civilization.
Perhaps this has never been truer than it is today in our hyper-polarized world, where conservatives are now often branded “haters” and even “traitors” and “insurrectionists” by those who want to throw overboard the Permanent Things and build a progressive utopia.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/there-be-dragons-support-the-imaginative-conservative.html
Dedicated to the British people in the midst of war, Christopher Dawson’s 1942 The Judgment of the Nations is everything a history book should be but rarely is. With lively prose and ceaselessly innovative ideas, Dawson considers the role of Providence in history and produces a twentieth-century version of St. Augustine’s City of God. Modern evils and totalitarianisms, he notes, are the results of the shallowness of liberalism and the wickedness of progressivism, each conspiring to make men nothing but cogs in a grinding machine.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/10-books-every-imaginative-conservative-should-read-bradley-birzer.html
To my mind, these voices have never been more needed and more relevant. A humanist but certainly no conservative, George Orwell once famously remarked, “we have now sunk to a depth at which the re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
In this fine Orwellian tradition, it is worth remembering three things, each of which reminds us what it means to conserve our most cherished traditions—that is, to be a traditional conservative—even in a time of chaos.
First and foremost, we must remember that every single person is an unrepeatable center of dignity and freedom, each a moral and ethical agent, endowed with free will, and born in a certain time and certain place, never to be repeated. Life matters, and it is a precious gift every single time it appears. That is, each person is a unique reflection of the Infinite, a bearer of the Imago Dei, and a Temple of the Holy Spirit. No matter how much corruption a person puts on during this lifetime, he or she remains precious, at least at the heart of things. For even the most corrupt human being has within him the spark of divine grace, no matter how close to being smothered that spark is. “In Him, we move and live and have our being,” the Stoics and St. Paul assured us
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/04/what-remains-conservatism-bradley-birzer.html
Shortly after Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany for its atrocious invasion of Poland in 1939, one of the lesser-known Inklings, Owen Barfield (1898-1997; yes, Barfield lived to just short of his 100th birthday) offered a profound analysis on the way community works and on the way it should work. All of society, he noted with no small amount of poetic insight, arises from our associations and friendships and communities that bridge our individuality with our nationality. Being too much of an individual leads to the tyranny of the self, and being too much of a nationalist leads to a tyranny of others. Instead, the human person must find his or her context and serve within the bounds of overlapping and competing communities, friendships, and associations. Or, as Barfield so eloquently put it, we must “build up and maintain a common stock of thought rather than… startle with a series of sparkling individual contributions—like a commonwealth of the spirit, in which there is no copyright.”
Yet, to create a commonwealth of the soul, or, more directly, a republic of letters, we do need to know the limits and range of individualism as well as the limits and range of national character. As Barfield understood creation, there is nothing wrong with individuals bringing their unique and particular talents to the community. Indeed, to bring one’s excellences to the community is vital to the health of all involved. In so doing, not only do individual persons contribute to the common good, but they themselves discover through free will the virtues, especially that of charity, in dealing with others. Like all things, though, individuality can become perverted, a sort of self-absorption that demands that our fellow members of the community reflect us rather than reflect what they are meant to be (by God or nature). As such, we would become sons of pride rather than of humility.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-commonwealth-spirit-bradley-birzer.html
Despite having built up a North American following in the 1960s and 1970s, Owen Barfield (1898-1997) could find almost no publication, periodical, or serial to review his 1979 book, History, Guilt, and Habit. Only one academic journal, the Virginia Quarterly Review, even deigned to acknowledge it, and, in one swift paragraph, the journal dismissed the book’s author as “cranky” and the book as meaningful only to right-wing Hegelians.
Based on a set of three lectures delivered in British Columbia in October 1978, History, Guilt, and Habit does the difficult work of attempting to understand the deepest meanings of history and its relation to the human person. Throughout the lectures, Barfield very capably—indeed, with uncanny precision and a seemingly never-ending bulwark of contexts—defines terms such as history, evolution, consciousness, perception, thinking, and, most importantly, imagination. History, Barfield contends, is something quite different from evolution as it is a “consciously directed process,” as opposed to the mere passive accumulation of change and events. Through his definitions, Barfield is especially interested in identifying those things that allow us to make free decisions and act rather than being merely acted upon. “Perception,” for example, “is essentially a passive experience, something that happens to us; thinking is an active one, something we do.” Yet, Barfield cautions, one should never fall into the Manichaean habit of dividing all things into opposites. Some of the most interesting aspects in humanity and in human society come from the overlapping—or interpenetration—of opposites
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-history-guilt-and-habit-bradley-birzer.html
Between 1629 and 1640, roughly 21,000 Puritans (and servants) immigrated from England (especially East Anglia) to New England. This was one of the four great free folk migrations of the colonial period, along with the Anglicans to Virginia and the Chesapeake, the Quakers to Pennsylvania and Delaware, and the Scotch-Irish to various parts of English colonies.
More than any other colonial group, the Puritans (formally known as Congregationalists) moved in familial groups, and the nuclear family stood as the most important social institution, outside of the Congregation itself.
The Puritans demanded great rigor from their church members, and most residents of New England belonged to some church, especially in the seventeenth century. Five ideas held the Congregationalists together: the depravity of man, the covenant that held all together in this fallen world, that God chose His elect, that all good comes from Grace, and that men and women must love one another.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/john-winthrop-imaginative-conservative-bradley-birzer.html
Indeed, as I look at NR today, she remains a constant companion, even when I disagree with her (as friends sometimes do). Writers such as Jack, John Miller, Kyle Smith, Kathryn Lopez, and others keep alive Buckley’s wondrous and gregarious spirit. From its beginnings in 1955, NR has sought to build up conservatism rather than tear it apart. Building, as we all know, is difficult; destruction is easy.
As I continue to get my NR “breaking news” updates, read her editorials on this or that political or cultural atrocity, devour Jack’s Saturday emails, buy the newest books recommended by her, and listen to her many podcasts, I’m honored by her friendship and happily acknowledge her just and worthy mission.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/william-f-buckley-mischievous-national-review-magazine-bradley-birzer.html
More ominously, we still have no idea whether far more have died due to the lockdowns than to the virus itself—given the quarantines have caused greater familial, spousal, and substance abuse, suicides, impoverishment, missed surgeries and medical procedures, educational deprivation, and long-term psychological damage. Amid this void of knowledge, state and local officials have often claimed expertise and implemented Draconian measures that may well have made things far worse.
— Read on amgreatness.com/2020/12/20/covid-woke-science-and-death/
The Stoics—who inherited so much from the pre-Socratics and from Socrates—wrestled repeated and incessantly (but not fruitlessly) over the issue of free will. If everything had a nature and if everything moral and just came from the right ordering of the universe, one must learn to conform to eternal dictates. Did these dictates harm or encourage our free will? Some Stoics were predestinarians, while others believed in the sovereign individual will choosing to become one with the Natural Law and the Heraclitan Logos. To be sure, all Stoics believed that any violation of the Natural Law was a sin, a violation against creation herself.
The next great moral treatises on free will can be found in Cicero’s On Duties and On the Laws. In the former, Cicero claimed, like Socrates had, that all decisions come down to the individual human person, either abiding by eternal moral laws or rejecting them. Cicero advocated for understanding and acknowledging what was eternally true, especially through manners and decorum. In the latter work, On the Laws, Cicero argued that all things are beholden to eternal truths, but they understand those eternal truths through the exercise of reason, which is the language of man to man, man to god, and god to god. It is, for all intents and purposes, the language of civility and order, that which binds the universe together in justice.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2020/12/free-will-bradley-birzer.html
My hardback biography of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Roman Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, is on sale for only $6.25! Great stocking stuffers for the whole family.