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The Brothers Judd: The Adventure of Great Literature

(Ed Driscoll, Catholic Exchange, 1/16/02)

Want more information on a book you've heard about? Your opportunities to learn about many good books have increased thanks to the Brothers Judd. The Brothers Judd use 21st century technology to share information about a medium that dates back over 3000 years: books.

Voracious Reader Turns Reviewer

"I think we develop relationships with certain books," Orrin Judd says, "that some authors can transport us beyond ourselves (or into ourselves?) and help us to temporarily forget our cares, or clarify our thoughts, or let us enjoy watching someone else fight the battles we face every day and hopefully show us how to win them ourselves."

Anyone stumbling across their sprawling website (www.brothersjudd.com)[and over 20,000 people have, since it went up in 1998] will find over a thousand reviews on books ranging from Alexander Hamilton, American to North Dallas Forty to Slouching Towards Bethlehem to The Winter of Our Discontent. These statistics are even more amazing because the site was put up by two men, Orrin Judd, age 40 who writes the content, and his brother Stephen, 37, who does the Web design and Internet heavy lifting.

"Eschewing any false humility", Orrin says, "I think we have the best book site on the web. Even someone who disagreed with every word I've ever written could use the links at our site to find out more about a book, author or topic. We're very nearly unique in that regard; most other sites don't have links because they're afraid you won't make it back to their site."

So who are the Brothers Judd and what makes people make it back to their site? They are two family men living in New Hampshire. Stephen is a Local Area Network Manager at the University of New Hampshire and Orrin works for a business geographics company. They each have two kids, and Orrin has a third on the way.

In the summer of 1998, Stephen was finishing his doctoral studies at the University of New Hampshire, and had room available on a Web server, so he put up a home page, featuring content by the two brothers. Prior to that, he was stationed in Bosnia, as an officer in the Army Reserves. Orrin says, "I sent him boxes of books to read during his rather considerable down time." The two brothers thought that since Orrin was such a voracious reader, it would be fun for him to recommend books as content for the site.

At about the same time The Modern Library had just come out with their 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, and since Orrin had already read many of them, he decided to read them all and then review them. He says he was perplexed by some of the Modern Library's choices. "I was particularly bothered by them putting Ulysses by James Joyce at the top of the list and by the inclusion of Finnegan's Wake. As I reviewed the books from that list I was struck by how many of the books were neither enjoyable nor edifying. It really seemed to me that to make a list of the Top 100 a book should be at least one of those things, preferably both."

Judd critiques books "on the basis of whether they contain messages that could help us to understand the human condition and hopefully leave us a little bit wiser than before we read them."

As a result of Orrin's critiques, eventually the Brothers Judd's site began to take on a definite flavor: a firm grounding in Western Culture, Judeo-Christian ethics, and American conservative values. "I don't necessarily want an author to share my precise viewpoint," Orrin says, "but I do expect them to engage issues like good and evil and the struggle for freedom and Man's relationship with God in serious ways."

Adventures with Great Books

To this day, Orrin writes all the reviews on the site, although he encourages people to respond to them, and posts "any coherent response we receive, including a hilarious one where a young woman wrote a high school paper just ripping my negative review of Snow Falling on Cedars." Judd says that many kids use the reviews on the site to help with their schoolwork. "I've earned a number of vicarious A's and B's over the past few years."

How does Judd choose what books to read? Some come from publishers and publicity firms who send books for review and the resultant publicity. He also uses C-Span's weekly Booknotes series and lists such as Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer winners, and Oprah's book list, "and I'll read just about any book that I hear good things about."

Of course, for many people, choosing what to read isn't all that hard. It's finding the time to read that's the challenge. How does Judd do it? "I read while the kids are napping. I read on the exercise bike at work, about a half-hour a day. And I read when I get home from work at night. I also listen to audio books at work (unabridged, of course). It probably averages out to about 200 pages of actual reading a day (over three or four hours)."

As a child, Judd devoured comic books and old pulp magazines, such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, and Tarzan), as well as the books of C.S. Lewis, and Alfred Duggan. J.R.R. Tolkien was a childhood favorite that continues to this day. ("I've read Lord of the Rings almost every year since I was a kid"). Today, Judd says his favorite authors also include Alexander Dumas, Henryk Siekiewicz (author of Quo Vadis?), and James Clavell. "And I think George Orwell is just amazing."

Once he's completed a book that he feels is worthy of review (good or bad), Judd begins to assemble his review, usually beginning with a summary of the plot of a novel or the overall themes from a work of non-fiction, and some quotes from the work, so that people can get a sense of an author's style. "Then I try to write an essay that will spin out at least one idea from the book, preferably an unusual idea or one that might not have occurred to other readers, maybe not even to the author. I hope to leave anyone who reads the review with something to think about, some thought that will nag at them as they read the book I'm reviewing or any other book."

Judd then chooses a collection of relevant links to complement (and often dispute) his review. Finally, he assigns each book a letter grade. (And sometimes multiple grades, for books such as the controversial Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris, which Judd gave an A/F grade: A for excellence as a novel, and F for ineptness as a biography. For Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate, he gave an "A to F" score, depending upon the age of the reader.)

As the reviews piled up, Judd has increasingly made an effort to demonstrate the struggle between freedom versus security, two conflicting ideas that he thinks ultimately define the human condition.

Orrin says this theme dates back to the story of the Fall of Man. "Adam and Eve had perfect security in the Garden of Eden; their every want was provided for by God. Yet, they weren't free because this was not an existence that they had freely chosen. And so they ate from the Tree of Knowledge and comprehended Good and Evil and, though utterly unprepared for the burden, took upon themselves the necessity for choosing between the two."

Ever since then, Judd says, there has been a struggle within and between us over whether we would be better off returning to a secure environment where those difficult choices are taken away from us, or whether our destiny is to accept freedom and the moral quandaries that it brings, as we struggle to make ourselves worthy of God.

A Conservative Who Respects Liberals

Judd believes that much of the animosity between the Left and the Right, as well as between Fundamentalists and non-literalist believers comes from the failure to see why the other side has chosen one or the other of these ideals. "I come down strongly on the side of freedom, but it has helped me immeasurably to understand people who insist that the Bible be read literally or who favor big government to realize that what they really are after is the comfort, the security, that will come from surrendering freedom, from putting all the difficult decisions that freedom brings into the hands of another."

Very heady stuff to filter a book through, yet Judd has a soft spot for books that are "either totally enjoyable, even if seemingly trivial (say, the novels of James Clavell)." He'll also give a favorable review to books that intelligently address some of those big issues, "even if they're not always right (say, Francis Fukuyama's The End of History). And obviously, there are many books that combine both."

Judd says he also makes an effort to read those who continued to celebrate conservative ideas "at the very time that statism and relativism were triumphing. Folks like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Albert Jay Nock, the Agrarians (Alan Tate, Robert Penn Warren & company), Evelyn Waugh, Orwell, Russell Kirk, and so on... It's remarkable to me that these men had the fortitude to buck the tide of their times, and gratifying to me to see that they have been vindicated."

Of course, the vindication of those pioneering conservatives and classical liberals didn't come easy. The Brothers Judd were college students during the turning point: when voters escaped "the malaise days" of Jimmy Carter (as the first President Bush described them) for Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America." Orrin says, "It was like seeing the sun again after weeks of rain."

So with that sort of conservative background, are there liberal authors Orrin respects? Judd says that one of the best books he read in 2001 was Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm, about Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy. Perlstein writes for leftist publications like The Nation and The Village Voice, but Judd felt that "he brought an openness of mind and a generosity of heart to the subject that led to a very fair book. I think those qualities are far more important than political affiliation. I don't much enjoy reading conservative authors who are blinded by ideology either."

Judd also enjoyed Jim Sleeper's Liberal Racism, because "the writer is trying to come to grips with an aspect of the Left that isn't working. And David Denby's Great Books re-examined the value of the Western Canon. I think books like these are very interesting, even if I don't agree with everything the authors have to say."  

The Brothers Judd website can be found at www.brothersjudd.com.

Edward B. Driscoll, Jr. is a San Jose-based journalist who writes on a variety of topics, especially technology, design, and home electronics for numerous magazines. Additionally, he covers technology stocks for National Review Online's financial section.


The Original Interview : > 1.. How long has the Web site been up? > 2.. What was the impetus to put it together?

In the Summer of 1998, my brother, Stephen, was finishing up his doctoral studies at the University of New Hampshire, and had web access and room on a server, so he put up a homepage.  We thought that since I read so much it might be fun for me to recommend books that folks might like.  (When he was stationed in Bosnia, as an Army Reserve officer, I had sent him boxes of books to read during his rather considerable down time).

Serendipitously, The Modern Library had just come out with their 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100best/novels.html) and, since I'd already read many of them, I decided to read and review all 100.  I was perplexed by some of their choices, so I started doing research online and realized that if I added the links I was following at the end of the review, it might be helpful for other folks.

That pretty much became the format for the website.

As a reviewed the books from that list I was struck by how many of the books were neither enjoyable nor edifying.  It really seemed to me that to make a list of the Top 100 a book should be at least one of those things, preferably both.  I was particularly bothered by them putting Ulysses by James Joyce at the top of the list and by the inclusion of Finnegan's Wake.

In his terrific book The Music of the Spheres, Jamies James talks about how Art was once intended to be beautiful, to communicate universal truths, and to reflect the ordered world that God had granted us.  He says that this all began to change when Science (particle physics and the like) became so complex that it was no longer universal accessible.  Where once a well-educated layman could comprehend the most complex science and math, it began to require specialized training and knowledge to grasp certain fields of inquiry.  Meanwhile, these scientists, who had their own secret knowledge, could still comment intelligently on Art, because it was universal.  So James says that artists, either consciously or subconsciously, began to make Art more obscure and to develop complex and ridiculous theories about their work, precisely to make it inaccessible to anyone but themselves.

This is what so many of us find repellant about modernism and postmodernism, that it is willfully obscure and intentionally ugly.  The paramount expression of this tendency came with James Joyce who had the insufferable gall to say that : "The demand I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole life to reading my works."  I find it hard to imagine that there is a worse way to waste your life than reading Finnegan's Wake.  But here were the critics, the elites, telling us that these were the great books of our time.  In the first place I doubted that many of them had even read such books, which several have admitted they haven't in subsequent interviews, but even more than that, I wanted to tell other people, the people like me, that they were not alone in disliking these books.  We immediately began getting email from people saying : "Thank you, thank you, thank you, I thought there was something wrong with me for not understanding James Joyce. It's a relief to hear someone say what I've wanted to say."

So I began to take a more aggressive critical stance towards these books, and towards the others I was reading, and started critiquing them on the basis of whether they contained messages that could help us to understand the human condition and hopefully leave us a little bit wiser than before we read them.  Eventually the site took on a definite political cast, but even more than that it is very firmly grounded in the universal and universally accessible themes of Western Culture, Judeo-Christian ethics, and American values.  I don't necessarily want an author to share my precise viewpoint, but I do expect them to engage issues like good and evil and the struggle for freedom and Man's relationship with God in serious ways.  

> 3.. How big is the site (in terms of pages, books reviewed, megabytes of space, and/or any other stats youÇd care to share)? > 4.. How many hits do you get per day/month?

Unfortunately, I'm not the greatest record keeper, so even I'm not sure how big it is.  We think there are about 1000 reviews  here right now (about 750 of them are also posted at Amazon.com), plus all the miscellaneous stuff.

We don't keep track of total visitors per day, just new visitors, and that's worked its way up to an average of about 40 new visitors per day, with a total of over 20,000 folks in the past 3.5 years.  

> 5.. What do your brother and you do when youÇre not reading or writing?

My brother is now a Local Area Network Manager at UNH and I work for a business geographics company.  He has two kids and my wife and I have two, with a third on the way.  I watch our kids during the day and work evenings and weekends.  I've also helped to start a community group, somewhat in response to the events of September 11th, which is trying to promote a greater understanding of America's history in values in local schools and the community at large.  We've begun by putting American flags in every local classroom (a shocking number didn't have them).

> 6.. When do you find time to read all the books that you review? Do you > write all the reviews, or do other family members or friends ever contribute > reviews?

I write all the reviews, though I encourage people to respond to them, which a fair number of folks have.  I post any coherent response we receive, including one hilarious one where a young woman wrote a high school paper just ripping my review of Snow Falling on Cedars.  I find it immensely amusing, and more than a little gratifying, that although I was not the most dedicated of students, many kids use the site and my reviews to help with their own schoolwork.  I've earned a number of vicarious As and Bs over the past few years.

I've always been a voracious reader.  I read while the kids are napping.  I read on the exercise bike at work, about a half hour a day.  And I read when I get home from work at night.  I also listen to audio books at work (unabridged, of course).  It probably averages out to about 200 pages of actual reading a day (over three or four hours).

> 7.. Do you make money on the site? If not, do you intend to at some > point in the future?

We do not make any money.  We get a % of the sales at Amazon that are generated by the site, but that doesn't even cover the expense of having the site hosted.  We'd certainly like to make some money at some point, maybe via advertising, but even if we never make a dime, I'll keep doing it. Eschewing any false humility, I think we have the best book site on the web. Even someone who disagreed with every word I've ever written could use the links at our site to find out more about a book, author or topic.  We're very nearly unique in that regard; most other sites don't have links because they're afraid you won't make it back to their site.

> 8.. Do you consider yourself a conservative, libertarian, classical > liberal (or none of the above?)

I suppose my politics is really classic liberalism, but I consider myself a conservative, especially culturally.  I believe in minimal government, other than law enforcement and civil defense functions, and in capitalism in its most unfettered form.  But then I believe that we need vigorous social institutions (churches, schools, etc.), community groups, and the like, both to provide social welfare needs and to help us cohere as a society.   I'm a firm believer in freedom from government, but I think it's important that we realize that our freedom imposes obligations on us, obligations toward our family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.

> 9.. Who are some of the people who influenced your thinking over the > years?

The most important influence was probably our grandfather, who was a Federal judge and a devout Baptist.  He was the most decent and the most intelligent person I've ever known, and just by the force of his presence, he required you to aspire to be both also.  We're actually from a long line of Baptists and Republicans, so I suppose we didn't fall far from the tree.  Our family was thrown out of most of the better countries in Europe (Britain, Germany, Russia, Scotland, Sweden) for their religious beliefs and our four grandparents each voted against Franklin D. Roosevelt four times each.

As a kid I devoured comic books; old pulp magazines (Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan); the books of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Alfred Duggan; biographies of the American Founders, military men, and the great explorers.  I believed, and still believe, in their very simple themes : that there is a right and a wrong, that good and evil exist, that it is heroic to do good and to fight evil, that the strong owe a duty to the weak, that justice ultimately prevails, but only if we are vigilant.

I suppose I may have clung to these ideas all the more fiercely because it was an age in which people were questioning them.  I recall being baffled that college kids were destroying their campuses and that they supported the Viet Cong, instead of American G.I.s.  Like any young boy, I wanted to grow up and be a soldier and I thought it would be a noble calling to fight for the freedom of the South Vietnamese people, to help them fend off communism. But here was a significant, or at least vocal, segment of the population saying that we were just there to kill Asians, or whatever.  That didn't comport with America as I understood it or the Americans I knew.

I recall being horrified that people would set dogs on Civil Rights marchers who were just asking to be treated equally.  But then I was equally repelled by the spectacle of the riots that destroyed inner city America, including Newark, which was right next door to us.  I knew it was wrong to discriminate against people because of their skin color, but how could you make things better by burning and looting your own neighborhoods?

I just had a strong sense that America was coming apart at the seems, as young people and the urban poor, egged on by intellectuals, turned their backs on the set of values that had held America together in the past, instead of trying to make sure that America honored those values.   The chattering classes were telling us that there was something wrong with America, with religion, with morality, etc., but it seemed to me that the world they were making was a much worse place than the one they were criticizing.

It's easy to forget now, but by the 70s many people were ready to throw in the towel on the Cold War and even supposed foreign policy geniuses like Nixon and Kissinger wanted to accommodate the Soviet Union.  Meanwhile, the economy, burdened by high tax rates to pay for the burgeoning Social Welfare State and the Cold War, was tanking.  So even the establishment, which we depend on to defend our culture, was going through a period of rather grotesque self doubt.  By the time of the Carter presidency we had a President who was accusing us of being in a malaise, as if he and other "leaders": bore no responsibility for it, nor any obligation to snap us out of it.

Along came Ronald Reagan, to tell us that such doubts were corrosive and that all we really needed was top trust in ourselves and our traditional values again.  It was like seeing the sun again after weeks of rain.  Reagan reset the terms of the debate in the very simple and clear cut terms that I'd grown up believing in : Communism was evil, and in fighting it we were on the right side of history; the way to get the economy growing again was to return freedom (and a healthy share of taxes) to the American people and to turn loose our collective creative genius once again; parents, schools, and leaders needed to stop teaching that all moral choices were valid, and return once again to drawing bright lines between right and wrong; a culture that blithely accepted abortion could not then wonder why we had diminishing respect for human life and for each other; etc.

I don't think most Americans had ever stopped believing these things, it was just that the media, political, academic, and entertainment elites of the country were dismissive of such beliefs.  We had lacked, for quite some time, a national voice that we could rally around.  Reagan didn't offer new ideas nor try to persuade us of new things; he offered old ideas, that many of us still adhered to, and told us that we were right all along.  And do you recall the derision with which his candidacy was greeted by those elites?  He was portrayed as some kind of simpleton.  What kind of man could belief in such absurdly antiquated notions as God, good and evil, limited government, capitalism, etc?

But, of course, when he won and freed the American economy from the burden of confiscatory taxation and confronted the "Evil Empire", we quickly saw that people across the globe did indeed still believe in freedom and could indeed tell the difference between right and wrong.  It turned out that those "simple" ideas upon which we'd based our civilization were, and are, still entirely relevant to our modern lives.

So over the past few years I've really made an effort to return to some of the writers who enunciated those values most clearly (to Edmund Burke, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, etc.) because they turn out to be timeless.  To read Marx or Freud today is to peer into a deluded mind.  But you can pick up Thomas Hobbes or John Locke or George Washington and they have things to say that still matter in our lives.

I've also made an effort to read the brave souls who continued to celebrate these ideas at the very time that statism and relativism were triumphing, folks like G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, Albert Jay Nock, the Agrarians (Alan Tate, Robert Penn Warren & company), Evelyn Waugh, Orwell, Russell Kirk, and so on...  It's remarkable to me that these men had the fortitude to buck the tide of their times, and gratifying to me to see that they have been vindicated.  

> 10.. What makes you decide to read a particular book?

at this point we've got some publishers and publicity firms who send us books.  I also have a few lists I'm working my way through : Nobel Laureates, Pulitzer winners, Oprah books, etc.  And I'll read just about any book that I hear good things about.

> 11.. Are you influenced by C-SpanÇs Booknotes, the New York Times Book > Reviews, or other sources of book reviews and information?

I'm influenced to the degree that I may try to read a book that they cover, but I try not to read other reviews until I've written mine.  I try to make up my own mind, although with an author like James Joyce or Thomas Pynchon, I'll admit I have no idea what they are trying to say, so I may read what others think they're saying.

> 12.. What information do you try to convey when you write an > information?

I may give a plot summary for a novel or the overall themes from a work of non-fiction.  I try to quote the author so that people can get a sense of his style.  Then I try to write an essay that will spin out at least one idea from the book, preferably an unusual idea or one that might not have occurred to other readers, maybe not even to the author.  I hope to leave anyone who reads the review with something to think about, some thought that will nag at them as they read the book I'm reviewing or any other book.

And as I've gone along, I've made an increasing effort to demonstrate the struggle between two conflicting ideas that I think really define the human condition : Freedom vs. Security.  I think that most of the political disagreements that we have can be traced to this simple dichotomy and most of our literature and our beliefs are grounded in the interplay between the two.

You can plainly see it at work in the story of the Fall of Man.  Adam and Eve had perfect security in the Garden of Eden; their every want was provided for by God.  Yet, they weren't free because this was not an existence that they had freely chosen.  And so they ate from the Tree of Knowledge and comprehended Good and Evil and, though utterly unprepared for the burden, took upon themselves the necessity for choosing between the two.

Ever since there has been a struggle within us and between us over whether we would be better off returning to a secure environment where those difficult choices are taken away from us, or whether our destiny is to accept freedom and the moral quandries that it brings, as we struggle to make ourselves worthy of God.

I think much of the animosity between Left and Right or between Fundamentalists and non-literalist believers comes from the failure to see why the other side has chosen one or the other of these ideals.  I come down strongly on the side of freedom, but it has helped me immeasurably to understand people who insist that the Bible be read literally or who favor big government to realize that what they really are after is the comfort, the security, that will come from surrendering freedom, from putting all the difficult decisions that freedom brings into the hands of another.  I relish the struggles that freedom brings, but I'm a reasonably affluent, straight, white, male in the most prosperous country on Earth; the struggle's not that hard for me, other than the constant internal battle to try to be a good person.  How would I feel if I were native in Somalia, a Jew in Syria, a poor black woman in Detroit?  It's easy to say I'd still just want my freedom, but the reality is that I might well want government to protect me and take care of me or want to believe that if only I surrendered completely to the words of holy books that I'd reap my rewards in the next life.

At any rate, I started filtering literature through the lens of this understanding of the world and I've found that it not only offers a consistently interesting perspective on many different books, but that we can begin to trace these themes throughout Western (and other) Literature. Suddenly, when you read Robinson Crusoe or Moby Dick, you aren't reading it in a vaccuum, you can see how the issues the author raises still resound in our lives today.  It really serves to bring you closer to the author and his work.  

> 13.. What does a book have to have for you to give it a favorable > review?

The best reviews go to books that are either totally enjoyable, even if seemingly trivial (say, the novels of James Clavell), or that intelligently address some of those big issues that we've talked about, even if not always right (say, Francis Fukuyama's The End of History).  And obviously, there are many books that combine both.

> 14.. Who are your favorite authors, and why?

I've read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings almost every year since I was a kid; I love Alexander Dumas, Henryk Siekiewicz, and James Clavell; and I think George Orwell is just amazing.  There are actually quite a few authors whose books I read over and over again.  I think we develop relationships with certain books, that some author's can transport us beyond ourselves (or into ourselves?) and help us to temporarily forget our cares, or clarify our thoughts, or let us enjoy watching someone else fight the battles we face every day and hopefully show us how to win them ourselves.

> 15.. Are there liberal authors that youÇve admired, and if so, why?    

One of the best books I read this year was Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm, about Barry Goldwater's presidential candidacy.  Perlstein writes for The Nation and the Village Voice but he brought an openness of mind and a generosity of heart to the subject that led to a very fair book.  I think those qualities are far more important than political affiliation.  I don't much enjoy reading conservative authors who are blinded by ideology either.

There are also a number of books by liberal authors, like Jim Sleeper's Liberal Racism, in which the writer is trying to come to grips with an aspect of the Left that isn't working.  William Henry's Defense of Elitism took on declining standards and extreme egalitarianism.  David Denby's Great Books re-examined the value of the Western Canon.  I think books like these are very interesting, even if I don't agree with everything the authors have to say.

And Christopher Hitchens is a hoot.

> 16.. What are you currently reading, and what are your thoughts on it?

I'm reading Harvey Mansfield's translations of Machiavelli's The Prince and de Tocqueville's Democracy in America and a book by one of my former professors (and a Mansfield disciple), Christian Faith and Modern Democracy : God and Politics in the Fallen World (Frank M. Covey, Jr. Loyola Lectures in Politial Analysis) by Robert P. Kraynak.

I'm particularly interested in de Tocqueville's view of voluntary associations and the way in which they strengthened the American democracy of the time.  I think we need to reduce government and return to these types of non-governmental social institutions.  It seems to me that family, Church, schools, etc. have been badly damaged by having to compete with the Nanny State, but that they can be revitalized if the state gives up its social functions.

Professor Kraynak's book is marvelous.  He's looking at how our duties as Christians may conflict with our duties as members of a democratic society and how we reconcile the two.

> 17.. Has September 11th influenced what youÇre reading, and if so, how?

Very much so.  Like everyone else I wondered just what it is about Islam that is making it so hard for them to democratize their societies and embrace the kinds of economic freedoms that have fueled the global economic boom of the past few decades.  So I read Karen Armstrong and V. S. Naipaul on Islam and I was struck by just how totalitarian Islam is.  I don't mean that it is Hitlerian, but that it teaches that state, economy, and social life are inseparable and must all be ruled by Koranic teachings.

And in trying to understand the forces that are leading to this confrontation I read Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld, and Robert D. Kaplan's The Coming Anarchy. These books, along with Thomas Friedman's Lexus and the Olive Tree, Francis Fukuyama's End of History, and Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, have all helped me to work through some of the issues involved.  At this point I think there are only three options open to the Islamic world : (1) they can try to isolate themselves from the forces of globalization and maintain insular societies, but I doubt they can succeed; (2) they can confront the West militarily and try to stop globalization by defeating us, but we all know that won't succeed; (3) so I think they face the prospect of going through an extremely difficult and transformative period of Reformation. They are going to need to adjust to the fact that they can only improve their economic condition by allowing freedom in the economic and political spheres.  This is going to bring cataclysmic change, and will require great patience on our part.  But we must hope that they can find leaders with the courage to undertake the effort.

> 18.. What are your thoughts on the events of September 11th, and > Operation Enduring Freedom? How do you think the nation will emerge from it?

I realize that nothing can ever justify or diminish the deaths and the trauma that were suffered on that day, but I think many people secretly share a feeling that we are a better country today than we were on September 10th, that we have a renewed seriousness of purpose and a fresh appreciation of our country, our civilization, our neighbors, our fellow citizens, etc.

Affluence benefits far too many people for it to be taken for granted or treated lightly, but affluence isn't enough.  One of my favorite quotes comes from Albert Jay Nock's great autobiography, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, where he says :

    Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase.  'For     us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.'  I     have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western     civilization will finally shatter itself.  Economism can build a society     which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably     wide diffusion of material well-being.  It can not build one which is     lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the     irresistible attraction that loveliness wields.  Perhaps by the time     economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of     itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to     annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

I think it is almost inarguable that America has become more lovely over the last few months, that it has a depth and savour that it did not have in the 90s.  I'm always generally optimistic about the American future anyway, but I'm particularly heartened by the way this crisis has brought us together as a nation and returned us to first principles--family, God, freedom, community, country.  

> 19.. What's next for the Web site or yourselves?

Well, I'd really like to write a book, to develop the idea of Freedom vs. Security.  i think it's an exciting framework through which we can assess the world around us.

As for the website, my brother is doing some redesign work to make it more manageable for us and more readable for users.  I just keep reading and writing and hoping that folks will find us a useful resource and an interesting place to visit on the web.