Reattacking Leviathan

Starving the Beast

In 1989, Russell Kirk recalled browsing through the library at Michigan State College as an “earnest sophomore” over 50 years earlier.  It was there that he happened upon Donald Davidson’s The Attack on Leviathan.  “It was written eloquently,” Kirk notes, “and for me it made coherent the misgivings I had felt concerning the political notions popular in the 1930s.  The book was so good that I assumed all intelligent Americans, or almost all, were reading it.”  As Kirk would later learn, nothing could have been further from the truth.  When it sold fewer than 600 copies in the 11 years after its publication, the University of North Carolina Press pulped the remaining unbound copies of the book and allowed it to go out of print.

Though The Attack on Leviathan was widely ignored at the time of its first printing, it has been reprinted at least twice (most recently by Transaction Press in 1991 as part of Kirk’s own series, the Library of Conservative Thought) and seems more pertinent today than it did at the height (or depth) of the New Deal.  Consisting mostly of essays previously published in the American Review, Davidson’s book is subtitled Regionalism and Nationalism in American Life.  Although regionalism has been one of the defining tenets of agrarian thought since ancient times, none of Davidson’s fellow...

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