If you’re looking for books to read that are utterly free from sex or violence, then you’re going to have to ignore a big chunk of good literature that includes all epic poetry and the Bible. In the following novels, discerning readers may find little gems of traditionalism, individualism, and even a little Hobbesian philosophy—provided they’re willing to sift through the shock.
1. A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novella follows the young delinquent Alex, a gangster with a lust for violence and classical music who wreaks nightly havoc on the streets of a dark near-future London whose population seems dully dependent upon the state. Eventually caught by the police, Alex agrees to an experimental treatment in exchange for a reduced sentence and finds that he can no longer exercise his free will.
Sadly, Burgess’ book lives in the shadow of Stanley Kubrick’s legendary 1971 film version, whose overt psychosexual tones frighten off more conservative viewers. Kubrick and the original American publishers both cut out Burgess’ entire final chapter, which follows Alex’s final, voluntary redemption.
Although the story contains violent scenes and dabbles in the postmodern playground of language, A Clockwork Orange (especially with all 21 original chapters) hacks at the root of statism as a parable about how forced morality can never be truly good.
2. The Rainbow
In other works such as St. Mawr, D.H. Lawrence shows his disgust with socialism and the cheapness of modern love more explicitly. It can be hard to hear the same voice in The Rainbow, which was burned on the streets of London for obscenity. But don’t be fooled—although the book’s main heroine flirts with homosexuality and seems to embody the burgeoning feminism of the new century, The Rainbow puts untraditional love on trial and finds it wanting. The Rainbow ends with its heroine, now experienced, awaiting marriage as a transcendent force rather than a cheap social artifice. There’s no 1950s housewifery, but Lawrence’s meandering novel treats love with reverence and strongly affirms a deep, essential difference between men and women.
3. On the Road
Jack Kerouac’s controversial novel delights in the richness of America. The novel retells Kerouac’s real descent into the drug-addled underworld of the Beat generation as he travels with famous writers from coast to coast. From jazz music to the Rocky Mountains, Kerouac playfully and sincerely sees the country through loving eyes and just can’t get enough of it all.
Admittedly, the conservatism in the novel depends heavily on the times. Love for America used to be a common (if not believable) theme in liberal rhetoric, but the leftward dash towards globalism has abandoned simple patriotism to the right wing. Today, Kerouac’s simple, almost childlike appreciation of American beauty is a refreshing dose.
4. Lord of the Flies
Pessimism about human nature is the root of conservative thought, and Lord of the Flies encapsulates it perfectly. William Golding’s novel plops a lot of choir boys on an island and watches their civilized sense of humanity unravel. In a sense, Golding uses a story to explain what Thomas Hobbes argues in Leviathan: given utter freedom, humans are nasty, warlike things. The reintroduction of order at the end brings them right back to the supposed innocence of childhood that we enjoy in civilization.
5. Blood Meridian
Set in the lawless world of the Texas-Mexico border in the Old West, Blood Meridian contains some of the most grisly scenes in literature, all told in perhaps the most beautiful prose in American writing. The unnamed ‘Kid’ is our hero, an impressionable young runaway who falls in with a crowd of mercenaries who make their money collecting Indian scalps.
Blood Meridian is a complicated novel that resists interpretation, but the most significant conflict is a battle for the Kid’s soul between a priest-turned-mercenary and an otherworldly villain known only as the Judge. The Judge seems to be an embodiment of the impending modern age. Though a ruthless criminal of massive strength, the Judge is an amoral empiricist who speaks many languages eloquently and sketches all the creatures he sees in his little scientific journal. He sets himself as the enemy of the Priest, who desperately tries to convince the Kid to stay away from the Judge. It’s impossible to be too specific in a paragraph when interpreting a book as full as Blood Meridian, but beneath the horror of McCarthy’s world lies a suspicion for modernism and an elegy for the old.
Bonus: Hard Times
In the end, Hard Times is a feel-good novel that doesn’t really shock the reader like the rest of the books on this list, but because so many critics easily interpret Dickens’ work as anti-capitalist, it deserves a spot as a surprisingly conservative novel. Russell Kirk once called conservatism “the negation of ideology.” We conservatives stay dubious of any social theories that claim to save us, understanding that humans are too weak to come up with a good panacea and too complex to be pigeonholed by know-it-all scholars. Few novels preach this message as well as Charles Dickens’ Hard Times.
Compared to Dickens’ longer and more complicated works, Hard Times can seem a little didactic. Yet, Charles Dickens still works his magic as a master storyteller with his trademark use of intersecting plotlines, vivid characterization, and a good, satisfying ending. Furthermore, the message it sends goes beyond a critique of industrialism. In addition to big business, Dickens accuses standardized education and the government for failing to recognize the beauty of the individual. Rigid philosophy and dependence on facts are the chief villains of Hard Times, and simple individualism is the hero.
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