Last fall I taught a small group of students a bit about politics and government. These were in the weeks leading up to the controversial 2020 Presidential election. With decades of reading and teaching about government and politics, I mainly rambled. Hopefully, it was good rambling. But I had an impertinent student who asked for a list of books to read about government. She moved away, but was visiting here earlier this week, so she asked again about that list. So, just to irritate her and the rest of you, I will try to make a list of essential or good books on government
Textbooks: I remember reading a line from Peter Kreeft years ago to the effect that “nobody steals a textbook.” As standardly issued and frequently revised and updated, textbooks are notoriously expensive and yet rarely have much resale value. For that reason, I generally find it worthwhile to use an older edition of a textbook.
There is a certain benefit to a good textbook. One can hope that it will have essential topics, a few vital sources, good charts and graphs, a glossary, index, and table of contents. One does not generally read the textbook for literary enjoyment, but for finding information. Textbooks are usually good for scanning and surveying.
I prefer to use Magruder’s American Government for a basic resource, reference text. The one I have and use now is the 2010 edition. It is close enough to being up to date and old enough to be cheap. Of course, there are benefits to finding the older editions.
The original author, Frank Magruder, was a political science teacher and professor. His original book came out in 1917. When he died in 1949, a student of his, named William A. McClenaghan, took over the revising of the textbook. (Somewhere in a tower of boxes, I have one of the older editions of the book, meaning an edition that may go back to before the 1950s.)
Standard textbooks get revised, updated, corrected, and “politically corrected.” I wonder how much of the book that I use would be recognized by either Magruder or McClenahan. But the book still have outstanding features, meaning great charts and graphs, well done organization, useful teacher materials, some original sources, good quotes, funny cartoons, and a helpful glossary and index.
Key point for anyone buying a government text: Look for used, but not too old. (Studying old government texts is a different pursuit than studying government as of now.) Look for something authored by a person rather than a committee. Look for its usefulness as a resource, and don’t quibble over politically disagreeable points made here and there.
Basic Readings on Government from a Christian Perspective:
- Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life by David C. Innes
This book is quite good, relatively brief, and thoroughly Bible oriented. It is also conservative, Reformed, and American. I plan on reading it again soon with a government student I am teaching privately. It is a book of depth, but is readable and applicable. It is not, as some political books by Christians, seeking to grind axes against our current political foes. It is rooted in a more long-term approach to the topic.
2. Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey And Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies by David Koyzis
This book is challenging. If one is only used to the political banter of conservative talk radio or the contents of news shows, this book will plunge you into the deep water. Want to smack the liberals or conservatives with some zingers? Look elsewhere. This is a book that demands careful reading. Dr. Koyzis, like David Innes, seeks to write from a Christian perspective and from a Reformed tradition. He is not a traditional American conservative, so expand your world a bit in reading this.
3. Christianity and the Constitution by John Eidsmoe
This book has been around for quite a while, and I have enjoyed using parts of it in teaching my classes. The book gives a Christianized version of America’s colonial and founding eras. Then Dr. Eidsmoe discusses quite a few of the key thinkers and books that influenced the Founding Fathers. This portion is a good introduction to the household names among the contributors to our founding documents. Next, the book gives detailed biographical sketches of key authors and shapers with an emphasis on their religious beliefs.
I don’t find this book a fun read or a page turner, but it is quite full of useful information. Dr. Eidsmoe is a well trained lawyer and student of theology and history. He is a Lutheran with a strong affinity toward Calvinist founders of America, and his perspective is very conservative.
4. Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Grudem
The subtitle states that this is A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture. This book is conservative red meat. I reckon it offends not only more secular liberals, but many Christians who think themselves a bit more balanced and erudite than Grudem. Maybe it is a bit over the top. Maybe it does imply that the Christian position is a bit more compatible with the Republican platforms than with those of the Democrat Party.
I include it because I am probably quite in line with much of what it says. And I like Dr. Grudem’s other books. So, read it and like it or read it and refute it.
5. Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper
This book is so vital for so many areas of life and thought. Early on, it has a chapter on Calvinism and political thought. That chapter is vital for coming to a Christian position on government. Of course, I think each chapter in this classic work is vital for arriving at least close to solid and sound positions.
6. Christianity and the State by R. J. Rushdoony
Not just this book, but almost every book that R. J. Rushdoony wrote is useful for constructing a Christian view of civil government. Probably Law and Liberty is the easiest to start with and The Institutes of Biblical Law, particularly volume 1, is the most comprehensive.
7. The Patriot’s Handbook, edited and compiled by George Grant
Any study of American government must reach back into the source materials. This book has a wealth of such shorter materials, and it includes not only the most often cited works, such as the Constitution, but also speeches, poems, and writings not often found in standard textbooks. And it includes Grant’s delightful survey of our first 14 Presidents, and that listing doesn’t begin with George Washington.
8. Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology by Glenn Moots
This is a serious and in-depth study and survey of political theology, particularly that which grew out of the Reformation tradition and then was transplanted in the United States. This is one of the best books I have ever studied and one that calls for rereading.
9. Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition by Glenn S. Sunshine
This book is recent, and I have not read my copy yet. But from all I can sense and all I have heard from others, it is a keeper.
10. Civil Government: A Biblical View by Robert Culver
I read this book very many years ago. I remember thinking that it was quite good, but I cannot recall many details. It appears to still be in print, but under a slightly different title.
11. God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government : Theonomy, Principled Pluralism, Christian America, National Confessionalism, edited by Gary Scott Smith
I read this book many years ago. It is a good presentation of four different positions all held by responsible, scholarly Christian writers.
12. God and Government by Gary DeMar
This series gives some basic information about history, government, and Christian influences. It was later reprinted in a nice hardback one volume edition, which I, unfortunately, do not have. Gary DeMar has written and reprinted lots of works that verify the Christian influences on American history and government. American Vision, his organization, has a wealth of resources available.
13. A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer
This book caused quite a stir when it came out in the 1980s. The work of Francis Schaeffer during his most popular years coincides with the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. Much of what Schaeffer says in this book seems to be based on information gleaned from The Journal of Christian Reconstruction. That is another story.
14. Did America Hav a Christian Founding? by Mark David Hall
I have and have read many books related to this topic, and many of those books are referenced in this one. This is THE go-to source for understanding and being able to better interact with a host of political issues that are related to our nation’s Founding Era.
- The Republic by Plato
This is my favorite translation. The Allan Bloom translation is also highly acclaimed. I do not prefer the Benjamin Jowett translation, which is an older and usually cheaper version.
2. Politics by Aristotle
3. The Prince by Machiavelli
I am no expert, but I would recommend the translation by Harvey Mansfield, based on what I have heard from others.
4. Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos by Junius Brutus
This book is a seldom read Calvinist and Huguenot classic. Thankfully, Canon Press has published a useable new edition of it that should broaden the reach of this book. R. J. Rushdoony often made a comment (actually based on a quote from someone he had read) that it was this book, rather than Thomas Paine’s Common Sense that was most influential in the American Revolution.
5. Lex, Rex by Samuel Rutherford
Lex, Rex, also now available from Canon Press, is another Calvinist political classic. Rutherford was a Covenanter. Donald Macleod, in his book Therefore the Truth I Speak, raises some serious questions as to how influential this book was to American colonists who revolted against the Crown. It was Francis Schaeffer who first alerted many American Christians to the importance of this book.
6. Two Treatises of Government by John Locke
Some conservatives and some Christians have strong objections to John Locke’s philosophical views. Nevertheless, he was and remains a big name in political thought and in the history of this nation.
7. The Federalist by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
This collection of essays is THE American classic of political thought. It needs to be read from cover to cover, but there are a few essays in it, such as #10 or #51, that are quoted continually.
8. The Anti-Federalist Papers
In one sense, there is no such thing as The Anti-Federalist Papers. Whereas, three authors wrote essays that have come to be known as The Federalist Papers, there was no set of authors who compiled rebuttals per se. But there were plenty of articles and speeches by prominent Americans who objected to the proposed Constitution. Their insights are valuable, and some believe almost prophetic in seeing problems that followed with the ratification of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights, by the way, was a result of Anti-Federalist influence.
9. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Thankfully, this work is a short read. But it must be read because of the great influence it has had on so many countries, so many people, and so much of history. The books and authors who have refuted and rebutted Communism would be a separate and very long list.
10. The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek
This book has become a popular read for many conservatives. First published in 1944, this book remains in print and is more widely known in our times than in previous years. Hayek is one of several prominent Austrian thinkers whose ideas have kept the spirit of freedom alive in our times.
Okay, enough is enough! There is no end in sight for the books that could be listed here.
If you notice any terrible mistakes I have made or unforgivable omissions, please let me know in your comments, or on Facebook, or by emailing me at Veritas@cableone.net.