painting looking on mirrorWonder what to give loved ones for Christmas, especially our fellow Imaginative Conservatives? The Imaginative Conservative’s Chief Elf (and respected Assistant Editor), Shelby Tankersley, recommends to contributors, “Book suggestions, leisure activities, and fine cigars would all be of interest to our readers.” So I won’t suggest those because my colleagues might. I’ll try something more subversive, maybe even life-changing—and free.

That’s right, free. My four recommended gifts will cost you nothing, sparing precious funds for favourite charities or vintage port. Yet they bring many traditionally wondrous Yuletide blessings: joy and laughter, knowledge and wisdom, even cherished new acquaintances to last throughout the coming year and beyond.

You can also enjoy them yourself, so if your secret holiday longings are anti-social, these work in God-given solitude; if sociable, these will make you or your loved one more interesting. Become a master at table, more a Samuel Johnson than one of Dickens’s lovable but notorious bores. Give your standard three conservative quotations a rest and introduce new material.

Admitting occasional mischief in generosity, these gifts are ideal for dear ones who risk becoming total Progressive dolts or drooling Fox News addicts. These gifts will irritate them no end, while planting the seeds of their potential rescue. Then you can smirk, having helped lead them to goodness and decency while dependably ruining at least one day in their every week. In this case, it is truly better to give than receive, and virtue is definitely its own reward.

The gifts are introductions to living people, made in the image of God, comprising what Adam Smith called the true Wealth of Nations. Each is uncommonly interesting, wise and informed, little-known in America and readable online. Each is addictive in his own way, and whenever one fills your screen, you will break into the smile with which you greet a cherished friend. Your recipient will need to sample the gift, of course, but his chance of using it again and again is better than the likelihood of him wearing yet another damned necktie.

The first is Lord Ridley, called Matt Ridley, who is a polymath scientist and the fine writer of The Rational Optimist. He’s as cool as the proverbial cucumber in a cup of Pimm’s, and as optimistic as the hardball facts allow. He’s the perfect antidote to exaggerated or pseudo-scientific news stories churned out by ideologues, gullible hacks, and dubious experts in the pay of special interest groups. Ever wonder what you are not being told? Suspect that sensationalised eco-disaster and the end of the world aren’t quite nigh? Never seen official stats that show massive benefits from the next 60 years of global warming, from warmist institutions no less? He’s also a logical free-marketeer. Cheer up your friends while dazzling them with real science. Fire when ready, Ridley!

Next is Christopher Howse, a High Church cicerone through medieval ruins and lost manuscripts, forgotten relics, modern pilgrimages and obscure Christian facts that you won’t know how you ever lived without. A respected columnist for Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, he’s bearded like a Victorian antiquary or an Old Testament prophet, his tweed pockets are stuffed with ancient mysteries full of new relevance, and he shares them with enthusiasm, knowledge, and joy. He’s also a dab hand around Wodehouse, C. S. Lewis, and many other topics near to our hearts. Missed going for walks with Russell Kirk? For the holy and/or the obscure or even arcane, reading Howse is often a worthy substitute.

For anyone interested in matters East of Suez, summon Alistair Crook through Conflicts Forum, his Beirut-based website. I knew him a generation ago near the Khyber Pass, before his 25 years among every conceivable group in the Middle East. Now the former British diplomat runs a savvy network providing the deep background that you’d need a top security clearance to read anywhere else. There’s nothing half as good on the ‘Net. Want to know why the Saudis back anti-Saudi Al Qaeda’s allies, while opposing other radical Sunni Islamists including Egypt’s deposed Muslim Brotherhood? Long to cut out the propaganda and learn what’s really going on between Washington and Cairo, Tel Aviv or Teheran? Leave your preconceptions at the door and Alistair’s your sunburnt man in the rumpled white suit.

Fourth come team efforts, a bevy of the world’s best experts steeped in Western Civilization’s greatest works of art. They labour in the great auction houses, mounting sales in prominent cities throughout the year. Nothing collectable evades their discerning eyes; choose a topic and every few months they will email links to free online catalogues, gloriously illustrated. Your recipients may prefer hard-rock memorabilia or Boston Red Sox paraphenalia, but sign them up for Old Masters prints and paintings, a cultural education in itself. Some also offer free online videos of in-house art history lectures on major masterpieces. Your recipients may even become collectors, for the top auctioneers sell treasures far more affordable than multi-million dollar Impressionist daubs. Some 16th Century woodcuts and engravings cost only a few hundred dollars each. An original Durer print of the Holy Trinity, a stunner from the master’s hand and printed under his supervision, that might have been handled by Erasmus or Henry VIII, is predicted to go for about 1,500 bucks–less than a vacation, with no risk from dysentery or mosquito bites, and great-grandchildren will venerate the far-sighted buyer. Give the gift of timeless culture, and start with Bonham’s, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s.

Meanwhile, a holy and merry Yuletide to all our readers.

Books mentioned on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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