The SanityPrompt

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Freakin' Troglodytes

Do these folks even believe in democracy? Everytime you think you have heard it all, those on the Right rise up to outdo themselves. This would be pitiably sad and laughable if it weren't so scary.

Tonight on Frontline I saw "A Jew in Germany" in which the protagonist visits Berlin to look at Holocaust memorials. At one point, a guide takes him to the memorial for Kristallknacht, the night Nazi thugs murdered Jews and burned books associated with Jewish ideas such as democracy and justice. On an open plaza a square plate of thick glass is embedded in the concrete. One walks over the glass and looks down into an illuminated white room that is wall to wall with empty shelves, symbolizing the destruction of the books burned on that night. So perhaps it is fitting that a visit to DailyKos yesterday led me to this posting on the conservative website Human Events Online.

HUMAN EVENTS ONLINE: Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries: "HUMAN EVENTS asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help us compile a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Each panelist nominated a number of titles and then voted on a ballot including all books nominated. A title received a score of 10 points for being listed No. 1 by one of our panelists, 9 points for being listed No. 2, etc. Appropriately, The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, earned the highest aggregate score and the No. 1 listing"

I tend to be the sort of J.S. Mills' liberal, who prefers as few interventions in the market place of ideas as possible and who is skeptical that a book or an idea might be dangerous in and of itself. I suppose I should be comforted that Mills also made the list with his book On Liberty, but what exactly his crime was is hard to say. Here's the list and some excerpts of their supposed transgressions. (With a few minor troublemaking comments from me)

1. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedriche Engels.
The Manifesto envisions history as a class struggle between oppressed workers and oppressive owners, calling for a workers’ revolution so property, family and nation-states can be abolished and a proletarian Utopia established. The Evil Empire of the Soviet Union put the Manifesto into practice. Not quite sure it would be accurate to say the Soviet Union put the Manifesto into practice; rather, they used it to justify their practices. I suppose this is a bit like listing the Bible as a harmful book because Crusaders and Torquemada did some nasty thing's in its name too.

2. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
Here Hitler explained his racist, anti-Semitic vision for Germany, laying out a Nazi program pointing directly to World War II and the Holocaust. He envisioned the mass murder of Jews, and a war against France to precede a war against Russia to carve out “lebensraum” (“living room”) for Germans in Eastern Europe. Well, not much argument from me but I think the text itself was rather less important than the deep anti-semitism throughout Europe with which it resonated.

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao by guess who.
Western leftists were enamored with its Marxist anti-Americanism. “It is the task of the people of the whole world to put an end to the aggression and oppression perpetrated by imperialism, and chiefly by U.S. imperialism,” wrote Mao. To say nothing of ending the oppression of this boring little book.

4. The Kinsey Report
The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy. Because complete ignorance of all things sexual is always the preferred course. If only we could go back to the days when, on their wedding night, the groom could ask the bride, "now where does it go?" and she could reply "where does what go?"

5. Democracy and Education by John Dewey
He disparaged schooling that focused on traditional character development and endowing children with hard knowledge, and encouraged the teaching of thinking “skills” instead. His views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation. But not the Bush generation, which is essentially the same age? Or Bush himself? Who happily exhibited almost no moral virtues in his younger years. Ahh for the good old days when children memorized rote facts instead of those nasty thinking skills that help them in the new economy and help them see past the inconsistencies and banal generalizations of conservative political philosophy.

6. Das Kapital
Das Kapital forces the round peg of capitalism into the square hole of Marx’s materialistic theory of history, portraying capitalism as an ugly phase in the development of human society in which capitalists inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to earn the greatest possible profits. Marx theorized that the inevitable eventual outcome would be global proletarian revolution. He could not have predicted 21st Century America: a free, affluent society based on capitalism and representative government that people the world over envy and seek to emulate. And one that survived the Great Depression largely on the basis of those nasty social programs conservatives love to hate.

7. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
Ah-hah! Guilt by association! [Daniel Horowitz] documents that “Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America’s Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley’s radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer.” Of course, short of the sexual liaison with a male physicist, so were Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol.

8. The Course of Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte
He coined the term “sociology.” (Well that's surely a crime!) He did so while theorizing that the human mind had developed beyond “theology” (a belief that there is a God who governs the universe), through “metaphysics” (in this case defined as the French revolutionaries’ reliance on abstract assertions of “rights” without a God), to “positivism,” in which man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be. He did a few things more than that and helped usher in the scientific perspective that created the knowledge revolution, but maybe that's what his real crime was in this view.

9. Beyond Good and Evil by Freidrich Nietzsche
Here Nietzsche argued that men are driven by an amoral “Will to Power,” and that superior men will sweep aside religiously inspired moral rules, which he deemed as artificial as any other moral rules, to craft whatever rules would help them dominate the world around them. “Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation,” he wrote. The Nazis loved Nietzsche. I am surprised that troglodyte conservatives such as these don't love him more too. Nietzsche was a positivist as well as a normative philosopher. He wasn't advocating National Socialism. He was observing that in the world many rules are crafted by the powerful to subject the weak and that life was an often brutal competitive struggle. Isn't that what supposedly makes the free market great? The incentives it gives you to survive?

10. General Theory of Employment Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes
The book is a recipe for ever-expanding government. When the business cycle threatens a contraction of industry, and thus of jobs, he argued, the government should run up deficits, borrowing and spending money to spur economic activity. FDR adopted the idea as U.S. policy, and the U.S. government now has a $2.6-trillion annual budget and an $8-trillion dollar debt. Never mind that in many ways George Bush is Keynes biggest devotee. His tax deferments ushering large sustained deficits combined with Greenspan's low interests to stimulate the moribund economy post 9/11. And never mind that much of our current debt is piling up, not just on Bush's watch, but under his hand.

Here's the honorable mention. Some of these books are so dated and forgotten that their inclusion probably says more about the period that the selectors are still living in than it does about any actual harm they may have caused.

The Population Bomb
by Paul Ehrlich

What Is To Be Done
by V.I. Lenin

Authoritarian Personality
by Theodor Adorno

On Liberty
by John Stuart Mill

Beyond Freedom and Dignity
by B.F. Skinner

Reflections on Violence
by Georges Sorel

The Promise of American Life
by Herbert Croly

Origin of the Species
by Charles Darwin

Madness and Civilization
by Michel Foucault

Soviet Communism: A New Civilization
by Sidney and Beatrice Webb

Coming of Age in Samoa
by Margaret Mead

Unsafe at Any Speed
by Ralph Nader

Second Sex
by Simone de Beauvoir

Prison Notebooks
by Antonio Gramsci

Silent Spring
by Rachel Carson

Wretched of the Earth
by Frantz Fanon

Introduction to Psychoanalysis
by Sigmund Freud

The Greening of America
by Charles Reich

The Limits to Growth
by Club of Rome

Descent of Man
by Charles Darwin

It wouldn't be much of a troglodyte list if we left Darwin off now would it? For all their love of the progress wrought by freedom and capitalism, I wonder what world they imagine they would live in if not for some of these texts. That 9 of the 15 judges, have PhDs and a few others appear to be scholarly in some way probably explains why academia is predominantly populated by folks from the Left. The Right wing scholars are f*@%in' crazy and scary-assed stupid.

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