Thursday, June 02, 2005

My Summer Reading List

Just in time for summer, Human Events ("The National Conservative Weekly Since 1944") has determined the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries" as chosen by "15 scholars and public policy leaders." This list is a real hoot, covering every conservative bogeyman of the last 75 years. Number one? Why, communism, of course! Communism is so scary that The Communist Manifesto wasn't enough, so they added Quotations From Chairman Mao at number three and Das Kapital at number six. I'll give them Mao, but I would contend in the case of Marx and Engels that the trouble with communism wasn't so much the concept as its execution (no pun intended for the Stalinists out there). The problem was Communism rather than communism (note the capital "C"). Perhaps some panelists recognized that since Hitler's Mein Kampf came in second. But Nazis and Communists are easy and obvious targets. Let's move on.

Number four is The Kinsey Report (actually titled Sexual Behavior In The Human Male). Ooh, sex is dirty! Let's not think about it, research it, describe it, or explain it. And there can't possibly be as many sodomites as Kinsey contends! Books about sex are dirty! I'm not familiar with number five, John Dewey's Democracy And Education. Does this sound bad?

[Dewey] 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.
Oh no, the Clinton generation! I'm surprised Hillary's It Takes A Village didn't make the list! But seriously, are these conservatives so insecure about their ideas and values that they are afraid to give children *gasp* thinking skills? Teaching children to think? We can't have that! And why do they put "skills" in quotes? Though the description above sounds inocuous to many of us, fundamentalist Christians see Dewey's secular humanism as another bogeyman responsible for the decline of religion and morality in America. And what about the bogeywoman of feminism? Sure enough, The Feminine Mystique comes in at number seven. I'll bet panelist Phyllis Schlafly picked that book as her number one! The article notes with great concern

As David Horowitz wrote in a review for Salon.com of Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique by Daniel Horowitz (no relation to David): The author 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.”
Perfect! A feminist is associated with communism... feminists are communists... feminism equals communism! See how those thinking "skills" come in handy? A couple of anti-religious books that I don't know well follow: Auguste Comte's The Course Of Positive Philosophy (I've always been rather negative myself) and Freidrich "God is dead" Nietzsche's Beyond Good And Evil. In case you missed the point that the latter is bad, the article adds, "The Nazis loved Nietzsche." Yeah, and they hated Jesse Owens. So what?

Okay, so we've got Communists, Nazis, sexual hedonists, secular humanists (and the Clinton generation!), feminists, and atheists. Who's left? Coming in at number ten by the skin of its teeth (beating Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb by just one point) is General Theory Of Employment, Interest And Money by John Maynard Keynes. I'll admit that it took me a minute to see what was so bad about Keynesian economics. The good folks at Human Events had to explain it to me:

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.
Of course, FDR and "big government"--a bogeyman and a bogeyconcept! The last sentence is rather galling--apparently no one told these leading lights of conservatism that their heroes, particularly Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, have done more to increase the national debt than any "liberals" in the White House did. Maybe if Keynes had encouraged expanding government solely in the name of crony capitalism, the panelists would like him more.

I was amused to see that no matter how harmful these books allegedly were, Human Events didn't have any problem adding Amazon.com affiliate links to them. Maybe that's in case you wanted to order a few for a book-burning party.

There are twenty more books that get "Honorable Mention." I noted The Population Bomb above, which no doubt is included for espousing (eek) birth control and challenging the long-term viability of resource-consuming capitalism (I think Ehrlich's biggest error is that his dire predictions were several decades too early--let's reassess in 2030, shall we?). Soviet Communism: A New Civilization and Lenin's What Is To Be Done are two more communist tomes for the pile. I was shocked to see that Origin Of The Species didn't make the top ten, but at least it made HM, as did Darwin's other "controversial" book, Descent Of Man. Why is Margaret Mead's Coming Of Age In Samoa on the list? I understand that many question the book's veracity, but what makes it particularly harmful? And what is wrong with Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed? After all, without Nader, Al Gore might be president. I guess anything that argues for government regulation and protection of consumers from business is harmful. And speaking of Gore, the environmentalist bogeyman is represented by Rachel Carson's classic Silent Spring. Sigmund Freud made the HM list, too. Sorry, I'm not familiar with the rest so I can't comment.

It will be fun to sit on a park bench this summer and read a few of these. I won't use those helpful Amazon.com affiliate links to fill the coffers of Human Events, but I thank them for showing me the light.

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