« previous post | Main | next post »

June 03, 2005

danger! do not proceed!

Don Herzog: June 3, 2005

Psst, wanna hear something lethal?  No, come closer.  Okay, listen up — wait, you don't have a heart condition, do you? not going to lob any bombs through Citibank windows?  Good.  Here goes:

Talks, speeches, articles and resolutions should all be concise and to the point.  Meetings also should not go on too long.

Hey, don't give me a dirty look!  Listen, this is no come-on, I'm not gonna hit you up for any spare change.  This stuff is the real deal.  I got the most harmful books of the last two centuries, right here, yup, downloaded them all, God knows why the feds let this stuff circulate freely online, and I dare you to tell me this doesn't blow your mind:

The success of any advertisement, whether of a business or political nature, depends on the consistency and perseverance with which it is employed.

I am not crazy!  Listen, you complacent jerk, the first line was from Mao's little red book, hah! and the second from Hitler's Mein Kampf, hah-hah! and this gem, I tell you, is from [deep breath, shudder] the single most harmful book of the last two hundred years, Marx and Engels's Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country.

Have you ever heard such a nefarious view of globalization?  Yeah, I will too jeer at you, you thought it was acceptable to notice that people all over the world wear blue jeans.  You've been infected by radicalism!  Don't worry, help is on the way.  But first you have to recognize you have a problem.  The fine folks at Human Events have just put out a list of — may I have a drum roll, please? the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries!  So there!

We now return you to your regularly scheduled boring blogger, Don Herzog.  Sorry, I'd no idea that my sidekick Lib was going to grab the microphone and yammer on with these embarrassingly selective quotations.  Yes, it's true, Human Events did post that list.  The Kinsey Report made their hall of infamy, too.  So did Dewey's Democracy and Education.  So did Friedan's Feminine Mystique.  So did Keynes's General Theory.  Honorable Mention — shouldn't they have said Dishonorable Mention? — goes to Mill's On Liberty and, you guessed it, Darwin's Origin of Species.

Harmful books?  Alas, Human Events don't tell us anything about the criteria for "harmful."  They asked fifteen judges, most of them academics, but Phyllis Schlafly too, to offer nominations and then offer their top ten from all the books nominated.

I don't doubt that Maoist China, Nazi Germany, and Soviet Russia were appalling places.  And I don't doubt that ideas have consequences.  But it's ludicrous to shove, say, Mao's little red book on the list on the theory that the book itself caused harm.  (In college, I found that quotations from it were useful in replacing leftist pomposities with radical attacks of the giggles.  Or at least I found that after I learned to recite them with a completely straight face.  Hell, I used to be able to address my fellow students as "revolutionary comrades."  Ah, the ardent conservative nostalgia I feel for those days....)  It's ludicrous to imagine that the books singled out by these austere judges were blueprints for repulsive political developments.

But that seems to be the theory — the same theory on which we're invited to gasp at the dastardly publication of Keynes, alleged architect of the modern liberal state.  Or at least that's the only vaguely defensible theory.  I pass with silent scathing contempt over the ad hominem observations and guilt by association.  ("The Nazis loved Nietzsche"!  Friedan was the lover of a Communist physicist!  Dewey's educational views "helped nurture the Clinton generation"!  And so, one supposes, the Bush generation, too.)  And I shall leave you to wonder how many of the judges have actually read the books they're ranking.  Or even glanced at them.  But why should they bother reading the books when they already know how harmful they are?

I want to know what we're supposed to do with, about, or to these dreadful books.  Burn them?  No, come on, not that.  Reinvent the Roman Catholic Church's old Index of Prohibited Books and demand that only privileged readers with permission may examine them?  Oh, please.  Stop teaching them to undergraduates?  A canon stripped of all but right-thinking right-wing purities?  I don't think so.  Know that when we peer into them we flirt with Satanic dangers?  But there's nothing like talk of forbidden fruits to make things interesting.  Better, surely, for Human Events to keep flogging the latest shrill conservative bestsellers.  Their latest subscription offer features Mark Levin's "courageous" Men in Black and Thomas E. Woods, Jr.'s Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.

Me, I think you're better off reading any of the books on the list of horrors than wasting your time on such bilge and ephemera.  (But you could weave them all together, too.  Assignment for the reader:  show how Levin and Woods employ Hitler's principles of propaganda.  No, sorry, you can all put down your enthusiastic hands.  I realize instantly that the assignment is much too easy.)  I take some small consolation in knowing that a hundred years from now, people will still know the books Human Events denounces.  Only the occasional bookish historian will have a clue what Levin and Woods wrote.

For decades top conservative leaders have relied on HUMAN EVENTS to stay up to date and in the know on the huge political struggles of our day with fresh, weekly news and commentary from a rock-solid conservative perspective.

They said it, I didn't.  Rock-solid conservative book denouncers, ready to alert attentive top leaders to the dangers of Dewey and Mill.  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d834536ae669e200d8345e412869e2

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference danger! do not proceed!:

» Sarcasm and Irony from Get Real
You just have to love this post on Left2Right about a list of "the ten most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries" that was published by Human Events (links available on Left2Right)... Very poignant, very witty, very Real!... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 3, 2005 12:37:52 PM

Comments

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I take some small consolation in knowing that a hundred years from now, people will still know the books Human Events denounces.

Well, a handful of feminist historians may know of Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique a century from now, though I doubt anyone else will. They couldn’t even get people to go see the recent movie about Kinsey, let alone read such tepid stuff as the Report these days. Dewey was indeed responsible for much mischief in public education, or at least a number of his self-described followers were. No one has read Comte for a long time as it is; I’m impressed the Human Events judges even remembered him. Nietzsche will be read a century from now. Marx or Hitler? Remembered, of course, but not read. Who knows how the Chinese will regard Mao a hundred years from now? In any case, I’d gladly bet you, Mr. Herzog, that few if any of the top ten books will be known by average folks a century from now, let alone actually read by those who don’t haunt the rare books rooms.

The next ten are an odd assortment, aren’t they? I do find it hard to believe they found at least two judges voting for (against?) On Liberty. Really, though, Mr. Herzog, they called the books harmful. That’s not quite a call or even a suggestion that those or any other books should be banned or burned. Did I miss something? Or are you suggesting that books cannot be harmful?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 3, 2005 8:26:47 AM


Posted by: Untenured Bibelotnik

At the risk of offending my nominal compatriots on the right, I confess perplexity: Kant's refutation of the argument from intelligent design, along with the entirety of Biblical Higher Criticism from Strauss and Schweitzer to Crossan and Funk, do *not* make the list, but a book advising that governments should deficit-spend their way out of recessions does?

I think you're wrong about a century hence, Don. Apparently no one *reads* already, one merely pretends to, assembling books, or in this case, names of books, as trinkets for display. Perhaps Regnery Press can put out the items on the list as leather-bound, numbered, matching volumes, and the late Mortimer Adler can construct a special one volume index for it from the great beyond...

Posted by: Untenured Bibelotnik | Jun 3, 2005 9:43:39 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I'm only nominally offended. BTW, will there be a SparkNotes version of the Mortimer Adler book? I only have so much time, you know.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 3, 2005 9:56:05 AM


Posted by: johnt

Speaking of book banning or book burning,is this opinion banning? Yeah,it's a shock that some people don't like books that other people like but that's one of the things that makes the world go 'round. I would think that Mein Kampf and Mao's writings did have an effect on a certain targeted audience with negative results and if ideas have consequences and some of those baleful ideas are in those books then they need not be blueprints to accomplish what their authors intended. I wasn't surprised to see Mark Levin compared to Nazi's,nor am I doubtful that the people who clamor for an undefined but never ceasing accretion of centralized power see themselves as liberals. Ideas do have consequences no matter how off the wall.

Posted by: johnt | Jun 3, 2005 10:00:27 AM


Posted by: Larry

Don Herzog may be getting close to induction into that select group of bloggers as trolls.

Posted by: Larry | Jun 3, 2005 10:25:20 AM


Posted by: Chuchundra

I think you're all missing the point here.

It isn't about the actual books themselves. I mean, God knows that if you're going to have a committee put together a list of "bad", "misbegotten" or "dangerous books" that a few loose cannons are going to pick something brilliant like _Stars In My Pocket, Like Grains of Sand_ or _Green Eggs and Ham_. It's to be expected.

It isn't even that it's likely that the majority of elite intellects who helped construct the list didn't read the books they labelled dangerous, or even books about the books. Obviously they relied on things they heard about books about the books they consigned to dangerousitude.

The big question here is what kind of room temperature IQs does it take to participate in such an obvious exercise in dumbassery? What kind of below the Mendoza line intellect does it take to think that making up such a list, or even allowing someone to put your name on such a list is really a good idea?

Posted by: Chuchundra | Jun 3, 2005 11:56:00 AM


Posted by: AAF

I didn't understand the point of this post for the following reasons:

1. It is clear that Human Events is not calling for banning these books -- they provide direct links to the books' Amazon listings. This would be counterproductive for book banners.

2. DH writes: "It's ludicrous to imagine that the books singled out by these austere judges were blueprints for repulsive political developments."

Then I have a ludicrous imagination. Are you really saying that in no sense was Mein Kampf a blueprint for Nazism? Or the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital used as a blueprint or inspiration for Soviet-style communism?

Dewey would certainly agree that his book was a blueprint for education reform -- he would just disagree with the characterization of education reform as "repulsive".

To second D.A.R., I ask, are you saying that books cannot be harmful?

If, as D.H. appears to claim, the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf can't be credited with the vicious political and social consequences that resulted from their respective ideologies, then what does get the credit?

I understand denouncing some of the votes as extremely unfair because they(sort of) equate the results of Kinsey's work with the monstrosities of the USSR and Nazi Germany. Also, Mao's Little Red Book is pretty silly as an entry on this list, as it was published long after he came to power and was hardly instrumental in creating Red China or its crimes -- these voters clearly just wanted a way to get Mao on the list.

I also agree that some of the invective is just obnoxious.

But I am a bit stunned at the notion that I am a closet book burner for denouncing Mein Kampf and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as "harmful".

Or do you mean ideas can't be harmful? Or that it's the ideas, not the books?

3. D.H. writes: "Me, I think you're better off reading any of the books on the list of horrors than wasting your time on [contemporary right-wing propaganda books]."

O.K. -- but why does that necessarily imply you can't label them "harmful"? What's wrong with assigning these books (or your own 'most harmful' list) in a class called: "Most harmful books of the last 200 years." Course description: "In this course we will read books that gave rise to (or assisted in the rise of, or articulated the ideas that gave rise to) some of the most damaging and/or evil political and social movements of the last 200 years, including Soviet-style Communism, Nazism, and New Math teaching methods. We will talk about how ideas can drive political movements, and about how political movements can distort their own founders' ideologies in the quest for power."

Posted by: AAF | Jun 3, 2005 12:50:48 PM


Posted by: Josh Jasper

They missed Harry Potter.

Hey, the new Pope thinks it's dangerous. He says it undermines the soul of Christianity.

But seriously. You want to know the most startling omission? The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion. I think that proves that this list is not a list of the most dangerous books, but of the books and ideas the compilers hate the most. It also speaks to the prejudices they have that a book on feminism is more dangerous to them than a book that villifies Jews, and continues to be used as a rationalle behind many anti-semitic acts, including the movement in the US to keep Jewish refugees from entering the country at the start of WWII.

Posted by: Josh Jasper | Jun 3, 2005 1:23:51 PM


Posted by: Achillea

Inanimate objects being labelled as harmful? Heaven forfend! Those foolish, dastardly conservatives. We all know liberals would never rail against something incapable of taking independent action ... like, say, firearms.

Posted by: Achillea | Jun 3, 2005 1:53:04 PM


Posted by: Sam

AAF,

Capital is not a blue-print for Soviet style communism (there, you knew somebody had to say it). It says almost nothing about specific policies of socialism and communism - except that they will grow out of the contradictions of capital at some point. It is a critique of capitalism, not a plan for socialism. And that is why anti-Leninist social democrats, from Bernstein (remember him?) on have drawn on it. Also, the Manifesto says little about how the proletariat will rule, only that its authors believe that it will rule.

Posted by: Sam | Jun 3, 2005 2:24:42 PM


Posted by: Untenured Republican

Sam:

It depends upon what you find objectionable about Soviet-style communism, doesn't it? Anyway, it is a *logical* implication of the economic doctrine in _Capital_ and the theory of the political process in the early works that you could not eliminate the alleged contradictions of capitalism unless the state nationalizes the capital-intensive industries, and that the state that does that could not be a democratic state in a pre-existing market-based economic system because the economic dog wags the political tail. Ergo... Reasonable people may not agree with that assessment, but supposing it were true, which *political* features of Soviet communism are *optional*? The little red star buttons? The fur hats? The hilarious poster art? Kinder, gentler coups? Friendlier nationalizations? More broad-mindedness and tolerance for class enemies among the successful yet inevitably paranoid coup-plotters? Or what?

If you think that you can reform your way into socialism via democratic processes, you are denying an axiom of historical materialism and are therefore not a Marxist. To paraphrase Woody Allen, we can *say* we are--I don't know what it means but we can *say* we are.

Posted by: Untenured Republican | Jun 3, 2005 3:41:28 PM


Posted by: lumen

Oh this is good stuff. As a long time fan of J.S. Mill, I find this quite funny. As many know, Mill was a great proponent of "school vouchers." I guess that idea is pernicious too. I include a paragraph from Chapt. V of On Liberty to illustrate just how "harmful" school vouchers are:


Were the duty of enforcing universal education once admitted, there would be an end to the difficulties about what the State should teach, and how it should teach, which now convert the subject into a mere battle-field for sects and parties, causing the time and labor which should have been spent in educating, to be wasted in quarrelling about education. If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them. The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State's taking upon itself to direct that education: which is a totally different thing. That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating. All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. An education established and controlled by the State, should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence. Unless, indeed, when society in general is in so backward a state that it could not or would not provide for itself any proper institutions of education, unless the government undertook the task; then, indeed, the government may, as the less of two great evils, take upon itself the business of schools and universities, as it may that of joint-stock companies, when private enterprise, in a shape fitted for undertaking great works of industry does not exist in the country. But in general, if the country contains a sufficient number of persons qualified to provide education under government auspices, the same persons would be able and willing to give an equally good education on the voluntary principle, under the assurance of remuneration afforded by a law rendering education compulsory, combined with State aid to those unable to defray the expense.


Now that Human Events has pronounced this a bad idea, I guess we can move to adequately funding the public schools. Finally, the middle ground has been found!

Posted by: lumen | Jun 3, 2005 3:46:34 PM


Posted by: Perseus

I furtively took my copy of Keynes's "General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money," off of the bad (i.e. non-neoclassical) macroeconomics section of my bookshelves, and dug up this quote, which most people have run across before:

"the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back...But soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."

On this point, I think that Keynes was not far from the truth. If so, I don't see why a list of books with "harmful" (or "dangerous for good or evil") ideas is prima facie ludicrous.

Posted by: Perseus | Jun 3, 2005 4:31:02 PM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Just seconding Lumen's noting of that passage in Mill. As someone who both supports vouchers and thinks *On Liberty* is one of the GREAT books in Western culture, I'm glad to see Mill's argument out in the open.

And just a word on Marx and Soviet-style socialism (well more than one)...

Yes, Capital and the Manifesto are not blueprints (or recipes for the cookshops of the future), but by laying out so clearly the problems with capitalism (fundamentally, commodity production), Marx, much like the way a photographic negative can be used to reconstruct a picture, provides us a guide to what socialism "should" be, by contrast. Plus, there are places in Capital where he does talk about some vague particulars, such as the passage about production being decided "according to a settled plan." All of Marx's critcisms of capitalism/commodity production can be reflected back as visions of the socialist alternative. To say there is no vision of socialism in Marx is wrong, in my view.

That being said, the vision of socialism he presents is most certainly NOT one that matches with the institutions of Soviet Russia (save perhaps for the 3 years of War Communism, which was, of course, a dismal failure as Lenin himself admitted). To blame the mass murders of Stalinism (and Lenin, I hasten to add) on Marx, or on Marx's books, is misguided. At best, it would be fair to say that Stalinism is an unintended consequences of the attempt to put Marx's socialist vision into practice. Even state control of industry etc. was not part of Marx's vision. As long as the system was one of commodity production, and the USSR was (again, save perhaps the first few years), then it was not Marx's vision of socialism. At the end of the day, the Soviet economy was a lot closer to capitalism-as-it-exists than to Marx's vision.

Can you hold Marx responsible for Stalinism because he did not see fatal flaws in his vision that made Stalinism possible, maybe likely (but NOT inevitable)? I say no. Marx was wrong about the workability of his vision of socialism, but he wasn't complicit in its evolution into Stalinism.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jun 3, 2005 4:42:33 PM


Posted by: lumen

Back to Mill . . . In Chap. V of On Liberty, Mill considers laws which would ban public drunkeness and the like. He considers such laws a bad idea. He takes on the rebuttal that its bad for kids and the susceptible to be exposed to drunkards. He retorts that we should be thankful that the drunkards are there as examples of how NOT to live. (Talk about rejecting Kant's rule against using people merely as a means) These individuals' lives offer up continuing data against which we can test our hypothesis that life as a drunkard is bad. Similarly, you'd think that the good folks at Human Events would be happy that Marx et al. left us with such writings. All the easier for these ideas to be confronted and rejected. Thus, we shouldn't think of these books as harmful, rather we should be glad they are around.

Posted by: lumen | Jun 3, 2005 5:09:02 PM


Posted by: Mona

Why is a project of identifying "harmful" books to be met with derision? Manifestly some ideas in some books have had extremely dire consequences. Indeed, it is crucial that students be trained in critical thinking skills and able to understand when something pernicious is being peddled, it would seem to me.

When Germany was the intellectual and scientific jewel of the West, its intelligentsia (including many jurisprudes) largely succumbed to Nazi notions. Western intellectuals also fell into thralldom to Marxism, and everywhere it has been implemented carnage and misery have ensued. So, I think it a fine idea for especially the smarties to be willing to look quite hard at what ideas, and books, might be harmful.

No books should be banned; but from that it does not flow that others ought not exercise their free speech rights to examine whether some tomes are vicious, either inherently or in their implications. That is exactly what ought to happen, where speech is free -- meet bad books with harsh criticism, elucidating their dangers and flaws.

Now, it is true that including the Origin of Species on a dangerous book list seems wrong-headed. But it is equally true that Darwin's theory overturned, or threatened to, an entire worldview on which Western civilization was founded, and sent theologians scurrying to know how to answer it. Most mainstream Xian denominations made their accommodations, but not all.

Imagine a tribe of animist pygmies, insulated from the modern world. Would not most here cry foul if anthropologists discovering this tribe stormed in and sought to educate the pygmie children, in one generation, to adhere to empiricism and undermined the entire deposit of pygmie culture on which its animism and traditions were predicated? To make them "like us"?

So too, it is understandable, to me at least, that Xian religionists had and have a fierce reaction to Darwin. We are not made in the image of any deity. We were not specially created by a god. Whatever demands our parents might think a deity may make on us can only be illusion, because that deity is shown not to be necessary and likely not to exist.

Evolution is a fact, as much as is the law of gravity. But that truth has had consequences with which our culture is still grappling, and I hold some sympathy for those troubled by it, just as I would for the pygmie parents watching their children abandon their culture by coming to disbelieve that the spirits in the trees guide their hunting success or that grandpa is watching them from the clouds.

Culture is an important thing, a sine qua non of a people. Transmission of traditions to the next generation is the route by which we preserve our culture, and it is not shocking that parents can become upset when they see their children being transmitted notions contradictory to tradition. With that in mind, I would offer Lee Harris, who says he is gay, and who examines the role of tradition and visceral social codes in this long Policy Review essay that takes in thinkers from Maimonedes to Hayek, gives them their due on the issue of the role of tradition, but finds them wanting. I found Harris's piece worthwhile, even tho it does not persuade me in all particulars and does not change my mind about supporting civil unions. This is an excerpt, but I'd be very curious to know what the professional and lay philosophers here think of his entire argument:

In the culture war of today, the representatives of one side have systematically set out to destroy the shining examples of middle America. They seem to be doing so with an unconscious fanaticism that most closely parallels the conscious fanaticism of the various iconoclastic movements in the history of Christianity. They are doing this in a variety of ways — through the media, of course, and through the educational system. They are very thorough in their work and no less bold in the astonishingly specious pretexts upon which they demand the sacrifice of yet another shining example.


In the current debate on gay marriage, its advocates are cast in the role of long-oppressed suppliants [sic] demanding their just due. Indeed, the whole question is put in terms of their legal and moral rights, against which the opponents of gay marriage have nothing to offer but “residual personal prejudice,” to recall again the memorable words of the chief justice of the Canadian Supreme Court.

But it is a mistake to conflate the automatic with the irrational, since, as we have seen, an automatic and mindless response is precisely the mechanism by which the visceral code speaks to us. It triggers a rush of emotions because it is designed to do precisely this. Like certain automatic reflexes, such as jerking your hand off a burning stovetop, the sheer immediacy of our visceral response, far from being proof of its irrationality, demonstrates the critical importance, in times of peril and crisis, of not thinking before we act. If a man had to think before jumping out of the way of an onrushing car, or to meditate on his options before removing his hand from that hot stovetop, then reason, rather than being our help, would become our enemy. Some decisions are better left to reflexes — be these of our neurological system or of our visceral system.

This is why for most people, including many gay men and women, the immediate response to the idea of gay marriage came at the gut level — it somehow felt funny and wrong, and it felt this way long before they were able to spare a moment’s reflection on the question of whether they were for it or against it. There is a reason for that: They were overwhelmed at having been asked the question at all. How do you explain what you have against what had never crossed your mind as something anyone on Earth would ever think of doing? This invitation to reason calmly about the hitherto unthinkable is the source of the uneasy visceral response. To ask someone to reason calmly about something that he regards as simply beyond the pale is to ask him to concede precisely what he must not concede — the mere admissibility of the question.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 3, 2005 5:42:29 PM


Posted by: AAF

Sam writes: "Capital is not a blue-print for Soviet style communism (there, you knew somebody had to say it) It says almost nothing about specific policies of socialism and communism . . ."

Yes, I knew someone would say it, which is why I said "used as" a blueprint "or inspiration" for Soviet-style Communism, and why later, when describing my proposed "Harmful Books" class, I included discussion of "how political movements can distort their own founders' ideologies in the quest for power."

Note that the list is of the "most harmful" books -- not of the "books written with the most malevolence." In my "Most Harmful Books" syllabus we would have a unit on misused/twisted ideas. Marx would definitely be mentioned in that unit.

None of which really addresses the main point:

If D.H. were simply saying it is ludicrous to include Dewey and Friedan on the same list as Mein Kampf, that would be fine. But that doesn't seem to be what he's saying. D.H. is apparently calling ludicrous and something like a closet book-banner anyone who says that Mein Kampf and the Protocols are evil books, that they have caused much harm in the world, and that were inspiration for many evil deeds. To even have to argue this point is distressing.

Posted by: AAF | Jun 3, 2005 6:02:33 PM


Posted by: AAF

Mona quotes Lee Harris:

"This is why for most people, including many gay men and women, the immediate response to the idea of gay marriage came at the gut level — it somehow felt funny and wrong, and it felt this way long before they were able to spare a moment’s reflection on the question of whether they were for it or against it. There is a reason for that: They were overwhelmed at having been asked the question at all. How do you explain what you have against what had never crossed your mind as something anyone on Earth would ever think of doing? This invitation to reason calmly about the hitherto unthinkable is the source of the uneasy visceral response. To ask someone to reason calmly about something that he regards as simply beyond the pale is to ask him to concede precisely what he must not concede — the mere admissibility of the question. "

Sounds like a Strom Thurmond argument for keeping blacks from using white drinking fountains and swimming pools.

Posted by: AAF | Jun 3, 2005 6:08:42 PM


Posted by: Bill Gardner

It's hard to make make sense of this list. Democracy and Education more harmful than State and Revolution? And how many people have read Gramsci?

Posted by: Bill Gardner | Jun 3, 2005 6:27:50 PM


Posted by: Mona

AAF writes: Sounds like a Strom Thurmond argument for keeping blacks from using white drinking fountains and swimming pools.

Yes, Harris's premise is subject to that criticism. However, it is a lengthy piece, and he has a good deal more to say than my brief excerpt indicates. In one section he discusses a society-wide "conversion" experience to a higher ethos, and seems to approve of this sometimes happening.

My curiosity is whether others think Harris reconciles the Strom Thurmond tableau with his great concern for disrupting tradition.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 3, 2005 6:53:13 PM


Posted by: Sam


AAF,

If "used as" is our criteria, and we add the number of people killed as a result of that use, then surely you would include the Bible in that list, no?

Posted by: Sam | Jun 3, 2005 8:30:37 PM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Mona - I read that Harris piece with great trepidation. From the opening paragraph, I knew where it was going to end up: another high-falutin' philosophical justification for why gay marriage is "icky." And so it was. That said, he does make some good points along the way, but at the key moment he turns the argument, it falls apart.

When it comes to why good marriages are "shining examples," he seems stuck in a world of marital forms not marital behavior or function. That is, the marriages we think of as "shining examples" are not ones where the first thought that comes to mind is penis-vagina (or even man-woman), but where we think of love, commitment, care, etc.. His argument seems to suggest that same-sex marriages, because they are biologically incapable of reproduction without "outside" help, diminish all marriages in the process. I find that argument to be silly and that it took him several thousand words to construct an argument that would get him there is a trend too typical of too many on the cultural right.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jun 3, 2005 9:37:53 PM


Posted by: Mona

Steve Horwitz writes: From the opening paragraph, I knew where it was going to end up: another high-falutin' philosophical justification for why gay marriage is "icky." And so it was. That said, he does make some good points along the way, but at the key moment he turns the argument, it falls apart.

I didn't read him as ending up w/ gay marriage is "icky," but just that it is too outré to be considered. He talked about orange juice being perfectly fine nourishment, but having nothing to do with the ingredients of a cheese omelet. To him, the omelet is marriage and gay is orange juice, not anything noxious. (Harris apparently is gay himself, and I can recall prior to the mid-90s or so, when two of my gay friends scoffed at the idea of gays getting married, dismissing it as a "het model.")

But I agree with you that his argument falls apart as soon as he hits the end and gay marriage straight on. None of what went before supports his conclusion.

But what went before does seem to me a compelling discussion of why tradition is important to culture, and not to be upset cavalierly. To tie into Don's original post, some ideas are "harmful." Admitting that, indeed, insisting on it, does not seem misguided to me.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 3, 2005 10:17:48 PM


Posted by: Paul Velleman

How curious to see the mix of science and opinion on their list. I'll acknowledge that well-written polemic can influence opinions and thereby, I suppose, be "dangerious". But what of science?

Is Kinsey dangerous because his statistical methods were sub-par or because much of what he said was correct? Is Darwin dangerous because others (mostly on the right) misunderstood his theory and developed social darwinism, or because he correctly described the process of evolution, thereby offending some who wish to believe otherwise in the face of scientific fact?

Of course, the truth can be dangerous, but it is dangerous to suggest that this is bad. If that is even part of what Human Events is suggesting, I think they might look in the mirror for the next addition to their list.

Posted by: Paul Velleman | Jun 3, 2005 10:33:57 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

No doubt a list of ‘harmful’ books conservatives nonetheless like could easily be compiled as well and, following Sam’s comment, the Bible would certainly make the list but for the fact that it is rather more than 200 years old. Of course, one could plausibly argue that the Bible has been responsible, on balance, for more good than bad, and I doubt anyone could make such an argument with a straight face about the Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf.

I can’t help but think that the Human Events editors are chortling over the reaction to their idiosyncratic and silly little piece. (Idiosyncratic at least in the sense that the judges brought built-in biases to the task. For example, I don’t know too much about most of the judges, but I’ve met Fred Smith (a delightful man, by the way) and I’d give almost any odds that he voted for inclusion of the environmentalist titles.) In any case, the list is, after all, no more than the political equivalent of the AFI’s 100 Best Films or U.S. News’ Top Colleges or a Letterman Top Ten List on a slow night, except that even less effort and thought probably went into its compilation and it has already more than justified itself in generating some buzz for HE.

The point (assuming there is one) is one that no one here would argue against – ideas are powerful and power is often, alas, destructive. Regarding Mr. Velleman’s comments, then, I’m not too sure I’d be willing to accord the Kinsey Report the status of science, but it is the case that Darwin inadvertently lent support to the worst sort of Social Darwinist agendas. (I’m sure some of the judges think Darwin harmful because of his effect on religious beliefs, too; but that’s their problem.)

But I don’t understand his statement “the truth can be dangerous, but it is dangerous to suggest that this is bad.” Bad because it may have a chilling effect on the search for truth or because it may lead us to withhold true information from some because of the harm that might thereby be caused? I see no evidence that HE suggested the former and the latter is properly acknowledged all the time (e.g., we don't post nuclear weapons technology information on the Internet). Besides, doesn’t a full commitment to the truth entail acknowledging when some truth is capable of being or, indeed, has been harmful?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 4, 2005 12:50:54 AM


Posted by: johnt

Steve Horwitz, noticed your comment about Marx not being resposible for Stalinism. How exactly would private property be negated and the proletariat maintain a dictatorship in the absence of force? I think the sly old fox knew the answer to that. Also,the early leaders of the Bolsheviks knew the answer which is why they called it Marxism-Lenninism. Sam,you left out the Koran,or Qu'ran,or whatever the hell our journalists are carefully and with great respect calling it nowdays. A honest oversight or some religions is more equal than others to paraphrase Orwell?

Posted by: johnt | Jun 4, 2005 11:06:55 AM


Posted by: LPFabulous

Of course, the truth can be dangerous, but it is dangerous to suggest that this is bad. If that is even part of what Human Events is suggesting, I think they might look in the mirror for the next addition to their list.

This is my favorite part of Paul Velleman's comment. Because he and Herzog are so bound and determined to stick to their guns on wheedling moral equivalence, we're left with the suggestion that maybe the reason Human Events hates Mein Kampf is that the statements made in it are true. And let us never stand in the way of such truths.

Look, we can all agree that Darwin and Kinsey are probably not great poster children for the evils some ideas can wreak upon the world. But Hitler, Marx, and Mao? You bet we can agree, and especially on Hitler. Everything he wrote in Mein Kampf is vile and indicative of his madness, and that of the goons that came after him. Herzog may think he's cute when he quotes from it, but I think he's depraved. There is no defense to be made of this book.

What's worse is that Human Events knows there's no defense of that book and the people who picked it can now sit back and watch the leftist intelligentsia scramble around defending Hitler. That's what I call genius. They know that every time a Michigan professor opens his mouth, he promptly inserts his foot. Now we just all get to sit back and enjoy the show.

Posted by: LPFabulous | Jun 4, 2005 1:45:45 PM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Steve Horwitz, noticed your comment about Marx not being resposible for Stalinism. How exactly would private property be negated and the proletariat maintain a dictatorship in the absence of force? I think the sly old fox knew the answer to that.

He would argue that you can't get past your bourgeois ways of thinking. ;) I agree that you can't get to where Marx wants to go without force/the state in just the ways you suggest. But Marx's own vision was one of participatory unity where, absent the artificial divisions created by capitalism, people would rationally come to recognize what needed to be done and would agree on the best ways to do it, without the need for either alienating exchange (which can only establish this, at best, ex post) or coercion. Would there be force in the transition to pure communism? Perhaps, but the system itself transcended our notions of "voluntary" and "coerced." Even the force Marx might have condoned in the transition would not have produced anything like the USSR.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jun 4, 2005 3:57:41 PM


Posted by: Alex Fradera

I understand the issue David Velleman is unpacking by his quotage to be that a book writ large is rarely, if ever, harmful, but rather the ideas inside them. The distinction may strike some as inane, but I believe the singling out of books rather than concepts, statements or orders, is a useful rhetorical device these folks are using.

Take the Communist Manifesto (CM), which I think largely sums up the raison d'etre of this list. No-one is going to deny the evils done in the name of communism. But to step from this to saying the CM is tout court a harmful thing taints every argument made involving it. The CM (from my limited knowledge) involves interpretation of history, assessment of contemporary times, some remedies for improvement of the world etc. I'm sure [they] and many of the commentators on the site could make a spirited criticism of many of these aspects, and that's as it should be - critical responses to assertions and concepts made. But going for the book rather than the idea sidesteps this whole process. Any argument made, or fact proferred, by Marx in the CM (and by extension, any Marxist text) is automatically suspect. If you use them, according to this ranking system, you're 'worse than the Nazis'. Any historian or economist doing leg-work using concepts such as means of production are pursuing harmful projects. Did Mein Kapf have any insights? I rather doubt it. But CM unquestionably did. By all means take apart the arguments it makes that are wrong-headed, insane or, as they say, harmful. But this is just stink by association. It's the punk message boards where someone mentions scripture and then gets piled-on by people screeching 'Inquisition!' 'Witch-finders!'. It's a book, not the back of a lollypop stick, people! There's more to it than you'd like to see in it.

Posted by: Alex Fradera | Jun 5, 2005 5:42:50 AM


Posted by: Larry

Steve Horwitz: But Marx's own vision was one of participatory unity where, absent the artificial divisions created by capitalism, people would rationally come to recognize what needed to be done and would agree on the best ways to do it, without the need for either alienating exchange (which can only establish this, at best, ex post) or coercion. Would there be force in the transition to pure communism? Perhaps, but the system itself transcended our notions of "voluntary" and "coerced." Even the force Marx might have condoned in the transition would not have produced anything like the USSR.

Of course, when people finally got around to "the transition", it wasn't just the USSR that quickly turned into nightmare -- neither Mao's China, nor Pol Pot's Cambodia, nor a host of lesser would-be utopias could seem to get that "participatory unity" quite right. As someone who -- and this is a confession -- once thought of himself as a Marxist, or at least Marxian, I read a passage like the above with the sort of wincing bemusement that people experience when looking at faded pictures of themselves in paisley and bell bottoms. "... the system itself transcended our notions of 'voluntary' and 'coerced'" -- yeah, far out man. I think (now) that it transcended a lot more than that -- I think it transcended heaven and earth altogether, and left reality for never-never land.

Posted by: Larry | Jun 5, 2005 12:07:19 PM


Posted by: Mona

LPFabulous writes: Look, we can all agree that Darwin and Kinsey are probably not great poster children for the evils some ideas can wreak upon the world.

I would not be among those agreeing. Kinsey greatly contributed to the erosion of a sexual morality that protects children. Teenaged pregnancy has been disastrous for the lower classes especially, and even the well-to-do harm their children by casual attitudes toward adultery and divorce.

Kinsey was a nut. He enjoyed suspending himself from rope tied to his scrotum -- which on at least one occasion landed him in the hospital. He gave himself pelvic inflammatory disease because he could not refrain from inserting foreign objects into his member. In his magnum opus on male sexuality, 20-25% of his interviews were prisoners, many doing time for sex crimes; yet Kinsey presented his results as a pastiche of the average American male. He kept secret the identity of pedophiles so as to be able to take ongoing reports of their sexual activities, and the purported pleasure the tots were experiencing. (Some have argued Kinsey himself was a pedophile, but the evidence for that is ambiguous.)

Kinsey was sexually depraved, and published hopelessly flawed data meant to convince the rest of us that outré sexual activities and appetites such as his were the norm. A lot of "Progressives" bought it, and touted Kinsey's "findings" as proof for the worthlessness of traditional sexual morality.

I don't believe in any god, and don't think the morality our pre-60s culture received was given by any deity. But I do think it had been selected for in the Darwinian sense, and was largely healthy for society. Every culture develops sexual norms because they are necessary, and ours have largely been destroyed. Kinsey and his depraved lies harmed several generations of children, and continue to do so.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 5, 2005 2:30:26 PM


Posted by: Steve Horwitz

Larry - I completely agree with your "wincing bemusement" at my characterization of Marx(ism). More power to me as an "intellectual actor" if you thought I was not only reporting Marx's position but my own as well. The flaws in Marx's argument are, I think, more subtle than they are often rendered, but the utopianism, in the worst sense, of the argument remains.

Posted by: Steve Horwitz | Jun 5, 2005 4:32:43 PM


Posted by: Larry

More power to me as an "intellectual actor" if you thought I was not only reporting Marx's position but my own as well.

Steve:
Without wanting to diminish your abilities as an intellectual actor at all, I think I understood that you were summarizing Marx, not espousing him. My reaction was, as I say, more a wince than a criticism. And you make a good point about the subtleties of Marx's flaws.

Posted by: Larry | Jun 5, 2005 9:33:00 PM


Posted by: AAF

LPFabulous writes: "What's worse is that Human Events knows there's no defense of that book and the people who picked it can now sit back and watch the leftist intelligentsia scramble around defending Hitler. That's what I call genius. They know that every time a Michigan professor opens his mouth, he promptly inserts his foot. Now we just all get to sit back and enjoy the show."

I agree, though so far only DH, and no other member of the "leftist intelligentsia," has been doing anything that could even arguably be construed as defending Hitler.

I think his post is distressing because in a post that is prominently about Mein Kampf, he says only 4 things about it:

(1) He offers a quote that makes Hitler sound reasonable.

(2) He says it's "ludicrous to imagine" that Mein Kampf was a "blueprint" for bad things.

(3) He encourages everyone to read Mein Kampf.

(4) He takes "some small consolation" in knowing that in a hundred years people will still know Mein Kampf.

The only thing he says that could even be construed as a criticism of Mein Kampf is to acknowledge that the quotations were "embarrassingly selective." To be charitable, in spite of his denial that Mein Kampf was a blueprint for evil, he does acknowledge that Nazi Germany was an "appalling place."

(You can repeat the foregoing list for Mao and, subject to the discussion of whether it's Marx himself or Lenin & Stalin that should be pilloried, for Marx's works).

To be absolutely clear on one thing: I am not accusing DH, nor do I suspect DH, of being in any way a closet Nazi sympathiser or apologist. Rather, I think that his post, in trying to make a point about (I think) censorship, ends up coming across exactly as LPFabulous describes it.

I think he's substantively wrong about whether or not books can be harmful -- I think he's wrong (or unclear) to the point of sounding a bit silly. But more so, it's hard enough being attacked by right-wingers accusing liberals of being apologists for evil and moral equivalizers without having a self-described liberal prof at a major university leading a post with quotes designed to make Hitler and Mao look reasonable.

Clarification would be welcome.

Posted by: AAF | Jun 6, 2005 12:19:54 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Okay, here goes.

As a general matter, it's very hard to imagine particular books as blueprints for large-scale social and political developments. That's a general point, not a point about Mein Kampf. So The Wealth of Nations was not a blueprint for capitalism, even though Straussian political theorist Joseph Cropsey once described Smith as "the architect of modern capitalism." This is wholly compatible with saying that books and ideas matter: they sure do. Had Smith died of the flu at age three, the world would be different in respects we simply cannot determine. Had Hitler died of the flu at age three, ditto. Rejection of the blueprint theory of books is also compatible with saying the world would be a better place if the Third Reich had never happened: that's a painfully easy call.

I was ridiculing the Human Events roster of harmful books in part because of its having no criteria for "harmful." As a result, the list is an odd mix of "books that caused bad things," "books that exemplify bad things" (Mao's little red book must be there to remind us that PRC was ghastly, not because even fans of the blueprint theory imagine that it caused much of anything), "books that I plain dislike," "books that liberals seem to like," and God knows what else. So it descends to pure right-wing emotivism: "books that make folks like us say yecch!" That's all Hitler, Dewey, and Friedan could conceivably have in common -- and it's virtually nothing. The project of asking mostly academic judges to assemble a yecch! list struck -- and strikes -- me as absolutely ludicrous. So I decided to mock it, in ironic ways, to invite readers to think about what the hell was going on here without sounding like my usual boring pedantic professorial self. And then of course if one writes at all ironically one risks all kinds of readings and misreadings.

One reads books for many reasons, not only to adopt the ideas in them. I have never been able to get all the way through Mein Kampf -- parts are repulsive, parts are hysterical, parts are boring, and so on. But I am glad I read the parts I did, because they gave me some insight into Hitler. As someone who studies politics, and who thinks damage control is an admirable political enterprise -- much of the liberal tradition is about avoiding political disasters, not realizing great ends -- I can't afford to keep my hands dainty and clean by reading only authors with commendable ideas. And so I meant it when I said that it would be better to read Hitler than the latest shrill conservative bestsellers that Human Events is pushing. And I meant it when I said you could link them to Hitler's discussion of political propaganda. Want to know why Ann Coulter and Michael Moore say the kinds of things they do in the kind of tone they do? Want to know why they're politically influential? Want to situate them in a social-theoretic or historical context? Then Mein Kampf is a good source to have under your belt. No, I don't suppose that Coulter or Moore learned their art at Hitler's knees. And since tiresome literalism seems to be the order of the day in AAF's "Clarification would be welcome," no, no, no, neither Coulter nor Moore is a fascist.

I never use "fascist" as a pejorative for any wing of the Republican Party, and I come down like a ton of bricks on those who do, precisely because I think that label should have some specific political content and not just be a throwaway pejorative for "someone to the right of me I disapprove of." And I do hope people know Mein Kampf 100 years from now, because I hope against all odds that we literally never forget the Holocaust.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 6, 2005 2:58:38 PM


Posted by: Mona

Don writes: "books that make folks like us say yecch!" That's all Hitler, Dewey, and Friedan could conceivably have in common -- and it's virtually nothing.

Well, usually when one throws Hitler in with others, one is begging an audience to suspend critical thought. However, Hitler wrote a book and implemented it with those who agreed with his vision. His thoughts had very significant and extraordinarily harmful consequences.

Few people can rival Hitler for horror, but certainly others are capable of promoting ideas that are less heinous in their consequences but still harmful. Human Events is arguing that Friedan and Dewey's works also had significant and harmful consequences (and I do not entirely sign onto this diagnosis as to those two). That is, they and the ideas in their books have harmful consequences in common w/ Hitler, and not merely a "yeccch" factor.

Seems to me this is a project worthy of academics, even if I might not agree with all the criteria (whatever those might be) and designations of whose book is/was harmful.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 6, 2005 4:40:13 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Mona, we have no idea what Human Events is arguing, because as far as I can tell, all they did was say to their panel, nominate and then vote on candidates for harmful books. If they hummed even a few bars about what they meant by "harmful," they sure haven't published that. The bizarrely motley assortment of texts that surfaced might of course testify to nothing but different panelists' estimation of what was harmful on a given concrete account of "harmful." But more likely, I think, is that they were left to treat "harmful" itself however they liked.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 6, 2005 4:47:19 PM


Posted by: Mona

Don, obviously this was more a PR stunt than a serious scholarly undertaking. I mean, they included Phyllis Schlafly on the panel of judges, fer cripes sake. But it doesn't seem much of a leap to figure harmful = "hurt a lot of people."


The idea of books and ideas being harmful is a good candidate for discussion, and Human Events did generate a lot of that. This blog, and Hit 'n Run over at Reason are just two who took the stunt as a launching pad to discuss the issue.

So, even tho I disagree with some of the panel's choices, I appreciate that they began the conversation.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 6, 2005 5:24:18 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

One last stab on this: any list on which we are supposed to nod solemnly and say, yes, Hitler's book is responsible for the Third Reich and Dewey's book is responsible for the new math, those were both harmful -- that's a list of serious moral and political idiocy. Or blindness.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 6, 2005 6:22:41 PM


Posted by: AAF

I apologize for any tiresome literalism I may have perpetrated.

Posted by: AAF | Jun 6, 2005 6:31:12 PM


Posted by: Larry

Don Herzog: any list on which we are supposed to nod solemnly and say, yes, Hitler's book is responsible for the Third Reich and Dewey's book is responsible for the new math, those were both harmful -- that's a list of serious moral and political idiocy. Or blindness.

Oh, lighten up -- it's a list, for gods' sake! (Oh, I forgot -- it was on a conservative website.)

Posted by: Larry | Jun 6, 2005 8:27:28 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Gosh, Larry, I tried the lightened up approach in my initial post, and you announced I was a troll, and LPF announced I was a permanently idiotic Nazi, and AAF called me out to explain myself. So now I'm explaining myself -- and you assure me that I should lighten up again. What's a poor blogger to do?

As to your recurrent thought that I am the sort of mindless partisan who takes swipes at conservatives, maybe I should remind you that I recently denounced the University of Oregon's draft policy on diversity, which, um, didn't look all that conservative.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 6, 2005 8:41:14 PM


Posted by: Larry

Don: Gosh, Larry, I tried the lightened up approach in my initial post, and you announced I was a troll

Well, I can't speak for LPF or AAF, but I thought a hallmark of the troll was pointless provocation, which seems consistent with labelling a simple list of bad books an indication of "serious moral and political idiocy. Or blindness." (What happened to evil?)

maybe I should remind you that I recently denounced the University of Oregon's draft policy on diversity, which, um, didn't look all that conservative.

Okay, good point. The point is dulled just a tad when it's used to ward off being called on taking obviously partisan swipes, but still, a good point.

Posted by: Larry | Jun 6, 2005 10:06:24 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I suppose I’d be happier if I saw Mr. Herzog lampooning the absurdities of the left nearly as often as I’ve seen him set his sights on the absurdities of the right, but I don’t think that counts as much evidence of partisanship. As a fairly consistent critic of both the left and the right, not to mention someone whose attempts at irony are often misread, I sympathize with some of his “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” lament at this point.

Thus, if I were to fault Mr. Herzog at all here, it would be in my continued suspicion that he has been, as it were, duped into taking the Human Events list far more seriously than it merits even as the target of ironic criticism. Perhaps it is the bane of those who think for a living that they must struggle constantly to accept how little of what passes for contemporary punditry and advocacy journalism has even a nodding acquaintance with reason or reflection. Human Events, like The Nation or Reason, is in the business of axe grinding and, derivatively, attracting readership. No definition of “harmful” was required for either objective here. Harmful just meant, as Mona noted, well, um ... harmful.

Mind you, I have nothing against axe grinding. I’ve been known to grind a few, myself, despite the general consensus that I shouldn’t be allowed to play with sharp objects. But I think it’s time to let Human Events go back to grinding this one in the obscurity it so richly deserves.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 6, 2005 10:59:41 PM


Posted by: roger

Those books that have the greatest influence have the most potential for harm, it seems to me. So that Das Kapital and the Bible would definitely make the list -- both were read as warrants for genocide. You cannot find a bloodier mess than the Taiping Rebellion, which gets the Bible well in the door.And in fact it was genuinely inspired by the reading the bible, rather than assuming the Bible as a symbol. How many is that, 10 million? And then there is the scramble for Africa, bible justified, which gets you King Leopold's millions. As for Mill, I'd make it Adam Smith instead -- the warrant for terror famines in Ireland and India. Of course, this is about influence in the 19th and 20th century. Smith and the Bible thus have honorable entry.

Of course, these books are also some of the great books of Western Civ, which has alternated between bloodiness and the Civ part in its random walk. Marx was a great influence for the good in Western countries -- the person who more than any other gave a systematic sense to the exploitative character of capitalism, which has been infinitely useful. Certain of the books on the list actually produced unadulterated good - Darwin, Kinsey, Betty Friedan, Keynes. Although among them, I'd say Darwin's and Keynes' are the only great books.

Posted by: roger | Jun 6, 2005 11:13:36 PM


Posted by: Anthony Argyriou

Roger, you fail to understand the history of either capitalism or of the famines in India and Ireland. The famines in Ireland were a failure not of capitalism, but of the feudal system that the English imposed over Ireland in its long and sorry history. Allowing the landed gentry access to markets foreign and domestic, while not allowing the Irish peasantry the same access, created the conditions which led to the famines. In India, I don't know if the British deliberately used famine as a tool of policy, though the feudal-like relations which existed in India, and which the British used for political purposes, certainly made those famines which did occur worse than they would have been.

Feudal economic relations and the virtual slavery of the Irish and Indian peasants under English rule are not capitalist, and are certainly not what Adam Smith argued for.

Posted by: Anthony Argyriou | Jun 13, 2005 2:04:29 AM


The comments to this entry are closed.

« previous post | Main | next post »