Monday, June 06, 2005

Damaging Books?

While perusing the various conservative magazines online recently, I came upon a disturbing article in the archconservative weekly Human Events entitled “Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries”. The lead paragraph explains:

“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.”

All the predictable villains are there, plus a few surprises:

1. The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels
2. Mein Kampf - Adolf Hitler
3. Quotations from Chairman Mao - Mao Zedong
4. The Kinsey Report - Alfred Kinsey
5. Democracy and Education - John Dewey
6. Das Kapital - Karl Marx
7. The Feminine Mystique - Betty Friedan
8. The Course of Positive Philosophy - Auguste Comte
9. Beyond Good and Evil - Freidrich Nietzsche
10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money - John Maynard Keynes

Honorable Mentions

The Population Bomb - Paul Ehrlich
What Is To Be Done - V.I. Lenin
Authoritarian Personality - Theodor Adorno
On Liberty - John Stuart Mill
Beyond Freedom and Dignity - B.F. Skinner
Reflections on Violence - Georges Sorel
The Promise of American Life - Herbert Croly
Origin of the Species - Charles Darwin
Madness and Civilization - Michel Foucault
Soviet Communism: A New Civilization - Sidney and Beatrice Webb
Coming of Age in Samoa - Margaret Mead
Unsafe at Any Speed - Ralph Nader
Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir
Prison Notebooks - Antonio Gramsci
Silent Spring - Rachel Carson
Wretched of the Earth - Frantz Fanon
Introduction to Psychoanalysis - Sigmund Freud
The Greening of America - Charles Reich
The Limits to Growth - Club of Rome
Descent of Man - Charles Darwin

The question I have is, just exactly what is the purpose of such a list?
To be fair, I suppose you could find similar lists among those publications tilting to the extreme left, but as yet, I haven’t found them. But, orthodoxy is orthodoxy no matter what flavor it comes in. While Human Events holds back from telling its readers not to read these “evil” books, the implication is clear; books will damage you.

This is the fundamentalist mindset in a nutshell whether it is the variety that springs from the right or left, or the religious or non-religious. “We don’t like ideas that are different than ours,” therefore a list must be compiled. And, as it is too often the case in history, the list becomes a bonfire. Ideas, and after all, what are books but ideas in a portable form, are dangerous and must kept away from the true believers – whatever that belief may be.


Hitler Youth burning "un-German" books in 1933 Posted by Hello

Over the years I have read a fair number of the books listed above. And yet, I became neither a Stalinist nor Maoist nor Nazi. In fact, it was from reading such books that I learned to reject what Orwell labeled “smelly little orthodoxies”. A critical mind must.

In fact it was a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, during the height of the cold war era, who spoke most eloquently about the need for a liberal democratic society to maintain the free exchange of ideas:

“Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

How will we defeat communism unless we know what it is, what it teaches, and why does it have such an appeal for men, why are so many people swearing allegiance to it? It's almost a religion, albeit one of the nether regions.

And we have got to fight it with something better, not try to conceal the thinking of our own people. They are part of America. And even if they think ideas that are contrary to ours, their right to say them, their right to record them, and their right to have them at places where they're accessible to others is unquestioned, or it's not America.”

Dartmouth College Commencement, June 14, 1953

I wonder if the editors of Human Events ever considered that they might have caused more damage than their intended targets?

20 Comments:

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Just as guns don't kill, just the people that pull the trigger kill; the books are not the problem, the weak minds that are easily swayed and manipulated by propaganda are the issue.

 
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That is the most absurd list I've ever seen.

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