The editors at the Right Wing magazine Human Events have put together a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
And if by harmful they mean books that helped bring in to power evil dictatorships that embarked on programs of mass murder, terror, and genocide, then it's hard to argue with their choices for two of their first three books on the list, Mein Kampf and Quotations From Chairman Mao...except that neither book was harmful in and of itself.
Mein Kampf is only better known than other anti-semitic rants of the late 19th and 20th Century---and there were almost as many of those published in Europe then as there are self-help books published in America today---because its author was able to put the ideas in the book into practice himself, through physical violence and thuggery, not by having persuaded anybody by the force of his writing.
Unless you believe that if Hitler hadn't read his own book he'd have remained a painter of sentimental landscapes and maybe found a way to have that career as an architect he dreamed of.
Similarly, Mao's little red book's influence was due to its author having an army and a network of secret police to help him convince people to read it and obey its precepts.
What made both books matter isn't what the authors wrote, it's what they could do to you if you disagreed with what they wrote.
The harmful influences of the first and sixth books, The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, really are attributable to the ideas contained in them, although it's hardly Marx's fault that Lenin and his followers and successors deliberately misinterpreted and misapplied his thinking and misrepresented what was in his books to intimidate and control the people who became their subjects.
The editors write, "The Evil Empire of the Soviet Union put the Manifesto into practice."
Well, that's what the Communists said they were doing.
And if misinterpretations, misapplications, and misrepresentations of a book's contents are the fault of the book and the author, then the Bible is the most destructive book in history and God an intellectual criminal.
(There's no point in bothering with another widely misunderstood book, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Sweat shops, child labor, defaulted pension plans, striking workers murdered by company goons---it's too obvious.
That's not why the compliers of this lift left Smith's masterwork off their list, of course.)
Any attempt to make a list like this is intellectually discredited by the inclusion of Hitler and Mao, for the reasons I said, neither book had any influence in of themselves, they were merely expressions of their authors' will to power, and the destructiveness associated with them was committed directly by the authors and would have happened whether or not Hitler or Mao took time off from their marches to power to write them.
Leading off with Mein Kampf and the little red book limits your list too.
How many such books have been written in all of history, nevermind just the 19th and 20th Centuries?
I don't think Pol Pot or Attilla the Hun published much.
Off the top of my head, then, I can only come up with some tracts by Savanarola and, maybe, Caesar's Gaul, although his book's influence was like that of a contemporary campaign biography and is besides the point in any evaluation of Caesar as a tyrant. Plus, he didn't rule long enough to get a good start on a career as a mass murderer. Nero and Caligula would fit the bill better, but as far as I know neither one wrote a book. Or read one.
I can't even include The Prince, since Machiavelli never wielded any power himself, either directly or as the right hand man to any powerful despot and mass murderer, and The Prince is more like a work by Freud, an insightful description of human nature at work in particular ways. My guess is that very few truly Machiavellian politicians ever made a study of Machiavelli.
But an intellectually serious list of destructive books would probably have to include it.
This is not an intellectually serious list.
Beginning with Hitler and Mao makes any other book on the list guilty by association, which is the point.
You can guess what the editors are up to when you see what book ranks fourth on their list, ahead of Das Kapital.
The Kinsey Report.
You won't be surprised to find out that just about every other book on the list and all the runners up---the dishonorable mentions---are books that are either important to Liberals or written by Liberals.
Or to put it in another, probably more accurate way, all the other books are books absolutely despised by conservatives.
The books' harmful influences have been in their contributions to thwarting the power and influence of conservatives.
I would actually like to read a list that was honestly about that. What books do conservatives think best refute their own arguments? I would like to see a Liberal counterpart to that list too.
This is not an honest list. It is a not particularly subtle attempt at progaganda and indoctrination.
It's a list of books that the editors want people to recoil from in horror. Look at all these books that Liberals love that are as evil as the stuff Hitler and Mao Zedong wrote!
Implicit in that is that the other books on the list killed lots of people, that's how bad they are.
The Kinsey Report? "The reports were designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy," the editors explain. In other words, The Kinsey Report invented homosexuality and the homos caused AIDS. Before Alfred Kinsey there were no gay men, only a few scoutmasters, lonely sailors, prep school circle jerkers, and considerate husbands who went cruising because they wouldn't dream of insulting their wives by asking them for a blow job.
Democracy in Education by John Dewey, which the editors also rank as more harmful than Das Kapital? "[Dewey's] views had great influence on the direction of American education--particularly in public schools--and helped nurture the Clinton generation." And you remember all the millions who died as a result of Monica Lewinsky's cigar.
George Bush is a member of the Clinton Generation, but fortunately he went to private schools, which did such a better job of educating him.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan comes in at number 7. You don't need this spelled out for you, do you? Friedan=Feminism=Women having jobs and sex=lesbianism and castrated men and lots of abortions.
Beyond Good and Evil is Number 9. "The Nazis loved Nietzsche." They also loved beer, tuba music, robust blond women in pigtails, and little cars with their engines in the back, none of which are mentioned in Beyond Good and Evil. I suppose that makes drinkers of Michelob and drivers of Volkswagens evil too.
Number 10 is The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard Keynes. The editors hate Keynes' approval of taxes and deficits and don't seem aware that both of those helped the United States defeat the author of book number 2.
The list is easy to make fun of. After looking it over and figuring out the thinking that might have gotten each book placed on it, you have to wonder why Dickens' A Christmas Carol (Teaches that greed is bad and a rich man will have a harder time getting into heaven than a camel does squirming through the eye of a needle. Where did Dickens come up with such perverse and subversive ideas?), Uncle Tom's Cabin (caused the Civil War), Alice in Wonderland (encourages drug abuse---Drink Me---and pedophilia), and Make Way for Ducklings (Mrs Mallard is shown taking care of her family without any help from her absent husband, teaching children that single motherhood is ok) aren't included.
Among the runners up are Darwin's Origin of the Species and The Descent of Man, Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa (girls having sex), Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed, because getting the Corvair off the road killed so many people, and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.
Silent Spring is being equated with Mein Kampf not because any case can be made that by helping to bring about the banning of DDT Carson caused mass starvation all across the Third World but simply to equate it with Mein Kampf and indentify it as a work of evil in the minds of conservative readers who might otherwise be tempted to read it and get ideas.
There are three reasons for creating this list.
The first is to get publicity by stirring up controversy. The editors hoped to incite a lot of op-ed pieces and blog posts (You mean like this one, Lance?) that would drive readers and traffic their way.
The second is the Right Wingers' daily chore of demonizing Liberals and Liberalism. Got to keep the base angry and motivated. Got to convince more people that Liberals---by which they mean you too, Libertarians and insufficiently conservative Republicans----aren't truly citizens of the United States. We're traitors trying to corrupt the young, sell Real Americans out to the terrorists, and, worst of all, reduce straight white male Real Americans to the level of brown and black men and, gasp, women!
But the third is to create a Right Wing Index, like the old Catholic Church's Index of forbidden books.
All of the books on the list routinely appear on high school and college reading lists. Young conservatives who have read Human Events and accepted the editors' judgment that these books are all as evil as Mein Kampf will of course object strenuously when they look over a syllabus and see they are expected to read On Liberty or Madness and Civilization.
That those kids will raise a fuss and in the process either intimidate their school's administration or scare teachers into censoring themselves is, of course, a goal. But it's also a goal to make sure that these kids don't read these books or at any rate don't read them with open minds.
This is meant to be a list of books no decent conservative would read if he values his immortal soul and, more important, his good standing among his fellow conservatives.
In another post I wrote that, whatever claims they make about the moral relativism of the Left, the Right Wingers are the true relativists. I meant that in their thinking all morality is relative to its effect on their progress toward wealth, status, and power. Which is to say they are completely amoral.
There is not a sin or a crime they will not commit in their drive toward power. There is not a sin or a crime they will not excuse nor forgive as long as it is done by one of their own.
There is only one way in which they are as absolutist as they see themselves described in Obi wan's statement that only the Sith think in absolutes---You are either with them or you are their enemy.
They aren't talking to us Liberals, folks. They are talking to you, their supposedly fellow conservavites.
This list is an attempt at mind-control.
It is part of a larger process of keeping you semi-literate, half-educated, and ignorant of any ideas that your leaders don't feed to you on a spoon.
They want you dumb, friends.
Dumb and obedient.
(GMTA update: I keep reminding myself to check to see what Shakespeare's Sister has to say before I write a post because whatever's on my mind she's usually got to first. Didn't remember to do it this time. Sure enough, the little blogging dervish has beat me to the punch.
This morning I wrote that this list is an attempt at mind-control, part of a larger process of keeping young conservatives semi-literate, half-educated, and ignorant of any ideas that their leaders don't spoonfeed them.
Yesterday Shakespeare's Sister wrote that the list is "basically all the books that if an ignorant, conservative, red state halfwit actually read might turn them into a liberal."
She also has a few things to say about the list's editors' somewhat blase attitude towards Mein Kampf. And it's true, they do seem more worked up about Betty Friedan than they do about Adolph Hitler. Go read her post.)