It’s A Wonderful Day for An Auto-Da-Fe (6/5/05)

December 26, 2006

Put on your best white sheets and click over to Human Events Online, where the good ol’ boys of “the national conservative weekly” have posted their nominations for the “Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries” — a prelude, no doubt, to a good old fashioned book-burnin’ party.

Here’s the list, chosen for you by such intellectual lumninaries as Phyllis Schlafly:

1. The Communist Manifesto — Karl Marx
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 — 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

Frankly, I find the list’s denunciations of books 1, 2, 3 and 6 to be rather pro forma — I suspect they were chosen mainly to provide nasty comparisons with books 4, 5, 7, 8, 9 and 10, which is where the list’s authors let their wrath burn most brightly. It does allow the list to end on a note of hilarity with this attack on book 10, which they call “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.”

How profound! The current Republican president takes the budget surplus generated by his Democratic predecessor and turns in into a black hole of debt that threatens to engulf America’s economy — and it’s all FDR’s fault!

At the site, you’ll see that the runner-up list includes Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Sadly, there’s nothing to explain why they didn’t rank as high as the Kinsey report (4). The inclusion of Kinsey shows us once again the conservative propensity for magic thinking: by giving the world straight data on what people actually did (and do) in the bedroom, Kinsey didn’t provide useful information — he enabled “the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy.” I expect Darwin made the list for a similar offense — wingers and creationists are already on record accusing evolutionary theory of promoting everything from higher crime rates to homosexuality.

Reading this list, one must conclude that (a) these jokers need to read more books, and (b) they especially need to read more conservative books, just to spare themselves some unflattering comparisons.

For one thing, the Nazi stance on the role of women in society — “kinder, kirche, kuche” (“children, church, kitchen”) — dovetails pretty neatly with the ideas of a great many conservative figures (witness the inclusion of Betty Friedan on the blacklist), and when we learn that Hitler dismissed women from all medical, government and legal posts, all the while offering tax breaks and maternity benefits to those who married and devoted themselves exclusively to child-rearing, we can only wonder why Bush hasn’t introduced the idea yet. Or was he leaving that policy proposal to Bill Frist?

After all, no less a conservative luminary than Pat Buchanan argues (in his book A Republic, Not An Empire) that the United States should have stayed out of World War II, that Nazi Germany was no threat to us and if our staying on the sidelines let all the other bad stuff continue — you know, the Holocaust, whole populations annihilated, that kind of thing — then that’s the way the cookie crumbles, or should have crumbled. So if the Human Events Online crowd has a problem with the Nazis, don’t bug us liberals — our forbears were warning people about those monsters even as conservatives of the period advocated hanging back and letting Hitler do the work of crushing Bolshevism. Go take it up with Pat.

The Human Events crowd gets into trouble again further down the list with another Nazi reference, this time with Book 9. “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.”

Beg your pardon, folks, but if that paragraph doesn’t sum up the neoconservative approach to dealing with the rest of the world, then nothing does. Ron Suskind entered the history books when he reported how a member of the Bush administration dismissed questioners and critics as “the reality-based community.” By virtue of its power, the functionary declared, the United States could and would make its own reality. That’s the will to power at its most nakedly predatory, and instead of criticizing Nietzsche, Human Events Online should acknowledge him as a conservative prophet. Same goes for Mao Zedong: “Power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” the most famous aphorism from No. 3 on the Human Events hit parade, is the thinking underlying every conservative pronouncement about America’s status as a “hyperpower” that can do whatever it wishes.

Far more offensive to these moral clarity types, I expect, is Nietzsche’s unyielding iconoclasm. He called himself “a man who wishes nothing more than daily to lose some reassuring belief, who seeks and finds his happiness in this daily greater liberation of the mind. It may be that I want to be even more of a freethinker than I can be.” For the type of conservative who expects to be swaddled and cocooned against uncertainty, Nietzsche’s works are the very stuff of nightmare.

As a parting shot, the listmakers offer this: “The Nazis loved Nietzsche.” This wheezy slander is where the pseudo-scholars lose their training wheels and crash into the rose bushes. Listen closely, children: The Nazis loved Richard Wagner, not Nietzsche. Nietzsche was a close friend of Wagner until the composer’s extreme German nationalism and hatred for Jews prompted a very public breaking away that culminated in 1878. Nietzsche even lambasted his own sister for marrying a Jew-hater: “One of the greatest stupidities you have committed — for yourself and for me!” he wrote in 1887. “[Y]our association with an anti-semitic chief expresses a foreignness to my whole way of life which fills me ever again with ire and melancholy.”

In the interests of promoting further learned discussion, I will offer my own list of the 10 most harmful books tomorrow. I won’t be restricting myself to a mere two centuries, either — The Opinion Mill finds gets its grist from a wide range of sources.

Other bloggers, notably Kevin Drum, have tried their hands at this as well, and I’ll be commenting where appropriate.

See you tomorrow.

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One Response to “It’s A Wonderful Day for An Auto-Da-Fe (6/5/05)”


  1. […] 22nd, 2007 A couple of years ago, when wingers at Human Events Online published their preposterous list of “The 10 Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries,” I was a little puzzled to see that Rachel Carson’s seminal environmental work Silent Spring […]


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