The Blighted Bookshelf, or, The Ten Most Damaging Winger Books of All Time (6/7/05)

December 26, 2006

Good morning, class. Yesterday we talked about the list of dangerous books compiled by the little orcs at Human Events Online, which asked you to believe that Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and Rachel Carson’s early warning about the dangers of runaway pollution deserved to be ranked with Mein Kampf and Chairman Mao’s little red book. (It also expected you to believe that Phyllis Schlafly devotes evenings to getting her brain around Comte’s The Course of Positive Philosophy, but that’s another diatribe.)

As promised, here is The Opinion Mill’s own bibliography of blight, compiled with an eye to acknowledging those books that have done the most damage. Some, in fact, are still warping impressionable young minds. Where is the outrage? What will we tell the children?

THE THREATENING STORM, by Kenneth M. Pollack
Talk about a short shelf life! I’ve had cartons of milk that held up longer than this 2002 tome, a big favorite with Iraq war-whores during the chest-thumping, Winston Churchill- and Teddy Roosevelt-quoting phase of the run-up to the invasion, when Fox News went into full Leni Riefenstahl mode and Andrew Sullivan warned that if those mewling liberal critics didn’t knock off their anti-war carping he was going to come storming out of his Provincetown hammock and scratch their eyes out. Pollack wasn’t the only one helping tool up the war machine, but he did more than most to help grease the skids for the disaster now unfolding. Page after page of alarming news about Iraq’s rapidly expanding biological weapons programs, the fact that nuclear weapons were almost within Saddam’s grasp, the threat Saddam posed to the entire world . . . Yo, Kenneth! When’s the revised edition coming out? Kenneth? KENNETH?

DOUBLE STANDARDS, by Jeane Kirkpatrick

The title essay, which won Kirkpatrick the post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Reagan, put a fresh coat of paint on the old argument that propping up corrupt dictatorships in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East was necessary for the greater purpose of opposing the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism. Kirkpatrick’s version — which helped end Jimmy Carter’s tentative gestures toward a foreign policy informed by morality and ethics rather than just bloody-handed realpolitik — turned on the distinction between the “totalitarianism” of the Soviets versus the “authoritarianism” of Somoza (who had recently been overthrown by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua) and the Shah (who had just been run out of Iran by the Ayatollah Khomenei). Totalitarian regimes like the Soviets and the Chinese exerted top-to-bottom control over their societies and were thus immune to argument or change; authoritarian regimes were more amenable to change and could be brought around to democracy if given the right incentives; therefore, odious but pro-U.S. authoritarian rulers in Honduras, Guatemala and Iraq deserved our help in facing down challenges from the totalitarians of Managua, Moscow and Tehran. Since this book was published, the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc voted itself out of existence, while the Chinese have morphed into venture capitalists with a taste for crushing political dissent. Meanwhile, we have fought two wars with that pro-U.S. authoritarian ruler in Baghdad, undercut the Iranian reform movement with dumb grandstanding, and allowed the authoritarian regime in Pakistan to play us like a hooked trout as it pretends to beat the bushes for Osama bin Laden.

DARWIN’S BLACK BOX, by Michael Behe
The opening salvo in the barrage of lawyer’s tricks, three-card-monte arguments and willful ignorance that we now know as the “intelligent design” movement, which would open science textbooks to the argument that life is so complicated, it must have all happened by magic.

THE TURNER DIARIES, by “Andrew MacDonald”
Virtually unreadable for anyone with an education that rises above the fifth-grade level, this bloodthirsty chronicle of a global race war and the extermination of all Jewish and non-white races remains the favorite coffee table book in the bunkers of the white suprtemacist movement. An inspiration to Timothy McVeigh and white racist killers everywhere.

OF A CONSERVATIVE, by Barry Goldwater

Goldwater’s manifesto established him as the John Paul Jones of conservatism: even as his presidential campaign against Lyndon Johnson sank without a ripple, the lifeboats were full of eager young wingers crying “We have not yet begun to fight!” Or, to put it in Goldwater’s own words — ghosted for him by a member of the alarming Bozell clan — “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” To his credit, Goldwater himself seemed genuinely dismayed by some of the troglodytes he helped unleash upon America, and even people who despised his politics were heartened when, at the height of the Reagan era, he announced that it was the duty of every good American to kick Jerry Falwell in the ass. But he helped midwife our current predicament, and for that he gets top dishonors.

Founding document of the Order of the Invisible Hand, an influential cult that frequently operates in concert with the Laissez-Unfair League, the Club For Lobbyist Checkbook Growth and a shadowy gangster organization, loosely known as The Chicago Boys, that routinely dumps its victims at Laffer’s Curve. Many conservative economists and pundits claim to have read this book, which posits that wholly unregulated marketplaces are the most efficient means of ensuring that people with lots of money will get even more. Smith’s image of an “invisible hand” that restores equilibrium to the marketplace, once it has finished slapping the hell out of anyone with a yearly income below six figures, is popular with people whose yearly incomes are at or above six figures.

A seminal tract in the founding of fundie nation and the rise of the Rapture Right. An adept businessman as well as a religious crank, Lindsey knows that when his latest prophecy of the world’s end evaporates, it’s not time to go into hiding — it’s time to publish another book that moves the date ahead a decade or so.

FREE TO CHOOSE, by Milton and Rose Friedman
Milton Friedman is to libertarian economists what Hal Lindsey is to snake-handlers, and while he makes the same arguments for unfettered predatory capitalism in other books, this one makes the list for accessibility — it provded the basis for a television series on that cesspool of liberal bias, PBS. Developing economies around the world have sustained long-term damage under the ministrations of advisors schooled in the views of Friedman.

UP FROM LIBERALISM, by William F. Buckley, Jr.
An early manifesto from the founder of National Review — the man most responsible for leading American conservatives out of the wilderness of anti-flouridation crusades and into respectability and power. Think of him as the Saruman of punditry, speaking sweet reason in plummy tones while the caverns beneath his feet disgorge an endless horde of snarling, mud-spattered monsters. Thanks to the conservative penchant for cutting funds to educational programs, Buckley’s sesquipedalian prose is now incomprehensible to most conservatives. Nevertheless, this book launched his career as the attractive and witty public face of an unattractive and witless movement. A poison bon-bon.

And the all-time champ . . .


This 19th century czarist forgery, which purports to be the details of a Jewish plot for world domination, is probably the most durable piece of hate literature in history, defying all attempts to diminish or negate its poisonous effects. It has inspired pogroms, terrorist attacks and continent-wide extermination campaigns, making it one of the single deadliest pieces of writing ever set to paper. A big favorite with white supremacist groups and militias as well as other cranks on the far-right fringes of politics.

And these also-rans:

by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray

Two members of the demographic group that consistently scores the highest on IQ tests posit the IQ test as the predictor of fate and the gauge of future success. The argument’s roots in eugenics and even less savory notions of racial superiority lie exposed, even as the authors try to keep them covered with footnotes. Consult Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man for an intellectual history of this branch of pseudoscience.

WILL, by G. Gordon Liddy
Unintentionally comic autobiography, written by a middle-aged dork, recalling his days as a young dork who set out to transform himself into the spitting image of the bullies who snapped towels at his butt. Introduced Rattus norvegicus as a key item in conservative cuisine. Harmless stuff, really, since Liddy’s tough-guy posturing evaporates even as you read it. Still has potential as a cinematic comeback vehicle for Pee-wee Herman, if only because Divine is no longer with us.


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