On Native Ground
WHY DO CONSERVATIVES HATE FREEDOM OF THOUGHT?
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The conservative magazine Human Events recently compiled a list of what it considers the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries."
The 10 books that their group of conservative intellectuals picked are the ones you might expect conservatives to pick. They are:
1. "The Communist Manifesto" by Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels.
2. "Mein Kampf" by Adolf Hitler.
3. "Quotations from Chairman Mao" by Mao Zedong.
4. "Sexual Response in the Human Male" by Alfred Kinsey.
5. "Democracy and Education" by John Dewey.
6. "Capital" by Karl Marx.
7. "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan.
8. "The Course of Positive Philosophy" by Auguste Comte.
9. "Beyond Good and Evil" by Freidrich Nietzche.
10. "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" by John Maynard Keynes.
Then there were the books that were picked as honorable mention selections, which gives us an even clearer look at what the people who compiled this list are thinking:
- "The Population Bomb" by Paul Erlich.
- "What Is To Be Done" by V.I. Lenin.
- "Authoritarian Personality" by Theodor Adorno.
- "On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill.
- "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" by B.F. Skinner.
- "Reflections on Violence" by Georges Sorel.
- "The Promise of American Life" by Herbert Croly.
- "Origin of Species" and "Descent of Man" by Charles Darwin.
- "Madness and Civilization" by Michel Foucault.
- "Soviet Communism: A New Civilization" by Sidney and Beatrice Webb.
- "Coming of Age in Samoa" by Margaret Mead.
- "Unsafe at Any Speed" by Ralph Nader.
- "The Second Sex" by Simone de Beauvoir.
- "Prison Notebooks" by Antonio Gramsci.
- "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson.
- "Wretched of the Earth" by Frantz Fanon.
- "Introduction to Psychoanalysis" by Sigmund Freud.
- "The Greening of America" by Charles Reich.
- "The Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome.
You would expect that any books from authors writing favorably about Marxism, socialism and communism would end up a list like this. But the Human Events panel also doesn't think much of feminism, evolution, progressive education, psychoanalysis, consumer protection, environmentalism or democracy in general.
In other words, most of the ideas and movements that have fueled human progress in the past 150 years are deemed "harmful" in the eyes of conservatives.
I won't get into a debate over the politics of Marx and Engels, but you can argue that, in "The Communist Manifesto," they accurately foresaw the economic force now known as globalization - a seamlessly integrated world where everything is for sale and everything is subject to the pressure of free market competition. And the panel's summation of "Capital," in which they write that Marx portrays capitalists as "inevitably and amorally exploit labor by paying the cheapest possible wages to earn the greatest possible profits," sounds like a spot-on description of globalization.
As for "Mein Kampf," this is the only selection on the top 10 that isn't subject to debate. But you can just as easily plug "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" into this spot. That book, rather than "Mein Kampf," fueled the murderous anti-Semitism that Hitler exploited. And even though it was exposed long ago as a forgery, to this day "Protocols" is still a big favorite with Jew-haters around the world.
And how did Mao make the list at No. 3? The hybrid communist/capitalist society that exists in China today would never happened without the radical social and economic transformations that took place under Mao. In any event, Mao's work is mostly Marx with a Chinese spin on it and seems redundant if you already list Marx and Engels.
Conservatives hate the idea of people enjoying sex, so naturally Kinsey would be high up on the list. What the Human Events panel called "the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy" would be to most Americans an admission that sex exists and people like it. Why else would there be a multi-billion dollar porn industry?
Dewey makes the list simply because conservatives hate free thought almost as much as they hate sex. Instead of using education as a means of social control, Dewey advocated its use to develop critical thinking skills. But of course, people who can think critically aren't likely to become conservatives.
Conservatives have hated Friedan's book ever since it came out in 1963. Challenging the idea of patriarchy is almost as offensive as suggesting sex is pleasurable or that people should think for themselves. It's telling how much the panel hates Friedan when it trots out the old accusations by David Horowitz of Friedan being a "Stalinist Marxist, the political intimate of the leaders of America's Cold War fifth column and for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley's radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer."
Red-baiting never goes out of style with this crowd.
Comte is probably the most obscure author on this list, but he shares space with the better known Nietzsche for their rejection of God and religion - another taboo to conservatives.
Keynes makes the list simply because of the heretical (to conservatives) idea that government could spur economic growth in slack times through deficit spending. Never mind that Ronald Reagan was perhaps the ultimate Keynesian in his tripling of the national debt through tax cuts and exorbitant military spending. That brand of Keynesian economics is OK. It's spending for the public good, which Franklin Roosevelt raised to an art form in the 1930s, that upsets conservatives. Deficits are only acceptable if conservatives get wealthy as a result.
In this one little list, you see conservative thought in a nutshell. Any list that would consider Keynes, Darwin, Dewey and Mill as harmful is a list written by idiots. Likewise for people who think "Silent Spring" and "Unsafe at Any Speed" are harmful, unless they truly believe in the freedom to ingest DDT and drive around in unsafe cars is important. And to mention Friedan in the same breath as Marx, Mao and Hitler is breathtakingly stupid.
Kevin Drum had the best response to the list in his blog on the Washington Monthly's Web site. He too picked 10 "books we hate/beg to differ with" and used the same time period the Human Events panel used, but decided to not pick books from Nazis or communists because they "are already well represented on the Human Events list and I just figured it would be more fun to try to come up with ten completely different books."
His picks by chronological order:
- "Social Statics," 1851, by Herbert Spencer, the man who invented "Social Darwinism" and who believed that the state's only legitimate roles are internal policing and foreign protection.
- "Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races," 1853, by Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau, who promoted "scientific racism" and argued that the success of a civilization was in direct proportion to how much "Caucasian blood" they contained.
- "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion," 1905, by the Russian secret police, which I've already discussed.
- "The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan," 1905, by Thomas Dixon and Arthur I. Keller, the book that inspired D.W. Griffith's 1915 film "Birth of a Nation" and rekindled interest in the Klan in the early 20th century.
- "The Road to Serfdom," 1944, by Freidrich Hayek, a book that did Spencer one better by declaring that all government intervention, no matter how well-intentioned, leads to totalitarianism. It is among the most influential books in the conservative canon of the last six decades.
- "Witness," 1952, by Whittaker Chambers, the former communist turned red-baiter whose book set the tone for the worst excesses of the McCarthy era.
- "Atlas Shrugged," 1957, by Ayn Rand, a book which has long served as the manifesto for hard-core libertarians. Judging from the responses on Drum's blog, she was the most disliked author and most frequently nominated for the "harmful books by conservatives" list.
- "Capitalism and Freedom," 1962, by Milton Friedman, who did more to promote the glories of unrestrained free market capitalism than anyone in the past 50 years. The Reagan revolution would have been impossible without him.
- "Milestones," 1964, by Sayyid Qutb. You could call this book the "Mein Kampf" of militant Islam. Tortured in Egyptian prisons for 10 years, Qutb wrote this book, which provided in the intellectual underpinning for the brand of Islamic extremism that has swept the Arab world in the past four decades.
- "The Late Great Planet Earth," 1970, by Hal Lindsey, probably the weakest pick on Drum's list. But the book was a huge best seller in the 1970s and the inspiration for the evangelical Christian apocalypse industry epitomized by the "Left Behind" series which has sold more than 50 million copies in the past decade. I would have substituted "The Turner Diaries" by William Pierce - the book that was a big favorite of Timothy McVeigh and many other white supremacists - but it came out after the 1975 cutoff date that Drum used for his list
Lists like Drum's and the Human Events' panel are meant to spur discussion, because ideas, as the conservatives like to say, have consequences. The ideas represented in Drum's list, one can argue, have caused more harm to the world than the Human Events list. But how far a stretch is it to go from listing harmful books to calling for their destruction?
I believe in a world where one can read "Mein Kampf" or "The Turner Diaries" as well as "The Feminine Mystique" or "On Liberty." Education, rather than censorship, is always the best antidote for dealing with bad ideas.
It is not books or ideas that are harmful. Books don't cause genocide. People do, especially people who aren't educated to read critically and question the ideas that are presented to them.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.