Chait, a senior editor at The New Republic, exploits a list of harmful books of the 19th & 20th centuries
made up by some people at Human Events magazine to sneer his way thru a column in today's Los Angeles Times
Unfortunately, he threw away his opportunity to engage his opponents arguments- and his opponents made it easy for him do do so. Neither has advanced their cause, if by "advance" one means furthering the search for truth via reasoned debate.
The judges at Human Events set themselves up: Tough for them.
I saw the list a few days ago and thought it was pretty weird. The explanations are so brief that they just don't justify inclusions like John Stuart Mill's On Liberty
, which has long been an icon for free-market conservatives: All by itself that tells me that these judges are not free-market conservatives, they are populists who are opposed to freedom either personal or economic.
They are the kind of ppl who think government should be used to shape society to their wants- in that sense they are ideologically identical to the Left who want to use government for exactly the same purposes, just with differing visions of the society they want government to mandate. I don't find them any more offensive than the lefties who advocate the same thing, but they aren't any less so, either. They are all offensive to me.
In any case, I think they demonstrate that the term "conservative" is used so inclusively as be be meaningless. It includes neo-Nazis, populists, free-marketers, fascists, and libertarians. This group has almost nothing in common yet they get lumped together.
>>(The list) offers a fair window into the dementia of contemporary conservative thinking.
Of a particular group. See above. Chait lumps wildly disparate groups under the rubric of conservative, then uses the whackos to smear ppl who are opposed to those whackos. He is a pro: he knows what he is doing.
>>One amusing thing about the list is its seeming inability to distinguish between seminal works of social science and totalitarian manifestos. Marx, Hitler and Chairman Mao sit alongside pragmatist philosopher John Dewey and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey
Quite true, altho he fails to mention that Dewey was a Socialist and that conservatives have reasonable arguments that on balance, the costs of socialism outweigh the benefits. As someone said: The problem with Capitalism is capitalists, the problem with Socialism is Socialism.
>>. You'll be comforted to know that Mao, with 38 points and a No. 3 ranking, edged out Kinsey, with 37 points. "The Feminine Mystique," meanwhile, checks in at No. 7, with 30 points, just behind "Das Kapital," which totaled 31 points.
>>Harmful books that got honorable mentions but couldn't crack the top 10 include John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," Sigmund Freud's "Introduction to Psychoanalysis" and Charles Darwin's "The Descent of Man." Oh yes, and Lenin's "What Is to Be Done." (If you don't see the link between arguing for individual rights, exploring scientific mysteries and constructing a brutally repressive Bolshevik terror state, then clearly you're not thinking like a conservative.)
Lumping again. He knows the term is meaningless. It's a useful way of avoiding having to deal thoughtfully with peoples' points: Lump them with loonies and then dismiss them all. The right does the same thing, of course: it is useful, if dishonest.
>>Interestingly, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a czarist forgery that incited countless massacres and inspires anti-Semites around the world to this day, failed to rate a mention.
All of the books on the list were non-fiction. I don't think it specified they be such, but they were. It is an intersting omission tho. Thing is, I think Chait is interested in suggesting the "conservatives" are anti-Semitic, without being honest enuf to just say so. Of course, if he had done that, he would have had to have addressed the inclusion of Mein Kampf at number 2.
>> On the other hand, "Unsafe at Any Speed" and "Silent Spring," which led to such horrors as seat belts and the Clean Water Act, did.
Again, I think Chait is removing himself from the realm of serious discussion. He is being snide instead of engaging the serious arguments made about the negative effects of books like Silent Spring: That book led to a world wide ban on DDT, and that has led to scores of millions of ppl contracting malaria. Even some environmentalists are now willing to argue that the flat ban- which was a result of the book- goes too far. DDT advocates argue that using DDT in small quantities in specified ways, like treating mosquito nets over beds and on window screens, will have extremely small effects on the environment, but provide gigantic health benefits for ppl living in malarial areas. The Total Ban advocates have refused to acknowledge that the benefits of the ban also incurred costs. That costs exist is beyond discussion: it is obvious. The argument therefore should be how to balance costs and benefits, and where that balance point is. The conservatives make no case here for their position, and Chait just mocks. They are both losers, and so are we because we have been deprived of an opportunity to see a real debate. Instead both sides let us down.
The "conservative" assertion that Silent Spring was net harmful is a reasonable one. They may be wrong, but to ridicule the argument so that he doesn't have to engage it is just plain dishonest in my book. Still, the list lets him do that easily: see next:
>>Possibly even more amusing are the explanations for each book's inclusion. They read like 10th-grade book reports from some right-wing, bizarro world high school.
That's true. They do. They should have had much better explanations. I really don't understand why they bothered to make the list: the only good reason I can see is to use it as a springboard for discussing exactly why the books were harmful. As it is, the list is very easy to ridicule. How difficult was it for me to argue Silent Spring was at least a reasonable candidte?
>>John Maynard Keynes' seminal "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" argued that during recessions governments should cut interest rates, reduce taxes and increase spending, and during expansions do the opposite.
I think it also argued for massive, anti-competitive regulation, so Chait is avoiding a real issue once again, and once again the "conservatives" set themselves up for that. They have done their own cause a disservice by making themselves so easy to ridicule.
>>The squib on "The Feminine Mystique" begins with a fairly anodyne summary of Betty Freidan's pioneering feminist tract. Rather than explain what's so dangerous about allowing women the choice of having a career, though, Human Events proceeds to quote a review that "Friedan was from her college days, and until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist."
Yep: They set themselves up again.
>>Not just a Stalinist, but a Marxist to boot!
This is stupid sneering commentary because Marxists are not subsets of Stalinists, and Chait surely knows that: Stalinists are a particularly odious subset of Marxists. If Friedan really was a Stalinist (I have no idea), she has a lot to explain and apologise for, because she would have been an advocate for the Soviet Gulag and the mass executions of the bourgeoisie. That's what Stalinism was. Chait knows that.
>>Personally, I fail to see how Friedan's communist past (she was 42 when she published "The Feminine Mystique") would discredit her insights about the repressive nature of a world in which women were discriminated against or barred outright from most professions and much of public life.
Stalinists were advocates of mass murder. Chait doesn't think THAT would be relevant? Stalinists are advocates of repression. He doesn't think that would be relevant?
Human Events and Chait both have cheated us of an opportunity for serious discussion. Shame on them, and shame as well on the Los Angeles Times for publishing this drivel.