Just Above Sunset
June 12, 2005 - Dangerous Books and Mission Statements

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Bob Patterson, our Book Wrangler and our World's Laziest Journalist columnist, said to me one Friday, while we were on a photo shoot in Santa Monica, that JAS, as he likes to call it, should publish a mission statement.  This was our Joseph Cotton - Orson Welles moment, if you remember that scene from Citizen Kane.


Geez, we've been in Hollywood way too long.

A few weeks ago Bob was in the Big Apple – New York, or as he likes to call it, Tensile Town – and was noticing all the press about the Air Force Academy and its problem with the evangelicals who now run the place and the cadets who boldly tell fellow Jewish cadets that they will burn in hell because they killed Jesus, and that the Holocaust was God's punishment for killing Jesus.  They deserved it.  Ah well.  Bob pointed out we were on that story long ago with Who is Your Copilot? back on April 24 – and on the underlying trend long ago with references to General Jerry Boykin saying we're fighting the great Satan, because our God is the real God, from as long ago as October 2003 and this a month later.


So we're sometimes ahead of the curve.


Boykin is now about number three at the Pentagon - Undersecretary of Defense, heading up all our planning in Iraq.  We're not.

Ahead of the curve?  On August 2004, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, and I had a pretty complete discussion of The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and their relation to the 2001 Patriot Act.  Long.  Detailed.  And I see The New Republic five months later published Dismal Precedents (post date 02.20.05 - issue date 02.28.05), on the same topic, by Stephen Holmes.


To help us grope our way through the perilous present, Geoffrey R. Stone, a leading authority on the First Amendment, has produced a rich and readable overview of America's curtailment of civil liberties in wartime. He focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on restrictions of freedom of speech, examining in engrossing detail six historical episodes: the Sedition Act of 1798, the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and Vietnam. He appends a brief discussion of civil liberties after September 11, but his real contribution to the study of the ongoing war on terror is this book as a whole. For each episode, as Stone retells it, speaks in one way or another to painful issues of the present day. His general conclusion is that "the United States has a long and unfortunate history of overreacting to the perceived dangers of wartime." He hopes that a bit of self-knowledge will inspire us to do better this time around....


Well, the rest is behind the subscription wall, but you get the idea.  Steve and Geoffrey Stone were late – it takes time to write a book, then time to read it any review it – but the relationship is obvious.  Rick and I used to hang around with Steve Holmes in undergraduate school – coffee daily in The Pit in Slater Hall – but The New Republic is a big-gun, influential magazine.  Now more folks consider the connection.  Fine – more power to Steve.  JAS is not The New Republic - we're riding at about 12,000 unique logons a month.  Small potatoes – and an ephemeral web thing.  And I suspect many, many logons are people looking for pretty pictures of Hollywood, not political discussion of historic precedent to current events.

Still Bob thinks we need to say that we're ahead of the curve – if you want to know what the hot stories will be, read JAS.  Maybe.


His idea for a motto – Ahead of the Curve.


I prefer this - Chasing the Zeitgeist.


Why?  Well, I recall the May 22 issue of JAS where it kept running away from me – Monday morning I thought that week's topic would be the New York Times stirring up issues of class, and Tuesday the Newsweek Koran story broke, and Wednesday everyone was talking about George Galloway blowing everyone away in the Senate hearing, Thursday the talk was all of the responsibilities of the press and possible censorship, and Friday Laura Bush landed in the Middle East as probably the only person we could send there now without too much problem, and even then she had some trouble.  You can chase the zeitgeist all you want.  It's a slippery devil.

All this is to say I overlooked a discussion last week – all over the web and in some of the papers – concerning what was published in the conservative magazine Human Events - Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries.


Really.  A list of their editors is here - and I see Ann Coulter listed as their legal affairs correspondent.

Want to know what is on the list? This panel of fifteen conservative scholars and public policy leaders (see the list at the link) selected these:


1. The Communist Manifesto

2. Mein Kampf

3. Quotations from Chairman Mao

4. The Kinsey Report

5. Democracy and Education (John Dewey)

6. Das Kapital

7. The Feminine Mystique (Betty Friedan)

8. The Course of Positive Philosophy (Auguste Comte)

9. Beyond Good and Evil (Nietzsche)

10. General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (John Maynard Keynes)

Honorable Mention?


In descending order of danger to anyone who opens them – The Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich), What Is To Be Done (Lenin), Authoritarian Personality (Theodor Adorno), On Liberty (John Stuart Mill), Beyond Freedom and Dignity (B.F. Skinner), Reflections on Violence (Georges Sorel), The Promise of American Life (Herbert Croly), Origin of the Species (Darwin), Madness and Civilization (Michel Foucault), Soviet Communism: A New Civilization (Sidney and Beatrice Webb), Coming of Age in Samoa (Margaret Mead), Unsafe at Any Speed (Ralph Nader), Second Sex (Simone de Beauvoir), Prison Notebooks (Antonio Gramsci), Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon), Introduction to Psychoanalysis (Freud), The Greening of America (Charles Reich), The Limits to Growth (Club of Rome), Descent of Man (Darwin)

Darwin didn't make the top ten.  But then Nietzsche flat out said God is dead – and Comte was no better.  Chuck only implied it. 


As for the rest?  You'd expect Marx and Mao – and Hitler.  Dewey is on there because he was a secular humanist and wanted kids to learn how to think, not just know hard facts.  Keynes liked government and regulation too much.  You can go read the panel's reasoning.

As for the second list they offer no comment, just the list.  Ralph Nader of course destroyed our domestic automakers, and forced everyone to wear seat belts when it should be a matter of personal responsibly or something.  Rachel Carson did major harm to Dupont and the rest of the DDT makers who were just making an honest living. Y ou can only guess at their reason for the rest.  Did they know what Michel Foucault was even talking about?

These folks aren't calling for book-burning or anything like that – at least I don't see that anywhere.  They're just kind of sad these things were ever published.

But of course such a public list gives ammunition to folks who will demand restrictions in public libraries and schools, or removal of the books.  Of course the panel doesn't really advocate for that.

That would be wrong.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum has asked his readers for a parallel list from the progressive-Democrat-leftie side – and he reports it is not going well.

Some suggest Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged - but Drum says, "I agree that it's eminently mockable, but let's face it: has this book really had that much influence on anyone who doesn't still use Clearasil pads? I don't think so."


Well, the newly appointed head of the SEC is a Rand fanatic - Christopher Cox - and we'll see how that works out.  Rand once said - "A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims."  And the new SEC chairman no doubt believes this from Rand - "Government 'help' to business is just as disastrous as government persecution... the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off."  Oh yeah.

Drum points out too that Alan Greenspan is perhaps the best known Rand acolyte living today.

Some suggest Thomas Dixon - The Clansman - but really it is not that influential.

Drum thinks the only winner on the counter-list so far is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Agreed.  You will find a good history of what that book is about here and all about Henry Ford's love for it here.  That one has legs, as we say out here in Hollywood.

But I suspect, in the end, there will be no good counter-list.  The progressive-Democrat-leftie side just doesn't get the idea books and ideas can be dangerous.  They kind of like them.  All of them.


Note: Late Sunday night - June 5, 2005 – Kevin Drum does his best to compile a tentative counter-list of dangerous books from his readers' comments.  But as you read his comments you see his heart really isn't in it.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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