Sunday, August 30, 2009

Benjamin Wiker's 10 Books that Screwed Up the World and Five Others That Didn't Help

I'm considering reading Wiker's book, in which he lists fifteen books that he thinks created or spread poisonous ideologies that have only harmed humanity. Here are those books with what appears to be (at a very quick glance) Wiker's primary critique.

1. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. The author advocated that leaders divorce themselves from moral standards.

2. Discourse on Method by Rene Descartes. The author introduced subjective epistemology.

3. Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. The author argued that there is no inherent morality, only cultural standards.

4. Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality among Men by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The author argued inequality was natural, inevitable, and therefore acceptable.

5. The Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx. The author created Communism. 'Nuff said.

6. Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill. The author reduced human needs and desires down to only physical considerations.

7. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin. Using naturalistic reasoning, the author created the moral foundations for the oppression, enslavement, and genocide of undesired peoples.

8. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrick Nietzsche. The author argued that concepts of good and evil, especially Christian ones, were irrational.

9. The State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin. The author starkly explained the evils necessary to create a Communist utopia.

10. The Pivot of Civilization by Margaret Sanger. The author argued for eugenics.

11. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler. (Self-explanatory -- I hope).

12. The Future of an Illusion by Sigmund Freud. The author argued that religion is an illusion caused by certain misdirected psychological needs.

13. Coming of Age in Samoa by Margaret Mead. The author used false data to argue that sexual licentiousness was healthy.

14. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male by Alfred Kinsey. The author created a study that would normalize his own profoundly deviant sexual behavior.

15. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. The author disguised herself as an ordinary suburban housewife when she was actually a radical socialist activist.

What would you add to the list? What books do you think have been especially ideologically destructive?

32 comments:

bob said...

One could argue that the Koran belongs on the list. Although like any book it's how we interpret the authors ideas that give it merit or condemnation

rocksalive777 said...

First, I'd take off Utilitarianism. JSM's counter-argument to the debasement objection is pretty sound. I'm not a utilitarian by any means, but I'd place Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals above Mills (though not necessarily Bentham). Also, Kant's just flat out boring.

I'd also suggest the works of Ayn Rand -- if you want to be a libertarian, fine, but I don't believe that self-interest should be the driving force behind any morality. Again, libertarianism is fine by me, but objectivism seems to be the most unethical post-Nietzsche philosophy I've seen.

wrf3 said...

Fascinating post. Are the surface similarities of the books a coincidence?

Bro. Dave said...

"The Be-Happy Attitudes" by Robert Schuller

johnmeunier said...

"Goodnight Moon."

That old lady whispering "hush" still haunts my nightmares.

John said...

Interesting choices.

Bob -- I haven't read it, but given the historical response to the Koran, I wouldn't rule out your choice.

rocksalive777 -- Rand had serious problems, as would a doctrine of absolute selfishness. But I'd rather live in a world where one felt free to assert one's personal sovereignty.

wrf3 -- I don't know, as I haven't read the book yet.

Bro.Dave -- I'm curious for your take. Please explain.

John -- I've got that at home. I'll have to have a look. Before I give my daughter nightmares.

Larry B said...

"The Myth of Sisyphus" by Albert Camus - along with his collection of stories The Stranger, The Fall, and the Plague that use his theory of the absurd developed in his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus".

jockeystreet said...

I don't know what I'd add to the list, but seeing "Utilitarianism" is a bit odd. To those that told Mills that his was a "pig's philosophy," Mills responded with something along the lines of "how sad for you, that you only know the kind of pleasures that a pig could experience." Spiritual growth, a loving family, intellectual pursuits, freedom, and the like all would rank pretty high on Mills' list of "pleasures." Hard to see how that screwed up the world.

Oh, and I loved "The Myth of Sisyphus," The Stranger and The Fall. The Plague was so/so.

Bro. Dave said...

"The Be-Happy Attitudes" -- the power of positive thinking mascarading as Christian teaching.

Dan Trabue said...

It probably doesn't belong on a list of top ten books that screwed up the world, but Michael Crichton's preachy "State of Fear," is just awful. Awful fiction, questionable science and awful philosophy.

I'm having trouble thinking of any that could possibly be rightly called "screw up the world"-worthy.

I certainly don't think Marx's book belongs on it. It hasn't screwed up the world and there's some truth in it, along with some less helpful ideology.

John said...

I've never read Mill, so I don't know what Wiker is arguing.

Dan wrote:

I certainly don't think Marx's book belongs on it. It hasn't screwed up the world and there's some truth in it, along with some less helpful ideology.


Well, maybe not the entire world, but it did horrendous damage to Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam, just to name a few places.

Another thought on rocksalive777's comment:

Rand may have advocated an excessive selfishness, but I see it as the logical extension of the concept of human rights. If everyone else is worthy of respect, dignity, and non-interference, then so is the individual thinking that. Rand flipped the Golden Rule around to say "Treat yourself as you treat others." It is perhaps an incomplete ethic, but it's not too shabby.

Rand's point, in as much as I have read of her, was that the individual does not exist to serve the desires of the collective -- or anyone else. The individual is sovereign. For those taught that they existed to be slaves, that's a liberating voice.

Dan Trabue said...

Well, maybe not the entire world, but it did horrendous damage to Russia, Eastern Europe, China, Cambodia, and Vietnam, just to name a few places.

I'm not especially familiar with Marx, having only read bits of his stuff, not the whole thing, so take this for what it's worth. It seems to me that the problem with the places you mention was fascism, not communism. I don't believe Marx was endorsing fascism.

bob said...

Dan, Maybe that's the unintended consequence of Marxism or Communism that they lead to fascism.

Dan Trabue said...

I don't think so. Fascism leads to fascism.

Nicaragua was communist in the 1980s and they weren't fascist (if anything, the US actions towards Nicaragua come closer to being fascist - illegal bombings, support of overthrows of a democratically elected gov't, terrorism - but we're not saying that capitalism leads to fascism, are we?).

Other nations have been socialist without being fascist. Sweden, for instance. France, in part.

Dan Trabue said...

It would be an interesting question to consider: What has made so many of the communist/socialist nations "go fascist"? My suspicion would be that it has more to do with the particular nations' histories leading up to that point in time. But perhaps there is something in the tenets of communism that helps in that regards. I'm not sure what that would be, though.

John said...

Dan, so that I may better understand your position, please define the terms communism, socialism, and fascism, as you use them.

Dan Trabue said...

Just the dictionary definitions (allowing that in the real world things happen differently...)

Communism:

a system in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed

Socialism:

any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods

Fascism:

a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

How are you defining them?

John said...

Fascism: a political system in which individual choice is minimized.

Communism: a variety of fascism founded on the principles of central economic control by Karl Marx.

Socialism: a moderate form of Marxism in which the state has substantial, but not total, economic control.

I generally use the term fascism and totalitarianism interchangeably. This may be an incorrect practice, since fascism might be seen as a subset of totalitarianism founded upon racial or ethnic premises.

Dan Trabue said...

Well, those are fine definitions, John, I guess, but I guess you also know that they are not in common usage?

That is, if you are presuming that communism is a "variety of fascism" and you speak to someone from communist Nicaragua (who was there back in the day), they will wonder what in the hell you mean, since that's not what they experienced and it's not how the word is actually defined.

I'd suggest, as a rule, it's probably good form to stick to standard definitions commonly in usage. Otherwise, it leads to too much confusion...

I mean, can you imagine someone from Nicaragua referring to capitalism as a form of fascism? They might have some basis for doing so, based on their real world experience, but it would not be the case.

Dan Trabue said...

I think you know this, John, but for others who may not have read much from me: It's not the case that I'm pro-communism or socialism. Of the known economic systems, I think a rightly structured capitalism is the best, most moral choice of all the flawed human economic structures.

I believe in a strong locally-based capitalism, along with reasonable regulations to protect against the flaws of capitalism.

I just too often see communism associated de facto with fascism, as if you can't embrace one without the other. I don't think that's the case, at least not how it's defined and how it has some times historically been enacted. However, again historically, given the tendency for at least some communist/socialist nations to swing towards oppressive fascist behaviors, I think that they need to be balanced with a healthy dose of democracy and freedom, just as capitalist systems need to be balanced with a healthy dose of regulation, done reasonably.

I think it's a difficult balancing act, either way. In the end, though, I land on the capitalist side, with caveats.

Oloryn said...

I also tend to land capitalist, but often the capitalist vs socialist/communist argument hits me as though we've chosen the two of the most corrupting influences known to man - money and political power - and we're busy arguing over which one should be used to counter the problems caused by the other. Maybe we should recognize that both have problems and look elsewhere for solutions?

John said...

Well, those are fine definitions, John, I guess, but I guess you also know that they are not in common usage?


I strongly dispute this.

I generally do not use the term "fascist" since it is popularly thought to be right-wing extremism. Jonah Goldberg has made a lot of money by arguing that fascism is a product of the Left. I have not read his book and so am not sure of the validity of his arguments. But because of this ambiguity, I prefer the term "totalitarian" to refer to governments, Left or Right, that dominate the lives of their citizens.

But I do not think that my definition of Communism can be seriously, historically, challenged. It has always been totalitarian, and it has always been derivative of Marx.

I just too often see communism associated de facto with fascism, as if you can't embrace one without the other.


Please name examples of self-identifying Communist governments that have not been totalitarian.

Dan Trabue said...

My understanding of "communism" corresponds with the entry at wikipedia, which says...

In classical Marxism, communism is the final phase of history at which time the state would have "withered away" and therefore "communist state" is a contradiction in terms under premises of this theory.

I don't believe there have been or are any "states" that would meet the definition of communism, as written by Marx. Again, I'm not an expert, I could be wrong. That's my understanding.

Certainly, though, there have been socialist nations that weren't totalitarian. Sweden and Nicaragua, for instance.

Dan Trabue said...

Please name examples of self-identifying Communist governments that have not been totalitarian.

There IS the Kingdom of God, in which there are no possessions, all is shared, and we have one benevolent ruler...

John said...

I don't believe there have been or are any "states" that would meet the definition of communism, as written by Marx. Again, I'm not an expert, I could be wrong. That's my understanding.


Marx planned for the state to wither away, but that that withering would be preceeded by a dictatorship. He did not imagine that a Communist revolution would immediately spark a stateless society.

Certainly, though, there have been socialist nations that weren't totalitarian. Sweden and Nicaragua, for instance.


True. Socialism does not always sink into the full depravity of communism.

There IS the Kingdom of God, in which there are no possessions, all is shared, and we have one benevolent ruler...


That is a hypothetical utopia, not an actual state. Please provide examples of Communist states that were/are not totalitarian.

Dan Trabue said...

Not hypothetical at all. I'm meeting with the Kingdom of God tonight.

It's just not a full-blown world state, as we've come to know it, but there are certainly now and have been throughout history pockets of the kingdom of God scattered about. The Amish, the mennonites, the hutterites, many other segments of the Kingdom have been part of the real world. But, as in Marx's ultimate plan, just not part of a political state, but more a state of being.

John said...

Every Communist state has been a totalitarian state. So why does Marx not belong on the list, given the track record of ideas?

Dan Trabue said...

Again, I could be wrong. But, it is my understanding that

1. Marx would not have endorsed totalitarian (read oppressive) states.

2. There have been no true communist states.

That people read Marx and employ oppression as a means of supposedly implementing Marxist ideas does not impress me as being a strike against Marx, any more than someone reading the Bible and employing oppressive actions as a means of implementing biblical ideas is a a strike against the Bible or Christianity or Judaism.

By that reasoning, we might want to add the Bible to your list...

bob said...

It is not what we intend that counts it is what happens.After all the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Dan Trabue said...

So, are you saying the Bible/God should be held accountable for the Crusades and all the wingnuts who've engaged in violence for the "glory of the Lord and to uphold the teachings of the Bible" all these years?

bob said...

Dan there is a difference of scale the occasional wing nut who does something supposedly for the glory of the Lord and communism, which has affected the world more negatively.

Any one can misappropriate a philosophy the difference is when there are so few applying a philosophy correctly that the problem must lie with the philosophy.

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