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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Conservative Scholars on the Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries

What is the most harmful book of the past two centuries as judged by a group of 15 conservative “scholars and public policy leaders”?   Is it Hitler’s Mein Kampf?  No.  It’s Marx and Engels’s The Communist Manifesto.  According to Human Events, "the national conservative weekly":

HUMAN EVENTS asked a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders to help us compile a list of the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Each panelist nominated a number of titles and then voted on a ballot including all books nominated. A title received a score of 10 points for being listed No. 1 by one of our panelists, 9 points for being listed No. 2, etc.  Appropriately, The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, earned the highest aggregate score and the No. 1 listing.

Not only did The Communist Manifesto beat out Mein Kampf, but it did so by an enormous margin, scoring a 74 to Mein Kampf’s 41. 


The judges of this rather perturbing list are Arnold Beichman (Hoover Institution); Prof. Brad Birzer (Hillsdale College); Harry Crocker (Regnery Publishing, Inc.); Prof. Marshall DeRosa (Florida Atlantic University); Dr. Don Devine (American Conservative Union); Prof. Robert George (Princeton University); Prof. Paul Gottfried  (Elizabethtown College); Prof. William Anthony Hay (Mississippi State University); Herb London (Hudson Institute); Prof. Mark Malvasi (Randolph-Macon College); Douglas Minson (The Witherspoon Fellowships); Prof. Mark Molesky (Seton Hall University); Prof. Stephen Presser (Northwestern University); Phyllis Schlafly (Eagle Forum); and Fred Smith (Competitive Enterprise Institute).

The full list of books:

1. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

2. Hitler, Mein Kampf

3. Mao Zedong, Quotations from Chairman Mao

4. Kinsey, The Kinsey Report

5. Dewey, Democracy and Education

6. Marx, Das Kapital

7. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique

8. Comte, The Course of Positive Philosophy

9. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

10. Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

It is hard for me to describe this list without using words like “ridiculous” and “disturbing.”  But the list of honorable mentions leaves me speechless.  Among those books receiving honorable mentions are Mill’s On Liberty,   Darwin's Origin of the Species,   and Freud’s Introduction to Psychoanalysis.  There you have it.   

Thanks to LuminousVoid for the pointer.

Posted by Daniel Solove on June 2, 2005 at 06:14 PM in Books, Current Affairs, Daniel Solove | Permalink


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To be a little fair to the conservatives, Marx's writing probably had a more direct link to the soviet revolution, insofar as it directly influenced the leaders, leading to the rise of Stalin, the cold war, etc. The Soviet revolution was idea-driven.

Mein Kampf seems historically to have been less influential in the rise of the Nazis: they took over more because of economic disaster and the treaty of Versailles than because of any actual ideas the Nazis espoused.

On the other hand, the rest of the conservative list is such utter horrible crap -- Nietzsche?! KEYNES??!! DARWIN??????? DEWEY?!!?!?!?!?

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 2, 2005 6:20:31 PM

That list reminds me of an old joke:

Q: How many conservative scholars does it take to know the name of Darwin's most influencial book?

A: More than 15.

It's The Origin of Species.

Posted by: Nathan | Jun 2, 2005 7:25:10 PM

I'll agree with Paul G. on Mein Kampf vs the Communist Manifesto, judging them as books and based on their literary and political impacts as books, not on the overall career of their authors. I think that Hitler's prose was the least of his problems, and that as a book, Mein Kampf was probably not all that harmful. Hitler minus MK is still a psychotic monster running a country according to his deluded ideas of racial hegemony. Marx minus the Manifesto is almost without influence.

People didn't buy Mein Kampf and become Nazis because they read it; rather, they became Nazis and then read Mein Kampf. And the generation that might have been most affected by it -- the next generation -- was thoroughly turned off to Nazism.

The lasting effect of Mein Kampf, as a book, has been to fire up various wacky Neo-Nazi groups around the world. And those guys aren't anything to be proud of. But they're relatively small fry.

Meanwhile, Marx's ideas, embodied in the book itself, led to Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot.

I can see a pretty good case being made for the Communist Manifesto being the most harmful book of its century. Hell, I'm a moderate liberal, and I would probably vote for it too.

Of course, much of the rest of my list would be different. How do you spell "Ayn Rand" again . . .

Posted by: Kaimi | Jun 2, 2005 8:47:28 PM

"I can see a pretty good case being made for the Communist Manifesto being the most harmful book of its century."

One strike against it in this century is that it leads people to come up with these crazy lists.

I'm somewhat comfortable with the idea that a book can be "hamrful." I am very uncomfortable with a "most harmful" list.

What takes the cake, however, is the Amazon affiliate links in the titles. Not so harmful that more people shouldn't buy them and give us some money.

Posted by: luminous | Jun 2, 2005 10:13:11 PM

Luminous: you expect a buncha rightwingers to choose principle (however misguided) over cash?

Kami: Yea, totally, Rand. I think my top 15 list would have to feature all of her "books." Also I might push it back to capture the 18th century just to get a crack at The Wealth of Nations. Everything by Milton Friedman...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 2, 2005 11:15:42 PM

Another fun argument. From the conservative list, I would keep the Communits Manifesto, Mao Zedong's Red Book, and Mein Kampf (and jettison the rest. I mean, Kinsey? Come on...) and add: 1)the writings of Ayn Rand, 2)the writings of Leo Strauss, 3) the Left Behind series, 4) the most prominent works defending slavery or southern mistreatment of blacks before the sixties (can't think of which one off the top of my head, 5) The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, 6) the text of the Bush v. Gore opinion. What did I miss?

Posted by: Jeff V. | Jun 2, 2005 11:50:50 PM

oh yeah... 7)McCarthy's list of all the Communists in the government.

Posted by: Jeff V. | Jun 3, 2005 8:03:36 AM


Paul Finkelman (Tulsa), whose work deals with legal history of slavery, has a book compiling arguments and excerpts from a number of antebellum pro-slavery sources. It makes an interesting read.

Posted by: Kaimi | Jun 3, 2005 9:26:43 AM

Oooh, oooh, did Arthur Laffer ever write a book? Talk about an evil bastard... he singlehandedly destroyed California's public education system w/ prop. 13, and then went on to push "supply-side" -- surely there's a book with all his garbage in it...

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Jun 3, 2005 9:52:22 AM

Well, as others have noted in a roundabout way, that list is nothing but political flack and far from a real analysis of what was or was not harmful to societies. I am unsurprosed at some of it and agree with some of it. Kaimi, I agree with your assessment that Ms. Rand's philosophical excuse for selfishness should be on the list. It is appalling to me that there are people who really believe that some of those books were harmful. But, having been raised by a lawprof(papa) and a Masters in Theology(mama), I have a thirst for all kinds of knowledge.

Oh, and it is "On the Origin of Species."

Posted by: Joel | Jun 3, 2005 10:51:25 AM

I asked this question in another forum about this topic: why isn't "The Anarchist's Cookbook" on this list? No matter whether one agrees or disagrees with the assumptions behind this list of harmful books (or even agrees or disagrees with the assumptions behind the "Cookbook"), certainly we can agree that a book that details how to build a bomb is more "harmful," or at least "dangerous," than a book that proposes a theory of evolution, politics, racial justice, gender equality, or any other theory.

Or perhaps the folks at Human Events actually believe that ideas are more harmful than physical violence? That would be disturbing, indeed.

Posted by: dkp | Jun 8, 2005 12:21:34 PM

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