Sunday, June 5, 2005

Top Ten Most Harmful Books

Human Events has surveyed a number of Conservative intellectuals and asked for their nominations for the Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is the result.

I can't say that I agree with all of the selections, and indeed I haven't read all of them myself, but I have to object to the inclusion among the honorable mentions of two of my very favorite works. The first is John Stuart Mill's On Liberty. I'm surprised that Conservatives, who often have a libertarian streak in them, would find it offensive. The second is Rachel Carson's Silent Spring which probably did more to galvanize action to save from extinction species like the Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Brown Pelican, and Bald Eagle than any other single piece of writing in the last fifty years.

Most of the rest of the selections with which I'm familiar, however, do indeed belong in this rogue's gallery, with the possible exception of Origin of Species which is for the most part unexceptional in its evolutionary claims. In Origin, Darwin pretty much limited himself to evidence for micro-evolutionary change which even most anti-Darwinians do not dispute. The harm done by Darwinism is, in my opinion, more a consequence of the subsequent development of the theory, especially its metaphysical aspects, than of what is put forth in Origin.

The only other change I might make is to put Nietzsche's works at the very top of the list.

North American Bureau of Al-Jazeera

The headline reads: Gitmo Koran Was Splashed With Urine.

That'll get the Muslims worked up into a frenzy, which is apparently what the media hope for. Why else run the headline or the story which follows?

The facts of the story reveal how absolutely ridiculous and trite both of them are.

It turns out that a guard went outside to relieve himself and urinated too close to an air vent. The air drew the urine into a shaft and sprayed a few drops of mist onto a prisoner and his Koran. There was no evidence of any intent on the part of the guard.

The MSM is so desperate to get something, anything, to vindicate Newsweek's egregious "flushing down the toilet" fiction, that they'll sink to any level to fabricate the sense that real abuse is widespread in our prisons. Maybe we should just start referring to the MSM as the North American Bureau of Al-Jazeera.

God's Politics

Democracy Project has a thorough and fairly ascerbic critique of Jim Wallis' book God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. The review is too lengthy to reproduce in its entirety here, but it should be read by anyone who thinks that Jim Wallis is really seeking a "third way" in American politics. According to DP Wallis' position is that the Left is almost completely right except on abortion, and the Right is almost completely immoral and unChristian. In other words, Wallis' third way is for everyone to become Left-wing Democrats save with respect to abortion, but his prescriptions for actually ending abortion are apparently obscure:

So what does he want Democrats to do to make abortion rare? Moderate and moderate some more. Does that mean a ban on partial birth abortion? Wallis is silent. Parental notification? Silence again. A 24-hour waiting period. Silence. A ban on federal funding of abortions? Silence. Overturning Roe v Wade. Deafening silence. Returning the issue to political debate and the state legislatures? Total silence. Detailed information on the potential physical, emotional, and spiritual harm caused by abortion. Mum's the word. Stringent limitations on health of the mother exceptions. Not a word.

DP hammers away at Wallis' fondness for driving in the far left lane of the ideological highway, a proclivity apparent in the tendentious wording of much of what he writes. For example:

Jim Wallis is forever setting up straw men and offering false choices. "Oh really," I kept muttering to myself as I came across this or that line. "We are all diminished when our social life is reduced to the survival of the fittest" (as if that is the world according to those on the right). Or the Democrats need to, there he goes again, "moderate" their position on abortion "without criminalizing an agonizing and desperate choice" (as if jailing women is at the top of the pro-life wish list). Or the GOP is "wrong" to see religious issues "solely" in terms of "individual moral choices and sexual ethics" (solely?). Or the Christian Right is led by "theocrats," such as those ever-ready (and increasingly irrelevant) bogeymen, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and theocrats have a "fatal attraction" for violent solutions. (In truth, Falwell is as close to being a theocrat as, well, as Jim Wallis.)

Or, it is wrong to resort to "purely military solutions" (purely?). Or it is "mean-spirited to blame gay people for the breakdown of the family" (as if those who oppose gay marriage are unaware or otherwise unwilling to call attention to the myriad reasons for the collapse of the family).

Or, with Iraq occupied the Bush administration "now intends to control the rest of the world too" (must be that those neocons have been listening to the theocrats on the subject of violence -- or is it the other way around). In any case, such immoderate statements made in the name of moderation are more than moderately astounding.

Or, those who believe that "there is nothing we can do about poverty" are those who take comfort from Christ's reminder to his disciples that the "poor you will always have with you." Nothing?? Really?

There is much, much more to this review at the link and those likely to read Wallis' book or who are themselves interested in the mesh of politics and Christian faith would do well to give it a look.

If you would like a review which offers a more sympathetic treatment of God's Politics than Democracy Project does you can find a good one here.