Another Perspective

The Liberty Reader

Human Events' list of destructive books contains some surprising choices.

By 6.16.05

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The idea of liberty never seemed especially scary to me. That was what we were all about as Americans -- people fleeing despotism. "Where liberty dwells, there is my country," declared Benjamin Franklin. I write for Liberty magazine. The Statue of Liberty is the American symbol, a salute to freedom, not to caution or obedience.

I was surprised, consequently, to see John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, a classic defense of freedom and individual sovereignty, getting an honorable mention on a list published by Human Events of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries."

Human Events, "The National Conservative Weekly," asked a panel of 15 top conservatives to compile a list of books that have done the most damage to the human condition over the past 200 years.

There was no surprise about the books that placed first, second, third and sixth -- The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, Quotations from Chairman Mao and Das Kapital. All four inspired purification drives that resulted in the mass murder of millions of people by the state.

The other six spots on the Top 10 list are more contentious. In the fourth slot, outranking Marx's Das Kapital in its hazard to humanity, is a 1948 study called Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, commonly known as "The Kinsey Report." Human Events claims that this report by Indiana University zoologist Alfred Kinsey was "designed to give a scientific gloss to the normalization of promiscuity and deviancy."

Kinsey's report, said the conservative Washington Times last year, "stunned the nation by saying that American men were so sexually wild that 95 percent of them could be accused of some kind of sexual offense under 1940s laws." One could argue that it's the state that is out of control when 95 percent of a population is classified as sexual outlaws.

It was 13 years after the publication of Sexual Behavior in the Human Male that Estelle Griswold, the wife of an Episcopal minister, and Dr. Lee Buxton, a licensed physician and a professor at the Yale Medical School, were dragged into court and convicted of providing medical information on contraception to married couples. It wasn't until four years later -- on June 7, 1965 -- that the Supreme Court reversed the conviction, maintaining that the outlawing of counseling about or the use of contraception was a violation of the constitutional right to privacy.

Next on the list of dangerous ideas, coming in at No. 5, is John Dewey's Democracy and Education. Mr. Dewey "signed the 'Humanist Manifesto,'" says Human Events, and encouraged the teaching of "thinking skills" instead of "traditional character development," and thereby "helped nurture the Clinton generation."

The seventh most harmful book is The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, published in 1963. Traditional stay-at-home motherhood was like "a comfortable concentration camp," wrote Friedan. Human Events reports that this founding president of the National Organization for Women was a longtime "Stalinst Marxist" who was "for a time even the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects in Berkeley's radiation lab with J. Robert Oppenheimer." We're lucky these well-connected hot bodies didn't nuke the Republican National Committee.

Dangerous book No. 8 is The Course of Positive Philosophy by Auguste Comte. He's the one who coined the term "sociology" and said man could figure out things better through science than theology.

Book No. 9 is Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. He argued, correctly I think, that the world isn't run by moral rules; instead, "Life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one's own forms, incorporation and, at the least and mildest, exploitation."

And finally, the danger of bad economics comes in at No. 10, with the General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes, published during the depths of the Great Depression. "The book is a recipe for ever-expanding government," says Human Events, referring to the Keynesian idea that governments could reverse downward economic cycles by means of deficits, borrowing and higher levels of state spending.

There's cause for disagreement about the animus against Keynes, Nietzsche, Comte, Friedan, Dewey and Kinsey. But when it comes to the defense of liberty and individual freedom, it seems that conservatives should see that John Stuart Mill provided a wise caution. "Whatever crushes individuality is despotism," he wrote in "On Liberty," "whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men."

For the next Top 10 contest, some good conservative editor should ask for a list of the most damage done when conservatives abandoned their principles and pushed for a bigger and more intrusive state.

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About the Author
Ralph R. Reiland is the B. Kenneth Simon professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh.