are books harmful?
eszter points to a list of the 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries, as identified by a panel of 15 conservative scholars and public policy leaders.
unsurprisingly, the panel identified works by marx, mao, kinsey, freud, skinner, darwin, friedan, and nietzsche, but they also found foucault, the webbs, de beauvoir, fanon, and gramsci worthy of mention. auguste comte's the course of positive philosophy ranked eighth:
Comte, the product of a royalist Catholic family that survived the French Revolution, turned his back on his political and cultural heritage, announcing as a teenager, “I have naturally ceased to believe in God.” Later, in the six volumes of The Course of Positive Philosophy, he coined the term “sociology.” He did so while theorizing that the human mind had developed beyond “theology” (a belief that there is a God who governs the universe), through “metaphysics” (in this case defined as the French revolutionaries’ reliance on abstract assertions of “rights” without a God), to “positivism,” in which man alone, through scientific observation, could determine the way things ought to be.
i'm a little surprised that conservatives would find positivism more harmful than, say, keynesian economics (which ranked tenth). have phyllis schlafly and some of the other panelists really had much exposure to comte, or is he a stand-in for atheism? or sociology? other head-scratchers on the list included john dewey's democracy and education at #5 and john stuart mill's on liberty, which merited an honorable mention. i'm pushing this too far, i know, but i can't help thinking that indentifying such a broad set of ideas as harmful hints ever so slightly at cultural revolution-style anti-intellectualism.
such lists might also provide a little insight into the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia. the conception of "harmful" on this list seems so general -- and so at odds with the big new ideas prized by academics -- that it surely narrows the field of inquiry. i'd imagine that the same group might place adam smith, alexander hamilton, james q. wilson, george kelling, and charles murray on the "most important" books list, but even a close reading of these authors would give some of the panelists pause.
this panel put together a fascinating list and their efforts will stir some great conversations. nevertheless, the products of such efforts remind me that there are those who find that books -- or ideas, or disciplines such as sociology -- are harmful in themselves.