April 14, 2006

Right-wing Reading Lists

I admit the first thing I thought on reading this story was, "Rick Santorum wrote a book? C'mon, who really wrote it?"

Then I thought, "I'd trust this story a lot more if it were published somewhere besides in a press release from the Alliance Defense Fund."

Then I thought, "Wow, these book recommendations are pretty poor quality, actually."

All kidding aside, of course I don't think a complaint of sexual harassment should be filed against a librarian just because he recommended conservative books. Which is why I'd really like to see the complaint itself, not just the letter about the complaint sent by the ADF.

The problem seems to be not Savage's book recommendations per se, but a book review posted on Amazon.com:

The basis of this frivolous complaint is an excerpt of an Amazon.com book review that the complaining professors, not Mr. Savage, e-mailed to university faculty and staff after Mr. Savage suggested several books to the First Year Reading Experience committee.

But here's what I don't get, assuming the nature of the complaint is as stated by the ADF:

  • Wouldn't it occur to you, if you were offended by these recommendations, that filing a complaint about them would only wind up conservatives and send them into We're the Real Victims Here mode? There are entire organizations just waiting for things like this to happen so they can pounce on them; so, what, you should feed them?
  • Failing that, wouldn't it occur to you that filing sexual harassment claims over book recommendations demeans legitimate sexual harassment complaints?
  • But whatever. Back to my main point: These are dreadful books, mostly, in my view. Not because they're dangerous or controversial or any of that nonsense, but because (with the possible exception of the Bat Ye'Or title; I haven't read it myself) they appear to be sloppy, slapped-together efforts with a main theme of "Things Were Better Back When." You know, before the radicals, the feminists, the gays, and other subversive groups Corrupted America?

    I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I don't think the way to introduce students to right-wing thought is to sell it to them as a compendium of the wit and wisdom of Grandpa Simpson.

    They aren't what I'd recommend, in other words. But then, I'm not a so-con. So I'd probably go with these:

    Parliament of Whores, P.J. O'Rourke: Yeah, it's primarily a humor book, but (a) P.J. is remarkably fair compared to the current dismal crop of Republican authors (he's quick to note that most people who work for the government do so because they believe government can fix problems, not because they want to steal your money and oppress you), and (b) it's worth it for the line about the difference between the political parties: "Democrats are also the party of government activism, the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it."

    The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek: Except (hangs head with shame), I've never read it. I KNOW--how can I recommend a book I've never read? First, because it comes up all the time among the right-leaning. It's a classic. Second, because it drew a favorable remark from, of all people, George Orwell: "In the negative part of Professor Hayek's thesis there is a great deal of truth. It cannot be said too often--at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough--that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamt of." Yeah, I have some nerve recommending a book I haven't read myself but come on, hands up who believes the librarian above actually read the Bat Ye'Or book? See, that's what I thought. Besides, I'll get around to it eventually.

    Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty, James Bovard: I did actually read this one. I don't recall it having been quite so hysterical as the Publisher's Weekly review makes it out to be ("A bit less bluster and more discretion would have produced a more effective polemic."), but then, I also probably came to it with more innate sympathy than the Publisher's Weekly reviewer did. My biggest complaint about Lost Rights?--It's fucking depressing.

    Lest you be too quick to throw Bovard into the wingnut bin, note that he's better described as libertarian than conservative--and he's not the biggest fan of the current President. I haven't read his recent books on the subject, but I probably will at some point.

    Anything at all by Robert D. Kaplan: I wanted something foreign-policyish here and was going to recommend Balkan Ghosts, but then I thought, "No, The Arabists!" and then I thought, "Wait, he has a book out about the military now, doesn't he?" and then I thought--so you see. Anything at all. And again, compared to the current crop of hysterics dominating political bookshelves, Kaplan is staid.

    What would you recommend? (UPDATE: I mean, suggest any 3-4 books on any subject at all that you'd choose to introduce someone to your pet ideas. That includes religion, feminism, left-wing politics, scuba-diving, cooking, misanthropy--you name it. Knock yourselves out.)

    (Alliance Defense Fund press release via Ace of Spades.)

    Posted by Ilyka at April 14, 2006 10:44 AM in news

    I'm in the middle of reading Nozick's "Anarchy, State, and Utopia", and can heartily recommend it - but only to people interesting in such things.

    Such things being basic philosophy of government (heavy on the philosophy; he spends a whole chapter critiquing Rawls' Theory of Justice).

    The thesis is the theoretical moral justification of the minimal state (and evidently, though I haven't got to it yet, an argument that any greater state is unjustified) on natural rights grounds, and contra no-state anarchism. (Showing that the minimal state can arise without any violation of rights, in other words.)

    Also, Lem's Fiasco, which I'd recommend even if he hadn't recently died. But only if you like science fiction (and I don't mean space opera).

    Posted by: Sigivald at April 14, 2006 02:24 PM

    David Lewis, _On the Plurality of Worlds_. Metaphysics the way it should be done.

    J. L. Mackie, _The Miracle of Theism_, is probably my favorite recent work on religion (Hume's _Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion_ are of course also wonderful, and Mackie borrows from them extensively).

    On misanthropy, I guess I've always rather liked Nietzsche's _Thus Spoke Zarathustra_. Or I could finally pick a non-philosopher and mention Dostoevsky's _Notes From Underground_.

    On left-wing politics, I'll submit _Living High and Letting Die_ by Peter Unger. OK, it's not explicitly political, but it's interesting to contrast with Nozick, certainly.

    Good books on feminism, scuba-diving, or cooking are not leaping to mind, and I guess I have four or five recommendations already.

    Posted by: Protagoras at April 14, 2006 05:22 PM

    Kaplan's book about the military is fantastic - I just finished it. It's called Imperial Grunts.

    My personal favorite of is is called The Ends of the Earth. Great great book.

    Posted by: red at April 14, 2006 05:53 PM

    Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos is the book I wish I'd written, but you knew that, right?

    Shake Hands With the Devil by Romeo Dallaire (the Canadian general who led the UN intervention in Rwanda) is the book that is the most responsible for shaping my current views on the military (particularly the Canadian military) and the ethics of war. I heard the man speak a few years ago; I am not exaggerating when I say that his talk changed my life.

    Hmm, I'm not even going to make it up to 3 right now...oh, wait! Fire and Ice: Canada, the US, and the Myth of Converging Values was the book that helped me figure out why Canadians and Americans generally seem to be talking past one another when politics come up.

    Posted by: Moebius Stripper at April 14, 2006 06:00 PM

    Subject: How to enjoy oneself while reading on an airplane


    The Concrete Blonde


    Posted by: Hubris at April 14, 2006 06:39 PM

    Think a Second Time and Happiness is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager

    Atten LA area radio listeners... Turn OFF Rush and switch to Dennis (on at same time).

    Better for your heart and your head.

    Posted by: Darleen at April 15, 2006 04:50 PM

    Okay, here are four great books on Christianity I wish everyone would read, regardless of their beliefs:

    Mere Christianity
    The Screwtape Letters
    The Problem of Pain
    The Four Loves

    In that order. All by C.S. Lewis, of course.

    Posted by: Susan B. at April 15, 2006 11:05 PM
    Okay, here are four great books on Christianity I wish everyone would read, regardless of their beliefs

    Awesome, I have three of the four! I've only finished The Screwtape Letters, though. I'm about halfway through Mere Christianity and haven't started The Four Loves yet.

    Posted by: ilyka at April 16, 2006 12:51 AM

    My recommended reading list for my obsession (the wretched US school system) waits on my site. The recommendations below do not intersect that list (with the exception of 1. Hayek's __Road to Serfdom__).
    2. Darwin, __The Voyage of the Beagle__ (The Natural History Library, Anchor Books). My all-time favorite book. Poetry from beginning to end.
    3. Cohn, __The Pursuit of the Millenium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages__.
    4. Rhodes, __Why They Kill__. Sociology.
    5. Quine, __From a Logical Point of View__, for the essay "Two Dogmas of Empiricism". If "Two Dogmas..." doesn't unsettle you, you're scanning, not reading.
    Koestler. __Darkness at Noon__.
    Everything by Solzhenitsyn (except the plays). Twice.

    Posted by: Malcolm Kirkpatrick at April 16, 2006 12:38 PM

    I admit, "Two Dogmas" does unsettle me. It is quite unsettling that a paper which doesn't really contain any good arguments has been so influential. Philosophy is far more a matter of fashion than we like to admit, and Quine wrote the right thing at the right time, just when Logical Positivism was starting to look stodgy and dated to lots of people.

    It's also interesting where Quine got the title for that book. I wonder what it says about him.

    Posted by: Protagoras at April 18, 2006 10:12 AM

    Wasn't PoW also where PJ said that if Lloyd Bensen represents the right wing of the Democratic Party ande Jesse Jackson the left, it makes for a bird the size of the Chicago Merchandise Mart, and you' better watch out when it flies over your car?

    I'd recommend "The Fatal Conceit" by Hayek as much or more so than "The Road to Serfdom", although I like TRTS becuase of its indictment of technocracies, what with me being a scientist and all.

    Posted by: John at April 19, 2006 07:42 AM