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Saturday, January 19, 2013

10 Books that Screwed Up the World

I've just begun reading an interesting book called 10 Books that Screwed Up the World: and 5 Others That Didn't Help by Benjamin Wiker. I've only just begun, but I know I'm going to like it from the Introduction which is titled "Ideas Have Consequences." Indeed they do! People of faith know that ideas have consequences. Sinful thoughts often lead to sinful behavior, but, even when they don't, they can be sinful in themselves. Adultery isn't the only sin against the 6th commandment. Looking in lust at others (a sin of the mind) is also gravely wrong. One may not steal, but coveting, an act conceived in the mind and chosen with the will, is also sinful. (N.B. Coveting is the sin underlying class envy, certainly a common sin in our age.)

Wiker says ideas released in print, "can be, and have been, as dangerous and harmful as deadly diseases...[and] If we take a good, hard, sober look at the awful effects of such deadly ideas we can come to only one conclusion: there are books that really have screwed up the world." To emphasize his point he quotes Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish essayist:

who was once scolded at a dinner party for endlessly chattering about books: 'Ideas, Mr. Carlyle, ideas, nothing but ideas!' To which he replied, 'There once was a man called Rousseau who wrote a book containing nothing but ideas. The second edition was bound in the skins of those who laughed at the first.' Carlyle was right. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote a book that inspired the ruthlessness of the French Revolution (and even more destructive things after that).
The first chapter in Wiker's book evaluates Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince. To read it a few days before Obama's second inauguration is like reading a character sketch of Obama and his handlers. Machiavelli throws out virtue, supplanting it with a wicked pragmatism. The measure of the politician's impact is "success" and using whatever is necessary to achieve it. (N.B. It's easy to see here how Machiavellian principles influenced Saul Alinsky and the underlying philosophy of Alinskyian community organizing which undergirds Obama's political approach.)

Goodness is important to Machiavelli as a useful tool. But it isn't goodness in reality that matters, only the appearance of goodness, hence, the prince must be a "great pretender and dissembler." It isn't necessary to be faithful, honest, humane, religious, etc., Machiavelli writes, only to appear so. He believes that "by having them [virtues] and always observing them, they are appearing to have them they are useful." As Wiker writes, "Machiavelli convinces the reader that great evils, unspeakable crimes, foul deeds are not only excusable but praiseworthy if they are done in the service of some good." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Machiavelli rejected Christianity and blamed it for preventing the creation of Utopia on earth. It is the same message of all those who advance the idea of a secular Utopia where confiscating guns from law-abiding citizens will prevent all violence amd forcing people to cooperate in intrinsic evils like abortion and same-sex marriage will create a more tolerant culture. It's the same old song and dance that has fueled every tyranny in the last 500 years. When Obama is sworn in on Monday, you can be sure Machiavelli will smile over his use of multi-bibles to swear his oath to uphold our Constitution, recognizing Obama as his philosophical twin and our own "great pretender and dissembler."

I'm going to read The Prince to understand our own political climate better. Certainly the pragmatism illustrated in the behavior of so many politicians, particularly pro-abortion self-identified Catholic politicians, is straight out of Machiavelli's playbook. Since he didn't believe in God or hell, that chapter is omitted and will have to be lived out by many when they face reality at the Final Judgment.

For more on Machiavelli, see Peter Kreeft,  Machiavelli: Inventor of the New Morality


Kathleen said...

I really enjoy your blog! God bless You.

Restore-DC-Catholicism said...

I see that Betty Friedan's book made "dishonorable mention". I'd have to agree with that.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks, Kathleen, I hope you'll sign on as a follower.