Summer deprogramming

Thomas Sowell suggests books to “deprogram” students exposed to leftish propaganda.

If all that today’s students seem to know about American history are its negative aspects which it shares with human societies in general then they may think that we are a truly awful country, without asking the question, “Compared to what?”

Sowell is not talking about beach reading. In addition to The Federalist Papers and his own Ethnic America, he recommends:

Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People and Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties

Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom’s America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible

Joshua Muravchik’s Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism

And some econ books. Perhaps faithful readers have ideas for lighter reading for less motivated people in need of deprogramming. I suppose Ayn Rand’s dystopic Anthem would be good. It’s short.

For children, I highly recommend Genevieve Foster’s histories, such as George Washington’s World and Abraham Lincoln’s World. In fact, I’ve just ordered a copy of The World of Columbus and Sons, which hadn’t been written when I was a kid. Foster writes “horizontal” history, touching on what was happening in various places around the world during the main character’s lifetime. The books are listed as “young adult,” but I read them in elementary school.

About Joanne


  1. We read Anthem in ninth grade English. I enjoyed it except when the teacher suggested that Ayn Rand was sexist because she had the female character look into a mirror at one point, which my teacher said could imply all women are vain. Fahrenheit 451 was listed on our syllabus but we never got to it. Reading one dystopian novel was enough exposure for us, I guess.

  2. Any Solzhenitsyn would be good, though not light, of course. As we’ve mentioned before, The First Circle is a pretty cool novel, and actually very readable. Also One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, of course.

    Another good novel would be Bridge on the River Kwai which actually is based on the experiences of British POWs.

    For kids, Year of Impossible Goodbyes is an absolutely terrific story about a North Korean family who suffered under the Japanese occupation; when the Russians came in they could no longer tolerate life there at all. The family had to split up, even the children, and travel to South Korea. It was hair-raisingly dangerous and it took a year for the survivors to find each other. One Memorial Day my daughter and I watched a TV show from D.C. that featured Korean War vets. Their stories brought tears to our eyes. I reminded my kid of that book, and I told her that our soldiers were there to make sure that South Korea remained a safe place for families like that.

    Finally, for those who don’t read, there are movies: “Schindler’s List”, “Empire of the Sun”, and “The Killing Fields” come to mind.

  3. I’m in the middle of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and it’s a pretty smooth read. The hardest slogging came in the beginning, reading through the numerous (but fascinating) prefaces, forewords, introductions, etc. (it’s the fiftieth anniversary edition.)

    Sowell’s recommendation is a good one. I just left graduate school in English lit. While I was there I was shocked–I’m still shocked, actually–to discover that many of my fellow students didn’t know the most basic facts about capitalism and socialism. One woman ranted in every seminar about the evils of capitalism, demonstrating great familiarity with Althusser, but one day she made a remark that yanked the curtain back on her ignorance: She was angry that a Soviet satellite country had sold its national airline to a private investor after the disintegration of the USSR. She hadn’t made the connection between a state-planned economy and the state of the state itself!

    I remember holding similarly dopey beliefs, full of holes and blind spots (although not necessarily about communism), when I was younger. All the while I was confident that I was being a “critical thinker” just because I was criticizing the status quo. Needless to say, I was consuming a steady diet of books that confirmed my biases. A little variety back then might have hastened my intellectual progress.

  4. Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville.

  5. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Starship Trooper, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
    And anything by Eric Hoffer.
    I would hope Kipling, but I will take what I can get.
    And, of course, Playboy, for the articles.

  6. Taeyoung says:

    Sort of related to this–I was struck by Sowell’s mention of “in comparison to what?”

    This is one reason we ought to try and get as many students as possible competent not only in reading English (a stretch, I know), but also some other language, such as French or Chinese, and also important that they visit and see these other countries for themselves. Without seeing distant lands first hand, I think many students (and many Americans in general) are left free to imagine them as paradises of plenty and all that. I recall vividly describing a foreign country (Japan) based on my (and my parents’) experiences living there to an incredulous chum, who thought it was all the usual “fear of the Other” and ignorance and bigotry, until I explained that I’d visited in Japan, and spoke and read Japanese, and that what I was saying wasn’t had out of a book, but out of my own experiences.

    He’d never been abroad.

    Different people get different things out of sojourns on the Continent or in the Orient or wherever, but I think it’s important that a sizeable proportion of our youth be brought up short, face-to-face with a more full-fleshed reality of foreign life.

    The reading is important, I think, mostly so they can read foreign news, and learn a bit more about the perspective from which foreign potentates are acting. Many people, casually, seem to operate on a model in which the US is the only purposeful actor and everyone else acts purely in reaction to us. The foreign press may not actually wholly dispell this impression, but I think reading them can help flesh out foreign countries as something other than mechanical systems whereby US action is transformed into “blowback” or what-have-you.

  7. Bill Leonard says:

    Johnson’s A History of the American People is very readable, and in my judgement is required reading for anyone who wants a one-volume history (albeit a longish one) of the United states. The references alone probably are worth the price of the book for any serious reader.

    I can recommend nothing by Ayn Rand, mostly because she was such an abominably bad writer. And, she hadn’t all that much to say — but she said it, a lot.

  8. Taeyoung: Right on the money. My family is from (the former) East Germany, and I’d been there several times, so I never bought the “worker’s paradise” bs. Similarly, students I knew who worked in Brazil with the amazingly poor people there came back with a whole new idea about American poverty.

    Good observations all the way around.

  9. I know some people who went abroad on do-gooder missions and came back convinced that our society was responsible for poverty abroad because of supposed waste of resources, blah blah blah…

    The point is, foreign travel doesn’t always open minds; it often just reinforces preconceptions.

    So sticking to book-reading is probably better, as it really does open minds.

  10. Michael says:

    Johnson’s book is good, and I’d also recommend Daniel Boorstin’s trilogy on American history. Were I teaching American history, I’d have them read Johnson and Zinn together. It would make for lively discussion.

    As for Ayn Rand, there is nothing good to be said for her writing or her philosophy.

  11. Fletcher says:

    Sowell has some very good ideas. His books on immigration are excellent. The Thernstrom’s book America in Black and White is also good. Johnson’s History of the American People is also a good counter-point to the irrational attack on western civilization represented by Zinn, Chomsky, et al.
    Pinker’s “The Blank Slate” is quite good to add scientific background.
    Bjorn Lomborg’s “The Skeptical Environmentalist” exposes much of the nonsense of the highly politicized environmental movement.

  12. D Anghelone says:

    Many people, casually, seem to operate on a model in which the US is the only purposeful actor and everyone else acts purely in reaction to us.

    That model is often causal, not casual, but otherwise an excellent observation.

  13. Jim Thomason says:

    Ditto on the Heinlein and the de Tocqueville.

    PS Mr. Leonard’s take on Rand, “she hadn’t all that much to say — but she said it, a lot.” was SPOT on. I actually laughed out loud.

  14. Stella Baskomb says:

    “Another good novel would be Bridge on the River Kwai”

    Agree. For me the Best Moment is when the colonel (played by Alec Guinnes in the movie) blinks and asks himself, “what have I done”?

    I wish some of today’s soi-disant “intellectuals” of the left (Michael Moore and his acolytes come to mind) had the intellectual honesty to ask themselves the colonel’s question, and the courage to face the answer.

  15. stolypin says:

    Stella, thank you for using ‘soi-disant’. I had no clue as to its meaning and looked it up. It is deliciously appropriate and I look forward to having the opportunity to use it some time!
    Thanks again, Ivan

  16. Michael, one thing I distilled from Rand’s novels is that if I have a dream, I can’t sit back and wait for somebody else to fulfill it. I have to go after it myself. And it has to be my dream, not what other people think my dream should be. Of course I could have gotten that message from all kinds of places, and probably didn’t really have to get it externally at all; and of course there’s a lot of extra noise in her work; but I wouldn’t say there’s nothing good in her philosophy. Striving for excellence is another good idea that has echoes in her work.

  17. Richard Brandshaft says:

    Walter Willis,

    “Starship Troopers” was written in a gloomy period in American history. The evil empire seemed ascending (meaning America had failed). Heinlein said the probable futures looked to be occupation or nuclear disaster. (He said this, very effectively, in a speech to a science fiction convention in the mid 1960s. After the speech, I went back to my hotel room and threw up.)

    “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” presents self-governing prisoners as a benign form of government. Real life experience with prison gangs is somewhat different. (Unless the liberal-controlled media is preventing us from knowing how well they work.)

  18. Richard Brandshaft says:

    On my last post, “mid 1960s” turns out to be 1961.

    Yes, I should have looked it up
    BEFORE I made the post.

  19. Taeyoung says:

    D. Ang. — I used “casually” because when people think carefully, they generally don’t assume that foreigners are all drones waiting for an American to wind them up. It’s just when they’re casually chatting about politics–speaking without thinking–that they revert to this model.

    Also, boo, developing a command of the language is important for getting a full experience, I think. I don’t know what the proportion is, but I suspect (based at least on my own field of acquaintance) that most people who travel abroad for NGOs and do-gooding don’t speak the local languages, unless the languages are European (French or Spanish, say). And, all things considered, I’m not so presumptuous as to assume that travelling abroad and living in a foreign country does the same thing for everyone else as for me. But whatever else it gives you, whether it calcifies your prejudices or not, I think it almost certainly gives one a richer understanding of at least that other culture, and weans one of the tendency to idealise the Other, or dehumanise him into a purely reactive thing without ambitions and stratagems of his own.

  20. Walter E. Wallis says:

    “Moon is…” would be more penal colony gang than prison gang. The Lunies could not sit back and wait for feeding. I took it as an example of “The Laborer is worthy of his hire”, or the relative importance of capital and labor.
    I admit to having skimmed through John Galt’s radio speach.
    As for the U.S. attitude, If we are here only to help others, what are the others here for?

  21. Michael says:

    Laura, you could indeed have found those two ideas elsewhere, and they wouldn’t have come shackeled with the atheistic immoral self-centeredness that Rand was pushing. The writing would have been better too.

  22. “…the atheistic immoral self-centeredness…”
    Well, you’ve got that pegged. Agreed about the writing too. Walter, I didn’t even skim the radio speech – I skipped it entirely. I tried to read it once and nearly threw the book across the room. The sad thing is that she spent a very long time crafting that speech.

    But you have to remember that she came from the communist hell-hole; her family helped her leave Russia knowing they’d never see her again, because she couldn’t have survived there. She’d have been shot eventually. Then she came here, loving what America stood for, and saw people flirting with those same ideas that had destroyed her home. Of course she was passionate about it. I think her tragedy is that The Fountainhead struck a nerve in young people and brought about a group of hero-worshippers who gradually assisted her in divorcing herself from reality. Not too stable to begin with, she tumbled into obsession and even megalomania. I think she did her part in putting capitalist ideas into the mainstream, though. I don’t listen to Rush, but I’m glad he’s there.

  23. By far the best Rand book, in my opinion, is “We the Living.” The characters are much more real than anything in the later novels, and the book really does give a feel for what living in a totalitarian society must be like.

    Never could figure out what Kira saw in Leo, though.

  24. Economics books: Sowell’s own “Basic Economics” will do just fine. You could also try Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson” which is shorter. For the college student just starting out, try Paul Heyne’s “Student’s Guide to Economics” from I’ve read several of those guides and they all are well-written and concise. I like Road to Serfdom just fine, but I have trouble getting other people to read it. Sowell or Heyne are not a problem.

    Rand: not concise. But there’s still much to be said for Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead. I’d also recommend the movie for Fountainhead or Noi Vivi, an Italian version of We the Living. (Hard to find, but available.) It’s my practice to re-read them every five years or so, and I find new things every time. Her philosophical writings, otoh, may as well be written in Martian.

  25. Jim Thomason says:

    “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” actually deals with the DESCENDANTS of prisoners, not the prisoners themselves (with one or two exceptions, granted). This is an important distinction.

    From memory, I also believe that a large percentage of the original convicts were what we would call “political prisoners” today. This would also indicate a different dynamic in a “self-rule” scenario than suggested above.

    Think of Australians, rather than the characters who populate HBO’s “Oz”, when thinking about the people of “The Moon …”

  26. John from OK says:

    This year I read Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism and it is EXCELENT. Assuming it’s truthful, of course.

  27. Mad Scientist says:

    And what, I ask, is wrong with being an athiest? Or looking out for one’s own self-interest?

    Please explain that.

  28. Mad, it’s atheist. A-the-ist. Literally, “no-god”. I guess from an atheist’s point of view, there’s nothing wrong with atheism. From this Christian’s point of view it’s mistaken, at the very least, and casts doubt on the validity of the philosophy as a whole. And Rand’s view of self-centeredness is a bit shallow. Her idea of the opposite of selfishness is Hank Reardon’s making a fool of himself supporting his hateful wife and mother and ne’er-do-well brother. Well, you can be generous and care for others without being an enabling idiot.

  29. Mad Scientist says:

    Ah, caught again in the “i-before-e-except-after-h” rule ๐Ÿ™‚

    Whitout getting into a heated discussion on the merits (or lack therof) of athEIsm, let’s just agree to disagree on that one.

    One thing about all of the characters in Altas Shrugged is that each one is flawed in his own way, except for John Galt, and each comes to learn why they are not the embodiement of pure reason that Galt is.

    Reardon is the one who tries to be the proper family man, but refuses to hold others to his high standards until very late in the book.

    Francisco tries to live up to his family’s ideal before he has his ephipany an hels to systematically dismantle the world economy.

    Dagny is simply young and over time learns John’s lessons the hard way.

    The fascinating part is how each one of these characters makes their journey of self discovery.

    One of the other, more subtle points of the book, lost on younger readers, is the scene where Ragnar hands Hank a bar of gold. Remember that this book was written while it was against the law to hold gold buillon in any form (thanks FDR); that prohibition was lifted only in the late 1970’s. Therefore, the government made it illegal to own monry in any form other than the state sanctioned currency. This is why the whole economy of the enclave seems so weird.

    BTW, in my opinion, just skipping (or skimming) Galt’s speech, is like skimming the Cliff’s notes to War and Peace because the prose is boring. Or difficult.

  30. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Imperfect me.
    Did Hoffer beat up on his girlfriend?
    I agree about We the Living, always the first one to sic someone on. I used Atlas to punish, by telling someone to guess which charactor he/she was more like, with no hint [and no clue].

  31. For younger girls (pre-highschool): The Protector of the Small Quartette, by Tamora Pierce. The heroine, Keladry, is determined to become the second female knight in 100 years. Along the way there is the demonstration of duty, the burden of command, and the mastery of fear.

    In my view, Heinlein’s youth fiction hasn’t stood the test of time particularly well. I’ll try some again this summer, but…

    Carl Sagan, the Demon Haunted World. As an antidote to the pap that is swirling around.

  32. Liz, re: the Heinlein, you have to pretend it’s 1950 when you read it. Or go to the video store and rent “Starship Troopers”; watching that excellent movie ought to put you in the mood. Otherwise, you’ll just have to quote Miss Jean Brodie: “For those who like that sort of thing, that’s the sort of thing they like.” My brother’s 17-yr-old son gets Heinlein from me for Christmas every year, and tells me he loves it. And I think he must, because he sits right down immediately and opens it up.

    My daughter loves Tamora Pierce’s work.

    Mad, the reason I couldn’t read Galt’s speech is that I had just gone through 1,472 pages (OK, I’m exaggerating) (but only slightly) of novel in which she had put her point across in every conceivable way, and it just struck me that if she hadn’t gotten it across by then she wasn’t going to do it by beating me over the head with it. I remember thinking I GET IT ALREADY as I flipped past looking for the story to pick up again.

  33. theAmericanist says:

    I think Whittaker Chambers nailed Ayn Rand best — because she was essentially a fascist: there is “a faint whiff of the gas chamber” about her work.

    On Taeyoung’s point, read Chesterton: “I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders, embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what they looked like….”

    , or at

    Still — the sad thing about this subject is that it is left to guys like Sowell to talk about it.

  34. You need some good economic history to appreciate our successes.

    Try North and Thomas, The Rise of the Western World or Rosenberg and Birdzell, How the West Grew Rich, both highly readable, but academically serious texts.

  35. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The differences between Starship Trooper the book and the movie could well be an educational experience. Heinlein juveniles were written for a different level of allowable expression. Imagine a juvie story, today, where the boyfriend encourages his gal to get fat.
    Anyone calling Rand fascist never got past the 3rd page of any of her works.

  36. theAmericanist says:

    Actually, I read ALL of Atlas Shrugged, and took a running start into the Fountainhead before I caught on.

    LOL — face it, the woman was evil.

  37. Mark Odell says:

    Laura wrote: Liz, re: the Heinlein, you have to pretend it’s 1950 when you read it.


    Or go to the video store and rent “Starship Troopers”; watching that excellent movie ought to put you in the mood.

    I beg to differ.

    Walter E. Wallis wrote: The differences between Starship Trooper the book and the movie could well be an educational experience.

    Quite; the book is not about a hyper-militaristic culture — but the film is, thanks to Messrs. Neumeier and Verhoeven (the latter understandably traumatized by up-close-and-personal experience of National Socialism) needing to project onto the screen their own biased interpretations of what the book was about.

  38. Richard Aubrey says:

    For fun reads, with character lessons built in, without hectoring, Rosemary Sutcliff’s young adult historical novels are fabulous.

  39. stolypin says:

    Not quite o.t. but this book and its author helped change my life.

    Study Is Hard Work: The Most Accessible and Lucid Text Available on Acquiring and Keeping Study Skills Through a Lifetime
    by William H. Armstrong

    Available at by the way

  40. Okay.

    (1) Why pretend it’s 1950? Because literature from different decades tastes different. You won’t find a book like Starship Troopers written today, anymore than you’ll find “Heartbreak Hotel” except on the oldies radio station. Nothing wrong with them, they are just of their time. So to appreciate them you can’t judge them like they’re brand-new and contemporaneous with today’s culture.

    (2) I don’t see the movie as hyper-militaristic. Earth was being threatened with actual bombs falling on cities. You do what you have to do. The book had its military elements too. The people who make the movie have to pick and choose what aspects of the book they’re going to present. There’s never been a movie that struck every viewer the same way the book struck them. (“Return of the King”, now, was hyper-militaristic compared to the book.)

    (3) I mention watching the movie to prepare for reading Heinlein because the same things appeal to me from both: first and foremost they are ADVENTURE. Struggle and danger. Courage. Sacrifice. Plots with beginning, middle, and end. Good guys and bad guys. If you’re reading Heinlein primarily for the social commentary (and it’s there, believe me) then that advice probably won’t help.

    (Whether Rand was a fascist or not depends on your definition. She had a horror of strong government of whatever type, so I think that alone lets her out.)

  41. theAmericanist says:

    Whittaker Chambers wrote, I think, the last word on Ayn Rand in 1957, in the review “Big Sister is Watching You”. He pointed out that Rand’s Dollar Sign “is meant to seal the fact that mankind is ready to submit abjectly to an elite of technocrats, and their accessories, in a New Order, enlightened and instructed by Miss Rand’s ideas that the good life is one which “has resolved personal worth into exchange value,” “has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.'” The author is explicit, in fact deafening, about these prerequisites. Lest you should be in any doubt after 1168 pages, she assures you with a final stamp of the foot in a postscript: “and I mean it….”

    Oy. You guys are just gulls, if you fall for THIS crap. What do you think fascism looks like?

    I think “Lies My Teacher Told Me”, by Loewen, would be a pretty fair text. What engages students more than discovering, not that ideologues are trying to con ’em, but that ALL the grownups are — cuz they’re chicken?

  42. Jim Thomason says:

    I honestly don’t understand how someone who has read Starship Troopers can honestly compare the movie to it and find it similar.

    The movie had the same title, the ROUGHLY the same basic characters, and the same basic plot. That’s about it as far as similarity.

    It’s somewhat like comparing Clueless to Emma, with one very important distinction – Clueless was very good. It was a good-to-great movie loosely adapted from a great novel. Starship Troopers was a D movie loosely adapted from a great novel.

    PS I heartily second the link provided by Mark O’dell above regarding the differences.

    PPS While the protagonist of Starship Troopers was (at the start, at least) a teen, I don’t believe that it falls within the Juvenile subset of his work.

  43. “He pointed out that Rand’s Dollar Sign “is meant to seal the fact that mankind is ready to submit abjectly to an elite of technocrats, and their accessories, in a New Order, enlightened and instructed by Miss Rand’s ideas that the good life is one which “has resolved personal worth into exchange value,” “has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.'” ”

    Well, it seems clear that whatever he was smoking didn’t have the sign of the dollar on it, and probably didn’t have any tobacco either.

    First, the “elite of technocrats” were the bad guys. Second, the sign of the dollar was a symbol of the complete rejection of the idea of abject submission to anyone, and an insistence upon dealing with one’s fellow human beings and gaining their cooperation through trade rather than through force. The dollar itself is also praised by Francisco D’Anconia as he points out that the aristocracy of the dollar is the only alternative to the aristocracy of pull.

    “Oy. You guys are just gulls, if you fall for THIS crap. What do you think fascism looks like?”

    It looks an awful lot like the racket that Wesley Mouch and company were running, and not at all like Galt’s Gulch. The original fascists left the ownership of enterprises nominally in private hands, but only let them actually operate if their nominal owners were part of the “aristocracy of pull”.

  44. theAmericanist says:

    Ken, go read Chambers review. Search google for “Big Sister is watching you”.

  45. Mad Scientist says:

    First, I find it quite telling that the first 5 hits on the Google search refer to Hillary Clinton. That, in and of itself, is interesting.

    One must keep in mind that a review is just one man’s opinion, and you can take that with a huge grain of salt. Sure there are things I do not like about Rand’s style, primarily the lack of shading in the characters. Her portrayals are too black and white (N.B. This is NOT a racist comment).

    I find it amusing that Mr. Chambers misses the point entirely about Robin Hood in the novel. It is Rand’s contention that the looter’s vision of Robin Hood is that they take from the evil rich to give to the deserving poor. She makes the point that, in reality, Robin Hood stole from the rich who did not earn their wealth and gave it back to those who earned it. The difference is not so subtle; I am surprised that someone of your intellectual capacity does not quite understand this.

    And although Chambers supposedly renounced Communism, I suspect that he still though fondly of it. How else could he so obviously miss the point? I would imagine it’s the atheism that sticks in his craw most of all.

    I guess the idea that one should keep what one earns to dispose of as one wishes is and evil idea. However, it is not as evil as the concept that I labor for the government and am allowed to keep what they deem is necessary.

  46. I’ve read Chambers’ review too. I have to say that I’m underwhelmed by reading other people’s opinions about things. I’m interested in everybody’s opinion who posts here, of course (she said politely) (and much more interested in what you have to say, Mark, than other people whose page you link to) but I feel very comfortable with my own judgement and my own tastes. Not that I might not quote someone else who puts things very nicely or gives me something new to think about.

    The only “to the gas chamber, go” thing that I can remember in Rand’s work, and it’s been a number of years since I’ve read any, is her dismissal of retarded children’s right to any consideration and the nasty, dreadful way she portrays the people who care for them. Rand never had kids, as far as I know it never crossed her mind to want them, but if she’d had a baby with Down syndrome I’ll bet she’d have been a different woman. It seems from her writing that any deviation from beauty, health, intelligence, and so on, implied some sort of moral depravity and lessened one’s worth as a human.

    Now having said all this, I still challenge the idea that she was a fascist. Is a totalitarian government not a cornerstone of fascism? The woman stood for personal freedom, to a fault. And don’t tell me that she substitutes a technocracy for government. Money basically is a labor counter – did she say that or did I hear it elsewhere? It facilitates the exchange of labor, either in producing objects or ideas, or in some other desirable form. It’s just the next step up from a barter system. I think her point in pushing the dollar sign really was the “laborer is worthy of his hire” thing, or even, “don’t muzzle the ox that’s treading out the grain”. Both of which are biblical references, by the way.
    : )

  47. theAmericanist says:

    LOL — let’s face it, she was a vile, evil leader of a cult. If she didn’t happen to suit a lot of folks rosey notions of anti-Communism as a cause (sad to define yourselves by what you’re not), she’d be seen for the wretch she was.

    But — a champion of freedom, much less for what kids should learn of the good things about America? Puh-leeze.

    I remember about 20 years ago a news cartoonist nailed Jeanne Kirkpatrick trying to make a similar distinction, in her case between ‘totalitarian’ and ‘authoritarian’ regimes. Kirkpatrick’s “idea” — if we can stretch the concept that far — was that authoritarian regimes can change peacefully over time into democracies, while totalitarian regimes cannot, and must be overthrown. The fact that there are more counterexamples (authoritarian regimes that violently become totalitarian, and ‘totalitarian’ regimes that gradually or even peacefull became democratic) wasn’t important to her: it was an ideological position and aimed primarily at promoting a political agenda: not for nothing did Swift call his island of intellectuals, floating in the sky, anchored to nothing: “Laputa.”

    Just so with Rand’s followers.

    Anyway, in the cartoon, Kirkpatrick was explaining the fundamental difference between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes: ‘In a totalitarian regime,’ she said ‘the government tortures and kills and rapes innocent civilians for their political beliefs, while in an authoritarian regime… (pious look before final frame with punchline) these important functions are reserved to the private sector.’

    It gets a bit dicey to parse ‘communism’ and ‘fascism’ and whatnot. Political philosophy is just limited. (I’m reminded of Franz Michel, who explained the Taiping’s approach to taxation as “simplicity itself: they took everything insight.”)

    But the cartoon distinction is as good as any — the distinguishing characteristic of a fascism isn’t necessarily the size or scope of government, anymore than you had ‘private enterprise’ in Nazi Germany, but rather that there is no room for the weak.

    THAT is Ayn Rand. And that is fascist.

  48. Well if there being no room for the weak is fascism, you’re right, that’s what she is. That’s a fairly eccentric definition of fascism, though, IMO.

  49. theAmericanist says:

    How ELSE would you parse communism from fascism?

    Remember, the Nazis were National SOCIALISTS.

    I’m not impressed by the bogus distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ sectors in garrison states. No dictatorship has much of a private sector anyway, and the way to real power always involves wealth, anyhow.

    You can make fine distinctions between Mussolini and Franco and Hitler, or between Lenin and Stalin and Mao, but they’re not THAT different.

    So, the ‘no weaklings’ is as good a distinction s any.

  50. Mad Scientist says:

    Just like Nader is the vile, evil leader of a cult.

    Or Bill Clinton, for that matter.

    See, it is so easy to label people who have ideas in contrast as your own as evil.

  51. I’m not interested into getting into Randian discussions. However, the idea that fascism reduces all relationships to an exchange nexus is ridiculous. Fascism is largely a reaction *against* economic values; it seeks to substitute “heroic” values and a return to nature, “blood,” and soil, along with unthinking faith of one form or another.

  52. Why would I want to make distinctions between Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco? They were all fascists, weren’t they?

    One major difference between communism and fascism is that under classical communism, the state was supposed to wither away. Under fascism, the state (under the dictator of the moment) is the ultimate entity. I know you’re saying it’s not, but it is. Now honestly, are you going argue that fascism and anarchy are in any way compatible? Or that fascism and libertarianism are? (not that Rand would have called herself a Libertarian. That party was founded by Buckley, whom she could not stand.)

    I’ll agree that she was the leader of a cult. Vile and evil some of her philosphies certainly were. (I shrink from describing a person as vile and evil.) Those things are not synonymous with fascism.

  53. theAmericanist says:

    Well, one reason to make distinctions is that it is the only way to reliably make sense.

    Mussolini came first, and he was Italian the way Franco (who came last) was Spanish. That is, one difference between the two of ’em, and Hitler, was that Hitler really did want to conquer Europe and beyond, and was willing to bet everything on pulling it off. Neither Mussolini nor Franco was like that. Like DF said, they were sorta blood and soil guys — but almost exclusively within their respective nations.

    (In that sense, it’s also primarily a difference between Italy and Spain, both geographically easy to identify as nations, and Germany. German fascism naturally included more blood than soil, cuz “Germans” lived pretty far outside the land of “Germany”. Americans have trouble with this, partly cuz we’re an ideological nation and partly cuz we’re a land of immigrants but mostly cuz our natural boundaries are so big.)

    Communism had a different sorta messianic vision thn fascism, but other than that, it really is hard to parse ’em in practice without resorting to (gasp!) theory.

    But — in theory — communism was always a much more humane doctrine than fascism. A communist ideologue would explain how to handle Down Syndrome kids by pointing out that under the dictatorship of the proletariat, such misfortunes would simply cease — but when pressed (I’ve done this, in China) would explain that in a communist state, EVERYONE is cared for.

    One sign of Rand’s fascism is that this was not her notion of an ideal society — nor was the hybrid, praxis-ruled USA, neither.

    So why, in the name of the Heming descendants of Thomas Jefferson, would anybody want HER to be a text on what is good abut America?

  54. Mark Odell says:

    Laura wrote: (1) Why pretend it’s 1950? Because literature from different decades tastes different.[…]

    Thank you for the lucid explanation, I agree with you.

    (2) I don’t see the movie as hyper-militaristic.

    When I wrote that, I meant only that some people thought so, not that you personally did.

    Why would I want to make distinctions between Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco? They were all fascists, weren’t they?

    Not quite.

  55. Mark, thanks for the link. I want to sit down and read through it all when I have time.

    Americanist, we may be arguing across each other here. I would never suggest Rand’s writing to someone who wanted to learn what’s good about America. I would suggest it to someone who wants to take part in conversation with people like us – see, we all know about it. It’s present in our psyches, whatever we think about it. Or possibly to somebody I thought had potential but needed to sprout a backbone, but more likely I’d talk to that person myself.

    I’m still not yielding on the point that a person who wants the smallest and least intrusive government possible can’t be a fascist.

  56. theAmericanist says:

    (grin) Then you need to learn more Lincoln.

    One of his favorite courtroom tactics was to get some smart ‘expert’ on the stand (Lincoln was the best railroad lawyer in the country in the 1840s and 50s), who would be arguing for some vested interest, like the canal companies. And he’d ask the guy: How many legs does a dog have, if you call the tail a leg?

    More often than not, the fool would reply: “Why, five, of course — if you call the tail a leg.” Maybe the guy would catch the judge’s eye, or the jury, and laugh: such a country lawyer question.

    And Lincoln would do his best aw-shucks, and mock the man: “No, a dog still has only four legs. You can CALL a tail a leg, but that don’t mean he can walk on it. Now, let’s talk about what right of way really means….”

    It’s just dumb to define something as diverse as “fascism” as if you can parse it as a mere theory of government. What, Franco wasn’t a fascist? Nor Mussolini? Their approach to government wasn’t the same as Hitler’s — or Pinochet’s. (What, HE wasn’t a fascist?)

    What is the utility of the term, then?

    It IS probably important that Communism had an elaborate theory of history and economics that was supposed to predict, while fascism never really had anything similar. So that’s a difference worth noting.

    But it’s not true that fascism precluded a ‘private sector’. So it is also not true that simply wanting a small and not intrusive government is incompatible with fascism.

    The Krupp family, for example, was quite happy with Nazi rule. Ya might say — gee, that wasn’t what Rand meant, she rejected the idea that people who produce should be fettered by people who don’t. But I got news for you — she MEANT people like the Krupps: a highly innovative, profoundly capitalist clan. (To this day, you can find their signature doorknobs in antique shops: look for the ones marked with three rings, they look like the old Ballantine trademark. When peace broke out in the 19th century, the Krupps switched to household goods until the arms race of the 20th century brought ’em back home.)

    The ugly, evil aspect of Rand’s philosophy (if you can call it that) is simply that she didn’t bother to recognize that abstracting her “ideas” (to brutalize the language) from reality meant precisely that people like the Krupps wind up with “voluntary” labor, provided by a “small and unintrusive” government — small and hands-off, that is, if you happen to be a Krupp: one of the producers.

    Cuz — you know how “We, the People” managed to head off that sort of atrocity? Votes. For everybody — including all those pesky “unproducing” folks whom Rand would happily have waved to the gas chambers. THAT’s what she rejected, the whole notion of “WE, the People”.

    Just vile.

    Come to think on it, ya know what would be a good story for kids to read? Lincoln winning the lawsuit about railroad bridges across the Ohio.

    That was the first time that East-West traffic (the direction of the primary railroads) prevailed over North-South traffic (the direction of most canals). It’s a right of way case — a barge smacked into a railroad bridge, and the canal company sued to have the bridge taken down as a hazard to navigation.

    (grin) Anybody think I should write that for a young adult audience? (ahem) Particularly, um, any publishers?

  57. Imperial Germany was a “small and unobrusive” government? Bismarck and Kaiser Bill are weeping. On the domestic front, innovators in social welfare and public education. On the foreign policy front, militarism and imperialism.

  58. Cousin Dave says:

    Ken and Walter: I wouldn’t waste time with Americanist. He goes around quoting Whitaker Chambers; that tells me all I need to know.

  59. mike from oregon says:

    Ayn Rand a good example of a bad example. Remember, nothing is ever a complete lose.

  60. theAmericanist says:

    Um… fellas, perhaps you should learn to read.

    Laura argued that you can’t be a fascist if you favor a small government. I noted that fascism is not incompatible with a private sector, so it is not true that you can’t be a ‘small government’ fascist, so to speak.

    I didn’t claim that Bismarck or Wilhelm were fascists.

    LOL — and, Cousin Dave: I got better liberal Democratic credentials than anybody who posts here.

  61. “It’s just dumb to define something as diverse as “fascism” as if you can parse it as a mere theory of government. What, Franco wasn’t a fascist? Nor Mussolini? Their approach to government wasn’t the same as Hitler’s — or Pinochet’s. (What, HE wasn’t a fascist?)”

    I assume you’re not talking to me. I never said fascism is a mere theory of government. I said you can’t have fascism without a big strong government, and I still stand by that. Did I not say that Franco and Mussolini were fascists too?

    If you want to play the game of reducing your opponent’s argument to absurdity, I can to that too: Fascism is vile and evil. Ayn Rand’s worldview is vile and evil. Therefore Ayn Rand was a fascist.

    But I won’t insult you by pretending that that is your argument.

    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

  62. theAmericanist says:

    (smile) What if instead of a “big strong government” it was an utterly weak government that allowed privately-run police forces to do anything they wanted?

  63. J Thomason says:

    The primary difference between Communism/Socialism and Nazism is given in the full name of the German party – NATIONAL Socialists. While Communists were talking about a global solidarity (“Workers of the world unite!”, “International Brotherhood”, etc.), the Nazis were nationalistic. Hitler wanted Germans (or, more accurately, the mythical ‘Aryan’ race) to be on top, Mussolini thought in terms of what was best for Italy (however wrong he proved to be). He I won’t discuss Franco, because I know very little about him or Spain of the time.

    Mussolini began his career as a Socialist firebrand, landing the editorship of the leading Italian Socialist newspaper. What got him expelled was his support for Italy’s designs in WWI.

    Saying that Mussolini wasn’t much interested in expansion betrays an astonishing lack of knowledge of history. Did you not know of his invasion of Greece? Ethiopia? Egypt? Somaliland? His annexation of Albania? He didn’t lack imperial ambitions, what he lacked was a decent military.

    Displaying yet more ignorance, you claim that fascism is somehow compatable with limited government. That is the true head scratcher. No, fascism didn’t “preclude” the private sector. No one claimed that it did (so you are peddling a strawman here). What fascism did was place the government in absolute primacy over the private sector. The private sector was allowed to continue to run itself, but the government had the power to intervene whenever and however it wanted.

    That it didn’t use this power much doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there, and the industrialists knew it. Think of Oskar Schindler’s relationship with the Nazis in the movie Schindler’s List. They had the power to destroy him if they wanted, and he knew it. That is why his actions were so heroic.

    Finally, while I personally have little use for Ayn Rand, your characterizations of her views are just as preposterous and wrong-headed as your (lack of) understanding of history and fascism.

  64. theAmericanist says:

    (patiently) I love it when somebody repeats my point, and then tells me I’m ignorant for making it first.

    I said: “Hitler really did want to conquer Europe and beyond, and was willing to bet everything on pulling it off. Neither Mussolini nor Franco was like that. Like DF said, they were sorta blood and soil guys — but almost exclusively within their respective nations.”

    So this guy issues a thundering rebuttal, mentioned a series of nations with little or no defenses (and which the Italians barely defeated), finally concluding that Mussolini: “didn’t lack imperial ambitions, what he lacked was a decent military.”

    And just what exactly is the difference between what I said, and this guy’s response? Mussolini was not willing to bet his rule on foreign adventures against nations that would have whupped him — like Britain, for example. Mussolini was reluctant, at best, about WW2 (once it got rolling) and mostly wanted to hold Hitler’s coat while Germany conquered the rest of Europe and the Soviets. Franco even remained neutral in WW2, which would have pissed Hitler off more if France hadn’t collapsed cuz Guderian put radios in the tanks and changed his tactics to take advantage.

    LOL — as for the sorta rudderless discussion of whether ‘fascism’ requires a powerful central government, GAFG, willya?

    (even more patiently) I dunno what the point is to a discussion that says no, Rand could NOT be a fascist, even though she had more than whiff of the gas chambers about her vision of what happens to the weak in her idealism, and openly regarded democracy with contempt, preferring instead the rule of a self-appointed elite who controlled power by seizing it.

    But, then, I suppose, that’s just cuz I’m so ignorant of history, not to mention Rand, I suppose.

  65. “she had more than whiff of the gas chambers about her vision of what happens to the weak in her idealism…”

    Wait a minute. More than a whiff? Rand openly advocated mass murder of undesirables? Where?

  66. J Thomason says:

    “Mussolini was not willing to bet his rule on foreign adventures against nations that would have whupped him — like Britain, for example.”

    Like I said, woefully ignorant. And proud of it too, apparently.

    Mussolini in fact attacked Britain when he attacked Somaliland (then called BRITISH Somaliland). He also attacked the British when he attacked Egypt. Five divisions of Italian troops were repulsed by a mere 36,000 British. And let’s not forget when poor “defenseless” Greece “whupped” Benito when he attacked them.

    PS When you’re stuck in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.

  67. theAmericanist says:

    ROFL — as noted, gotta love it when a guy repeats your point trying to refute you.

  68. J Thomason says:

    Oh, and (patiently) I didn’t “repeat your point”. I refuted it.

    The difference between what you wrote and what I wrote is that you clearly don’t know a thing about WWII Italy, and you have stated bogus “facts” about it on multiple occasions leading inexoribly to fatuous conclusions. I, on the other hand, both corrected your factual errors and noted how this undermined your stated beliefs.

  69. theAmericanist says:

    (grin) Really? This from a guy who can’t keep Abysssinia and Somaliland straight.

    “The British people were very angry wth Mussolini and very sorry for the Emperor of Abyssinia, but they were not prepared to give grounds for war to the former or effective help to the latter… the half-hearted sanctions we imposed served only to infuriate Mussolini and drive him into the arms of Hitler.”

    Old Men Forget — Duff Cooper, pages 192-193

    The night Mussolini resigned in 1943, Anthony Eden wrote in his diary: “Should we not have shown more determination in pressing through with sanctions in 1935 and if we had could we not have called Musso’s bluff and at least postponed this war? The answer, I’m sure, is yes. We built Musso into a great power, the Greeks first debunked him.”

    Facing the Dictators, Anthony Eden, Book One.

    (grin) Anything else you want to add to your public embarrassment, bucko?

  70. J Thomason says:

    Jesus Christ. You should really consider changing your moniker to “Black Knight”. Your comments bear more than a little resemblance to Monty Python’s classic character. Are you going to threaten to bleed on me next?

    And “Bucko”? Should I call you “Chief”? Or maybe “Sport”. On second thought, I think that “Squirt” might be more appropriate.

    Anyway, what exactly did you think that your excerpts accomplished? Yes, Italy attacked Ethiopia in 1935. I happen to have mentioned in my first response that Italy attacked Ethiopia. What’s the point?

    The only thing that I can imagine to explain these pointless quotes is that YOU confused Abyssinia with British Somalia. If that is the case, let me simplify: when Italy attacked Abyssinia (ie. Ethiopia), it could not be said that they attacked Britain. That didn’t happen until later. If you would like a basic primer on the region’s geography and status during the period in question, this is a decent start:

  71. theAmericanist says:

    (grin) More precisely, you may want to remember what you objected to in the first place, cuz Lord knows nobody else does. I said it again (with quotation marks), since you evidently didn’t comprehend it the first time:

    I said: “Hitler really did want to conquer Europe and beyond, and was willing to bet everything on pulling it off. Neither Mussolini nor Franco was like that. Like DF said, they were sorta blood and soil guys — but almost exclusively within their respective nations.”

    So this guy issues a thundering rebuttal, mentioned a series of nations with little or no defenses (and which the Italians barely defeated), finally concluding that Mussolini: “didn’t lack imperial ambitions, what he lacked was a decent military.”

    I noted there ain’t much difference between the two statements. You’ve gone from insisting that there is SO a big difference and I’m ignorant for not knowing it, to presuming to teach me geography.


    Since you obviously don’t get it, the distinction I make (which you don’t) is that Mussolini liked to hedge his bets. Hitler was not known for that. That’s why I quoted Duff Cooper and Eden (cuz they were handy as well as authoritative , if I wasn’t lazy I’d go out to the shelves in the hall and get Shirer and Mansfield and Churchill and… well, you get the idea) on the point I made in the first place.

    Besides attacking me personally (which you’re obviously not very good at), just what are you bringing to this discussion, JT?

  72. Mad Scientist says:

    I got better liberal Democratic credentials than anybody who posts here.

    Yes, it is true. Typical close-minded liberal Democratic credentials. Just another type of fascism (believe what I say, or else!). That is why you are reviled here.

  73. stolypin says:

    While Communists were talking about a global solidarity (“Workers of the world unite!”, “International Brotherhood”, etc.), the Nazis were nationalistic.

    This is purely an aside . . . but . . .

    You were correct to note that the Communists “were talking”. Their actions, at least those of the USSR, however were dramatically different than their words and in fact Communism – or at least Stalinism was in most respects (except perhaps in publicly received dogma) just as nationalistic as national socialism. Some of these similarities can be gleaned from Bullock’s Hitler & Stalin, Parallel Lives.

    The concept of world revolution left the USSR before Trotsky – its main proponent after the death of Lenin. (Stalin asserted incorrectly that Trotsky deviated from Lenin in that regard – but that is another story for another day.)They always talked about global solidarity – but as many Spanish communists might attest – it was just that – talk.

    Stalin, in particular was an uber nationalist – even before Barbarosa. He patterned himself after Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great. Stalin enthusiatically supported Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible – part 1 (Stalin hated part 2) and Alexander Nevsky becuase they reinforced his and the soviet public’s view of the motherland and the importance of a strong national leader. Of course Stalin had no recourse, after murdering Tukachevsky and the entire Soviet officer corps, to resort to the Motherland and the concept of Holy Mother Russia to beat back the Nazis. Stalin’s treatment of nationalities further supports this view.

    This is not to get in the middle of the rest of this donnybook of gigantic proportions or otherwise weigh in on Ayn Rand, the differences between German, Chilean, Spanish, Italian, Serbian, or any other form of fascism. I will leave that one alone.

    I close by noting I never liked Rand – although I admit to a certain youthful fondness for Patricia Neal in the movie version of Fountainhead for reasons unrelated to anything other than exceedingly high levels of testosterone.

  74. stolypin says:

    To get back to the topic for a second,
    Lord of the Flies might be an appropriate choice. It is a book many kids would enjoy and provides an easy entre to discussions of political philosophy.
    I read this with my 12-13 year old for a school project. After reading the book I printed excerpts from Rousseau and Hobbes about differing ideas of man in a state of nature. The concepts were much easier to grasp after reading the book then if they had been introduced on a stand alone basis. Portions of those ideas made their way into her book report – in her words not mine by the way – based on her own understading of the suject matter.

  75. You and Gary Cooper.

  76. “Lord of the Flies” goes very well with the Heinlein book “Tunnel in the Sky”…same scenario (a group of kids stranded on their own) with a very different outcome.

  77. theAmericanist says:

    If it was up to me, by far the best is still Huckleberry Finn, particularly the “all right, I’ll GO to hell” scene.

    I suppose, if it was class on literature (or at least, one for kids who were allegedly exposed to literature), I’d add Twain’s essay on the literary sins of James Fenimore Cooper. You can see it in these threads, how many Americans STILL define our culture by foreign influences — like Rand.


    (grin) Mad — do you have the slightest clue, btw?

  78. stolypin says:

    Gary Cooper indeed! Despite the fact that I really did not like the movie – those two did seem to have a spark.

    Tunnel in the Sky would go well with LOTFs.

  79. Glad we’ve turned the discussion back to readings lists.

    My vote for a “young adult” novel is Robin McKinley’s _The Hero and the Crown_, which explores a lot of what I consider to be true heroism: when you’re sure you’re going to lose either the battle or your life or both, but you grit your teeth and do what needs to be done.

  80. theAmericanist says:

    (sound of hand smacking forehead)

    Eat the Rich, by PJ O’Rourke.

    (Sowell would NEVER recommend that, he’s too much of a snob. But it’s the best economics primer I know.)

  81. Mad Scientist says:

    Mad — do you have the slightest clue, btw?

    Perhaps I do, and perhaps I do not. In any event, I am sure you will try to give me one.

  82. theAmericanist says:

    (grin) In the immortal words of Dorothy Parker playing off the cliche, “you can lead a horticulture…”