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Ideas Do Have Consequences, But Only Some of Them Are Exposed Thoroughly
on June 2, 2008
Benjamin Wiker, who has authored numerous books of late and manages to thesource website has written another book here dealing with books he alleges have, by the ideas posited by the authors of these text, had horrendous consequences. I have found almost all of the negative reviews absolutely hilarious. I mean, one reviewer rants about President Bush! Likewise, however, I have found most of the extremely positive reviews to be somewhat short sided. I hope my review brings more critical analyses, which I have found only in a couple of other reviews here.
I normally try and keep my reviews short. I mean after all, who wants to read my drivel; but this is one case that I may have to develop a large review. First, on to the negative side: Wiker includes a text in this book that quite puzzles me.
First is his inclusion of Rene Descartes "Discource on Methods" (1637). Wiker claims "He (Descartes) proved God's existence, but only by making it depend on our thinking Him into existence. By his good intentions--if indeed they really were good--he fathered every flavor of self-congratulatory solipsism . . . and made religion a creation of our own ego." He further charges Descartes for opening a new era of skepticism when in effect trying to find away around it. I am not sure this is a fair assessment. While Descartes' starting "point" can be criticized (which Wiker does), Descartes "method" also has some very strong points as well. The problem is when one uses skepticism as a pre-text to only buttress one's presuppositions (which happens often, I agree); however, it does not necessarily follow that one will use Descartes starting point incorrectly. Wiker here does not make his case and in the process he impugns Descartes motives as well. This is also curious since Descartes was a strong defender in the rational belief in God. He developed forms of the cosmological argument and ontological argument. He further demonstrated that truth is objective, knowable, and rational. I would agree that there is fault to find here, (his ontological argument makes an invalid transition from thought to reality), but to make it a runner-up to the most dangerous books is I suggest faulty. On other books, where I agree with him their results and logical outworkings have potential effects, I often found him dealing with side issues instead of the weightier ones.
Also, why I think Kinsey's book is a form of intellectual impersonation, I think the effects of this book have really been minuscule. I posit that the sexual immoral behavior so prevalent today gets as much from the foundations laid by Kinsey as they do from multiple other areas (other media and including again Nietzsche, Freud, etc, etc.). Wiker may be right here, but he does not provide enough research to my satisfaction that most of the intellectual establishment embraced Kinsey's ideas back then or now.
On the positive side, there is much in this book that is good. It first, when it is on target, reminds us that Ideas Have Consequences! Our society does not want to always believe that their idols of intellect have often proved disastrous and in addition, it was the logical outworking of the ideas set forth. Many who look for support for a world without individual responsibility look to the existentialist philosopher Nietzsche, whose Beyond Good and Evil (and other works), has set a many persons and much of modern society on a quest of indulgence - as he asserted "They (the overmen) determine the whether and the to what end of mankind." He even question principles of injure no man (or person) and he rejected the "soft" virtues of love and humility and accept the "hard" male virtues of harshness.
In addition, he rightly includes Darwin's Descent of Man. Wiker here provides Darwin's own words (in context no less, which many others who have sought to disgrace Darwin rarely do), but Wiker shows how Darwin's caveat to his "eugenics" statements does not negate the logical conclusions of his ideas and his ideas have been used for eugenics purposes in the Western world to ill effect (Nazis and eugenics in America). Those who want to decry that this is an unfair conclusion must completely disregard the evidence and logical outworking of ideas.
There is more that can be said. In some respects, I thought this book was right on target, in other respects, I was left wanting more research and analysis. I think that more of a backdrop should have been provided and less books discussed. This would have provided a more robust discussion on the top 10 books and would have made his presentation stronger.