Monday, October 04, 2010

Books Get Dusty

Of late, the New York Times has made it a practice of profiling the Tea Party on a weekly basis. This weekend's edition discusses, um, what Tea Party members are reading. I guess that's nominally more compelling than Sarah Palin's wardrobe. Here's an excerpt:

But when it comes to ideology, it has reached back to dusty bookshelves for long-dormant ideas. It has resurrected once-obscure texts by dead writers β€” in some cases elevating them to best-seller status β€” to form a kind of Tea Party canon.
Note the sneering tone. Apparently, trolling dusty bookshelves is some sort of offense against civility now. Memo to Kate: Reading is cool.

That said, the term "once-obscure" seems a bit redundant. If they were obscure, and had remained so until now, it would be sufficient to say they resurrected obscure texts, yah?

And what constitutes an ancient, obscure text?

β€œThe 5000 Year Leap,” self-published in 1981 by an anti-communist crusader
That crusader had a name, Cleon Skousen. He wasn't that obscure (he was actually very controversial), and neither was this text, which was written as conservative forces were coalescing in response to Reagan's election.

The "self-published" bit is misleading. It was published by the Center for Constitutional Studies, Skousen's right-wing think tank. It is not uncommon for published works to emanate from think-tanks, and many of those works have proven very influential over the years.

Skousen did die in 2006. So did Saddam Hussein. So what?

It is absurd to argue that a book written 29 years ago can possibly represent "long-dormant ideas". How old is the journalist? She also cites Hayek's Road to Serfdom, which was written in 1944, and was not at all obscure.

The (apparently) heretofore unheralded Ayn Rand gets a mention as well.

I'll note that this poorly considered opinion piece is not located in the opinion section of the paper. Someday, scholars seeking to understand the demise of print journalism with find this article on a dusty bookshelf. It won't take 29 years.

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