By Bruce Purdy
With all of the books that I consume on an annual basis, I sometimes find it a delight to come across one that is truly enlightening. That’s not to say I don’t learn something from each of them. Just that they don’t always provide me the same level of insight. I originally bought this book because the title caught my attention. However, the more I immersed myself in the books’ content, the more I began to connect the dots of why our world is so screwed up.
Here is an author that takes on the daunting challenge of taking deep philosophical writers of the last 500 years and actually making them understandable. I don’t know about you but I find it a real intellectual battle to read (and actually understand) such authors as Descartes, Rousseau, or Nietzsche. Dr. Wiker, in this simple book, not only takes on that challenge but truly accomplishes it.
Before he gets into expounding on the philosophical errors central to his thesis, he sets a firm foundation by introducing his readers to four books which, by their titles, are most likely familiar to most of us. Let me briefly describe the principle errors that I gleaned from these literary discourses. I tried to condense one simple core concept from each chapter.
The Prince (Machiavelli)
Pragmatism – the ends justifies the means. Utilize “whatever works” as the philosophy that will allow you to govern those you rule over.
Discourse on Method (Descartes)
Reality is whatever you imagine it.
Man, in his natural state, has no conscience. Good is defined as getting what you want; evil defined as whatever hinders that goal. Anarchy is the result. The only reason we have laws is so that we can live together without killing each other.
Discourse on the Inequity among Men (Descartes)
Civilization and morality are evil. The “noble savage” is not evil because they do not know what it means to be good. Private property enslaves us because then we have to fight off others to keep it.
There is one book from the core ten (from which the title comes from) that I just have to comment on. That is Beyond Good and Evil by Frederick Nietzsche. Most readers have heard the “infamous” phrase from this author who declared, “God is dead”. However, you need to know the context from which this statement is gleaned. Permit me to offer a short excerpt from the book.
The author, Benjamin Wiker, writes, “While many know that Nietzsche said, “God is dead,” very, very, few know what he meant. It was not a cry of triumph, but of despair uttered against an ever more trivial and dwindling civilization that Nietzsche thought was sapping humanity of all greatness, producing something just barely above the animal: the last man.”
Wiker quotes from Beyond Good and Evil, “Indeed, in its first sustained exposition of Nietzsche’s works, it is uttered by a “madman” who cries out, “Whither is God?…I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are murderers…Is there any up or down? Are we not straying through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?…God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.”
I won’t ruin your chance to glean your own insights from this great resource by telling you about the rest of this list. However, suffice it to say, you will not be disappointed if you take the time to read this book. Who knows, once you have taken the time to sit and read this book, you might actually be inclined to dive into the deep end and read the source books being referenced. I know that I will.