Lots of friends and foes have been emailing me to talk about Liberal Fascism in light of the fact that Loughner liked both the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. I’m taking a pass on all that largely because I think it’s entirely irrelevant. Also, I have zero interest in hawking even a single book in this context.
But about those other books. When I meet young people who brag about having read Mein Kampf, my first reaction is that they’re lying, for one reason or another. And after further conversation, I usually come away feeling my initial reaction was justified.
That’s because Mein Kampf isn’t some serious book. Mein Kampf is an impenetrable, boring run-on sentence, occasionally punctuated with “shocking” anti-Semitism and revolutionary rhetoric. It’s worth reading only as a historical document and propaganda and even then you have to realize that it’s not so much an honest portrayal of Hitler’s life and ideas so much as an honest portrayal of what Hitler wanted his readers to believe (the truly revealing book is Hitler’s Table Talk). Mein Kampf is a talisman, an icon, a provocative t-shirt or bumper sticker in more tangible form.
And most — not all, but most — of the young men (it’s never women) who brag about reading it usually skip the part where they actually read it. Reading it isn’t the point. They want to seem edgy, different, outside the box and under the radar. They want to wear trench coats in August, rail against the system and ostentatiously laugh at the sell-outs and conformists with conventional or even defensible political views (in this they are more than a little Hitlerian.).
In my experience it’s not quite the same with the Communist Manifesto. First of all that tract is actually readable and interesting. Moreover it’s relevant to a lot more discussions and is assigned in a lot of classes. I’ve met lots of smart lefties and righties who’ve read it and learned from it.
But it, too, is a talisman. It’s something certain types invoke to push buttons and seem like philosophical sophisticates or political outsiders.
Maybe he read them. Maybe he even enjoyed them. But I would bet he enjoyed the idea of enjoying them, the romance of being that kind of guy, even more. This was a sick, tortured soul and trying to find deep meaning in Loughner’s favorite books list is, I think, a fool’s errand.