Phi Beta Cons

In Defense of Great (and Good) Books

The Heartland Institute, a leading free-market think tank based in Illinois, has just opened a library at its new building in Arlington Heights, Illinois. The library has nearly 10,000 books, most of them part of the “literature of liberty” – books written by intellectual champions of freedom.

On the day of its dedication, Joseph Bast, Heartland’s president, gave a talk explaining why keeping those books is so important. While he loves the Internet, he said that Googling has weaknesses that can be balanced by real, paper books.  

So much research and commentary is now available online that the good stuff — reliable, accurate, and often profound –  is difficult to find. The sheer volume of content makes the writing of even the greatest thinkers and schools disappear behind a fog of blog posts and ephemeral opinion pieces.

A physical library, in contrast, can be curated, putting in one place the books, say, by prominent libertarians.

Bast also observed that the Internet can be manipulated by “governments and their allies.” George Orwell warned in 1949 that “totalitarian regimes could exercise control over their citizens by making news of past events and articles about forbidden ideas disappear ‘down the memory hole’.”

Joseph Bast, by the way, knows books. (He donated some 4,000 to the library.) Joe attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship but after the first year lost it through a bureaucratic Catch-22 snafu (one that brings no credit to the university). So he decided to work his way through school by becoming a janitor at the university (fortunately for him, at the Regenstein Library), and he spent the next seven years taking classes and reading plus working full-time. His story can be found here.

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...


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