_The Critical Thinking Book_ covers not only standard topics such as definitions, fallacies, and argument identification, but also other pertinent themes such as consumer choice in a market economy and political choice in a representative democracy. Interesting historical asides are included throughout, as are images, diagrams, and reflective questions. A wealth of exercises is provided, both within the text and on a supplemental website for instructors. The author also offers additional exercises, videos, and other teaching and study materials that can (...) be digitally integrated into Learning Management Systems. (shrink)
In this essay, I review two earlier anti-Semitic propaganda films of 1939, to wit, Robert and Bertram, and Linen from Ireland. I begin by rehearsing some of Abram de Swann’s analysis of genocide and then discuss in greater detail a classic sociological analysis written during WWII by Hans Speier. Speier distinguished three broad kinds of war of increasing ferocity: instrumental war, agonistic war, and absolute war. While the first two sorts of war are relatively constrained, in absolute war the in-group (...) regards the out-group as inherently evil, and consequently the goal of such a war is to exterminate the out-group, with no limitation on methods. I suggest in the piece that the focus of these films is precisely to get the audience to view Jews as three different things: different (not Germans as “Aryans” are supposed to be); disgusting (loathsome, somehow degenerate); and dangerous (a threat to Aryan Germans by their very nature). I cover both films, pointing to the scenes that are crafted to engender in the audience exactly these feelings. To help explain how the various scenes manipulate the audience to push the regime’s Anti-Semitic narrative, I use Robert Cialdini’s theory of the use of psychological mechanisms in marketing. (shrink)
In this article, I explore how efficacious film can be in countering propaganda in film. To set up the discussion, I first sketch out a simple theory of propaganda, under which propaganda can be ranked from completely rational to very irrational, on six different dimensions. These are the degrees to which the propaganda is: evidence-based; truthful; broadly logical; transparent; properly targeted; and transparent. I then review in detail the main propaganda film, Gasland. This film was a highly successful documentary that (...) attacked the production of natural gas by hydrofracturing, called in America “fracking.” Gasland succeeded in organizing domestic opposition to fracking, actually blocking it in the Delaware River Basin system. The film was also influential abroad, leading to fracking bans in France, Bulgaria, and elsewhere in Europe. Next, I review in detail two counter-propaganda films—that is, in this case, two pro-fracking documentaries: Truthland and FrackNation. Truthland is a short documentary that aims at rebutting many of Gasland’s major claims. It was funded by the fracking industry and had limited distribution but it succeeded in refuting much of the longer and better-funded anti-fracking film. A much more successful film in terms of both general distribution and efficacy of rebuttal was the much longer pro-fracking documentary FrackNation. It critiques all of Gasland’s major points, in vivid detail. Since it was crowdfunded, it couldn’t be dismissed on the grounds that it was biased because of being industry-backed. I conclude by explaining why the pro-fracking documentaries did not result in a major change in public opinion. (shrink)
In this review essay, I review in detail Abram de Swann's fine new book, The Killing Compartments. The book is a theoretical analysis of the varieties and causes of genocides and other mass asymmetrical killing campaigns. I then suggest several criticisms of his analysis.
This essay is my review of Erwin Leiser’s excellent documentary film Germany Awake. This classic film first aired in Germany in 1968, and remains to this day one of the best surveys of major Nazi-era movies and exactly what messages they were meant to convey. The film underscores the emphasis the regime put on film as one of the premier mechanisms of propaganda, though Leiser’s film points out that most of the cinema produced by the Nazi regime was not pure (...) propaganda, but mainly entertainment. In the review, I put forward a list of criteria for evaluating the degree of the deceptiveness of propaganda, and why cinema is so apt to exploit those criteria. (shrink)
Christopher Johnson has put forward in this journal the view that ad hominem reasoning may be more generally reasonable than is allowed by writers such as myself, basing his view on virtue epistemology. I review his account, as well as the standard account, of ad hominem reasoning, and show how the standard account would handle the cases he sketches in defense of his own view. I then give four criticisms of his view generally: the problems of virtue conflict, vagueness, conflation (...) of speech acts, and self-defeating counsel. I then discuss four reasons why the standard account is superior: it better fits legal reality, the account of other fallacies, psychological science, and political reality. (shrink)
In this essay, I look at two negative portrayals of egoism. I summarize in detail the superb All About Eve—which won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The movie is about the rise of a ruthlessly ambitious actress, and how she treats her main competitor. Eve Harrington worms her way into top theatrical actress Margo Channing’s inner circle by pretending to be an admirer, but she is really a schemer who wants to eclipse Margo’s star in the theater universe. However, (...) Eve runs into trouble when she attempts to manipulate tart-tongued theater critic, Addison de Witt. The movie portrays the New York theater industry as being full of narcissists. I then review the classic film noir The Third Man (1949), rated by the prestigious British Film Institute as the greatest film of the 20th century. The film centers around a charismatic, handsome criminal mastermind Harry Lime living in bombed-out post-War Vienna. Lime is a man of no conscience or empathy—a true psychopath. He cripples children by selling hospitals adulterated penicillin. But we (the audience) still feel sympathy for him. I end the piece by explaining the psychological mechanisms at work that give rise to our paradoxical sympathy. (shrink)
In this essay, I look at more or less sympathetic portrayals of egoists in film. I start by explaining some basic concepts: psychological egoism; ethical egoism; default egoism; rational egoism; egotism; cynicism; narcissism; and psychopathy. I then review in-depth two excellent WWII films, Stalag 17 and The Bridge on the River Kwai. I note that the key protagonist in both pictures is the same type of character—both played by the same fine actor, William Holden. The main protagonist in both is (...) a soldier in a POW camp, who appears completely egoistic; however, in both cases, the movie shows that he is just a man acting for self-preservation, but within moral limits. The character in both cases is certainly not an egotist, nor a narcissist, much less a psychopath. (shrink)
This essay is my critical review of Al Gini and Alexei Marcoux’s fine text, The Ethics of Business. Unlike most business ethics texts, Gini/Marcoux recognize that most businesses are small, and that business is not inherently immoral and always in need of reform. And they put their focus on using ethical theory to find action-guiding principles to help guide business behavior. Moreover, they adopt the Schumpeterian view that business is an entrepreneurial activity—one that not merely executes transactions, but seeks them (...) out. I critically probe a number of issues with their book such as their reliance upon virtue ethics as their main ethical theory, and their view that trust plays an overwhelming role in business. (shrink)
This essay is my review of Philip Booth’s Wellbeing and the Role of Government. The book is an anthology of original articles by eminent researchers in modern happiness economics, such as: Booth himself; Paul Omerod; David Sacks, Betsey Stephenson, and Justin Wolfers; Christopher Snowden; J. R. Shackleton; Christian Bjornskov; Peter Boettke and Christopher Coyne; and Pedro Schwartz. I conclude by offering several criticisms of the work.
In this essay, I explore a documentary about the curious case of Charlie and his Orchestra. While swing music was outlawed in Nazi Germany as “degenerate,” the Nazi regime created a radio program called “Charlie and his Orchestra” for foreign consumption. The propaganda lay in the changes to the original lyrics of the songs played, making them convey the anti-Semitic and other themes of the Nazi ideology. The review discusses just how good the musicians were, and how popular the program (...) was. (shrink)
In this essay, I review in great detail Ian Garden’s outstanding book, The Third Reich’s Celluloid War. Garden begins by discussing propaganda theory and then discusses not just Nazi feature films and documentaries, but television as well. (The Nazis had the earliest TV network). All in all, the regime produced over 1,300 feature films during its time in power. Garden also compares Nazi propaganda films to British and American ones.
This essay is my extended review of Eamonn Butler’s outstanding primer, Classical Liberalism. In his book, Butler notes that the phrase “classical liberal” encompasses a wide spectrum of views, from conservatism to libertarianism. Butler lays out 10 principles that characterize classical liberalism, sketches its history, and discusses the value classical liberals place on freedom and toleration. He also examines the classical liberal views of politics, government, and society, and some useful compendia for the reader.
This essay is my brief review of Nicholas Phillipson’s biography of Adam Smith. I discuss the highlights of his treatment of Smith’s fascinating life. Phillipson does a beautiful job of surveying Smith’s academic career. Especially useful is Phillipson’s discussion of the influence David Hume had on Smith’s thought, as well as the influences of Montesquieu, Samuel Johnson, Voltaire, Rousseau, and others.
This essay is my analysis of Eamonn Butler’s fine book, Public Choice: a Primer. I suggest that Butler’s book is especially useful for philosophers, most of whom are to this day unfamiliar with public choice theory. This body of economics studies the role that universal self-interest plays in politics. This is an unpleasant truth for many philosophers, who have the Hegelian view of government as the realm of disinterested charity. Butler reviews the history of public choice economics, discusses the various (...) schools of the theory, and the major areas of application. (shrink)
In this essay I take up the later major anti-Semitic propaganda pieces, all of them released in 1940. They were produced under Goebbels explicit orders to each of the three Nazi-controlled studios to produce an anti-Semitic film. The three films produced were: The Rothschilds Share at Waterloo; Jud Suss; and The Eternal Jew. These films were much more powerful propaganda pieces in intensifying anti-Semitic feelings—those feelings of difference, disgust, and danger. For each film, I point to the scenes that arouse (...) the feelings even more profoundly than did the earlier films. The Rothschilds’ Shares at Waterloo put forward the conspiracy theory (widespread to this day) that Jewish bankers form a conspiratorial cabal bent upon world domination. Jew Suss (which was presented as historically true) pushes the narrative of Jews using money to take power, and of their boundless lust for young Christian women (hence the danger of “racial pollution”). Of all the anti-Semitic propaganda films the regime produced, the top regime figures considered this to be the most powerful—about 40% of German adults of the time saw this film. It is banned in Germany to this day. Finally, The Eternal Jew—perhaps the most infamous of the group—is presented as a truthful documentary. While this sham documentary was a comparative box office flop, it was widely used as a training film. (shrink)
This essay is my short, critical review of Donald Livingston’s anthology, Rethinking the American Union for the Twenty-First Century. The contributors of this anthology all argue for secession as a legal and proper tool for calling the Federal government down in size and power. I critically examine the arguments of the contributors.
This essay is my review of Philip Booth’s ...and the Pursuit of Happiness: Wellbeing and the Role of Government. The book is an anthology of original articles by eminent researchers in modern happiness economics, such as: Booth himself; Paul Omerod; David Sacks, Betsey Stephenson, and Justin Wolfers; Christopher Snowden; J. R. Shackleton; Christian Bjornskov; Peter Boettke and Christopher Coyne; and Pedro Schwartz. I conclude by offering several criticisms of the work.
In this essay, I look at two films as possible exemplars of the Nietzschean view of egoism. Compulsion is based on the infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb murder case. In the movie, two arrogant young men—one of whom admires Nietzsche and preaches the (apparently Nietzschean) view that the strong and superior don’t need to follow conventional morality—kill a boy to prove they can outsmart the unter-menschen police. For a different take on what Nietzsche may have had in mind as “the (...) Overman,” I also look at the film The Moon and Sixpence. Here the protagonist isn’t violent or aggressive, but a completely self-absorbed artist, who paints with genius but uses others without feeling any gratitude or friendship, let alone love. (shrink)
This essay is my review of economist Mark Skousen’s book, The Big Three in Economics. In it, he discusses the economic work of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. He gives even-handed treatments of the major contributions of each, for example, Smith’s reputation refutation of mercantilist policies and Smith’s crucial insight into the role that division of labor plays in economic growth. My only complaint is that Skousen doesn’t adequately explain his choice of Marx as a great economist. (...) What enduring contributions did he make to the field? Why name him rather than (say) David Ricardo? (shrink)
In this essay, I use four war movies to explore conflicts of loyalty and how they are resolved, all to illustrate W.D. Ross’ multiple rule deontologism. The films are all fine WWII movies: The Enemy Below; Decision Before Dawn; John Rabe; and The Bridge on the River Kwai. In my analysis of each, I show how the protagonists face conflicts of their loyalty to themselves, their countrymen, their friends, and humanity in general, and resolve them in the face of changing (...) factual backgrounds. (shrink)
This essay is my review of Colleen Dyble’s book, Taming Leviathan: Waging a War of Ideas around the World. Dyble is affiliated with the legendary classical liberal British think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs. Her anthology is a collection of essays by people around the world who have been involved with similar free-market think tanks in countries with historically statist economic systems. These writers include Greg Lindsay, founder of the Center for Independent Studies in Australia; Margaret Tse, of the (...) Instituto Liberdade in Brazil; Michael Walker, co-founder of the Fraser Institute in Canada; Cristian Larroulet, of Libertad y Desarrollo in Chile; Giancarlo Ibarguen, of the Center for Economic and Social Studies in Guatemala (which actually founded a free-market-oriented university); Parth Shah, founder of the Center for Civil Society in India; Daniel Doron, co-founder of the Israeli Center for Social and Economic Progress; Alberto Mingardi, of the Instituto Bruno Leoni in Italy; Masaru Uchigama, founder of the Japanese for Tax Reform; Elena Leontjeva, co-founder of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute; Alexander Magno, co-founder of the Foundation for Economic Freedom in the Philippines; and last, Leon Louw, of the Free Market Foundation of South Africa. I then discuss seven important reasons why classical liberal think tanks are so important in modern societies. (shrink)
In this essay, I review a French-American gem of a movie, The Artist. This movie was an homage to the silent film era and is itself almost all silent. I discuss both the artistic and financial success of silent movies, and I praise this film for successfully interesting modern theater-goers despite its almost total lack of sound. The film won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and—for its outstanding lead actor, Jean Dujardin—Best Actor. It is the only French-produced (...) movie to win Best Picture, and the only (almost entirely) silent movie to win Best Picture since the start of the Academy Awards in 1929. (shrink)
In this essay, I look at some extraordinary actors who never got their due—actors who had distinguished careers, but never won an Academy Award for acting. I review the work of: Joseph Cotten; Orson Welles; Edward G. Robinson; Cary Grant; James Mason; Richard Burton; Claude Rains; Alan Ladd: Robert Mitchum; and Fred MacMurray. In each case, I explore the actor’s best work, what made his acting outstanding, and offer possible explanations why he was not so honored.
In this essay, I briefly review ten of the best bio flicks of artists. After laying out my criteria for assessing biographical films about artists, I review my ten choices. These films are: The Agony and the Ecstasy; Frida; Local Color; The Moon and Sixpence; Girl with the Pearl Earring; Pollock; Rembrandt; Moulin Rouge; Modigliani; and Lust for Life. For each film, I try to explain the ways in which the directors were able to show the artist’s creative processes and (...) personal challenges. (shrink)
This essay is my review of Randal Marlin’s fine book, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion (2nd Ed.). Marlin’s book examines the concept of propaganda, rightly noting that the term has a neutral meaning of just promulgating a point of view and a pejorative meaning of using deceit to push a point of view. Marlin gives a concise history of propaganda techniques, and propaganda theory—from ancient Greece through WWII—and has a good discussion of the ethical issues involved in propaganda.
In this essay, I review an extraordinary bio flick, Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science, and to achieve her distinguished career she had to deal with her autism. The film explores what it is to suffer this disease, but it also explores her extraordinary work involving making slaughterhouses more humane.