Saturday, February 14, 2009

John Dewey and NRA CEO: Best Friends Forever?

As most readers of this blog know, John Dewey isn't exactly a beloved figure in conservative America. Recently, Human Events Magazine asked a panel of scholars to vote on the "most dangerous books of the 19th and 20th century." Dewey's Democracy and Education showed up at #5 on the list, just behind Quotations from Chairman Mao and The Kinsey Report.

And so it was that I was quite surprised, while doing some research on the connection between Dewey and Thomas Jefferson, to discover a new edition of Dewey's little book on Jefferson (The Living Thoughts of Thomas Jefferson) published by Palladium Press, an "official affiliate of the NRA" and the publishers of a series of "immanently affordable" (perhaps after the recession?) titles known as the Firearms Classics Library.

The new edition features a fresh introduction by Wayne LaPierre (standing to the left of Cheney in the photo above), the current CEO of the National Rifle Association. LaPierre, as it turns out, is quite an interesting figure. In 1995, he referred to federal agents as "jackbooted thugs", which prompted former President G.H.W. Bush to resign from the NRA. Today, in addition to his NRA duties, he is the current host of Crime Strike, a television show "which fills in the details where Cops and America's Most Wanted fail." (One wonders: what exactly is the intellectual space that Crime Strike occupies?)

Now, if LaPierre were a passionate dyed-in-the-wool fan of Dewey's work, it would be extremely surprising. As it turns out, however, LaPierre didn't introduce Dewey's little book out of any affection for Dewey, but rather out of affection for Jefferson. The Living Thoughts is simply a collection of remarks by Jefferson that Dewey felt were particularly notable. For a variety of reasons, Jefferson appeals to a wide political spectrum, and Palladium Press and LaPierre must have felt that The Living Thoughts was an appealing collection.

There is a certain deliciousness about all of this. Dewey didn't select the remarks found in The Living Thoughts haphazardly; he selected them because they were, from his perspective, especially notable and worthwhile. By republishing Dewey's selections, then, LaPierre and Palladium endorsed (albeit perhaps unwittingly) a Deweyan spin on Jefferson.

All of this is just a trivial bit of fun. But the book that underlies it, The Living Thoughts, is worthy of more attention, as is Dewey's connection to Jefferson. Why did Dewey choose particular Jefferson selections that he did? Did reading Jefferson have any kind of an influence on Dewey? I've been starting to look into these questions recently. Hopefully, the answers that turn up will be interesting.

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