The little back and forth about the title of Willem deVries’ book Hegel’s Theory of Mental Activity got me thinking about the titles of my books, and I realized that no fewer than seven of my books have titles that are borrowed from other books, including one whose title is borrow from a book by me!
The first was the little book Barrington Moore, Jr., Herbert Marcuse, and I did in 1965, A Critique of Pure Tolerance [a joke title proposed by Herbert.] This was followed by The Poverty of Liberalism in 1968. This is actually a grandson title. The original was Proudhon’s La Philosophie de la Misère, to which Marx responded with La Misère de la Philosophie [i.e. The Poverty of Philosophy] on which I then piggybacked. The next year, I published The Ideal of the University, a steal from John Cardinal Newman/s classic work The Idea of the University [or homage as we say in the writing game]. The year after that I brought out In Defense of Anarchism, the title taken from a wonderful Mark Twain essay, “In Defense of Harriet Shelley.” Then, in 1973, I edited a forgettable collection of essays by various authors called 1984 Revisited. In ’85, having no better idea, I called my book on Marx’s economic theories Understanding Marx, an echo of my ’77 book Understanding Rawls. Finally, in 2005, I published Autobiography of an Ex-White Man, a deliberate steal from and reference to the famous James Weldon Johnson novel Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man.
As I was writing all this, I was blithely unaware of my habit of stealing titles. I am sure it has some deep meaning, but I cannot for the life of me imagine what that is.