Monday, 26 January 2015

“A book is a loaded gun.” So ban them or burn them.


One of the first targets of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi organization were books. This began in 1933, shortly after Hitler seized power in Germany. He ordered leaders of the regime to confiscate and destroy any literature deemed subversive to the National Socialist agenda. The elimination of these documents was carried out in a ceremonial fashion. Public book burnings were held for all the citizens to view. These demonstrations were held in both Germany and Austria. All works authored by Jewish, communist, pacifist, socialist, anarchist and classic liberals were fair game.

It does seem that we have learnt nothing. Here - in the latest example of Labour's selective memory about free speech - is a proposal to ban Hitler's turgid racist tome, Mein Kampf:

“Of course Amazon – and indeed any other bookseller – is doing nothing wrong in selling the book. However, I think that there is a compelling case for a national debate on whether there should be limits on the freedom of expression,” writes Docherty to Javid.

Of course Docherty is very careful to tiptoe around making a specific proposal to ban Mein Kampf but the very fact that he can countenance such a ban (or a limited ban where only a few specially licensed academics can view Adolf's incoherent racist ramblings) reveals just how much of a problem the left has with the idea of free speech.

The question for Docherty is where the line is drawn. Do we draw it, as he suggests around the idea of 'hatred' and if so what do we mean by hatred? Do we consider the consequences of a given writing - in which case Das Kapital is just as much a candidate for Docherty's Ban with its fomenting hatred of enterprise, initiative and free choice. And what are we do do about religious books like the Koran or Bible with their incitement to kill infidels, execute gays, stone adulterers and slice chunks off burglars? Do we ban them too?

What should worry us most isn't merely the fact of a Labour MP calling for books to be banned but the concluding rational that Docherty puts up:

Docherty said that the reality today is that if “someone puts the contents of Mein Kampf on to a blog, the police would knock on their door …

This is maybe true. And if it is, it is a damning observation of our supposedly free society. It scares me just how close we are to banning books simply because they promote ideas we find discomforting, disturbing or contrary to the current 'truth' and 'wisdom'. We need books - all of them, good and bad:

“There was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves” 

So wrote Ray Bradbury in his passionate defence of the book, Fahrenheit 451. Docherty and the other banners or burners are scared, fearful the good men will be corrupted by words on the page. That we won't see through to the evil or some ideas - whether from Trotsky or Hitler, Guevara or Goebbels. Docherty and all the anti-free speech left are wrong. We are stronger, better and more decent than that - and we deserve the right to know evil for what it is.



asquith said...

I once read Mein Kampf. I'd be staggered if someone became a Nazi on the "strength" of it, or found its ideas a source of inspiration, given that it's barely readable garbage.

It already is banned in much of Europe, and Geert Wilders I know wants to ban the Koran on the grounds that if Mein Kampf is banned, a book that really is directly invoked to justify atrocities should also be banned. Surely the reall lesson is that books shouldn't be banned, but apparently not!

Miguel Madeira said...

"It already is banned in much of Europe"

The banning of the Mein Kampf is a bit peculiar - for what I know, in most countries this banning is enforced, not by any law banning the Mein Kampf, but by the copyright being owned by the State of Bavaria, who forbids the making of copies.