24 January 2020

Can there be a "good" bibliocaust?

Every decries the burning of books - but what if the "good guys" are burning the "bad books"?  Herewith some excerpts from an article in Lapham's Quarterly:
The Allies signed Order No. 4, on the “Confiscation of Literature and Material of a Nazi and Militarist Nature” on May 13, 1946. It prohibited works that promoted Nazism, fascism, militarism, racism, völkisch ideas, antidemocratic views, and civil disorder. It required schools, universities, and public libraries, as well as booksellers and publishers, to remove these works from their shelves and deliver them to Allied authorities; they would then be “placed at the disposal of the Military Zone commanders for destruction.” American officials must have assumed that Order No. 4, as an extension of earlier policies, would attract little notice when they announced it in Berlin that day. Instead, reporters clamored for explanation and demanded a second briefing. In a hastily organized press conference that night, Vivian Cox, an ex-WAC and a low-level assistant in the Armed Forces Division, was called in to address the skeptical crowd. She told them that a single passage could condemn a book and “billions” of volumes might be seized. “Was the order different in principle from Nazi book burnings?” they asked. “No, not in Miss Cox’s opinion,” reported Time. This was a front-page story: Americans were burning books...

Public libraries and universities were initially seen in a different light. The Handbook for Military Government, issued in December 1944, had ruled that books in these libraries “not be removed, impounded, or destroyed.” Education and Religious Affairs in particular favored unrestricted access to any library material, drawing a distinction between adult reading and re­quired school textbooks. Through the spring, however, the policy hardened...

Removing Nazi literature from German homes proved to be a red line. Although a committee drafted a directive to this effect, it aroused strong opposition in the U.S. Control Council. To accomplish this goal, one general objected, they would need not only a vast index expurgatorius of “tens of thousands of titles” but also armies of inspectors to search every home and bookshelf.


  1. Impossible to do, and ultimately counter-productive to the desired goal.

    There is a world of difference between teaching an idea as "wrong" and teaching it as "taboo."

    1. Exactly. Censorship of any sort, for any reason, is completely counter to the idea of 'freedom'. There is no place for censorship in a free society. None.

      Just goes to show you that America long ago stopped being 'the land of the free', doesn't it?

  2. https://extranewsfeed.com/tolerance-is-not-a-moral-precept-1af7007d6376

    [Tolerance] is an agreement to live in peace, not an agreement to be peaceful no matter the conduct of others. A peace treaty is not a suicide pact.


  3. Is there anything on which we can pretty much all agree should be eradicated? There will ALWAYS be outliers who revel in the vilest of literature/performance. There are people who apparently love to see beheading videos. There are those who wish to view vomit-inducing violence or pornography.

    We know that there is a broad range of opinion on matter such as banning certain political or religious viewpoints. We can scarcely agree what they mean, let alone agree for them to be banished.

    But is there ANYTHING that virtually everyone can agree is over the line? Must we keep EVERYTHING, no matter how horrific, in some misbegotten notion of a slippery slope that will take us to perdition? Do we dare suppose that banning, say, child pornography (and, indeed, the broadest interpretation of free speech would cover that evil, as well)...must inevitably lead to the banning of "Huckleberry Finn" or "Robinson Crusoe"?

    I am convinced that we have ALREADY demonstrated that banning child pornography DOES NOT lead to the banning of merely controversial materials. The banning of such materials did not cause us to ban true artistry that has shown the nude body. In fact, the very word "artistic" has been so wrongly appropriated that we have come to almost think, by default, that ANY censorship is wrong.

    Don't we think that things like revenge porn are wrong? What a couple (or threeple) do in the privacy of the bedroom is usually considered a private matter--else they might have done it in public, right? But if one of the parties so decides, he/she gets to freely post what could be utterly humiliating, even endangering a life?

    And what if the local newspaper wanted to post that you were a pedophile, then claimed "free speech" when you protested that it was a damnable lie? "Oh, but we have laws to cover that." Yes, and those laws are censorship, aren't they? And yet some people, arguing against "censorship," would have to accept that such things should be able to be said with impunity.

    "Oh, but the wronged party can sue for damages later." Well, that's a form a censorship right there, isn't it, for it likely keeps people from saying/printing what they WANTED to print. And I'm good with that! I absolutely believe we SHOULD consider some things forever off-limits.

    Here's the thing: If we feel confident that we have rightly considered some things off-limits, then why not other things? Is that a slippery slope? Or is it simply seeking to complete a partially-completed job?

    Who supposes that keeping the vilest pornography available somehow ensures that we are protecting sublime and glorious literature like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, etc.? It's a wrong-headed argument, I think. Some things SHOULD be banned.

    At the same time, it should be only those things on which the vast majority agrees SHOULD be banned. It is one thing to not like a book. It it altogether a different thing to believe is SHOULD be banned.

    1. Who decides? If you put it to vote, then you are only serving to protect popular speech, which needs no legal protection. If you are putting it to individuals, you are subjecting free speech to the whims and greed of human nature, which will inevitably lead to abuse.

      Fascist ideology, racism, and the like are the price we pay to be able to speak truth to power.

  4. I think you make a good argument. I would also like to hear what you think constitutes a "vast majority", and what you personally think should be banned/ "forever off-limits".

  5. Why does the "vast majority" rule? Sometimes, it is a single, lonely voice that has the high ground - cf. Athanasius contra mundum, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wilberforce vs. Parliament, etc. It seems to me that once we have rejected the notion of God-given absolutes for the ever-mutating sea of relative truth, we have abandoned all hope of ever being able to define what should/shouldn't be banned. Ultimately, the mob will rule.

    To quote Pilate, "What is truth?"

    1. 'God-given absolutes', you say? This raises a very important question; whose God gives those absolutes? What you really are saying here, whether you realize it or not, is 'Anyone who believes other than I do must be wrong'. That's the core of your argument. The Judeo-Christian God gives a very different set of absolutes than, say... the ancient Greek pantheon under Zeus. Even though Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worship the same God, they all interpret the rules differently. So, I ask you again; which 'god' is the one that gives these absolute rules? You can't answer that question without admitting that you're a bigot, because there is no such thing as 'one true way'.

      If you want a very simple test to know if a behavior is 'good' or 'bad', morally speaking, simply ask yourself this question; Does what I'm about to do cause harm to other people? If the answer is 'yes', it's fairly likely that your behavior is 'bad'. Work from there, logically, and when you make mistakes, strive to repair them, with compassion and honor. 'God-given absolutes' have nothing to do with it.


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