"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wSaturday, September 27, 2003

BURN THIS BLOG: Chris Mooney has completely redesigned his website. The blog part of it includes a link to this site with the tagline, "The case for book burning."

New readers may scratch their heads at that one. He's referring to a piece by yours truly in the March 2002 issue of Reason in which I argued that, in a liberal democracy, book burning promotes free speech. The hook was a public book burning of the latest Harry Potter novel at a fundy church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, and the protest it drew:

Upward of 800 demonstrators -- including a coalition of Unitarians, Pagans, Democrats, Methodists, Presbyterians, and one Adolf Hitler impersonator -- protested the wanton destruction of best-selling literature. (Other items burned included J.R.R. Tolkein novels and the works of Shakespeare.) As the 400 members of the Christ Community Church put flame to paper in a private ceremony, one agitator held up a sandwich board sign that read "'God' hates book burners," and another claimed to have surreptitiously saved a Stephen King novel from the flames.

Many of the demonstrators said that the book burning reminded them of Fahrenheit 451, the Taliban’s destruction of ancient Buddha statues, and similar acts of cultural repression. The protesters could draw on a long, sad string of historic precedents by which to denounce the event. Even John Calvin, that great exponent of Christian liberty, famously forced his godless opponents to burn their own books publicly in order to escape execution.

But to characterize the book burning as a serious threat to free expression, as several demonstrators and many outside commentators did, is to misunderstand completely how such actions resonate in contemporary America. The United States has certain features built into its legal framework, including theoretically inviolable property rights and freedoms of speech and the press, that make it very difficult for would-be Ayatollahs to coerce the rejection of certain writings or ideas. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 11:00 AM