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Suppressing Books & Ideas: Books Cannot be Killed by Fire...

...but They Can Be Kept Out of Your Hands

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Suppressing Books & Ideas: Books Cannot be Killed by Fire, but They Can Be Kept Out of Your Hands

Suppressing Books & Ideas: Books Cannot be Killed by Fire, but They Can Be Kept Out of Your Hands

Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: Library of Congress

The suppression of inconvenient or unfavorable ideas is a characteristics shared by all authoritarian movements throughout history. Authoritarians among the Christian Right are certainly no exception and there seems to be no end to the sorts of ideas which they would like to suppress. America's constitutional protections for freedom of speech make it very difficult for them to achieve this on an official level and with the use of government force, however.

Constitutional limitations on what the government can do are no barrier to private companies and this means that the Christian Right can accomplish a great deal by targeting those who manufacture and distribute materials which they find objectionable. Stores are pressured to stop selling books and magazines which contain ideas, images, or information which the Christian Right wants kept out of people's hands. Publishers are pressured to avoid certain topics or authors. Even libraries, which are government entities, are pressured to restrict certain materials to make them more difficult to find - especially by children.

The above was originally a World War II poster which presented a quote from Franklin D. Roosevelt: "Books cannot be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can put thought in a concentration camp forever. No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man's eternal fight against tyranny. In this war, we know, books are weapons."

Roosevelt was right that books are weapons because books communicate ideas - ideas which might transform the world. Roosevelt was also right that books cannot ultimately be burned. Individual copies of books may be burned, but ultimately books will survive so long as human beings will survive. What Roosevelt did not realize, I suppose, is that there are many more ways to suppress ideas than by simply burning the books which contain them.

Burning books is political theater and not an effective way to accomplish serious goals. Keeping books out of people's hands by ensuring that they never see and learn about them is less dramatic, but far more effective.

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