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The danger and futility of book-banning

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Author: Albert S. Lindemann

Date: Sun, 21 Nov 1999 17:26:51 -0800

In my opinion best-selling antisemitic books must be seen as a reflection of popular moods rather than as basic causes of those moods. Books like Mein Kampf cannot be considered fundamental causes of antisemitism. As several posts have suggested, encouraging people to read it may even help to combat hatred of Jews; readers can judge for themselves, and it does not take an unusually perceptive reader to detect the crudity of mind, to say nothing of the vicious nonsense in Hitler's book.

So too with many other antisemitic best-sellers: Marr's Der Sieg des Judenthums ueber das Germanentum, Drumont's La France juive, Chamberlain's Foundations of the Twentieth Century, or Ford's The International Jew. The popularity of each of these works, such as it was, reflected rather than caused Jew-hatred.

To be sure, their popularity helped then to spread or legitimize antisemitism, but by no means all or even most of those who bought and read those books became antisemitic or were so beforehand.

Over a generation ago Gershom Scholem denounced Philip Roth for accomplishing something that antisemites had so far failed to do: write a successful antisemitic novel. Portnoy's Complaint remained a record-breaking best-seller for many years, with many more readers than any of the above-mentioned works. Even if one does not agree with Scholem's judgment, there is little doubt that negative images of Jews abound in Roth's novel (and of course in his many other very popular writings).

But did this enormous popularity, this exposure of negative Jewish stereotypes to many millions of readers, result in an increase in antisemitism in America? Most scholars have reached opposite conclusions, that is, that from 1960s on there has been a steady decline in antisemitism. Banning books, or trying to do so in a free society, is much more likely to attract readers than to limit their access to such "forbidden" works.

For Jews in particular to try to ban books is extremely ill-advised, since antisemites thrive on charges of a Jewish-controlled publishing world. Efforts by some Jewish spokesmen to prevent the publication of David Irving's biography of Goebbels is a good case in point. They may have succeeded in the short run, but in the long run Irving has gained much publicity for his book with a new publisher, and in the process "the Jews" have ended up looking bad Goebbels Book(I put "the Jews" in quotations marks because, in my judgment at least, most Jews do not support censorship, even of Irving's books).

[Free download of book: click for download page-->

I myself have begun reading the book in part to see what all the fuss is about. What I have discovered in the first 100 pages or so, skipping around a bit, confirms what is often said (and by prominent scholars) about Irving's other books: He has done very impressive archival work and offers fascinating information.

I see nothing (so far) in the book that I find offensive or biased in favor of the Nazis, and it is certainly not an attempt to present a favorable picture of Goebbels. I am of course reading it with caution, which is what one should do with any book of history, but even if I were to find it deeply flawed and morally offensive I would not support efforts to ban it -- again, for principled reasons of freedom of expression and because, practically, banning works simply does not ork in a free society.

Albert S. Lindemann
History Department
University of California,
Santa Barbara

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New York Times article on Lipstadt Case, June 26, 1999 | Auschwitz Index | current AR-Online

Mr Irving comments:

Dear Prof Lindemann, -- You will find I have posted the entire Goebbels book (minus the beautiful photographs) in its full uncut form on my website now along with other free downloads of my books in Adobe .pdf format.

That fact might also interest H-Net members. You asked for a summary of what has been done to me. Let me point you briefly to four locations

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©Focal Point 1999 F e-mail: Irving write to David Irving