By way of a temporal journey back a few months: I was reading a BBC article today which discussed the decision by the German state of Bavaria to allow the publication of Mein Kampf after it’s copyright expires in 2015. I was then directed to a story about how the booksellers Waterstone’s apologised for including the book on their Christmas recommendations list. They stated in a wilting response that no politics section should include the volume and that they were sorry for the offence caused.
One must be categorical when an instance like this occurs: offence is not justification for censorship. At this stage and for the sake of simplicity I’ll say that the only justification for stopping people from accessing certain materials is to prevent the incitement to violence — which was not the reason given or a even a risk in this scenario. The free perusal and purchase of freely written and published materials is the yeast of our British vintage, the proposal to stop the publication of a book in an attempt to reduce offence represents a grave reduction of the literary cannon which is available in this culture and from which it derives its experience and ideas. People can and will take offence at nearly anything, and in this case it would seem that the patron was seeking to make a kerfuffle rather than being truly hurt. The hard fact is that offence is a worthy collateral for literary variety, debate, knowledge and progress.
An essential read for anyone seeking to understand one of history’s most despicable figures. A shocking and vital warning to future generations.
This was the recommendation which accompanied the book, establishing it as part of Waterstone’s Christmas list, which offended the patron. The statement is entirely true, every word, and in quite unquestionable taste. It is not for the publishers or the sellers or the government to decide what is moral and then for them only to allow material which follows their rules to be published, it is for the publishers and sellers to distribute all they dare and for the individual to construct their own morality.
Waterstone’s was not seeking to ‘promote’ the book, as the sensitive patron said. They knew that it is pornographically hateful and full of nauseating racial fabrications and similarly nauseating personal aggrandisement; to say anything else would be a cheap insult to the seller. The reason why it is so important to allow people to access horrors like this is because it teaches the reader an important lesson about humanity. Hitler is and will always be a fascinating and imperative study, alongside the different but comparatively important study of the people who gleefully scoffed his fodder. I even get the impression that those who call for the censorship of this book are a little too confident about how admirably they would have behaved had they been alive during that period.
We can’t make the wars and holocausts of history disappear, and in the same way in which one should remember Cromwell and his actions every time one visits Parliament and sees his statue — which should never be removed — we should, and should always be able to, cast a regular, cynical and inquisitive eye over Hitler’s pap. The proposal that I already know all I need to know and someone else should be able to tell me what I am allowed to read and buy strikes more of the humourless and cruel censors who policed this benighted period of history than the heroes for whom such a restriction on liberty was an anathema.
The instincts and delusions which were the germ of this book and the regime exist, dormant or in other forms, today; we can’t erase them, pretending that they don’t or never existed is counter-productive, our best chance is to study and attempt to understand them to as great an extent as we can. I hope that you, dear reader, rather than gaining all your historical knowledge and understanding through the pages of a textbook and from the mind of a historian, would want to (at least sometimes) inform your conception of history by studying the original and contemporary sources then drawing your own conclusions — it will be more shocking than you expect.