Anthony McIntyre views with alarm the recent assault on free inquiry by the book police.
|Photo @ The Telegraph|
The irony is that the charge was led by an author of a number of books, Owen Jones, who is also a Guardian columnist. He came out of the traps like a firefighter from Fahrenheit 451. This was the title so given to a book by Ray Bradbury because it was the temperature at which a book would burn to ash. In the novel the task of the fire fighter was to destroy books. Jones tweeted:
Why does Michael Gove and his wife own a copy of a book by David Irving, one of the most notorious Holocaust deniers on earth? ... I subscribe to the Telegraph and read right-wing columnists every day because it’s important to read people I disagree with. You can’t learn anything from a lying book which rewrites history to suit the Nazis,
Setting aside that Irving should never have been jailed in Austria for holding the invidious opinion that there was no Holocaust, there is a lot to be learned from books written by him and people like him. How, for example, they might use sources for fallacious purposes, their selective mining of the archives, and the methodology they employ in the creation of a patently false narrative. All of this is of immense value to serious researchers seeking to demolish the construction of fake news.
It might not have been so bad had Jones merely had a rush of blood to the head, been on a solo run, and therefore not representative of some wider body of anti-thought eager to fire verboten salvos in the direction of free inquiry. There was company unfortunately. Alastair Campbell tweeted that “Having Hitler, Rommel and Napoleon next to Maggie is not a good look.” Grumblings from elsewhere that the couple also owned The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray are as equally suffocating. Oxford academic Dr Jennifer Cassidy, in joining the fray moved to counter Sarah Vine by posting an image of herself in front of her own bookshelf:
Here’s a picture of me NOT reaching for the work of prominent Holocaust denier David Irving. Or having The Bell Curve on my shelf. See it really is that simple, not to have those books on your shelves.
That sounds more simpleton than simple.
The only reason anyone should make it their business to concern themselves with what literature Michael Gove might display on his bookshelf is intellectual curiosity. Otherwise it is none of their business. They might even stretch that curiosity to the point of wondering what Gove might find interesting in a certain book, what it is that draws him to its pages. But to go off on one in response to him owning particular books exhibits a censorious trait that poses a threat to free inquiry. People can choose to have on their bookshelves whatever it is they want and labour under no compunction to explain or justify the presence of books to anyone. What they retain in their book collection has Sweet FA to do with Dr Cassidy, Alastair Campbell, Owen Jones or whoever else make up the ranks of the perennially offended wokerati.
In this house there is a massive range of books, many of them by people whose ideas we abhor including Celsius 7/7 by Michael Gove. There are two volumes of Hitler's War by David Irving. There is even one by Ken Ham: Why Won't they Listen? The Power of Creation Evangelism.
The shelves are strewn with works by fascists and theologians, informers and cops, authors like Gerry Adams, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Charles Moore and Danny Morrison. There is simply no end to the presence of adversarial books. Our lives are all the more intellectually enriched for that. The Shelf Stasi can suck the butt end of my budgie. The books are staying put.
Although it has been claimed there was a more sinister tinge to Gove and Vine's bookcase, this is reactionary nonsense masquerading as progressive. What is really sinister is the insidious affront to free inquiry containing within it the secular equivalent of an Index Librorum Prohibitorum.