November 20, 2021

Book-burning bozos back; painful parallels pondered


The National Coalition Against Censorship’s “Kids’ Right to Read” action kit, available at

Welp. It appears that the book-burners have returned, as they so often seem to in times of national strife, and it is not a comforting sight. As New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg wrote last week, “conservative censoriousness” has resulted in calls for offending books like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to be not just excised from curricula but burned. “This spreading moral panic demonstrates yet again,” Goldberg wrote, “why the left needs the First Amendment, even if the veneration of free speech has fallen out fashion among some progressives.”

Goldberg’s words were echoed by Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association, who said,

“What we’re seeing is really this idea that marginalized communities, marginalized groups, don’t have a place in public school libraries, or public libraries, and that libraries should be institutions that only serve the needs of a certain group of people in the community.”

Part of the engine behind this wave of totalitarian-seeming destruction is the backlash over the advent of critical race theory, which looks at American history with a justifiably skeptical eye. Although critical race theory, as John Haltiwanger wrote in Insider, is “university-level theory that is generally not explicitly taught in public schools” nonetheless “Republicans have misleadingly suggested that children are being indoctrinated with it.”

Historiographic revisionism is part of cultural progress, but to the right the idea that American culture has diverse roots and manifestations is a threat from which their children must be protected. “Republicans,” Ron Charles of the Washington Post observed, “have convinced a sizable portion of the public that something more dangerous than comic books and more pervasive than fluoridated water is coming for our children.”

One can’t help but note that the people calling for the immolation of books are the same ones loudest to cry censorship when their right to spew toxic bigotry is challenged. But intellectual consistency has never exactly been the hallmark of the right.

NB — The National Coalition Against Censorship has a number of tools for education and advocacy available free at their website.



Michael Lindgren is the Managing Editor at Melville House.