25 February 2017

On Selling Objectionable Books

A customer with a book in her hand came up to me one morning a few months back. She showed it to me and asked why we carried a book that was anti-Catholic. She added that we had a number of other, similar books in the Christianity section. Could we move the book to another section, she asked. Could we bring in a title she recommended on the persistence of anti-Catholic prejudice today? 


Now I was brought up Catholic, and I have run across such prejudices in person.  There was a particularly adorable young woman I was quite taken with at 17. We were out on a boardwalk date one sultry summer night, when she launched into this buzz-killing rant about those Papists.  (Yes, she said those Papists.)  I let her go on for about 20 minutes before suddenly interjecting "I'm Catholic."

Grinding gears, screeching brakes, the smell of rubber left on the road. 

Of course, she didn't mean me. 

Still, I didn't find her nearly so cute thereafter.

There were other instances, but this one at least has the virtue of being amusing and featuring nemesis.  I am not insensitive to such things, nor, being of Irish descent, to the remarks I often hear passed about the Irish. The strangest and most dumbfounding of these (because of its veneer of enlightened sympathy) came while I was living on the West Coast. An intelligent, otherwise well-educated man, asked me whether I had ever seen one of those 'No Irish Need Apply' signs back in New York.  Just allow me to clarify: I lived on the West Coast in the 21st Century, not the 19th.

But you know what? Compared to what a lot of people have to put up with all the time, even now, perhaps especially now, from people who look a lot like me, my life is very easy indeed. So I tend to take such ridiculous little remarks as come my way in stride.


So I look at this lady with The Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism in her hand. I look at the cover, which I knew my mother would have laughed at, and my aunt, her sister, would have thought showed no respect for the Church. Both of them were quite devout, and both of them would have been quite right in their reaction to this book. I could feel them both behind me, one at each shoulder. Still, you know, it wasn't The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

But all I could think was, 'For God's sake, lady, we sell Mein Kampf here.' In a day and age when people debate the ethics of punching Nazis.  Despite the fact that the last time anyone thought Nazis could be reasoned with 50,000,000 people died. Bricks and baseball bats are what get a message across to such people.

We Sell Mein Kampf.

And you know what, we should sell Mein Kampf, even though it gives me a knot in my stomach to say that.  It is as vile a piece of rancor, hatred, and stupidity as a vicious, deranged little man could trump up.

But to suppress such a book would in fact be far worse than punching a Nazi. For that would make us Nazis in our hearts far more than slugging them ever would. If we start suppressing books like Mein Kampf, we will become the Nazis and end up slugging them anyway.  Thomas de Quincey makes quite clear that this slippery slope leads to the punching of Nazis:
'If once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begun upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time.'
On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts
Now, does this mean that it does our souls less harm just to punch some Nazis? You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment.

But perhaps the best reason for selling Mein Kampf was discovered by William Foyle, of Foyle's Books in London. As it says on Foyle's website:
When Hitler started burning books in the 1930s, William had immediately telegrammed the Fuhrer to request that he be able to purchase them instead and would offer a good price; the response quickly came back that Germany had no books to sell and the burning would continue. Years later at the start of the Blitz Foyles filled sandbags with old books to protect the shop from damage and William announced that he was covering the roof with copies of Mein Kampf to ward off bombers. Then a near miss left a giant crater just outside the shop, destroying the front of the Sun Electric offices across the road. William treated the sappers to sandwiches and ginger beer while they worked and when the bridge was complete they happily let him name it the Foyle Bridge, complete with ribbon cutting ceremony!
(emphasis added)

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