One week ago, in the wake of the violent confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, a group of tech companies decided to ban certain right-wing extremist groups from using their platforms to communicate or transact business. This internet censorship comes in the midst of a burgeoning campaign by individuals and various institutions to remove or destroy statues and other inanimate objects which they claim are associated with a “racist” past.
Welcome to “Fahrenheit 451 Redux.”
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, chose the title of his 1953 book because that is the temperature at which paper burns. In the dystopian society described by Bradbury (one of the 20th Century’s preeminent science fiction writers), the fascist government engaged in wholesale book burning as a means of erasing history and controlling the citizenry, by removing the primary means of communication.
Now, more than half a century later, in a society that communicates not by the printed word but by the electronic, it is far easier to erase history and ideas. It can be done at any temperature with only a few keystrokes; and does not require the use of government force.
If Bradbury and George Orwell got one thing wrong about fascism, it was assuming it necessarily required the heavy hand of the State. Today, government officials can largely just sit back and direct the conversation at the right targets from their bully pulpits, and when the opportunity arises, stoke the flames. Citizens themselves handle the rest.
In terms of the potential to inflict lasting damage to freedom and democracy, the long-term threat to America is not the neo-Nazi/Fascist crowd that was on display in Charlottesville. These advocates of a statist, racist and anti-Semitic philosophy are, and are likely to remain, a fringe element; one whose goal actually is not to erase history but to revive history – the worst elements of it at any rate.
The more dangerous and longer-term threat to our liberty is not a fringe group intent on reigniting support for a fascist movement modeled after the Third Reich. The true danger is a broader and more subtle movement by the Left to erase history in order to facilitate constructing a society in their image. The depth of this movement can be seen everywhere.
Left-wing activists have targeted the University of Southern California’s mascot Traveler, simply because the horse bears the same name as the horse on which General Robert E. Lee rode; others have called for protests of the NFL because a black quarterback was not signed for the coming season; still others applauded a Missouri State Senator who publicly expressed a desire for President Trump to be assassinated; firebrand U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters is being touted as a viable leader for the Democratic Party; and students everywhere are defacing and pulling down statues, then kicking and spitting on them as if such antics actually will result in “racial justice.”
Even the Founding Fathers, who brought the world into an era of enlightenment and human freedom, are not safe from calls to remove their monuments, including George Washington. What is next, renaming Washington, D.C. and the state that bears his name? Do not think such a move is out of the question for a social movement concerned only with its own self-righteousness. When violence and criminality are excused by the mob in the name of achieving “justice,” anything goes.
The crushing political defeat the Democratic Party suffered last year should have been a warning to Democrats about socialism and identity politics, but most still nod in silent approval as the violence and chaos spreads from city to city and campus to campus. While some Democrats may be wary of the tactics, many still appear to recognize that mob rule at least allows them to pursue their social and economic goals from the sidelines. This perhaps may be an effective short-term solution for them, but the long-term impact on society is chilling, and should be especially for them.
The Constitution of the United States is not a tool only for exercising “white privilege,” as some liberals believe; it is, rather, a mechanism to protect everyone from whatever mob is in charge or attempting to gain supremacy. Deciding to take matters into one’s own hands, either directly or by standing by as others do, because one may be unhappy with the decisions of democratically elected officials, undermines these protections. And those on the Left who believe such a course will in the end protect them, are in for a rude awakening. Fahrenheit 451 Redux spares no one.