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There Are No Banned Books

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File

While checking out the "banned and challenged" display at my local Barnes & Noble recently, I was reminded that the entire kerfuffle is a giant racket. For publishers and booksellers, "banned" books are likely a money-making racket. Virtually every allegedly "banned" book on the display table is already a massive (sometimes generational) bestseller. Not that this reality stops authors like Jodi Picoult, whose books dot virtually every bookstore in the country, from running around pretending their novels are "banned" because a sliver of taxpayers are no longer on the hook to buy them.


For the left, the banned book claim is a political racket, allowing them to feign indignation over the alleged "authoritarianism" of Republicans who don't want kids reading identitarian pseudohistories or books depicting oral sex, rape, violence or gender dysphoria in their schools.

Yet, major media now regularly contend, as indisputable fact, that "book bans" are in place. The claim is embedded in the Democrat's daily rhetoric. After the mass shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, we were not plunged into another inane discussion about "stochastic terrorism" or political violence, but rather a preposterous comparison of Tennessee's "book bans" and lax gun control. As Liz Cheney noted, "if we really want to keep our children safe, we need to spend less time banning books and more time stopping the horrific gun violence in our schools."

Books are banned in Tennessee in the same way a person can't say the word "gay" in Florida. It's a myth. Yet, here is a recent headline from NPR: "Plot twist: Activists skirt book bans with guerrilla giveaways and pop-up libraries." In the piece, the reader learns that with "a record number of book bans" on the horizon, "some activists are finding creative ways to make banned books available to young readers anyway."

"Activists" buying books at a local Barnes & Noble, where an endless supply exists, and handing them to other people's children against the wishes of parents isn't so much "creative" as it is creepy. NPR makes it sound as if these people were risking their lives trading Samizdat one step ahead of the Secret Police. Any dope with a car, a bus pass, a bicycle, legs or an internet connection can hand some impressionable kid softcore porn. Because there are no banned books.


Now, if conservative activists set up "pop-up" libraries around the corner from schools in progressive districts handing out "Huck Finn" and books celebrating the Second Amendment or the superiority of traditional families, one imagines NPR would find the guerrilla effort less charming.

One New York Times columnist argues that parents who vote for legislators that temper the cultural Marxist agenda in schools are engaging in a "state-sanctioned heckler's veto." So much for "democracy," I guess. It is true that leftists, who run virtually every major school district in the nation, don't need any laws or vetoes to dictate curriculums. But, of course, most schools are run by the state. How else are parents supposed to initiate change? Well, they aren't, right? That's the point. The contemporary left doesn't believe that parents have any say in which state-run school their children attend or what they are taught in them. Who's the authoritarian, again?

Teacher-union types like to argue that parental rights bills are tantamount to telling a doctor how to operate on a patient. A more apt analogy is to say that Democrats want to force patients to undergo elective surgeries performed by untrained quacks. Parental rights bills don't instruct teachers on methods, they only stop strangers from exposing kids to revisionist histories and ideas about sexuality and ideologies that conflict with their beliefs. Then again, even if parents who don't want their prepubescent kids indoctrinated with these ideas are in the minority, why should they be forced to accept instruction or books that have nothing to do with genuine civics or a well-rounded education?


When the government restricts free association in the marketplace, or giant tech companies are engaged in a concerted effort to censor ideas and news, we have a reason to worry about the state of free speech. When a heckler's veto that dominates universities makes it virtually impossible to have an open discourse on campuses, we have reason to worry. "Book bans," however, are just curriculum choices leftists don't like.

It is certainly true that sometimes priggish moralists are overzealous in their targeting of books, sometimes the bans are plain stupid, sometimes they are political and sometimes they are initiated by left-wing administrations (as has been the case for years). But, for the most part, "book ban" is just a euphemism for progressive administrators and teachers losing some of their power over your kids. While parents are compelled to live with the devastating professional failures of a teacher-union-dominated monopoly that struggles to teach basic math, reading, writing and science, there is no reason for them to accept political indoctrination, as well.

David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist. Harsanyi is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of five books -- the most recent, "Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent." His work has appeared in National Review, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Reason, New York Post and numerous other publications. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi



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