Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult.
— C.S. Lewis
Those who argue that the Seuss estate or Disney can censor or cancel products under their control are missing the point. Those who argue that And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street isn’t popular anymore (so unpopular that copies are currently going for $218.98 on Amazon) or that nobody would watch Disney’s Song of the South anyway are missing the point.
Why did the Seuss estate cancel these books? That’s the point. It isn’t a mystery. It’s because of the censorious culture of hysterical identitarians and the possibility of the work of Seuss being boycotted and his reputation maligned. There are moral entrepreneurs and woke busybodies at work. They mean to eat our joy and steal our liberty under the guise of political correctness and inclusivity.
There has been a whisper campaign for decades that Seuss was a stealth bigot. We live in an age where Mark Twain and Harper Lee are removed from library shelves and attempts made to cut Shakespeare from curricula. It’s not rightwingers who are clamoring to censor these great works of Western civilization. It’s the woke left. Their zealotry is why Hasbro changed the name of its Mr. Potato Head brand. And unless we stand up to it it will continue until our culture is completely sanitized from a particular point of view. It’s a point of view to which the vast majority of us do not subscribe. Religious liberty protects us from having to.
Complaints about the many examples we’re confronted with on an almost daily basis now is not about the worth of any particular example but about the authoritarianism intrinsic in cancel culture, authoritarianism manifest in efforts to boycott, censor, and cancel books, film, art, and music. If you see books being burned, you must ask, “Why is this happening?”
The question of the privilege of property owners in a capitalist society or the popularity of titles in a market economy (it’s weird to see leftists so faithful to the economic imperatives of bourgeois culture yet so hostile to its liberal freedoms) are irrelevant to the discussion. When they saw the police repressing civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s, forward thinking people didn’t say, “Hey, the police have the power to enforce the rules.” Who said they didn’t? The question was this if you cared about human freedom: “Why these rules?”
Free thinkers don’t rationalize censorship by imagining few people would read the book, watch the movie, view the art, or listen to the music in question. Freedom of speech and expression aren’t based on the popularity of what is spoken or expressed. Free speech and expression are based on the principles of open and free societies. Nobody is saying the Seuss estate can’t discontinue If I Ran the Zoo or that Disney must release Song of the South from the vault or leave Dumbo or Peter Pan uncensored or unlabeled. It’s a distraction to make this controversy about such things.
The controversy is why books, plays, film, art, and music are disappearing from our culture. A lot of us know why this is happening. There are people who want to make sure others don’t wise up to the situation so they tells us that it is expected, that’s its no big deal, that it’s to protect children, to make society a more decent place for everybody (except those who consume culture those with power deem offensive). That’s why you see all these distracting rationalizations: its part of the authoritarianism that undermines censorious desire.
The frenzy over Dr. Seuss books and Warner Brothers’ Pepé Le Pew are symptomatic of the rot of woke progressivism. The left in the West has become authoritarian. Telling us that political correctness is no big deal, that folks are overreacting, is a massive gaslighting move. Tyrants work this way. For those who don’t see it, they will be not getting it all the way to unfreedom. Of course, unfreedom is what woke busybodies want. Erich Fromm called this “escape from freedom.” It’s rooted in a fear of freedom. The pathology is one of the chief characteristics of fascism.