Book-burning is back.
The left has begun to ban the classics, including Homer’s Odyssey, as well as great works of American literature, such as Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame, is off limits for her alleged “transphobia,” and Dr. Seuss’s estate canceled six of his books for “hurtful and wrong” portrayals. (Perhaps Thing 1 and Thing 2 felt objectified.)
Somehow, the foundational works of radical Marxism never seem to be on the list of books to be canceled.
No reasonable person, and certainly no one claiming intellectual credentials, would argue that Karl Marx’s works should be banned. But some of them certainly satisfy the new criteria.
Marx’s essay “On the Jewish Question,” for example, is a staple of college courses on political philosophy, because it summarizes his view of the limits of political freedom, and is easier to digest than his mammoth Capital. Yet the essay is also crudely antisemitic, which is barely mitigated by the fact that Marx himself was Jewish.
Here is some of what Marx had to say about Jews (original emphasis):
Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.
What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.
Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.
The god of the Jews has become secularized and has become the god of the world. The bill of exchange is the real god of the Jew. His god is only an illusory bill of exchange.
Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.
The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.
National Socialism would go on to attempt to “emancipate” society from the Jews, murdering 6 million.
In the constant debate over whether the Founders of the United States, and the liberty they conceived, are to be rejected because some owned slaves, there is little discussion about how a basic text of Marxism is largely an antisemitic screed.
There was a time when Marx’s works were banned. But the McCarthy era is to be studied as a cautionary tale, not as a precedent to be followed.
Sadly, many of the institutions that once stood up against hysterical anti-communism are leading the “cancel culture” today — starting with the universities, which purport to be safe havens for intellectual inquiry. Instead they have fashioned themselves as a vanguard: what began with Halloween costumes at Yale has engulfed the country.
The right thing to do with texts that are tainted by prejudice is to engage with them critically. That was once considered both praiseworthy and interesting.
When I was at Harvard in the late 1990s, for example, the campus Hillel House staged a version of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice that attempted to grapple with some of the antisemitic features of the character of Shylock. The Jewish students understood there was intrinsic merit to the play; they wanted to see if it could still be salvaged.
The censors of the left need to be held to the same standard that they use to judge, and to cancel, others — so they can see how absurd censorship is.
Some of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement have proudly touted themselves as Marxists, for example; they should be asked if their Marxism led to protests in which synagogues were vandalized in Los Angeles and Kenosha.
After all, few of the authors being canceled by the “woke” are as explicitly hateful as Marx, their original inspiration.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His newest e-book is How Not to Be a Sh!thole Country: Lessons from South Africa. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.