Update: "Liberty" Law Blog's editor responds: it posts anti-liberty stuff because that will get us all riled up and thinking about liberty. A weasly excuse, in my eyes. By this theory, even a blog that publishes nothing but fascist or communist propaganda could call itself a "liberty" blog, 'cause it just inspires us to ask questions and have an open forum for discussion, and a "broad approach," blah, blah, blah. Since I, unlike Dalrymple, do not consider censorship ennobling, I have no objection to anyone publishing anti-liberty writings. What I do not understand is why the blog goes by the name Liberty Law Blog if that is its purpose. Should it not then be called The Disputing Liberty Blog, or The Challenging Liberty Blog, or "Opposing Liberty So You Can Try To Make Your Best Pro-Liberty Case On Your Own Blog" Blog?
Liberty Fund’s Liberty Law Blog seems rarely to be about liberty. In fact, as I pointed out the other day in criticizing Ken Masugi’s weird, seemingly racist post advocating disarming Asian-Americans, this blog is very often devoted to anti-liberty posts. This point was made again today with Theodore Dalrymple’s post applauding the French government’s ban on low-cost books. You can read the post here on the Google Cache—it was removed from the Liberty Law Blog at some point today. I’ve asked why, but haven’t heard back.*
Dalrymple praises the French government for “maintain[ing] a fixed price for books,” because “what appears to be a restraint on trade actually improves [the] quality” of those books that are available for sale. Although the rule means that “[f]ew books” are “published initially as hardbacks” in France—fewer, one would say, than consumers would like—the result is that “small independent bookseller[s]” flourish in France, instead of larger bookstores with bigger selection and lower prices. And this is good because small booksellers are less responsive to consumer demand and less likely to give readers what they would like to buy. Unlike Britain, where shoppers can get the books they’d like to read, “cheap trash…is not to be found in France,” where sellers “have a pride in what they sell.” This is “[e]ffective choice rather than theoretical choice of books.”
Again, let me remind you, this is the Liberty Law Blog. Dalrymple will cure us all of the habit of reading what he considers to be “cheap trash” by using government to bar our access to books he thinks we should not read.
What about the learner or early reader who starts out reading dime novels and works his way up to Melville and Shakespeare? No, you will read what an insolent French bookseller, who does not have to compete fairly for the customer’s money, chooses to allow you to read. You will read what he and Monsieur Dalrymple think you ought to read—or you will read nothing at all. What about the right of any person to read whatever he damn well wants to read? Phoo: “Even if it is decided that the [free market] is economically more efficient than the French…there are other things to consider.” Who here is doing the “deciding” and the “considering”? Who is choosing what I am allowed to read and not allowed to read? Theodore Dalrymple, of course. He prefers “other considerations” to “economic efficiency.” What about the innovative new author, whose works the critics and bureaucratic governors of the book market are unprepared to respect? What about the unknown literary genius who has no friends on the licensing board and who is barred from his readers and his market by his more successful author friends whose cronies control the regulations and prevent new works from coming to the market? So much for them.
Dalrymple’s argument for regulation-as-censorship is, of course, the argument that every censor, every government snoop and busybody, every petty spy and Inquisitor, every Stasi interloper and petty licenser, has made since time immemorial as an excuse for dictating who may read what and when. As Jefferson said in a similar context, “are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe?” And as Milton said in another similar context,
What advantage is it to be a man over it is to be a boy at school, if we have only [escaped] the ferular, to come under the fescu of an Imprimatur? if serious and elaborat writings, as if they were no more then the theam of a Grammar lad under his Pedagogue must not be utter'd without the cursory eyes of a temporizing and extemporizing licencer. He who is not trusted with his own actions, his drift not being known to be evill, and standing to the hazard of law and penalty, has no great argument to think himself reputed in the Commonwealth wherin he was born, for other then a fool or a foreiner.
How often has government regulation resulted in improving quality? How often has it led to innovation, creativity, and improvement? How often has it been perverted into a tool for control in the name of the rulers? Every censoring regime has prided itself on ensuring that readers get only “good quality”—as determined by the rulers—instead of what the readers frivolously would choose. Thanks, Teddy; I think I’ll stick with my “theoretical” choice instead of the “effective” choice of bureaucrat-approved literature.
Conservative arguments in favor of censorship are nothing new. But to see them under Liberty Fund’s name, and on a blog called the Liberty Law Blog, is just too much.
* - The post has been restored to the LLB