Americans are rigidly unappreciative people. Born into an exorbitant culture, they are smothered by the satisfaction of their every desire until they learn to expect it. What they really expect is not the receipt of perpetual pleasure, but an unending protection from displeasure and disappointment. Both are equally unnatural, and by demanding each, Americans betray not only their irrationality, but their corrupted values, as well. Consider their right to freedom of speech: what ought to be an audacious embrace of all intellectual challenges, especially the most frightening, is reduced in the American imagination to the receipt of pleasing speech and the protection from displeasing speech. Having been given everything they want, Americans have forgotten to find what they need, and at long last, they are reaping the poisoned fruits of another farmer’s harvest.
This corruption of the principle of free expression is not the only symptom of American cultural malignancy, but it does provide a coldly clear view of the disease. I was fortunate, really, to grow up at a time of psychological transition for the American people: they defended their sovereignty, however insincerely, for the first half of my youth, but surrendered it per the government’s request after 9/11; they also maintained their right to free expression, however unenthusiastically, until I reached adulthood, at which time they agreed to surrender it per the media’s request.
The government’s bogeymen—Islamic terrorists—were awfully hard to find, but at least they were defined. The media’s demons, on the other hand, are maddeningly nebulous: why would we throw our hands up before someone or something we cannot see, hear, name, or even describe? To fear the ethereal is unbecoming enough, but to submit to it? Clearly, the American people, infantilized by the corrosive impact of their pampered upbringing, lack the intellectual maturity to process the philosophy of freedom, including the right to free expression. In the midst of such puerile plebs, one need not defend this right to be a revolutionary; one need only exercise it.
Such is the extent of our political paranoia: we cannot conceive of a reason why we would exercise our right to free expression, except to effect a revolution! We expect to be called upon to explain and justify ourselves, and before we decided “to act”, first we must prepare our defense. I am not beyond this caution, myself: recently I decided to read Mein Kampf, and before I turned to the title page, I knew I should have answers ready for the inevitable questions. “No, I’m not an anti-Semite. No, I’m not a neo-Nazi. No, I’m not an aspiring terrorist.” I even had a few questions of my own: “If I post excerpts from this book, will I be banned from Twitter? If I write about this book, will I be banned from WordPress? Will the FBI pay me a visit? And if the answer to all of these questions is no, then are there other books that might earn me a yes?”
Only after some consideration have I decided it is safe to describe my reactions to Mein Kampf on the two aforementioned platforms. I’m not convinced that such an exercise would be permitted on Facebook, nor am I sure how much longer it will be permitted on Twitter or WordPress: I tried to read Mein Kampf one year ago, and I even wrote an article about it, but I feared no “consequences”, as I was completely confident of my respectable intent. Oh, but I have learned all too much since then, and I can no longer rely on my own defense—not because it is not so obvious as to be tedious, but because the Thought Police does not want to accept it. Accordingly, I can’t be sure of my own safety in writing anything, and I expect to be even less confident one year from now. Who knows what authoritarian measures are being proposed, are scheduled, or will be taken between now and then?
If reading and writing about Mein Kampf is someday prohibited, whether legally or unofficially, it will not be without precedent. In his introduction to Houghton Mifflin’s publication of the book—which has become the standard edition in America—Abraham Foxman describes the legal barriers to distributing the text in certain European countries. The punishment for doing so can range from massive fines to imprisonment, and while some of these laws have probably changed in the twenty years since Foxman wrote his piece, his contrast of the philosophies of censorship is proving to be all the more prescient each day:
“These measures may seem extreme to many Americans; we cherish our First Amendment rights and find censorship anathema. But let us not forget that in the United Sates we have been blessed with two centuries of secure borders and political stability.”
We should be loath to repurpose everything ever written to a narrow commentary on the Trumpish Age, but these are the times in which we live, and it is impossible to read this without imagining ominous footage on cable news. Even if we dispute Trump’s characterization of a porous Mexican border, and even if we believe in the supremacy of the Deep State, still it is clear that this is an age of metamorphosis. The American Empire is declining, and as it falls apart, its administrators will take desperate and, ultimately, self-destructive measures to sustain their power—theirs as well as the Empire’s. One particularly manifold measure will be the indirect revocation of the right to free expression, not to protect the people from dangerous ideas, but to protect the Empire from anything that thwarts its imperialist vision.
By this metric, there may be no need for the agents of the state to pull Mein Kampf from the library shelf. Just as Hitler misrepresented Nietzsche to solidify and justify his nightmarish vision, so may our own government reconstruct Hitler’s writings to underline American propaganda—if it hasn’t already. Conversely, the intellectual curiosity of the American people is so sadly diminished, it is rather unlikely that they would pursue Mein Kampf voluntarily: we must remember that what made Brave New World so much scarier than Fahrenheit 451 was its depiction of a society in which the government doesn’t need to burn books, since no one reads them, anyway.
Nevertheless, all of the available evidence suggests that the American government is abandoning its philosophy of lenience in favor of a more aggressive and watchful approach. Perhaps the former policy was acceptable, even advisable, in days of prosperous consistency, but a subsequent decline will traumatize the myopic masses: they will feel betrayed, and in their betrayal, they may choose to express their contempt, not for the administrators of the state, but for the system that deliberately misled them. Such an exercise of the freedom of expression was never welcomed or embraced by the state, but it was tolerated as long as it appeared to pose only a frivolous threat.
The same “threat”, for lack of better word, may not be precisely credible today, but even the most cynical observer must admit that the proliferation of disaffection is very dangerous to the stability of government. One can compel compliance from a population that rejects its government’s cause, but it can’t generate patriotic enthusiasm among the disaffected; and disaffection is an increasingly American condition. The government isn’t breaking its promises of upward mobility, impenetrable infrastructure, and moral law; it is revealing that it never intended to fulfill them. Promises of this sort are all but required in Washington, so often are they made, yet even a superficial survey of the world and of all governments’ inevitable failings exposes these promises’ improbable grandiosity. The great sham of American political philosophy is the promise of the miraculous as its bedrock.
Naturally, our government has found it quite convenient to present itself as the angel and Nazism as the devil. We never tire of congratulating ourselves for our nigh-religious role in vanquishing a foreign evil (as we discussed in a recent piece), yet we seldom acknowledge that our wings were never really besmirched by the bloodstains of the Third Reich. The Europeans, on the other hand, found themselves overrun by the Nazis, and Abraham Foxman makes this distinction as he defends some countries’ efforts to censor Mein Kampf. These nations “have experienced Nazism and other destructive social movements on their own soil”, and therefore, “their efforts to control their legacy of extremism should be respected, even if their methods are not ours.”
If we follow this inchoate argument to its logical conclusion, then any efforts we take to suppress the publication of Mein Kampf will be indefensible unless we, too, are invaded by the Nazis. That will never happen, of course, because the Nazi Party, the political organization established by the author of Mein Kampf, was disbanded decades ago. Even if a neo-Nazi or pseudo-Nazi group were to acquire power and conquer the U.S. before being defeated, such a group would not and, in fact, could not have any direct connection to Mein Kampf, Hitler, and the original Nazis. In this scenario, one might call for the prohibition of the literature produced by the neo-Nazi group, but Mein Kampf would be immaterial, a non sequitur.
Furthermore, Foxman’s analysis suggests that such an undertaking of censorship, while not strictly anti-American, is certainly contrary to America’s political and intellectual spirit. We are fearless in the face of the most frightening information, information that would derail the thin-skinned and pusillanimous—so we tell ourselves, at least, and this glowing self-image is an essential feature of our national pride. To contradict this quintessential principle, of which the banning of Mein Kampf would be but one example, would not only negate the glorious American mythos, but subsequently require the development of a new concept of what America is. The moment of censorship would mark a division in American history, and the country that existed after that point would not be the nation that existed before.
Such is the most optimistic interpretation of this act of censorship, which is also the most gullible. Predicated on an irrational faith in our government’s virtue, it purposely ignores every step taken by the state to prevent us from knowing our own military history, not to mention the several other dimensions of American history. This deliberate ignorance, inexcusable in itself, embarrasses us when contradictory information surfaces—as it inevitably does. Consider a statement written near the end of Foxman’s introduction: “Recently the Taliban regime in Afghanistan ordered all Hindus to wear identifying badges … The world took note of the Taliban’s efforts and is intently watching that troubled regime.” When we note that this was published in 1999, our only response can be to cover our eyes in shame.
Yet, we cannot mistake our humiliated aversion for the government’s panicked blinding of us. The state plunges its citizens into intellectual darkness only to defend itself and preserve its own power. Never has it done so to protect them, least of all on the command of the American Empire, and the days of benevolent benightedness will not begin with the prohibition of Mein Kampf. Quite to the contrary, Foxman believes that reading this book, or at least preserving it, teaching us a necessary lesson, “the lesson of vigilance and responsibility, of not closing our eyes to the evil around us”. A laudable exhortative, albeit one which is incompatible with our own psychological history: the American people crave insouciance above all, not the brutal business of confronting, overcoming, and comprehending the convoluted machinery of malevolence around them.
Their preference for the limpid and the trivial reflects their spiritual dwarfing, the tragic corollary of their sheltered and coddled existence. Cultivated by a system of perversion, Americans learn to expect pleasure—pleasure they never earn independently, but always receive from somebody else. When they finally receive this pleasure, it is pleasure unearned, the emptiest and most insipid form of pleasure. They are unsatisfied, even resentful, but because they never thought to pursue earned pleasure, they can’t imagine turning away from the system that disappointed them. To do so would be to see its iniquity, to open their eyes to the evil around them, of which the author of Mein Kampf is but one example—and while we understand pampering poisons the heart, we have yet to discern how it makes us blind.