Tag Archives: freedom of speech

Poets and Capitalism

An interesting article in “The American Spectator” entitled “Poets and Capitalism”. The piece contains a fascinating discussion regarding why so many poets have been (and continue to be) opposed to Capitalism, and makes the point that poets have often suffered under Communist regimes and, in the end its Capitalism which enables poets to freely pursue their craft.

I agree with the thrust of the article, which is, I believe worth a read, https://spectator.org/poets-and-capitalism/

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Banning Books

A couple of weeks ago, I fell into conversation with a librarian. During the course of our conversation she mentioned that the library does not stock books which their readers might “find offensive”. This exchange got me thinking about how one defines what constitutes “offensive”, and whether something being so classified is a sufficient reason for not allowing it on to the library’s shelves.

The great English author and poet, Rudyard Kipling is loved by people of every race and creed. Yet a number of his writings would, in today’s society be considered “offensive” by many. Take, for instance his poem “The Stranger” which begins thus:

“The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk –
I can not feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind.

The men of my own stock
They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I am wonted to,
They are used to the lies I tell.
And we do not need interpreters
When we go to buy and sell”. (http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_stranger.htm”.

The message of “The Stranger” is, in effect that people of different races should not mix (I.E. the black should stick to the black, the Asian to the Asian and the white to the white”. This is not a view I share and I can understand why many people find Kipling’s sentiments highly offensive.

“The Stranger” can be found in any complete collection of Kipling’s poems. Given that most people (including me) find the sentiments expressed in the poem offensive, should libraries not stock complete collections of Kipling’s works on the grounds that readers may be offended by them?

To answer the above question we need to stand back and look at “The Stranger” from the perspective of the time of it’s composition. The poem was written in 1908, at a time when many Englishmen (of all political persuasions) held views which we would, today regard as racist. Kipling believed that Britain had a duty to look after what he (in “The White man’s Burden” terms as “lesser breeds without the law”. This was not (as with the Nazis), a belief that those with white skin had the right to enslave or exterminate those of darker skin. Rather it was a paternalistic (and to us today) patronising view. It was not, however an uncommon opinion (as stated above) and was (as previously mentioned), widely held by Europeans at that time.

To banish “The Stranger” from library shelves would be a deeply illiberal act. Educated adults can employ their judgement and understand the historical context in which “The Stranger” was written and (without in any way justifying the message of the poem) appreciate the musicality of “The Stranger”.

One of the problems with defining what is offensive, is that what I may find offensive my friend Jo Bloggs may find perfectly acceptable. For example some religious people wish to see books which (in their words) “promote homosexuality” banished from libraries. They regard gay sex as immoral and believe that those who engage in it (or, via books, the media etc “promote”) it are ungodly. This is not a view I share, however those holding it are entitled to do so. What they are not entitled to do is to foist their opinions on others. If you don’t approve of a particular book, don’t read it, but don’t dictate to others what they can and can not read.

In conclusion, adults should be treated as such and not as children who need to be protected from reading something which may “deprave”, “offend” or “corrupt” them. Its perfectly possible that some of the views which are, today mainstream may, in the future be considered as “offensive”. I trust that, if this does transpire, that the librarians of the future will treat adults, as adults and not as children.

I would, of course be interested to hear your views and, in particular those of any librarians who may read this post.

Kevin

I Am For An English Libertie

I am for
An English libertie
Wherein,
When I close my door,
I am free
To sin
(Whatever sin may be).

I am for
An English libertie
Where the law
Protects person and propertie
And the weak
Who can not for themselves speak.

I am for
An English libertie
Where people who’s views I dislike
Can sleep easy at night
And they extend the same courtesie
To me.

I am for
An English libertie
Where students can not ban those with whom they disagree
From campus under “no platform”, for that is not free
Speech, and I still
Cling to Mill.

“There is no uniquely English libertie”,
Some will say,
But I shall continue, in my contrarian way
To maintain that we
English are still
More or less free
(Though beware the authoritarian chill
That may our libertie kill).

Shall I Forsake Kipling And Blake

Shall I forsake
Kipling and Blake
For a dull technocracy
Where man is no longer free?

Modernity calls.
Tradition falls
Away.
We are all the same today.

But I, like some stubborn goat
Shall build a moat
Against it all
And think on ancient hall
And a simpler time
When to rhyme
Or to speak out of turn was no crime.

One must not say such and such
For it is all too much
For youth
(And some aged too)
Who refuse to
Discuss what they believe to be true
For they hate
Debate
Which made England great.

Man does not live by bread alone

Today I fell into conversation with a young Polish lady. We conversed about a variety of topics and during our conversation I asked her whether any Poles looked back with nostalgia to the time when Poland was ruled by the Communist Party. I must confess to being somewhat taken back by the answer to my question which was, in the words of my acquaintance that

“you can have to much freedom”.

The lady then went on to say that she thought that things had in some respects been better when Communists governed her country.

For reasons which I will not go into here I was not able to tease out what exactly my companion meant by her statement that people can have to much freedom. Her comment did however get me thinking about why I prize freedom, by which I mean the right of the individual under law to live their life, broadly speaking as they choose without undue interference from the state or society as a whole. As a writer I value the freedom to write what I please without the fear of the midnight knock on the door. We in democracies take freedom of expression for granted, however we should remember that the Nazis burned books by Jews and others they believed to be undesirable while Communist states prohibited works (fiction and non-fiction) which criticised the ruling ideology. Indeed Communist states have banned works by fellow Marxists who happen to have a different interpretation of Marxism from that held by the ruling elites.

I don’t want to live in a society in which books are censored. At the very least this would lead to a truncated intellectual climate and in it’s most extreme manifestation to tyranny.

It is postulated by apologists for various authoritarian systems that they maintain order by fostering equality by, for example ensuring full employment and universal social welfare. The argument often seems to boil down to “sacrifice freedom of a few intellectuals for the greater happiness and prosperity of the community”. Those who argue in this manner tend to downplay or deny the Soviet gulags and the intellectuals confined to mental institutions for criticising the regime. It is a delicious irony that apologists for tyranny frequently reside in democratic societies which (quite rightly) leave them free to express their views so long as they do not advocate violence. The freedom enjoyed by those who express contempt for democracy would be denyed by them to their opponents (oh irony of ironies).

Man does not live by bread alone and if intellectual freedom is sacrificed in the name of economic security we will, in all likelihood, ultimately end up with neither prosperity or freedom.