Michael Gove and the modern-day book burners

Reading repugnant ideas is not the same as sharing them.



The offencerati never sleep. Even the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t dented their zealotry. And their latest target is Michael Gove’s bookshelf.

When Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, shared a picture of the shelf on Twitter, eagle-eyed would-be censors spotted a copy of David Irving’s The War Path.

Irving is a notorious Holocaust denier and Nazi sympathiser. And for many time-rich tweeters, seeing Irving on the Goves’ bookshelf confirmed their worst fears about our supposedly ‘far-right’ government.

One Corbynista account accused Gove of owning ‘a full curriculum of white supremacist propaganda on his bookshelf’, which ‘you don’t acquire by accident’.

Guardian columnist Owen Jones decreed that there is no legitimate reason to read Irving’s work: ‘You can’t learn anything from a lying book which rewrites history to suit the Nazis, written by someone imprisoned for Holocaust denial.’

Of course, owning or reading a book by a repugnant author does not mean you endorse that person’s ideas. And Vine was quite right to say that ‘to defeat prejudice you have to understand it’.

But despite all the lessons of history telling us that free speech, open enquiry and robust debate are the best ways to confront prejudice and promote tolerance, the book-burning mentality still persists.

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ubik miller

6th May 2020 at 8:21 pm

I left a comment below one of the execrable Owen Jones’ Guardian columns riffing on his “book policing” activities. Within five minutes it was gone, tossed down Orwell’s memory hole.

Vivian Darkbloom

5th May 2020 at 10:36 pm

The Bookshelf of Owen Jones: a Cautionary Tale

Young Owen settled down in his comfortable armchair. He surveyed his bookshelf, the fruits of many years. The collected works of Ray Bradbury, with Fahrenheit 451 in several fancy editions. George Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Zamyatin’s We, Rex Warner’s The Aerodrome. He flicked through Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, Scum of the Earth and Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada and Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen.

He figures these tomes lasciviously, and settles back in his seat, a fire set by his servant Sambo crackling in the grate. “What wonderful blueprints for the society I will create,” he muses, a wry smile playing on his youthful lips. From the open fire a figure emerges, bearded, fiery, and shrouded in fumes. “I am the Great Jeremy Mephisto, come to grant your every wish” the apparition thundered. “But first you must sign this document, relinquishing your brain to another. But you will have power! Power!” Young Owen, astonished by this vision, signed the paper and fell back exhausted. “What is your first wish?” spake the infernal being. “Er, to tell the Tories to fuck off? No, to make the country nice for all the sad black people? Er, no, to be Bookfinder General and to seek out witches your honour. That’s it!”.

And it was made so. Young Owen strode the land, knocking on every door and burning every book which mocked the True Faith. One day he returned to his home, tired but content with his great work. A hooded figure met him at the doorstep: ‘You are Young Owen of this parish?” the sinister figure enquired. “I have here a proclamation from the Great Mephisto, who has changed his allegiance to another temporal power, equally bad. We seek the blasphemous tomes Chavs and The Establishment. They are not fit to grace the bookshelves of the high and mighty. They must be cast into the flames”. Young Owen sighed; “I will comply with the will of the Great Mephisto. But do I still have a job at the Guardian, please sir, please ’mate’? I’ve got to make a living and I can’t do anything else except write tendentious bollox!” And Mephistopheles smiled down at Young Owen. “Like Johann Hari at The Independent, you will always have a place at The Guardian. Mwhahahaha!”

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