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Essay on America Needs Censorship

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Being frustrated is disagreeable, but the real disasters in life begin when you get what you want. For almost a century now, a great many intelligent, well-meaning and articulate people have argued eloquently against any kind of censorship of art and entertainment. Within the past twenty years, courts and legislatures have found these arguments so persuasive that censorship is now a relative rarity in most states.

Is there triumphant exhilaration in the land? Hardly. Somehow, things have not worked out as they were supposed to, and many civil-libertarians have said this was not what they meant. They wanted a world in which Eugene O'Neill's Desire under the Elms could be produced, or James Joyce's Ulysses published, without interference. They got that, of course; but they also got a world in which homosexual rape is simulated on the stage, in which the public flocks to witness professional fornication, in which New York's Times Square has become a hideous marketplace for printed filth. But does this really matter? Might not our disquiet be merely a cultural hangover? Was anyone ever corrupted by a book?

This last question, oddly enough, is asked by the same people who seem convinced that advertisements in magazines or displays of violence on televi- sion do have the power to corrupt. It is also asked, incredibly enough and in all sincerity, by university professors and teachers whose very lives provide the answer. After all, if you believe that no one was ever corrupted by a book, you have also to believe that no one was ever improved by a book. You have to believe, in other words, that art is morally trivial and that education is morally irrelevant.

To be sure, it is extremely difficult to trace the effects of any single ...


... middle of paper ...


...at is the price one has to be prepared to pay for censorshipѥven liberal censorship.

But if you look at the history of American or English literature, there is precious little damage you can point to as a consequence of the censorship that prevailed throughout most of that history. I doubt that many works of real literary merit ever were suppressed. Nor did I notice that hitherto suppressed masterpieces flooded the market when censorship was eased. I should say, to the contrary, that literature has lost quite a bit now that so much is permitted. It seems to me that the cultural market in the United States today is awash in dirty books, dirty movies, dirty theater. Our cultural condition has not improved as a result of the new freedom.

I'll put it bluntly: if you care for the quality of life in our American democracy, then you have to be for censorship.



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