When a top Edinburgh school announced earlier this month that it would stop teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, citing the novel’s ‘white saviour motif’ and use of the n-word, the response ranged from uproar to bafflement.
We may be living in increasingly censorious times, it seems, but banning books, even just on a school’s curriculum, still has a bad smell around it.
Well, perhaps not for much longer. In an alarming new poll, conducted for The Spectator by Redfield and Wilton Strategies, 40 per cent of respondents said they supported the UK government censoring books with content that it deems sexist, homophobic or racist. Just 30 per cent were opposed while 24 per cent would neither support nor oppose it.
Presumably the British public won’t be clamouring for books like Harper Lee’s classic to be cancelled — not least because To Kill a Mockingbird is actually an anti-racist book, a detail that seems to have escaped the philistines who work at Edinburgh’s James Gillespie’s High School. But it seems that a clampdown on other, properly ‘hateful’ books might enjoy a level of public support.
Here we see that racism, sexism and homophobia have replaced dusty old concepts like blasphemy and obscenity as the great taboos of our age. In a sense, of course, that’s no bad thing. Morally, to most people’s minds, it’s entirely fine to take the mick out of religion, while being a massive racist is definitely not.
But the point is that, whether we’re talking about Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Mein Kampf, a book shouldn’t be banned just because we disapprove of it — even if we violently hate what it says. It’s a simple point, but apparently it needs restating.
Part of the problem with standing up to the censorship of art and literature today is that — outside of the easy cases — those who might previously be relied upon to join you are often missing in action.