In many ways we publishers are idealists. In many other ways we are just whores, doing whatever makes a buck. We don’t create much — every now and then a publisher will get to provide some kind of content for a book when the author has let them down, but basically we are intermediaries purveying the author’s words to the book-buying public.

Although I have met one or two right-wingers in our business, I am always surprised when the stone is turned over to reveal them. I think it’s fair to say most people who want to go into publishing are of a liberal mind-set. In most types of publishing the political beliefs of the author just don’t come up. What does it matter if the author of that physics monograph is a liberal or a conservative? A conservative attitude to criticism of the Romantic poets means something rather different than a conservative attitude towards welfare. We sometimes sail into political waters in the textbook business, though it’s generally the politics of the purchasing state organization rather than the politics of the author that are the issue.

It’s in trade publishing where politics can become an issue. In a publishing world populated by small companies, the existence of “specialist” publishers, Marxist or fascist to go for the extremes, is quite simply tolerated. People who want their books buy their books; people who don’t, look away. It’s with consolidation that the “problem” arises: you can make money selling right-wing material, and buying such an imprint may also look good in the “diversity” stakes. If you work for a huge company (e.g. Simon & Schuster) what to feel when your company acquires an imprint specializing in subject matter you hate, and when it publishes a book you disapprove of? Is anyone liable to resign because of Milo Yiannopoulos’ book? Lots of people who work at S&S will be unhappy, but they cannot be unaware that the imprint under which the book is being published exists to publish conservative works. I think that I, however much I disapproved of the tenor of an associated imprint’s list, would manage to make the compromise (if that’s even what it is) and accept that my pay check was more important to me than the association with abhorrent opinion. I might well prefer not to work for a conservative publisher — but that’s an easily cured problem: just don’t apply for a job at one — but I can’t accept that we have any duty or even right to prevent the expression of such views. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall (not Voltaire) said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

The Passive Voice also alerts us to a more principled objector. Now while the Chicago Review of Books‘ refusal to cover any S&S titles during 2017 sounds noble, and maybe even is noble, it’s not a gesture that’s going to hurt S&S. If they happen to publish an important book during the year, the only parties harmed by the editor’s refusal to review S&S books will be the readers of the CRB. And of course they’ll only be harmed marginally: they’ll just have to get their review information elsewhere. Any newspaper or magazine always has the right to review whatever books it wants to. Any bookseller always has the right to stock or not stock any individual title. And of course, unfortunately for the objectors, any publisher always has the right to decide to publish or not to publish any book. As The Passive Voice quoting SCOTUS tells us “[The] function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea. That is why freedom of speech, though not absolute, is nevertheless protected against censorship or punishment.”

We may all click our teeth at the recent republication of Mein Kampf, sales of which have been amazingly brisk. No doubt many of the buyers are people whose views we’d all deplore, but repressing books, and burning them is what the bad guys do. Surely we publishing people stand for the belief that people are basically good and should be allowed the freedom of telling right from wrong for themselves. Trying to tamp down right-wing views by employing right-wing censorship techniques is illogical nonsense, doomed to failure. There are of course certain forms of expression which are not permitted by law. You can be sure that the Threshold editors will be on the look out for this sort of thing in Mr Yiannopoulos’ manuscript. This one isn’t going to get by without scrutiny from S&S’s lawyers.

What are people scared of? Breitbart-style opinion appeals to some people. Trying to drive it underground just plays into the hands of these conspiracy theorists. Expose it for the nonsense you claim to believe it is.

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