In 1953, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury released “Fahrenheit 451.” The book was a hit, and scary. The story describes a society determined to erase history, intent on burning books. Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns. The author’s fear – at that time – was America might someday tip that way. Although no longer alive, one wonders what Bradbury would say about where we are.
In truth, attempts to erase history – such as recent destruction of historic statues across America – are almost always the work of socialists, communists, fascists, or fiction writers. The common point among socialists, communists and fascists is total control. Of course, fiction authors also have total control.
What Americans must remember is that our world is real, and at risk. America is under attack, from within – the idea of radical socialism is noxious. It is anti-freedom, antithetical, anti-American. The Soviets, Chinese, and Nazis all sought to erase history – and accompanied their statue toppling and church burning, with mob mayhem, intimidation, coercion, killing, and book burning.
Some may say, that cannot be so, or think progression from a free state to coerced, socialist or fascist is slow. They may doubt that any society would make such radical turn, but history is our teacher.
Russia fell to Soviet dominance fast – over in six years, 1917 to 1923, foreshadowed by events in 1905. The people of Soviet Russia and contiguous countries suffered tens of millions of deaths from communism – only escaping 70 years later, with the help of an American president named Reagan, British prime minister named Thatcher and, and Polish Pope named John Paul II.
In Soviet Russia, after destroying pre-revolutionary statues, churches and culture, Soviets burned books, then killed those found with such material – causing citizens to burn their own books.
Likewise, China got a communist party in 1921, which took control in 1949, despite best efforts of post-war America. Like Soviet Russia, Communist China under Mao killed tens of millions, erasing history.
China burned books after the takeover.
In a frightening return to the past, Xi Jinping’s China has again been burning books. Centralizing power, expanding surveillance and military power projection, Communist China’s cyberattacks grow, as they impose a national security law on Hong Kong, and again burn books – a directive issued in October 2019 burned all books critical of Communism in all school libraries in the country. See: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/12/11/china-burning-book-censorship-online-outrage/.
Nazi Germany followed a similar course, eliminating cultural symbols and burning books, before horrors of wartime, concentration camps, executions roundups. Beyond statues and street names, Nazis erased history by burning books – by such noted writers as Albert Einstein, Victor Hugo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Hellen Keller, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Joseph Conrad, Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells, James Joyce, and hundreds of others.
The point is that – in reality, as well as in fiction – extreme behaviors occur, flourishing societies imagine never facing this, then do. Relatively free, they are accosted by disintegrating rule of law, street mobs, anarchists, socialists, and communists. The last hundred years are rich with this human tragedy.
That is why respect for history – good, bad, and ugly – is the hallmark of freedom-loving, life-loving, law-abiding societies, essential to a republic. Destroying statues, names, descriptions, and books is mob rot. It is anarchy, and worse – socialism, communism, and fascism.
That is why the turn of recently peaceful anti-racist protests to mob violence, church burnings and hammer and sickle graffiti on WWII cemeteries – is disturbing. The basis for any democratic republic is rule of law, non-violent interactions, ordered liberty, respect for history, and for personal property.
When we lose that respect – when lawlessness overruns law enforcement, when public ignorance permits derision of police, bad things lie ahead unless corrected. Put differently, anyone who pushes violence as a means for changing republican government is out of step with America. Anyone who does not stand up to lawlessness – mayor, governor, House, or Senate member – is out of step.
The next step after tearing down statues is violence buildings, books, and people. That is why actions to preserve rule of law are essential – now. Ray Bradbury wrote about it, history teaches it, and we should be attentive to the need for it. Support for freedom, rule of law, and enforcement are the bulwark against anarchy, socialism, communism, and hybrid fascism – even in the name of “social justice.”
Violence is not how democratic societies work, or society-enhancing reform. The way forward is tolerance for peaceful opinions, debate the merits of those opinions. We cannot shut out fair calls to review police tactics and approaches, but we cannot default to society-wide violence – or justify it.
A final story makes the point. Many moons ago, studying politics and economics at Oxford, I happened onto my conservative economics don in a library. He was reading Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Oh, I read Marx every year, just to recall why I believe what I believe.” Lovely, even inspiring.
The point was simple – reach out to understand what you may disagree with, as the result is always positive. You learn something you did not know or have forgotten; you reaffirm what you believe; you may even persuade others. That is what learning is about and what civil society depends on it.
Violent anarchists, socialists, communists, and fascists do not spend much time reading, let alone on conservative thought. I am sure Antifa has not recently brushed up on Reagan, Burke, or Russell Kirk. That is one way to distinguish them. They want to upend society, violently end it, get their way, then impose it on a free society. They are not interested in books – except for burning.
That is why we do not topple statues – or burn books. Preserving history and ideas with which we disagree is how we inform ourselves and future generations of why we believe what we believe. That is how we learn what is indefensible, not worth retrying, what offends, disturbs, deprives, and depresses. It is also how we learn what is solid and good, what worked, uplifted, inspired, and improved life.
Truth – not suppression of it – is the goal. History is about remembering truth accurately, the heroic and despotic, noble, and ignoble. History is proof of individual rights, rule of law, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” allowing upward mobility, John Locke’s idea that with security we work, save, and invest.
History is about understanding and teaching what failed, without compromise and shading, without pretending it worked: Communism’s eye-popping destruction and human horrors, in places like the former Soviet Union, dominated Eastern Europe, Cuba, Laos, Venezuela, and China – all examples of how not to govern, how to suppress individual rights.
Applied to our moment, Ray Bradbury’s famous “Fahrenheit 451” is a cautionary take. Beyond destroying statues, defacing noble leaders, debasing intellectuals, and erasing history, his dystopian world is the modern Left’s dream. We must never let it come to pass. That is what he would say.