Since the Enlightenment, books have been the principal symbol of liberalism in the Western world, representing the West’s devotion to the cultivation and development of the human mind, unfettered intellectual inquiry into every subject, the free and unlimited circulation of its results printed on paper and bound between boards, collected in vast libraries and in private ones—at once an emblem of, and a means to, human freedom itself. As of this month that is no longer the case, 21st century liberals having replaced books with the electronic mass media as both their symbol and the engine of their intellectual and political success over the past three centuries.
Within 24 hours following the invasion of the Capitol Building on January 6 by supporters of President Trump (leavened, it seems, by members of Antifa and Black Lives Matter), Simon and Schuster cancelled its contract with Sen. Josh Hawley for his forthcoming book The Tyranny of Big Tech, citing Hawley’s questioning of the voting results submitted to the Electoral College by several states as its reason for taking this action. That event was followed on January 15 by the release of an open letter, organized by an author named Barry Lyga and titled “No Book Deal for Traitors,” urging publishers not to sign contracts with Donald Trump or members of his administration and citing Son of Sam laws going back 50 years from taking profit from their crimes. An article printed in a recent edition of Publishers Weekly (“As Political Divide Widens, Will Big Houses Rethink Conservative Publishing?”, by Rachel Deahl) covers the broader situation. As reported by Miss Deahl, a rapidly growing number of mainly younger employees in the publishing industry believe that the ideas of “certain conservative figures” are so dangerous to society that their work should not be published—in the jargon of the internet, “given a platform.” Already the number of editors hired to acquire titles for conservative imprints has been halved, or reduce by two-thirds. Steve Ross, the founder of Penguin Random House’s conservative Crown Forum imprint in 2002 , told Deahl that “we are all reassessing our role in the propagation and dissemination of falsehoods, particularly if they can lead to dangerous situations,” printed in “incendiary” books. Deahl quotes further a “junior editorial employee…who asked to remain anonymous” as saying, “I’m glad I signed [Lyga’s letter], because I’m definitely of the unflinching belief that Trump and anyone who served in his administration—or stood by it—should be publicly shamed into hiding for the rest of their [sic] lives and should never see a penny of profit. On the other hand, I know some publishers will always see dollars and cents before they see reason…As long as that’s the case, publishers will continue to cite ‘free speech’ while publishing bigots, trolls, and Trumpers.”
For as long as I’ve been in the business–first as history editor at St. Martin’s Press decades ago, then as a senior editor at National Review and the editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and finally as an author who has published 11 books since 1980 and written at least half a dozen yet unpublished ones– I can testify from personal experience that the publishing industry in America has been liberal or leftwing throughout those four decades (though most houses continued to have on staff editors who understood history and politics as non-ideological and non-partisan subjects,) and acquired titles dealing with them. During that time it has become progressively more leftwing—regarding especially its fiction lists, given over long ago to the work of “minorities,” very much including young ladies in their 20s just out of Wellesley. Beginning in the late 90s and early 2000s flourishing conservative radio and television programming, and the audiences they created, encouraged publishers, among them the biggest houses, to acquire conservative manuscripts– even, as with Crown, to establish conservative imprints–to exploit the new market for profit. The Trump years changed all of that, to a drastic degree. So drastic, indeed, that the greater part of the commercial publishing industry, including all of the biggest houses, will almost immediately make itself unavailable to “conservative” authors, however it chooses to define them—which will be very broadly.
Since January 6, if not before, book publishers have been allowing the social media to tempt them into embracing the hysteria of mass illiberalism and the entrepreneurs who indulge, encourage, shape, and direct it, while adopting their aims, their means, and their methods. The reddest, most unlettered, and most fevered supporter of Donald Trump who ever wore a MAGA hat is no more of a Philistine, a cultural iconoclast, an illiterate, and an illiberal than these people—banners and burners of books before they can even be published. Literary abortionists, in short.
Final proof–as if anyone needed it– that liberalism, as it has been understood for three years, is really dead.