If you can abort a book you don’t have to burn it. That is what almost happened in the case of James R. Flynn’s reasoned but impassioned defense of intellectual honesty and freedom in the university.
Mr. Flynn, a professor emeritus of political studies in New Zealand and a distinguished expert on intelligence — human, not military — and the means of measuring it, is the author of 18 books. By most conventional standards he is a classic liberal.
But, like many another honest liberal in recent years, James R. Flynn has been mugged by reality. Alarmed and appalled by new-left cultural and campus radicals who routinely practice censorship, intimidation, blacklisting and even mob violence to suppress the discussion and expression of anything they disagree with, the professor signed an agreement with a British publisher to write a book on the subject.
What happened next transformed James Flynn from a commenter on the problem into one of its latest victims. He received a letter from his publisher informing him that his book, which they had already scheduled for publication, had been spiked because they believed that “its publication, in particular in the United Kingdom, would raise serious concerns. By the nature of its subject matter, the work addresses sensitive topics of race, religion, and gender.”
The publisher went on to express fear that, while they had no doubts about the factual content of the book or the integrity and good intentions of the author, “the work could be seen to incite racial hatred and stir up religious hatred under United Kingdom law,” and that while the author clearly had “no intention of promoting racism,” intent could be “irrelevant” because under British law, “one test is merely whether it is ‘likely’ that racial hatred could be stirred up as a result of the work.”
Especially, they added, “given modern means of digital media expression” which would facilitate “circulation of the more controversial passages of the manuscript online, without the wider intellectual context of the work as a whole and to a very broad audience …” This, the publishers feared, would represent “a material legal risk” to them.
In other words, because someone, somewhere, might quote something from the book out of context, it was unsafe to publish it in the U.K. under existing law. In essence, truth, fairness and free expression could all be legally penalized if the authorities concluded that even a misreading of select passages of the book might cause “hate” thought or action never advocated by the author.
Fortunately, not all publishers are equally craven. Academica Press, a Washington- and London-based publisher of a short list of intellectually serious books unconstrained by political correctness of either the right or the left, now offers “A Book Too Risky to Publish” in both hardcover and paperback versions.
The work is divided into three parts, consisting of 15 chapters in all. The section titles give a good idea of the issues it grapples with: Part 1, “Knowledge and Right Opinion;” Part 2, “What others do to academics;” Part 3, “What academics do to themselves;” Part 4, “What academics do to students;” and Part 5, “Justification and advice.” The whole is amply documented so that the reader can follow up with further printed and, in some cases, video material.
“This book was written not with the usual sense of achievement at the end but with a rising tide of anger,” James Flynn concludes. “In ‘The Informer’, an IRA man calls Ireland a holy church. I feel the same way about the University. How dare they profane it with their ignorance and intolerance? … Looming over this entire debate is a terrible temptation: the assumption that since you know that virtue is on your side, truth must be on your side — and that an honest effort to perceive the truth is immoral. This is the surest road to hell for an otherwise honorable human being.”
Today, in the name of political correctness, we are being told what we can and cannot discuss, what facts we can and cannot believe, and even what we can and cannot think, especially out loud or in print.
Any political or social institution that suppresses facts in the pursuit of its idea of “correctness” is a movement built on an intellectual error, an ethical lapse, and a moral lie. It is the enemy of truth. And freedom can no more survive the death of truth than truth can survive the death of freedom.
• Aram Bakshian Jr., a former aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, has written widely on politics, history, gastronomy and the arts.
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A BOOK TOO RISKY TO PUBLISH: FREE SPEECH AND UNIVERSITIES
By James R. Flynn
Academica Press, $99.95 hardcover, $29.95 paperback, 328 pages
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