So, in Fahrenheit 451, censorship is not imposed by a sinisterrnelite of power-mad corporate managers or apparatchiksrnbut is the will of the common people themselves:rnThere you have it, Montag. It didn’t come from thernGovernment down. There was no dictum, no declaration,rnno censorship, to start with, no! Technology, massrnexploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick,rnthank God. Today, thanks to them, you can stay happyrnall the time, you are allowed to read comics, the goodrnold confessions, or trade journals.rnWhether the First Amendment is shredded by contending andrnjealous racial, ethnic, and ideological groups or made otiose byrna dumbcd-down populace, the real enemy of freedom inrnFahrenheit 451 is not some centralized authority but ourselves.rnBradbury’s story-crime in Fahrenheit 451, then, is not to havernblamed government for censorship but, in the words of JackrnZipes (a Marxist literary critic and just about the only academicrnto confront the theme of censorship in this novel), to havern”shift[ed] the blame” to “the people, i.e., the masses, [whornhave] brought this upon themselves and almost deserve to bernblown up so that a new breed of book-lovers may begin to populaternthe world.” What upsets Zipes (and other literary academics,rnI suspect) is that Bradbury’s novel exonerates “the staternand private industry from crimes against humanity and placesrnthe blame for destructive tendencies in American society onrnthe masses of people who allegedly want to consume and leadrnlives of leisure dependent on machine technology.” As far asrnZipes is concerned, Bradbury has “an inaccurate notion ofrnwhat led the ‘bad old’ society to become fascist and militaristic”rn(italics added). The novelist’s illiberal, elitist notion thatrnthe “masses” themselves will subvert their own freedom isrn”false,” “distorted,” and “regressive”—in short, politically incorrect.rnZipes, of course, got it wrong. Bradbury’s “false” and “distorted”rndepiction of the etiologv of censorship has morerncredibility and relevance now than it did 40 years ago. Everyrnday there is more evidence that free expression is being whittledrnaway not just by Big Bad Government but by a “rainbowrncoalition” of ethnic, racial, and political “minorities,” eachrncontending with each other for turf in the culture and campusrnwars and each hell-bent on suppressing any form of expressionrnthat gives the slightest offense. Without shame, academicsrnnow ask, “Gan We Live with the First Amendment?” (as theyrndid in a conference ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education lastrnSeptember).rnIn the current cultural climate, just about anything that isrnsaid, written, performed, displayed, or published will offendrnsomeone—and this is now excuse enough to suppress it.rnA satiric cartoon portraying politicians as fat, greedy hedonistsrnwas attacked not by the politicians it defamed but by a galleryrnvisitor—a “woman of size”—who was offended by greed beingrnequated with fatness. The gallery, denying this was censorship,rntook down the painting. Show Boat was recently attacked becausernsome African-Ganadian and African-American groupsrnfound its sympathetic and honest portrayal of blacks in the agernof steamboats as poor and oppressed to be demeaning. Wiccansrntry to get the works of Roald Dahl out of school librariesrnbecause of his unflattering portrayal of witches. A student whorncalled inconsiderate students “water buffalo” was deemed tornhave offended racial harassment codes. A professor who invitedrnracists to address his class on tolerance and intolerance was attackedrnby administrators, colleagues, and students (not thernones in his class) for tolerating racist and insensitive speech, apparentlyrnsomething not to be tolerated from a professor whornteaches about tolerance. The founding editor of Peace Magazine,rnMetta Spencer, attacked the Toronto Globe and Mail forrnpublishing a book review that contained a description of selfmutilation,rnarguing that printing “the details of this violencern.. . should be made a punishable act.” Huckleberry Finn (LittlernBlack Sambo long ago disappeared down the memory hole)rnwas removed from high school reading lists for being “morallyrninsensitive,” “degrading,” and “destructive to black humanity.”rnAs one high school administrator put it, “There’s simply no reasonrnto use books that offend minorities if other books may bernused instead.”rnOf course this assault on freedom in the name of sensitivityrnhas been going on for decades. When William Shoekley wasrninvited to talk at Yale in 1974, a student wrote that he wasrn”dismayed” by Shockley’s “lack of sensitivity to others.” Thern”feelings and dignity” of students should not be “sacrificed” onrnthe “altars of freedom of speech and academic freedom.”rnBradbury was right—people themselves will whittle away theirrnown freedoms until all that is left is tinder for firemen.rnPerhaps even more alarming than these ad hoc instances ofrnsuppression is the vigorous theoretical assault against the FirstrnAmendment coming from some “cutting-edge ” intellectuals.rnI am thinking, for instance, of Stanley Fish and his notoriousrnand thought-provoking essa’ “There’s No Such Thing as FreernSpeech—and It’s a Good Thing, Too,” which he has noyy expandedrninto a book with the same title. To create a compassionaterncommunity, campus leaders across the nation havernpushed for speech codes to suppress anything that a selfdefinedrn”victim” deems “insensitive,” “offensive,” “harassing,”rn”stigmatizing,” or “politically repugnant.” L,aw professors havernfacilitated this attack on constitutionally protected speech byrncontending that freedom of speech has been unjustly “privileged”rnover other and more important rights, such as the rightrnto be unoffended. A law professor from the l,lniersity of Oregon,rnfor example, has argued that “our fixation on rights is dysfunctionalrnand deranged,” especially our fixation on FirstrnAmendment rights. This point of view has also been advancedrnby Leroy Martin, police superintendent in Ghicago,rnwho argues that “we need to take a look at [the Gonstitution]rnand, maybe from time to time, we should curtail some ofrnthose rights.” As Judge Learned Hand explained, “liberty liesrnin the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution,rnno law, no court can save it.” If we do not watch out,rnthe government may heed our braying against freedom, as itrndid in Fahrenheit 451.rnIn the alchemy of our souls, almost all noble attributes—rncourage, hope, love, faith, beauty, loyalty—can be transmutedrninto ruthlcssness. As Lionel Trilling warned, “yvc must bernaware of the dangers which lie in our most generous wishes.” Itrnis hard to believe that a virtue as exalted as compassion—tendernessrnof heart—can be carried too far, but it can. As JohnrnSparrow wrote in Too Much of a Good Ihing, “it is difficult tornsee how any . .. civilized society could survive if the doctrinesrnof pure humanitarianism were consistently applied…. A manrnwho cannot face the fact of suffering cannot meet his responsibilitiesrnas a member of society.” loo much compassion leadsrnnot only to paralysis but also to coercion. Life is rough and itrn26/CHRONICLESrnrnrn