The attempt to censor Jordan Peterson shows the intolerance of the social justice generation – Telegraph.co.uk

Its easy to forget what a recent phenomenon freedom of expression is, even in this country. Until 1959, British publishers could be sent to jail for producing books deemed to have a tendency to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.

Back then, the things that couldnt be said were largely sexual. James Joyces masterpiece, Ulysses, was banned indeed burned on the grounds of obscenity. A single line in Radclyffe Halls The Well of Loneliness (And that night they were not divided) convinced a magistrate that all copies must be destroyed, because it could induce thoughts of a most impure character and would glorify the horrible tendency of lesbianism.

The bravery of successive generations of publishers, their mischievous insistence on thumbing their nose at the censors, helped bring about the sexual revolution, enabling us all to live and love and read more freely. The obscenity trial, 60 years ago, of Lady Chatterleys Lover (or more accurately, of its publisher, Penguin Books), is widely recognised as the moment when the gates of artistic and sexual freedom were finally blown open.

Now, though, there are those who wish to drag them shut again. This time it isnt the grey elderly ones, as Lawrence described his censors, having apoplexies over the written word. Today, the blue pencil hovers in the hand of young progressives some of them, astonishingly, publishers themselves.

Staff at Penguin Random House tried this week to block the publication of a new book by Jordan Peterson, the Canadian academic whose contempt for identity politics has earned him a huge following on the Right. At a town hall meeting at Penguins Canada office, employees argued that the publisher should not give a platform to an icon of hate speech. According to one of those present, people were crying in the meeting about how Mr Peterson has affected their lives, with one employee fretting that the publication of the book would negatively affect their non-binary friend.

To Penguins great credit, it is pressing ahead with publication. But as the social justice generation moves up the media hierarchy, this bizarre sight publishers protesting against their own publishing house for publishing a book will only become more common.

Earlier this year, the US firm Hachette dropped its plans to publish Woody Allens memoirs after staff staged a walkout. The American journalist Abigail Shrier has described how her latest book, an investigation into the rise in transgender identification among adolescent girls, was dropped by her first publishers following protests by staff. When another publisher picked it up, newspapers refused to review it. When the podcaster Joe Rogan interviewed Shrier about her book, staff at Spotify, the podcast platform, threatened to walk out. Censorship is once more in the ascendant.

They are so easily rattled, these new inspectors of literary hygiene. No sensible critic of Peterson would claim that his books constitute hate speech. (Unlike Mein Kampf, which Penguin, quite rightly, continues to publish on the grounds of public interest.) The argument against Peterson seems to be that, even if he isnt a neo-Nazi, some of his fans are. But since when did we judge a book by its readers?

If reading has any moral purpose, it is that it broadens our understanding of the world by exposing us to different ideas. This is what makes publishing an exalted profession: its whole purpose is to find ideas and set them free. A publisher should be a liberator, not a jailer.

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The attempt to censor Jordan Peterson shows the intolerance of the social justice generation - Telegraph.co.uk

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