On Censorship

We must do things, I have been sometimes told, because “everyone” is doing them.

At an early age, I was first exposed to this sort of reasoning, and the reverse of the coin: we must not do things because “nobody” is doing them. It struck me as a weak argument. I made a mental note, never to use it.

But it is stronger than first appears. If the great majority in any society were to do entirely as they pleased, we would have anarchy: genuine anarchy, not the kind that Hollywood celebrates in movies. One’s life would be worth little, and anyone who wished to survive to the end of the day would go about heavily armed.

Perhaps that’s why God made most of us conformists, why the world is discernibly ordered, and man is able, however vaguely, to distinguish up from down, good from evil, the beautiful from the ugly and so forth. But God also gave us freedom, and the consequences of our choices, not only to ourselves but to others.

Gentle reader may suspect that I am making an argument for censorship. I am.

It is in the nature of any culture, society, civilization (choose your weapon) to introduce signposts. Focus our eyes, and we may see them everywhere, even along paved roads. We have laws, too, not always hung in signs, but available for public inspection. And there are unwritten laws.

Consider the law, “Thou shalt do no murder.” This has been spelled out in detail, with exceptions, and acts of murder may be tried in our courts, but we didn’t actually invent the law. It was written into our hearts; it was inscribed on a tablet to Moses long before we were born.

We use the criminal code merely to finesse this “natural law;” we use lawyers and legislators to get around it, should it turn out to be inconvenient in certain circumstances. Abortion, euthanasia, and whatever will come next, are now among our exceptions.

Freedom is our watchword. Freedom from children, freedom from grandparents – always assuming they are unwanted – are now among our man-made “goods.” Freedom from such constraints as being a man or a woman, or being rich or poor, or from any other accident of our being, have been added to the watch list.


It is true there are some “traditionalists” like me, who regret the overthrow of the moral order, and sometimes even those who support it have twangs of conscience that need to be suppressed. But in the main, society is “progressive.” We go along to get along.

In the olden time – I refer here to very deep ancient history, going back to my childhood – we went along with ideas we’d inherited, and kept our little murders to ourselves. Today, we have begun to put them on Facebook.

“Why not?”

Recently a younger acquaintance decided to have herself killed. She had cancer; things were not looking up. Her case shocked me in two especial ways. One, she was a brave soul, who was doing a sterling job of facing down adversity. Two, she was what we call a “conservative,” who had cheerfully taken heat for various “politically incorrect” views. She even had Christian tendencies.

Yet she suddenly opted for the exit plan, and quickly found “support” among her “friends,” who gathered round the execution bed with smiles of encouragement. When I’d queried her life/death “choice” privately, her argument was in effect, “Everyone is doing it.”

The stigma had lapsed, gone. The advocates for killing off the old and the ill, even the young and depressive, had overturned the stigma. This made overturning the law a cinch. And by the time the law had been changed, demeaning human life becoming an important step “forward,” the bulk of society had come round.

“Everyone is doing it,” in a certain sense. It is convenient. They don’t all have themselves executed, for some human instincts have survived, but this “everyone” would like to have the “option” should they ever find themselves desiring it.

Pain is no fun. I admit that. The notion that it could have not only a physical, but a moral purpose, has been extinguished. The idea that suicide is “self-murder” is now taken to be ridiculous. The old laws that banned it could not be enforced (the person who commits suicide has gotten away with it, from a glib point of view). They could only punish those who “assisted.”

Many things once “unthinkable” were thinkable all along. Murder is a good example. Infanticide, for instance, is something that must have occurred to many mothers, in moments of child rearing. But one throws a fit instead, perhaps breaks something, or makes a joke of it. You wouldn’t actually do what was “unthinkable.”

It was unthinkable, narrowly, because the laws of God were reinforced by the laws of the State, and of the culture. You did not go there because, “Nobody goes there.” Except those who do, and become infamous as a consequence.

Among the travesties of the Right (we’ll leave the Left alone for a brief moment) is that censorship is the enemy of freedom. Those on this side are inclined to argue that everyone has the right to his opinion, except those who cry “Fire!” in cinemas. Let any who disagree with anything make their argument, and then we will vote.

We should have learned, in our wild ride since the ’sixties (or from the Garden of Eden, should we wish to trace it back), that this view is naïve. Some things ought to remain as “unthinkable” as they were in those old, oppressively Christian times, when dissent was “censored.”

There is nothing wrong with censorship. Even those on the Left take pride in what they censor: racism, sexism, transphobia, whatever. Unfortunately, by their perverse definitions, they give censorship a bad name.

The real question is not whether censorship is a good thing, but what we should censor.


*Image: An Unhappy Family or The Suicide (Une famille malheureuse ou le Suicide) by Octave Tassaert, 1852 [Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France]

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.