Originally written by Rachel Fleischmann, Guest Writer from Fiat Lux News Vol. 120, Issue #2

Democracy in America is threatened. The American people must vote to protect democracy. If they do not, the nation is at risk of becoming an authoritarian state. 

Authoritarian governments maintain power by limiting people’s ability to question authority. Book banning is one of those limits. Banning has been commonly used by authoritarian regimes from different cultures and throughout different time periods. Book banning is not new in American history, but book banning is at an “unprecedented high,” with the rate of books challenged spiking from two to three a year to four to six books being challenged a day, according to the American Library Association. PEN America reports that from July 2021 to March 2022, 1,586 books were banned, affecting 1,145 book titles in total. Many of the books being challenged focus on topics like sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and racism. They involve social justice, free-thinking, and free expression. They are banned because they question authority, a concept authoritarian governments target to gain and maintain power.

Throughout history, there are several examples of how book banning has been used by authoritarian governments. From 1920-1940, the Soviet Union purged public libraries of books that did not praise communism or socialism to promote Stalin and his authoritarian regime. In China today, there is a security law that requires all books to be checked by the CPD (Communist Party’s Central Publicity Department) before publication to ensure they do not criticize the Chinese Communist Party. For decades in the Middle East, government-sanctioned book banning has been used to prevent the publication of anything the regime considers politically, morally, or religiously sensitive, or that counters the government’s interests. Religious Institutions in the Middle East aid the government by providing recommendations for books to be banned. In 1930s Nazi Germany, students were tasked with finding books that contradicted Nazi ideology. Those books would then be publicly burned in a ritualistic manner because they did not conform to Nazi ideology. Jewish authors, books about race and sexuality, books that mentioned socialism or free thinking or questioned the government were all burned, says Jennifer Wolf, a senior lecturer of education.

Like Nazi efforts, books today that are challenged go against the ideology of those who hold power. In Texas, spreadsheets are compiled containing titles of books that are deemed inappropriate or threaten the upbringing of the nation’s youth. “Protecting the nation’s youth” is a common argument for banning books, but by taking away the opportunity for children to learn and ask questions, the MAGA Republicans are priming the next generation for an authoritarian government as democracy slowly erodes away. Like the Nazis, America is targeting books that deal with free thinking and expression and social justice issues like race and sexuality. Democracy’s core is having individual freedoms and the ability to question authority. Democracy cannot prevail when we allow this surge in book banning because it is a direct contradiction to democracy’s core.

The surge of book banning as an attempt to undermine democracy is not accidental. Book banning is only the beginning. In America, like in Nazi Germany, democracy will fall if the people stay silent. The Republican Party has taken advantage of the people’s silence by strategically placing their people in positions of power at local levels and working their way up the political ladder. They started by winning seats on school boards where they could make decisions that would impact entire communities, where they could require the school library to purge itself of books by claiming they were “protecting the youth.” This fear tactic scared parents who then voted for county representatives that campaigned they would “protect the youth.” With county control, the Republicans could go after state positions, and eventually, the federal government, and during this process, they were slowly taking away the ability to think freely. Abraham Lincoln said America was “a government of the people, by the people, for the people…” so let us make it “by the people” once more.

The simplest proposal? The upcoming midterms. Harry Truman said, “it’s not the hand that signs the laws that hold the destiny of America. It’s the hand that casts the ballot.” The Republicans used voting to strategically win power because the nation continued to remain silent when more positions were taken by MAGA figureheads. To regain positions in government the nation cannot stay silent. To protect democracy, we must vote. Vote to unseat those who wish to control individual freedoms and replace them with those who wish to protect those freedoms. This is how democracy will be saved. What is the harder proposal? Educating oneself. The late writer Isaac Asimov said, “any book worth banning is a book worth reading.”