- - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Anyone who believes in the right to freedom of speech and expression knows it’s a two-way street. You have to consistently defend speech that you fundamentally agree with, as well as speech that you completely oppose.

With the sole exception of the threat of physical violence, speech is a near-absolute right in a democratic society. Any attempt to stifle or silence debate will therefore lead to an increase in state interference and a decrease in intellectual discourse.

Here’s a classic example of how difficult it is for some people to support free speech.

Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), has been banned in Germany since the end of World War II. The copyright has been held by the Bavarian state government, and they have refused to permit new printings of the book. As noted in a 2010 press release, “the dissemination of Nazi ideologies will remain prohibited in Germany and is punishable under the penal code.”

The copyright is finally set to expire this December. Hence, “Mein Kampf” can be reissued in Germany for the first time in 70 years. Munich’s Institut fur Zeitgeschichte (Institute of Contemporary History), which was established in 1949 to analyze modern German history, will release an annotated version in January 2016.

This announcement has upset some people. They’re worried it could potentially lead to rise in political extremism — and neo-Nazism — in Germany and beyond.

You can certainly understand why some German, Jewish and European organizations are troubled to hear this news. They were all directly affected by Hitler’s Nazi regime, and they don’t want to light a small match that could one day lead to a huge bonfire.

That being said, I respectfully disagree with their position.

First, I don’t believe in banning books. All works of fiction and nonfiction should be available for public consumption, including wise thoughts (that deserve to be praised) and poor concepts (that need to be criticized). That’s the best way to disseminate information, spark intellectual discussion, and promote the free exchange of ideas.

Second, I don’t believe there is any reason for people to be scared of “Mein Kampf.” Why? I’ve owned an English language copy of the book for more than 25 years.

I saw it in a bookstore at a U.S. airport during a brief layover. I purchased it without any looks, comments or queries about the subject matter. It sits in full view on one of the many bookshelves in my house.

I don’t think it’s very common for a person who was born Jewish to own it (although I’ve been agnostic more than 30 years). It’s not terribly common for historians, war buffs, political columnists or casual readers, either.

Why?

My father, Stanley Taube, provided me with a plausible explanation some years ago. Although he has strong interest and knowledge in world and military history — he wrote his master’s thesis on Nazi Party propaganda between 1933-1934 — he never purchased Hitler’s tome. Since the book had already been analyzed and deconstructed in so many other volumes about the fuehrer, he didn’t see the point of adding it to his personal collection.

Fair enough. At the same time, I believe it’s an important primary source that needs to be viewed outside of secondary source materials.

I’ve read “Mein Kampf” a couple of times. It’s poorly written for the most part, and contains plenty of awful and offensive descriptions of people, places and things. Still, it’s a revealing historical document that helps explain the Nazi leader’s mindset, beliefs and strategy to fight a world war.

Hence, to fully understand Hitler’s insane views and ideas, I firmly believe that “Mein Kampf” needs to be read by everyone. Not an abbreviated historical account, but the actual book.

Let’s juxtapose this with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ “The Communist Manifesto.” There have been numerous analyses written about this book in other people’s works, too. So, why would anyone bother reading it?

That’s simple. If you want to understand the basic philosophical argument about this terrible and destructive political ideology, you have to read (or, like me, own) “The Communist Manifesto.” That’s why many of us study it in our colleges and universities.

You’re not going to become a Nazi by reading “Mein Kampf,” or a Communist by reading “The Communist Manifesto.” Rather, you’ll be better informed by reading them — and help ensure we can all freely speak about these books, and others, for generations to come.

Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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