May 12, 2017
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” professes Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on discovering that the love of her young life has an unfortunate surname, one that is going to get them both killed. The point is, names are important. Take the current #2 on the Amazon bestseller list for Communism & Socialism for example, ‘Communism for Kids’. That name is causing all kinds of trouble.
Originally published in German and translated into English, it aims to introduce a complex political ideology in a light-hearted way. Its publisher, MIT Press, describes it as: “a fable with illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.” While this won’t be to everyone’s taste, it does join a range of political and philosophy titles from the same publisher, that aim “to build bridges between ideas and people, to inform, to encourage conversation, and to develop greater worldwide understanding.” It a laudable exercise in freedom of speech; something that the publishing world has sworn to uphold and defend.
The publisher however, was completely unprepared for the backlash that has followed, including some very unpleasant, anti-Semitic comments directed at the author. MIT Press director Amy Brand commented that it had brought home to her: “The serious responsibility of being in a profession dedicated to protecting fundamental freedoms of expression.”
Labeled as “dangerous and creepy propaganda” by some news outlets and National Review, there have even been calls for it to be burned and banned. Let us not forget the last time books were burned…1933, Nazi Germany… doesn’t that seem like a dangerous avenue to go down again? And while we are on the subject, Mein Kampf is still in print. In fact, its reprint has astonished the publisher with demand outstripping the print run four times over – and that didn’t receive anywhere near the outcry that this book has.
So what is the real issue with Communism for Kids? Well, to go back to the example of Mein Kampf, the re-issue included more than 3,000 annotations correcting inaccuracies and making clear what is the author’s opinion; even president of Germany’s Jewish Council said these went a long way to “undo the myth of this book.” Its re-release is an exercise in academia, showing a derisive political ideology in an objective way so it can be studied. Reaction to its re-print however, would have been very different if its title was Fascism for Kids.
The problem is the name. Communism for Kids doesn’t imply that facts and ideas are being presented for consideration, it implies indoctrination, of children. Children who don’t yet have the reasoning skills to question the information or point of view they are being shown. This is the main objection – even from people who don’t have any issues with the ideology being presented. MIT Press director Amy Brand agrees: “In hindsight, a better title for the book might have been Communist Ideals for People of All Ages.” And the moral of the story? Choose your title carefully because names are important.
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