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Recently a new edition of Huckleberry Finn was published that omitted all uses of the “n word” and “injun.” The arguments in favor of censorship were that it would avoid offending many people and that the book itself would be allowed into the hands of more children. Although I suppose there could be a watered down “children’s edition” of Huck Finn placed on the market just as there are “Children’s Bibles,” for the original novel to be censored is a bad idea.

The n-word is offensive and should not be used by decent human beings. However, it was used routinely in the past by people in many parts of the country. Mark Twain‘s novel would not be reflecting the speech of the characters of his time period without using that word. It is silliness to impose today’s standards of morality on an older work of literature. Even the Bible has offensive stories–of Israelites slaughtering men, women, and children, including babies, in the name of God–should the Bible be censored because there are passages that offend today’s moral sensibilities? Should the last verse of Psalm 137, in which the writer desires to smash Babylonian babies against a rock, be censored? What about the works of Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner? Should the “n-word” be eliminated from their novels because they were writing about characters in the Old South who used that word? I pity the contemporary Southern novelist who is starting out–if he wishes to write a novel about the South of the 1950s, I wonder how many editors would eliminate his novel from consideration because some of his characters used the “n-word.” What if the writer is writing about openly racist characters? Perhaps politically correct editors and the radicalized “literary police” want to eliminate certain topics entirely from fiction. But in that case, fiction loses its power to tell us the truth about the human condition, both its good aspects and its bad aspects.

Political correctness is a continuation of the Puritan tradition in American life. Once religious Puritanism died, a secular Puritanism arose to “cleanse” language from all racist, sexist, and “homophobic” terms. Of course these Puritans allow the minority groups they claim to defend to continue to use insulting terminology such as the “n word.” In doing this, they insult the very minorities they claim to support, since they do not hold them to as high a standard of behavior as “European Americans.” When such Puritianism is extended to Huckleberry Finn, how much further will it go? Will there be any stopping the “purification” of all literature to fit the Purtians’ image? Will more publishers of Huckleberry Finn join in the censorship of offensive terms? If so, which books will be next? Which authors will be denied publication because of offending the thought police who infect the literary and academic worlds? When did authors have to write about perfect characters who never use offensive terms?

In the past the main danger of censorship has been from the right. Today the danger is from the radical left, the post-Marcusian Marxists who desire to change the culture by force of law if necessary. The problem is that by hiding the truth of the bad aspects of human nature, these censors may only allow these bad traits to smolder underneath the surface of society until they explode in unhealthy ways. This effort of censorship of Huck Finn should be nipped in the bud now before it spreads to other literature.

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