How $9.80 Created a Literary Balm for Troubled Times: Revisiting Fahrenheit 451

Today, looking around our great yet troubled country, one can’t help but feel the suppressing force of cancel culture. Watch what you say, keep your thoughts to yourself, and be careful who you talk openly to. And for goodness’ sake, don’t convey appreciation for the great works of the past, whether they be historical (Jefferson or Hamilton), philosophical (Aurelius or Rand), literary (Twain or Orwell), economic (Friedman or von Mises) or scientific (Darwin or Columbus). Such carelessness may land you out of a job, expelled from university, rejected from the neighborhood book club, and vilified on social media.

For the few of us that subscribe to this prudent path yet suffer from a genetic flaw that creates an innate resistance to today’s cancel culture and woke police, we can take solace in a handful of literary masterpieces from the 20th century. At the top stands George Orwell’s 1984 (1949). And there is the prescient Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler (1940), who introduced his observations on intellectual and political tyranny.

As great as those two works are, there is a third that serves as the supreme combination of adventurous storytelling, political commentary, and contemporary relevance. It was written in the early 1950s by its author in the basement of the UCLA library on a public typewriter. A dime bought 30 minutes of typewriter time, and the author ended up investing 98 dimes to produce the original manuscript.

The $9.80 book is Ray Bradbury’s 1953 classic, Fahrenheit 451. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and invest the time to do so. If it’s been a while since you read it, revisiting the story in 2021 will provide a stunning and new perspective for these tumultuous times. The story should bother you, as it pertains to crucially important subjects worth being bothered about.

The story revolves around Gus Montag, a fireman in a future society where the job of firemen is not to save homes from burning, but instead to burn books and the structures (and at times, the people) hiding them. The tools of the trade are vehicles and hoses loaded with kerosine and igniters (451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns). The fireman’s credo was best summarized by Montag: “It’s fine work. Monday burn Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn ‘em to ashes, then burn the ashes. That’s our official slogan.”

The fireman’s rules were simple and sequential: answer the alarm quickly, start the fire swiftly, burn everything, report back to the firehouse, and then be alert for other alarms. Books are viewed as loaded guns that must be destroyed to protect people from thinking.

The government and its minions, including the firemen, get to play the censors, judges, and executioners. Instead of being born free and equal under the Constitution, the aim of the police state is now to make everyone equal.

On its surface, Fahrenheit 451 is a dramatic story about how the individual and his free will overcomes oppression in society and government. That alone would make the book must-read. But there are other, just as impactful, themes in Bradbury’s tale. Consider a few ‘hows’:

  • How media and government feed viewers/citizens shallow content to sedate the mind of the individual. In the book, parlor rooms in homes consist of giant floor-to-ceiling walls covered by video screens that play constant, hollow programming. Sports are offered up as a sedative to keep the masses happy and quiet. Everyone is conditioned to watch and listen, to the point where they stop talking to one another and thinking for themselves. Bradbury was foreshadowing today’s reality shows and giant LED 4k TVs that lower the viewer’s and society’s collective consciousness.
  • How superficial materialism and ‘keeping up with Joneses’ are unfulfilling and demoralizing to the human spirit. Montag’s wife, Mildred, pines for a fourth wall of TVs in their parlor room, even though it would require a third of Montag’s annual pay. Her addiction to the drivel and her desire for yet another screen does not buy her happiness; she tries (unsuccessfully) to commit suicide by consuming a bottle of sleeping pills.
  • How government and technology conspire to create an oppressive surveillance state. Family members are encouraged to rat one another out if books are present, akin to bias reporting tools on today’s university campuses for non-sanctioned views and thoughts. The hound is a technological innovation in the book that tracks and kills its prey, mainly individuals marked for elimination by the state. The hound of today can be found in drones, artificial intelligence, and tracking technology. As Montag’s boss and nemesis said, “Any man’s insane who thinks he can fool the government and us.”
  • How the education system is utilized to eradicate thought and debate and replace it with conscripted indoctrination. In the book, school curriculum is shortened, academic discipline is relaxed, and subjects such as philosophy and history are dropped. Children are removed from their home environment as early as possible in life, so that they can develop in the controlled state-sanctioned environment of the public school. Content focuses exclusively on teaching how to press buttons and pulling switches, never on how to think. Looking around at our public education system and colleges today, you get the feeling academia stole the playbook from Bradbury’s world.
  • How the ‘tyranny of the majority’ will drive an open society without protections for the minority into an oppressive one. Fahrenheit 451 reminds us that calcification to the majority (or, for that matter, the ability of the minority to stamp out thought) is an enemy of truth, the individual, and reason. Today, it is what we call ‘cancel culture,’ except it is now a majority of the minority of elites who decide for the masses what is truth and reason.
  • How society is broken down into two categories: those who build and those who burn. Montag lived in a society where the makers (builder/thinker/doer) were dulled and overcome by the takers (bureaucrat/thought police/administrator). Today’s administrative state in government, the academic complex, and key special interests are steadily subsuming those who create, enable, and serve free enterprise and value creation. Might we be much closer to Montag’s time than we realize?

Although Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 for America in the 1950s, he succeeded in providing us a piercing reminder of the need to safeguard freedoms in 2021. A wise character in the book, Faber, listed three essential reasons why books are important. First, quality books present imperfections and blemishes that mimic life, at times making books feared. Second, good books extract leisure time to induce the reader to think. And third, great books inspire and catalyze action.

Fahrenheit 451 scores on all three of Faber’s essential reasons. We should be grateful that Ray Bradbury invested 98 dimes in the UCLA library basement and his time to express his passion for literature and individual freedom. The rate of return on that investment is incalculable.

Nick Deiuliis’ Forthcoming Book, “The Leech,” to be Released to Public

Today, Nick Deiuliis announced a digital release of his forthcoming new book, “The Leech,” at no charge. Book chapters will be individually released on a rolling basis at nickdeiuliis.com, beginning on Thursday, May 27.

“I’m excited to provide an opportunity for all to read The Leech—especially our young people, small business owners, and doers from all walks of life. I appreciate the publisher, Republic Books, partnering on this unique rollout,” Deiuliis said. “I wrote The Leech to rebut the growing segments of society who continue to take more and more from society’s producers and who vilify their success. By availing The Leech for all to read, hopefully more individuals are encouraged to speak up against the elites threatening the disadvantaged, the middle class, the individual, and free enterprise.”

Starting on May 27, the first chapter of The Leech will be released at nickdeiuliis.com. Subsequent chapters will be serially released each week thereafter. Each chapter will be accompanied by a podcast on the website, providing expanded commentary. The complete print edition will be released by Republic Book Publishers in January 2022 and can be pre-ordered at nickdeiuliis.com.

Proceeds from the sale of The Leech will go to support a new Mentorship Academy, announced by Deiuliis last month, serving underprivileged youth in western Pennsylvania.

More information on the Academy, The Leech, as well as recent commentary by Deiuliis, is available at nickdeiuliis.com. Follow Deiuliis on Twitter at @NickDeiuliis.

Nick Deiuliis is a chemical engineer, attorney, and business executive. During a career spanning 30 years, he served as the leader of several public energy companies. Nick is a thought-provoking voice in the energy and manufacturing industries, advocating for technology, labor, environmental, and capital markets policy issues. He is a regular media contributor and speaks extensively on the virtues of the carbon economy, the nobility of the worker and middle class, and the vital importance of individual rights. Nick is a proud capitalist, free enterprise advocate, and lifelong Pittsburgher.

Allen Ginsberg Back Then Sounds Like Nostradamus Today

Let me get something out of the way at the start. I am not a fan of Allen Ginsberg, the beat poet or the person.

Ginsberg the poet was pro-communist and a staunch anti-capitalist. I don’t understand how his style of poetry, that utilized a continuous rat-tat-tat delivery, is art. But as I’ve said many times, what do I know about art?

Ginsberg the person was not a good man. He was a heavy drug user. He was a member and supporter of an organization that worked to abolish age of consent laws and advocated for legalizing sexual relations between adults and children. Seriously. The organization is the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), and it is believed to still be in existence today, in a clandestine form.

Until a few weeks ago, there was not a single thing I liked about Ginsberg and much of what he stood for I found repulsive. Every time I came across him or his work, my feelings only solidified. Ironically, it was another historical figure I admire greatly who provided an insight of Ginsberg’s that resonates in 2021.

That person was William F. Buckley Jr., the conservative thought leader. By chance, I came across an old 1968 Firing Line episode hosted by him where Allen Ginsberg was the featured guest. That’s one of the things I love about Buckley: he never hesitated to go head-to-head to match wits with the elite of the opposition in front of a live audience.

Much of the Firing Line episode is what you would expect, with Buckley Jr. and Ginsberg debating a range of issues in chaotic 1968 that they had very different views on. Ginsberg read some of his poetry to the audience, and Buckley Jr.’s facial expressions during the rendering of the prose were priceless.

But Ginsberg raised a subject that shot through the grainy 1968 video and hit me. The subject was free speech, particularly how the suppression of freedom of thought is censorship. Ginsberg, I have to say, scored major points with his views.

What got the topic rolling was Ginsberg pointing out that the Firing Line producers prior to the show asked Ginsberg to refrain from cursing during the live debate. Ginsberg felt that the request was censorship of his thoughts because artists like him used obscenities in the normal course of developing thought patterns. If you disrupt the vocabulary that constitutes the thought patterns, you disrupt speech as a result.

I listened to Ginsberg and immediately drew a parallel to the politically correct and language-matters police of today.

Instead of obscenities, campuses today prohibit use of pronouns such as ‘his’ and ‘she.’ Lewd words are acceptable across the spectrum of media today, but you better not utter ‘Christian’ unless you are ridiculing the faith. And crude references are fine in art displays funded by today’s foundations and museums, just don’t speak of ‘capitalism’ in those rooms unless you are promoting its demise.

Ginsberg continued with his theme, going beyond the Firing Line producers’ request. He posited that the “octopus of the state” was intruding on the “language consciousness” of society. Ginsberg would be shocked at how long that octopus’ arms have become in 2021 when it comes to controlling our consciousness, especially considering how government collaborates with media, tech, and academia to control speech, language, thought, and opinion.

He lamented to Buckley Jr. that America was becoming a police state, like Eastern Europe at the time. America today has become a police state run not by the Right, as Ginsberg feared, but instead by the Left. The Left’s high priests do not tolerate dissenting views on climate change, socialism, school choice, or even politics. Step in tune with the officially sanctioned views or face the career- and life-altering consequences.

Ginsberg was also predicting the future when he articulated how in the late 1960s more money in the arts was wasted on fighting the system than was invested into making art. To Ginsberg, that was an outrage.

A business owner toiling in today’s economy can certainly commiserate with the poet.

Our economy’s ‘doers’ must constantly throw more and more hard-earned dollars into fighting the administrative state: to keep their business open during the pandemic, to stop incessant regulatory creep, to keep taxes from ratcheting excruciatingly higher (while also paying to navigate the tax code), and to counter the system’s perpetually looping message of how business is the problem and not the solution.

Ginsberg exhibited the personal behaviors of a deviant. Much of his politics were wrong-headed. But one night over fifty years ago he articulated astute positions on free speech, censorship, and the dangers of the state. The poet’s words from the spring of 1968 on these subjects are instructive to all today.

You can view the Firing Line episode here on the Hoover Institute’s YouTube channel.

Discovering Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience

Americans who desire order, stability, and civility in life find themselves having endured a painful string of recent months. Order, stability, and civility seem to be in scarce supply of late, no matter where you live, what politics you subscribe to, or how old you are.

In trying times like these, thought-provoking reading helps place the current environment in better perspective. I recently read Henry David Thoreau’s essay, Civil Disobedience. Thoreau and the subject of civil disobedience would not normally be on top of my reading list for two reasons.

First, I am not the civil disobedience type; never have been and probably never will be. In fact, I am one of the least likely individuals to engage in breaking a law to prove a point, let alone someone who would look to do harm to property or my fellow man.

Second, I’ve always been inspired by the more overtly provocative writers: Rand, Orwell, Paine, Didion, and T. Wolfe to name a few. Thought leaders who jolt you into an awareness. Henry David Thoreau never struck me as that type of writer. My impression of him was a guy up in the New England sticks, sitting on his porch, and looking out over a pond as he contemplates nature. The Kenny G of literature (not that there is anything wrong with some alto sax from time to time).

I was wrong, big time. Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience is an impactful gem that has proved its relevance over 170 years and across the globe. Yet most Americans never read the essay and equate Thoreau’s legacy exclusively to his famous work, Walden. That’s too bad, because Civil Disobedience changed the world and history.

Thoreau was jailed for a night in the 1840s because he refused to pay a poll tax to the government. Afterward, he discussed the experience and his reasoning with a Concord newspaper and then expanded on the interview with an essay he published in a journal. Not much came of it, and it looked like Civil Disobedience would be quietly forgotten.

But decades later, Mahatma Gandhi gave it a read and become inspired. Gandhi tailored his version of civil disobedience to catalyze a movement that redrew the geopolitical map. Gandhi and Thoreau, in turn, served as motivators for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s as he utilized civil disobedience to combat racial segregation policies.

That’s one heck of a coaching tree, Thoreau-to-Gandhi-to-King, distanced by decades yet connected by the power of the written word. We should visit Civil Disobedience in our schools, homes, and professions. The themes captured and articulated by Thoreau sound more relevant today than ever.

A foundational belief in the essay is that government has the potential to be dangerous to the individual, and that the individual must be continually vigilant of the threat of government usurping his conscience. The essay implores an ethical duty to be skeptical of government.

Thoreau makes no apology for adherence to the principle that government is best which governs least. He recognized that progression from monarchy to democracy correlates to increased individual rights. Today, we should recognize a regression from democracy to socialism correlates to reduced individual rights. Thoreau would be horrified to see the extent government permeates American life and tramples the individual in 2021.

He also indirectly argues in support of the Electoral College, another of our Republic’s institutions that is under attack these days, by pointing out a danger of democracy without refining safeguards is that the majority can bully the minority. The majority rules, not because the majority is right or noble, but because it is simply the strongest. Conscience, justice, and what is right may get bulldozed over. Thoreau and the Framers knew we are individuals first, and subjects afterward. The Electoral College was designed to safeguard that view.

I wish I would’ve read Civil Disobedience in college, because it speaks to an issue I am particularly passionate about: the vital role businesses and corporations play in a free society. Corporations are vilified as soulless predators in the media, academia, and by the left on a consistent basis. Thoreau pointed out that although a corporation has no conscience, a corporation of conscientious individuals is a corporation with a conscience. Better late than never for me; I am going to trumpet this theme through 2021 and beyond.

I get the strong sense Thoreau would not be a fan of modern-day subsidy-seeking corporations, government lobbyists, environmental policy, or leftists/socialists. He points out we should be free to pursue our self-interests and beliefs, but not if we do so to the detriment of another. Think about how much government policy and regulation today is designed to take from one to subsidize another, with the schemers being the influential elite manufacturing a mathematical majority. All of it under the banners of the public good and socially just.

Put Civil Disobedience on your reading list. An inspiring work that reminds us of our duty of public discourse during challenging times.