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Jason Newman: The Cat in the Hat and a battle for Western values


‘The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’

Sound advice from children’s author Dr Seuss that no doubt embodies the sentiment First Lady Melania Trump had in mind when she sent ten of his books to the pupils at Cambridgeport elementary school in Massachusetts. A nice bipartisan act that had it been done by Michelle Obama wouldn’t have created any furore and might even have made the cuddly ‘and finally’ item on a news broadcast. But of course this is America 2017 and the sad fact is that there is no longer such a thing as an innocent act. Cue Liz Phipps Soeiro, school librarian at Cambridgeport elementary and defender of the downtrodden, who wrote a passive-aggressive response to the First Lady that has been eagerly picked up by the media. In the letter published online she declined to accept the books, questioning why they weren’t sent to underprivileged communities ‘maligned’ by Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos. She went on to criticise the choice of books, claiming that ‘Dr Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes’. The letter finished with a recommendation of ten alternative books, many depicting the stories of immigrants to America and their struggles. Ms Phipps Soeiro no doubt feels this will help combat what she and her academic colleagues see as ‘systemic racism and oppression in education and literature’.

Let’s set aside for the moment the extreme condescension in lecturing Mrs Trump, the first immigrant First Lady in almost 200 years, about the lives of immigrants. Ms Phipps Soeiro cites Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit as ‘suffering’ from the policies of Education Secretary DeVos, who ‘punishes’ schools that don’t reach a high standard of excellence. All three cities mentioned have been run by the Democrats for many years, each is notorious for financial mismanagement and vast public spending, while each city has not had a non-Democrat mayor since 1952, 1931 and 1962 respectively. Mrs DeVos, by contrast, has been in her job for eight months.

As for the ridiculous argument of racism in Dr Seuss’s books, it is true that he supported Japanese internment in the US during World War II and true that he drew some less-than-flattering cartoons depicting the Japanese. It is also true, however, that he recanted these beliefs and had a sympathetic view of post-war Japan. A brief study of his political opinions confirms him as very much a Left-winger; he even worked anti-racism allegories into his stories. But of course this is not enough for Ms Phipps Soeiro. Like all radical Leftists, she can’t handle an imperfect person who has made a mistake no matter how much they atone for it. Imperfect people have no place in Utopia.

The most worrying part, however, is that these are not the opinions of one stroppy Leftie librarian. Her views are mainstream in the academic study of literature, and will come as no surprise to any student who studies English at university level. The traditional canon is picked apart as racist, sexist or classist, to be replaced by works chosen not because they represent the best of what is written or because they communicate universal truths, but because of the skin tone or gender of their writer. This mindset can be seen in the list of alternative books recommended by Ms Phipps Soeiro. The authors represent a veritable smorgasbord of diversity and multiculturalism. Academic English departments, like the rest of the humanities, have been poisoned by critical theory and identity politics which states that it’s not what you write that matters but who you are. The inevitable result of this, as pointed out by one of the few remaining non-Leftists in the field of literary criticism, Howard Bloom, is that aesthetically brilliant works get pushed out of in favour of sub-par material. For example, a children’s classic such as Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat being dropped for a book written by a black transgender gay Muslim woman. Many sensible people would argue that Alexandre Dumas (a black writer) or Emily Dickinson (a woman) deserve their place in the canon, not because he was black or because she was a woman, but because their writings merit it.

It’s not hard to guess why certain groups would be so eager to destroy a canon that contains the best the West has to offer the world, a canon that has been carefully curated and added to by each generation, filled with universal truths and the wisdom of the ages. A canon that has grown alongside Western civilisation and served as a cornerstone of that civilisation.

It would be easy to dismiss this story as a mere unsavoury episode that shows the lunacy of the Left, but to do so would be to miss the systematic nature of these ideas. Ms Phipps Soeiro is but one of thousands of academics poisoned with these philistinic notions and who seem hell-bent on passing them on to their pupils. It may seem frivolous to defend the civilisational value of Dr Seuss, but this story is about so much more than that. It highlights in a very clear way a battle that has been raging for quite some time. A battle between those who ultimately think the West and Western values are good and those who believe the West is institutionally oppressive, and therefore seek to undermine it by eroding its foundations.

Anyone who thinks these people will stop at Dr Seuss is very much mistaken. Soon we will be asked to drop Dante, Milton and Cervantes in favour of more ‘diverse’ authors. Then we will be, to quote Peter Hitchens, ‘like an amnesia patient waking up in the hospital ward, with both past and future great blank spaces stretching behind and before us’. Precisely the outcome desired by the founders of critical theory – there is no population more ripe for totalitarianism than a population of amnesiacs.

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Jason Newman
Jason Newman
Jason studies English and Politics at third level in Ireland.

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