Training readers as censors in Nazi Germany
in The free speech wars
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This chapter draws on research focusing on the less spectacular, more subtle methods of control over the book market which were exercised by institutions operating within Nazi Germany. The aim is not to undermine the utility of this particular historical context as an example in free speech debates, but to widen the scope for more nuanced comparisons. Due to the number of institutions involved, the complexity of the market for new and second-hand books in Germany, and the need to preserve the impression of intellectual and consumer freedom, top-down methods of censorship could not have been expected to have a transformative effect on German reading habits. These could only work alongside methods to create more discerning readers, who, it was hoped, would assemble home libraries of ‘recommended’ material and could be trained to approach unsanctioned voices in a distanced and critical manner. Various contextualising mechanisms arose within new writing and marketing material, while the pre-existing filtering processes of publishers, booksellers and regulators became rapidly coordinated; whether this took place through deliberate collusion or semi-independently, the censorious effects were profound. These filtering and contextualisation processes – and the appeals to intellectual rigour and bias-correction that accompanied them – have clear parallels with modern-day concerns around how audiences are guided towards ‘related’ material by content providers, how ‘outsider’ voices can be packaged in a way that strips them of their cultural and intellectual capital, and how certain perspectives can be consistently excluded from the ‘marketplace of ideas’ even when no centralised control is being exercised.

The free speech wars

How did we get here and why does it matter?

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