Recently a story about my father, the writer Norman Mailer, getting ‘cancelled’ tore across the internet. His long-standing publisher Random House suggested to his estate that a book proposal be made.

His political writings and interviews were excerpted in the book. He presciently exposed the fragility to democracy.

This collection is to be dedicated to the centenary next year of his birth.

Random House accepted the proposal favorably but declined publication weeks later.

It is rumoured that there are reasons. One suggestion is that there were objections by junior executives to the use of the word ‘negro’ in the essay The White Negro. 

The 1957 essay was published. It attacked the conformist mindset of Eisenhower’s era. In contrast, he praised the rebelliousness of marginalised black Americans – and the new generation of white ‘hipsters’ they inspired.

Then, according to rumour, there were concerns from cultural critics who may have let my father’s past – duelling with the 1970s women’s movement, stabbing his wife Adele with a penknife in 1960 – jaundice their view of future publications.

No matter the reason, Skyhorse will publish the book. This publisher seems to enjoy controversy.

It published Woody Allen’s memoir after it was dropped by Hachette following staff protests, and Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth after it was dropped by WW Norton when accusations surfaced against Bailey of sexual assault.

Random House will instead recommit itself to promoting Norman Mailer’s back catalogue, retaining the rights for the foreseeable future. It’s a win-win situation.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Left to right: Norman Mailer, Michael Mailer and Norris Church Mailer attend PEN Literary Celebration on November 17, 1985 at the Royal Theater in New York City

From left to right: Norman Mailer (left), Michael Mailer (right), and Norris Church Mailer (right) attend PEN Literary Celebration, November 17, 1985 at The Royal Theater in New York City

This row isn’t just about my father. The issue of the state and future direction of publishing is at the heart this row. This paradox of publishing diversity but limiting truly diverse ideas cannot be ignored.

If publishing isn’t a place where ideas can freely be exchanged, what culture are we left with?

Publishers were there long ago when Joseph McCarthy was waging war on communist witches. If the brutish forces of fascism couldn’t cancel free speech then, why is it happening now?

Cancellation is a horrible word. It is a terrible word. Rather than preserving all our culture, nurturing the full gamut of voices – regardless of colour, gender, orientation, age, or any other defining feature – we have summoned the mob and set it on voices that don’t adhere to the party line.

America has been eating itself for the last few years, cancelling some great authors like Roth (for misogyny, bad relationships with women), John Updike, Saul Bellow, William Styron, cultural appropriation, and my father.

They all made vital contributions to the culture for over half a century. They were all patriots who held up a mirror for society and forced us to look at ourselves to better comprehend the obstacles that prevent the American experiment from succeeding.

It looks like those who have a memory of the Second World War horrors, including my father, may soon be extinct. The fascist instinct for cancelling people is thriving, as well as literature.

Democrat-minded agitators – the Blue Team in American terms – cancel independence with howls of wokeness. Those on the Republican Right – the Red Team – cancel independence with cries of fake news.

Norman Mailer first published his essay 'White Negro' in 1957, in it he called for a rejection of Eisenhower-era conformity

Norman Mailer’s essay “White Negro”, published in 1957 by Norman Mailer, called for the rejection of Eisenhower’s era conformity.

America, what has become of it? Our utterly brilliant and deeply flawed experiment is unraveling? This is how you stay power.

Maybe it’s the fear of controversy rather than offence that is causing this entire argument about my father.

After all, Random House is in the process of acquiring Simon & Schuster. Combining the two companies would result in the creation of the most powerful publishing house.

In such an aggrieved and disproportionate era, controversy is inevitably a bad thing, especially when you’re a publisher seeking more power. I’m not so vainglorious as to assume that Random House’s choice not to publish my father’s new book is some deciding factor in a corporate merger, but the juxtaposition raises an eyebrow.

Random House reportedly decided to scrap a new collection of Norman Mailer essays over objections to the 1957 essay 'White Negro'. Mailer, who fought in World War II, would be 100 years old next January. Many of his viewpoints, though influential at the time, would be considered controversial today

Random House decided not to publish a new collection Norman Mailer essays after receiving objections from the writer of ‘White Negro,’ in 1957. Mailer, a World War II veteran, will be 100 next January. Although influential in the time they were made, some of his ideas would now be controversial.

Regardless, if every work of art were evaluated on its creator’s perceived morality, the entire Western canon would be reduced to a factional state.

Were we really that far from seeing Mark Twain’s colloquial references, now viewed as an abhorrent, be taken out of our libraries?

You could have Picassos removed form museum walls for his unkind behavior toward women

I’m all for bringing the skeletons out of the closet. They can be handled in a variety of ways, and reasonable people might disagree.

But committing bad deeds does not make a person’s contributions to culture invalid.

Democracy means the free and open exchange of ideas. It is not about ideas being deemed unworthy of consideration, as long as the ideas are deemed agreeable.

Let controversial authors continue to be published. Cherish what they gave to American – and Western – thought. Recognize their mistakes. But don’t tell others what can or cannot be read.

This article was first published in The Spectator.