The Conservative Legacy of Bradbury
Ray Bradbury is dead. His literary career spanned an incredible 73 years, and his influence was felt across the broad spectrum of American thought. Bradbury was very conscious of the fact that he grew up in almost a pre-technological society; "[w]hen I was born in 1920," he told The New York Times Magazine in 2000, "the auto was only 20 years old. Radio didn't exist. TV didn't exist. I was born at just the right time to write about all of these things."
Although he eschewed squabbling over the political issues of the day, Bradbury embraced the idea that there are grand and common themes to the human condition -- and nowhere more piercingly than in his Fahrenheit 451.
Fahrenheit 451 focuses on a single, salient aspect of human life: the written word. Bradbury's dystopia is fantastically simple. Firemen exist to burn books: the final immolation of all the collected writings of men will liberate us from our past and from the long heritage of civilization. Mass communication and particularly mass amusement have replaced the solitary acts of reading and of writing. What Bradbury saw, of course, is the world we live in today, and what he was defending was, in the purest sense of the word, conservatism.
It is a fact of modern history that conservatism is inextricably connected with the written word. The Torah and the Christian Bible, preserved so deliberately by believers over many centuries, are touchstones to conservatism. Documents like our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution prescribe the purposes and limits of government and void the ambitions of power-hungry leftists.
The solemn beauty of Chambers' Witness or Koestler's Darkness at Noon or Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago lay open the ghastliness of souls sold to Marx's nightmare. The flawless spiritual rhetoric of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity, the brilliant theories in Hayek's Road to Serfdom and Thomas Sowell's Vision of the Anointed, and the passionate indictment of collectivism in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged use simple words to make truth clear.
Totalitarianism, by contrast, never produces good books. Marxism has fathered many books, but nothing great or even good. Nazism's two "masterpieces," Mein Kampf and The Myth of the Twentieth Century by Rosenberg, are almost unreadable. The Nazis burned books, but the Soviets burned even more books. The destruction of every record of the past is indispensable to totalitarianism holding power.
What is true of totalitarianism is true of leftism today. The left swoons at Silent Spring or Earth in the Balance, despite the uninspired writing and dreadful science in those books. The approach of leftism to science is perfectly exposed in the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit and its sibling global warming cadres: e-mails and documentary evidence were withheld and sometimes purged. Such acts make for the antithesis of true science, which makes a point of keeping records even of what fits uncomfortably into hypotheses.
The left lives on emotions and images. There is no leftist counterpart to Thomas Sowell or C.S. Lewis or Ayn Rand or Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Bradbury grasped the unique vitality of the written word. Bradbury once said, "Libraries raised me. I don't believe in colleges and universities."
Inevitably, Ray Bradbury, who knew the value of books as collected human wisdom, knowledge, and ideas, became a conservative who voted Republican and denounced excessive government. He saw, in many ways, the explosion of information technology, which places many of us within a constant network of parroted talking points, empty gossip, and swiftly changing party lines, and he bemoaned our addiction to this drowning of the individual mind in the buzzing of the hive. He was one of a kind, and he was one of us.