Imagine a town called Learnerville.

Within Learnerville there is a building. All the windows are boarded, and all the doors are locked. The building is guarded by armed officers. Inside, there are copies of all the books in the Learnerville world. Inside of those books, just as in our own reality, there is knowledge. No one is allowed to go inside the building, and technically no one in Learnerville is allowed to produce, own, read, or trade books.

The situation is not all so bad. Books aren’t that complicated to make, and they are pretty easy to hide and smuggle. So, a lot of Learnervillians still possess and enjoy books nonetheless. Some might even say that certain books are ubiquitous despite their prohibition… certainly not all books. Others are almost impossible to find, and many of those that can be found are only accessible at extreme costs.

Hence, the same legal authorities that patrol the building have taken aggressive efforts to forestall the production and distribution of books. Vehicles, guns, a vast variety of equipment and armor are all routinely deployed to seek out, confiscate and eradicate books. Those who produce, possess, read or share books are often tried and punished.

Throughout Learnerville live a wide variety of people. Different Learnervillians like books to different degrees, and some residents prefer certain books over others. Some are immensely happy and successful despite their limited access to books. Other Learnervillians seriously struggle and endure lives of significant hardship and suffering.

In Learnerville, there is a well-known and well-understood relationship between some of the locked away books and some of the struggles endured. Knowledge works like magic, but perhaps slow and indirectly. Some books can dull pain while others can cure diseases. Some books can inspire motivation and passion in the listless. Some books can even transport the reader to seemingly alternate realities filled with indescribable fantasy. Hence, many of the problems that Learnervillians endure can be fully resolved, and others made at least a little bit better… if only Learners could study and glean the knowledge contained in certain books.

The saddest and most horrific feature of this story is that most Learnervillians are complicit to their constriction.

I am thankful to live in a relatively free society far afield from Learnerville, wherein the default reaction to the prohibition of books is disgust. From Zamayatin to Orwell to Huxley and many others since and in between, the prohibition and regulation of knowledge, human communication and free expression is viewed as the archetypal feature of dystopia.

This consensus about the banning of books, monitored behaviors and policed speech sustains despite a similarly common understanding that not all books are good. Lots of books contain horrible ideas. In the wrong hands many can be dangerous. And yet, most reasonable people today recognize and fully accept the obvious truism that the overall effects of books are positive. We shouldn’t ban books! Not because they are without risks, but because their potential benefits obviously exceed their potential costs.


Daniel J. D’Amico is the Director of the Stephenson Institute for Classical Liberalism and an Affiliated Associate Professor of economics at Wabash College.