The Politically Correct Constitution

Wilder Publications disclaimer text.

We’ve found out what the Tree of Liberty is fertilized with.

FOXNews reports that Wilder Publications, a print-on-demand operation, adds a warning to its paperbound reprints of the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the Articles of Confederation, and the Federalist Papers telling readers that “This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today.”

Fans ordinarily are just as divided over FOXNews as the country at large, but many have been fascinated by network coverage of the Wilder Publications controversy because the imprint is owned by Warren Lapine, someone well-known in the sf field.

Wilder Publications, which mainly offers non-genre works, is a venture Lapine started following the disintegration of his sf & fantasy magazine empire in 2007. Among the casualties was Science Fiction Chronicle, sold to Lapine years earlier by founder Andrew Porter, and Porter greeted news of Lapine’s 2009 return to sf publishing with a suggestion that the story be headlined “Sauron Not Dead After All.” 

In the wake of the latest controversy a Facebook page has been created to encourage people to boycott of Wilder Publications. And a number of bloggers have called for people to put the heat on Amazon.com, presumed to be a significant market for Wilder.  

While I agree with those who feel it’s silly to add disclaimers to historic texts warning about their lack of political correctness, the publisher must have taken this step with serious intent. The warning doesn’t read like satire. And that makes me curious about the thought process — it could easily have a Queegian geometric logic of its own. After all, in this country history increasingly is viewed without context — think of all the bloggers who claim to be shocked to discover that Abraham Lincoln’s racial views weren’t proper for a 21st century politician. Might Lapine have imagined product liability claims being filed against the publisher of a document that perpetuates the slave trade?

[Thanks to Elspeth Kovar for the links.]

9 thoughts on “The Politically Correct Constitution

  1. This is so absurd that it really didn’t need any embellishment at all!

  2. Is there anything preventing Mr. Porter from taking back the title since DNA Publications folded, or publishing under another title, other than perhaps his no longer wanting to do the work and undergo the expense of publishing a monthly science fiction newsmagazine? (I have no idea if that’s it or not.) As I recall, he started Science Fiction Chronicle to provide competition to Locus — I know I found it valuable, as I’m sure others did as well. On the other hand, certainly the market has changed for both general and niche magazines, so it may not be cost-effective to do the work and expense even for someone who wants to do it.

  3. To quote Nero Wolfe: Phui.

    Wilder does public domain text. AFAIK they put that disclaimer in all of their public domain texts. After all, how many people would not be taken aback by this passage:

    He was aroused from his stunned inaction by the entrance of his colored
    laboratory helper, and silently motioned him to clean up the wreckage.

    “What’s happened, Doctah?” asked the dusky assistant.

    So, with no offense meant to Warren but perhaps to the folks getting their knickers in a twist, let me invoke Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

    BTW, the quote is from the Amazing Stories publication of “The Skylark of Space”. In the book version Smith dropped “colored” “dusky” and replaced “Doctah” with “Doctor”.

    Early 20th century books – novels in particular – are rife with casual racism. Be sure to check out some of the early Tom Swift books. Oh boy.

    So let me conclude with another “phui”.

  4. While I agree that most readers should know that everything written is a product of its time and judge it so, considering how many Bible literalists there are, and how certain current political organizations are agitating to a return to the ‘original founding documents’ (sans amendments, one assumes) I don’t see that a little reminder is a bad thing.

    How exactly is a short note, on the copyright page at that, which is essentially stating “Rated PG” worthy of a boycott?

  5. Lapine has been quite open (and here about why the book includes a disclaimer. He also notes that the book is published by A&D Books and distributed by Wilder.

  6. “…think of all the bloggers who claim to be shocked to discover that Abraham Lincoln’s racial views weren’t proper for a 21st century politician….”

    I can’t think of a one. I gather there are many? Could you mention three, please? I’d like to check them out. Thanks!

    I was otherwise going to ask if this disclaimer was SOP for the company publishing stuff from the 18th-19th century, but that’s already been asked and answered.

  7. @Gary – Can’t think of one? Are you usually able to connect to Google by psychic means? Well, perhaps there’s some aural interference this morning. I merely use a computer and assure you I have no trouble finding lots of blog posts denigrating Lincoln’s racial views.

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