Shedding Light on City Lights’ “Fascism”

The good folks at the SFist somehow caught it before me, but Catherine Seipp attacks one of my favorite bookstores, City Lights, for not carrying Oriana Fallaci’s The Force of Reason.

I call bullshit. First off, Seipp is resorting to hearsay in reporting that “a friend of hers” overheard a clerk snap, “We don’t carry books by fascists.” Hearsay is not permitted as evidence in a court of law and it sure as hell shouldn’t be permitted as a legitimate argument in an op-ed piece.

Second, how does not selling a particular title make City Lights fascist? Fascism, as I understand it, is “a system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.”

So let’s clarify here. City Lights is not a government nor is it a philosophy which espouses a government. It’s a bookstore that caters to a particular niche. As such, it is a capitalistic entity that sells books. A customer can decide whether to patronize the store or not. If City Lights were “fascist,” then I suppose Ferlinghetti would lock the doors upon a customer’s arrival, point a gun against the customer’s head, and force the customer to purchase Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare or die trying not to. But the truth of the matter is that customers are free to come in and leave, often without buying a single thing! In fact, if you walk into the fiction section, you’ll notice a sign that urges visitors to sit down and read a book.

As it so happens, I just spoke with a City Lights clerk on the phone and he told me that the official City Lights policy is this: If someone wants the Fallaci book, the store would send them somewhere else if a customer really wanted it. The store simply doesn’t want City Lights customer money going to support Fallaci. Now how exactly is this fascist if City Lights is facilitating the purchase for a die-hard Fallaci fan (albeit not at its store)?


  1. Woe be to the person who asks for Ayn Rand.

    Though I admit, I was looking for some of the Flashman Papers, and deuced if I wasn’t leery of asking at the counter. I wondered if CIty Lights would get the joke (like, I doubt they’re a distribution point for Vice Magazine). I did buy a copy of Barbary Coast as a gift and the recent translation of Knight of Maison Rouge, which had more than a little anti-Republican sentiment (Dumas’ republicanism notwithstanding).

    I ended up getting plenty of Ole Flashy on reserve at the library, and finished two this weekend. Capital stuff.

  2. I think it is silly for a bookstore not to sell a particular book or author for ideological reasons, but clearly a store can sell whatever the heck they want to. What would be the fun in owning a bookstore otherwise?

    You seem to have missed the fact that fascist now means “people I don’t like.” Simpler that way really . . .

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