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Tony Lyons Is Keeping American Trade Publishing Alive
New York maverick halting slide into ideological conformity.
By JOHN LEAKE
...attempts at difference had the opposite effect to the one intended. For they emphasized that, in the midst of this randomness, you saw only the one identical expression: eyes staring into the distance, and lips held firmly shut as though against some pervasive infection. Our people had collectively solved their shared problem, which was how to keep the mask in place, while showing that it is only a mask. People collaborated in the great deception, so as not to be deceived.
—Roger Scruton, Notes from the Underground
In the early nineties, on a long visit to Professor Scruton’s farm in Wiltshire, he told me about his adventures in the 1980s, working as a conduit of forbidden literature from the West into Prague, where it was translated and produced as SAMIZDAT—that is, literature created in secret by tiny, underground presses and then distributed by hand from reader to reader.
At the time he told about Samizdat, the necessity of such an enterprise struck me as outlandishly bizarre. How, I wondered, could the beautiful, literate, and cultured city of Prague fall into the hands of such tyrannical philistines? Surely, I thought, this could NEVER happen in the United States.
Thirty years later, what was unthinkable has now, to some degree, become a reality. The same sort of tyrannical philistines who ran Czechoslovakia during the Soviet period now infest American institutions of academia, government, and yes, even New York City trade publishing.
Reviewing Sir Roger’s book, Notes from the Underground, about Prague in the eighties, Daniel Mahoney wrote of the novel’s character, Bob Heilbronn:
Heilbronn could only think (much like contemporary mainstream ‘political science’) in superficial terms about democracy versus dictatorship. Ideological despotism was an insidious tyranny over the body and soul about which Heilbronn, and other sophisticated Westerners, knew nothing. His sociology of the ‘people’s democracies’ was both beguilingly simple and beyond simplistic: in his world, there were three classes, “the oppressors, the dissidents, and the silent majority” (p.106). He failed to see what Havel had taught in his great dissident essays: everyone was complicit in the web of lies at the heart of ideocratic despotism. External coercion was matched by an inner tyranny that suffocated the soul and humankind’s natural moral conscience. But Jan, to his credit, saw that real human beings “refused to be categorized” (p. 99).
Like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Václav Havel understood that tyranny is not only imposed from the top down, it is widely embraced by the majority of people who crave to conform and to signal their ideological bona fides.
The descent of an intellectual culture into vulgar, childish, stultifying conformity has been happening right before our very eyes in the United States. This is why the New York Times is now a waste of wood pulp. This is why much of the New York Theater scene—once the most thrilling in the world—is now unwatchable. And yes, this is why so much of New York City trade publishing is apparently more interested in race and gender than storytelling.
For those of us who still love true intellectual and literary culture, thank God we have Tony Lyons, the proprietor of Skyhorse Publishing. When no other major New York house would even consider publishing our book, The Courage to Face COVID-19: Preventing Hospitalization and Death While Battling the Bio-Pharmaceutical Complex, Tony brought it out in a handsome hardcover with a Forward by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., with whom he has a longstanding friendship. Both men are Classical Liberals, dedicated to defending free speech.
A few days ago I was delighted and encouraged to see a thorough feature on Tony and Skyhorse in the Wall Street Journal. I hope all of our Subscribers will take the time to read it and share it with friends. Tony is doing a heroic job of defending our tradition of free speech, free thought, and publishing truly diverse voices.