Cancel Culture Attacks on Books and Authors

Joseph A. Custer, Case Western University School of Law


Some people today view free speech as a threat to emotional safety and well-being. Cancel culture attempts to silence authors who express “unapproved” opinions by removing access to their works, publicly shaming them, and making attempts to destroy their livelihood. Cancel culture has been increasing, particularly on social media.

In this paper, the author argues that cancel culture is the antithesis of freedom of expression. He explores cancel culture through the theoretical lens of John Stuart Mill and a more contemporary advocate of free expression, Jonathan Rauch. The author discusses the controversy associated with Dr. Seuss Enterprise's decision to stop publishing six titles with racist imagery and he analyzes whether this was a moral decision on the part of the company or an incident of cancel culture. Next, the author discusses the canceling of several authors, including J.K. Rowling and Woody Allen. This paper concludes with a summary of the harm culture does to authors and society and a call to replace cancel culture with civil discourse and intellectual freedom.