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Fahrenheit 451 was written before Joseph McCarthy rose to infamy, but contained themes that predicted and condemned some of McCarthy's views. In particular, although the book was not originally a direct condemnation of censorship, it addressed the power that a government has to control what their populace knows. Bradbury unknowingly created the logical conclusion of a world in which McCarthy got his way. In the forward, Bradbury writes:
...it was the time of the Un-American Activities Committee... before Joseph McCarthy arrived on the scene with Bobby Kennedy at his elbow for further hearings.
McCarthy had bullied the Army into removing some "tainted" books from the overseas libraries.
I find now, after the fact, chances are that Fahrenheit 451 might well be around for a few years.
For while Senator McCarthy has been long dead, the Red Guard in China comes alive... one generation printing, another generation burning, yet another generation remembering what is good to remember so as to print again.
(Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, Amazon.com)
While not addressing the hearings directly, Bradbury makes his disapproval obvious; the censorship of any knowledge, he shows, leads to stagnation of culture and a switch from individualism to servility. McCarthy's views included the idea that any "subversive" material, no matter how educational, should be removed from public consumption. He believed that this sort of censorship would "protect" the U.S. citizenry from undue influence, and so help deter what he believed to be a Communist invasion.
Bradbury showed exactly the opposite; while there is no doubt that access itself might sway a person to adopt "alternate" viewpoints, this is essential for a complex and useful culture. Without opposing views, the world becomes as shown in the novel: shallow and flat, lacking any individualism and instead being controlled through entertainment. People require exposure to ideas that contradict their own in order to either grow as individuals, to change their views, or to have the knowledge to better argue their own points. How can a debate occur when neither party understands the opposing viewpoint? More importantly, if both parties have exactly the same viewpoint, there is no debate at all! While this might be Utopian for some, Bradbury viewed it as an attack on civil liberties and individualism
In the end, McCarthy's hypocrisy was exposed, but the lessons learned from his rhetoric remain important; many today still want to stifle or restrict speech from those they disagree with, for no other reason than that disagreement. Without open access to ideas and knowledge, education and intellect suffer; without the understanding of opposing views, intelligent debate becomes impossible.
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