Themes

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Class Conflict
One basic premise behind the ideas expressed in Steal This Book is that there is a war between different classes of American society. It is this war that justifies the use of criminal measures. Hoffman recognizes moral social responsibilities. As he says in the book’s introduction, ‘‘Our moral dictionary says no heisting from each other. To steal from a brother or sister is evil. To not steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the Pig Empire is equally immoral.’’

With the phrase ‘‘Pig Empire,’’ he refers to those who have economic power. In defining them as the enemy and claiming the right to use any means to combat the enemy, Hoffman permits all sorts of antisocial behaviors. Stealing is a natural way to weaken an economically powerful enemy, and the book advises many methods to take advantage of international business conglomerates such as the telephone and airline industries. But the book does not discriminate among different levels of economic ownership; small shopkeepers are targeted as often as large corporations, having been defined in the class struggle as ‘‘them’’ versus ‘‘us.’’

In addition to advocating stealing from economic entities, the book also gives advice about destroying property without personal gain in the section titled ‘‘Trashing,’’ which leads into advice on hand-to-hand combat against the police and using explosives and firearms. Since the privileged classes have the benefit of police protection, and the police have superior weapons and training, Hoffman suggests using any means available, no matter how violent. All of the book’s destructive techniques are discussed in terms of the struggle against those with wealth.

Freedom
The identifying characteristic of the target audience of this book is a desire for freedom from social constraints. In the late 1960s and early 1970s rallying cry ‘‘freedom’’ was popular. In the name of freedom, people—usually young people, who had not yet invested much into the social order—dropped out of society, living off what they could gather from handouts and sharing, and stealing when they could. In the drive for economic independence, many young people practiced the tips Hoffman offers in his book long before these tips were gathered together and published. To those who wanted to escape from the ‘‘slavery’’ of the social order, this book offered a promise of freedom.

The tips in the book offer financial freedom by showing readers places they can stay and eat for nothing or close to nothing. There are long lists of social service institutions, especially in the section titled ‘‘Liberate!’’ which focuses on four American cities as case studies. Hoffman covers the basic essentials of survival and other necessities—such as entertainment and education—that can be obtained at no cost. Overall, the book is designed to make life easier for people who desire to be free from the economic mainstream, who do not want to pledge their minds and hearts to employers just to gather enough money to live comfortable lives.

Safety
This book represents an honest acknowledgement that the young people of the sixties were bound to participate in the illegal activities that are mentioned. Rather than assuming they would follow the law or that they deserved to suffer whatever fate might befall them if they did not, Hoffman compiled a guide for those who chose to follow the illegal path, with the hope of guiding them safely through the dangers of outlaw life. The book was shocking to readers and reviewers of the establishment, who saw its primary purpose as being to encourage illegal activities. But a good case can be made that it is meant to look after the safety...

(This entire section contains 719 words.)

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of young American citizens who would be engaging in illegal activities anyway.

The safety tips in Steal This Book include honest explanations of different types of venereal diseases and places readers can go for treatment; tips about which recreational drugs are harmful and to what degrees; self-defense tips; first-aid tips for those hurt in fights and demonstrations; and nutrition advice for those preparing food on a budget. Because most of the practices described in the book were socially shunned at best and illegal at worst, information about them was difficult to come by in 1971, and therefore the safety of the thousands of youths who had dropped out of society was left at risk.

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