Why did The Times remove Philip Pullman’s article?

6:39 pm - March 1st 2009

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The writer wishes to remain anonymous

On the eve of the CoML, writer Philip Pullman wrote an article for The Times newspaper. It was abruptly it was pulled from their website soon after and you can see this discussion on the CoML website asking why.

Then, I was passed an email sent by Mr Pullman himself worrying about what happened and wondering why it had been pulled.

If you search The Times website, the reference to Mr Pullman’s article still comes up

But the page itself gives an error. Update – the article is now back up.

Why did The Times pull the article without explanation?

In an email sent to a friend on the eve of the Convention on Modern Liberty, Mr Pullman said this to a colleague.

—–Original Message—–
From: pullman [mailto:———————]
Sent: Fri 2/27/2009 8:43 PM
To: **** **********
Subject: Sinister disappearance

Dear ****,

My article has disappeared from the Times Online website with no word of why or where it’s gone. I’m just letting you know so that when I fail to turn up tomorrow you’ll be able to tell people that the secret police have got me.



Here is the full text of the article that was pulled:

Malevolent voices that despise our freedoms

Are such things done on Albion’s shore?

The image of this nation that haunts me most powerfully is that of the sleeping giant Albion in William Blake’s prophetic books. Sleep, profound and inveterate slumber: that is the condition of Britain today.
We do not know what is happening to us. In the world outside, great events take place, great figures move and act, great matters unfold, and this nation of Albion murmurs and stirs while malevolent voices whisper in the darkness – the voices of the new laws that are silently strangling the old freedoms the nation still dreams it enjoys.

We are so fast asleep that we don’t know who we are any more. Are we English? Scottish? Welsh? British? More than one of them? One but not another? Are we a Christian nation – after all we have an Established Church – or are we something post-Christian? Are we a secular state? Are we a multifaith state? Are we anything we can all agree on and feel proud of?

The new laws whisper:

You don’t know who you are

You’re mistaken about yourself

We know better than you do what you consist of, what labels apply to you, which facts about you are important and which are worthless

We do not believe you can be trusted to know these things, so we shall know them for you
And if we take against you, we shall remove from your possession the only proof we shall allow to be recognised

The sleeping nation dreams it has the freedom to speak its mind. It fantasises about making tyrants cringe with the bluff bold vigour of its ancient right to express its opinions in the street. This is what the new laws say about that:

Expressing an opinion is a dangerous activity

Whatever your opinions are, we don’t want to hear them

So if you threaten us or our friends with your opinions we shall treat you like the rabble you are

And we do not want to hear you arguing about it

So hold your tongue and forget about protesting

What we want from you is acquiescence

The nation dreams it is a democratic state where the laws were made by freely elected representatives who were answerable to the people. It used to be such a nation once, it dreams, so it must be that nation still. It is a sweet dream.

You are not to be trusted with laws

So we shall put ourselves out of your reach

We shall put ourselves beyond your amendment or abolition

You do not need to argue about any changes we make, or to debate them, or to send your representatives to vote against them

You do not need to hold us to account

You think you will get what you want from an inquiry?

Who do you think you are?

What sort of fools do you think we are?

The nation’s dreams are troubled, sometimes; dim rumours reach our sleeping ears, rumours that all is not well in the administration of justice; but an ancient spell murmurs through our somnolence, and we remember that the courts are bound to seek the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and we turn over and sleep soundly again.

And the new laws whisper:

We do not want to hear you talking about truth

Truth is a friend of yours, not a friend of ours

We have a better friend called hearsay, who is a witness we can always rely on

We do not want to hear you talking about innocence

Innocent means guilty of things not yet done

We do not want to hear you talking about the right to silence

You need to be told what silence means: it means guilt

We do not want to hear you talking about justice

Justice is whatever we want to do to you

And nothing else

Are we conscious of being watched, as we sleep? Are we aware of an ever-open eye at the corner of every street, of a watching presence in the very keyboards we type our messages on? The new laws don’t mind if we are. They don’t think we care about it.

We want to watch you day and night

We think you are abject enough to feel safe when we watch you

We can see you have lost all sense of what is proper to a free people

We can see you have abandoned modesty

Some of our friends have seen to that

They have arranged for you to find modesty contemptible

In a thousand ways they have led you to think that whoever does not want to be watched must have something shameful to hide

We want you to feel that solitude is frightening and unnatural

We want you to feel that being watched is the natural state of things

One of the pleasant fantasies that consoles us in our sleep is that we are a sovereign nation, and safe within our borders. This is what the new laws say about that:

We know who our friends are

And when our friends want to have words with one of you

We shall make it easy for them to take you away to a country where you will learn that you have more fingernails than you need

It will be no use bleating that you know of no offence you have committed under British law

It is for us to know what your offence is

Angering our friends is an offence

It is inconceivable to me that a waking nation in the full consciousness of its freedom would have allowed its government to pass such laws as the Protection from Harassment Act (1997), the Crime and Disorder Act (1998), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (2000), the Terrorism Act (2000), the Criminal Justice and Police Act (2001), the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (2001), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Extension Act (2002), the Criminal Justice Act (2003), the Extradition Act (2003), the Anti-Social Behaviour Act (2003), the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), the Civil Contingencies Act (2004), the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005), the Inquiries Act (2005), the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005), not to mention a host of pending legislation such as the Identity Cards Bill, the Coroners and Justice Bill, and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.


And those laws say:

Sleep, you stinking cowards

Sweating as you dream of rights and freedoms

Freedom is too hard for you

We shall decide what freedom is

Sleep, you vermin

Sleep, you scum.

Philip Pullman will deliver a keynote speech at the Convention on Modern Liberty at the Institute of Education in London tomorrow

[article recovered via Sequential Inconsequential]

Ask yourself: is our media now self-censoring criticism of the state’s apparatus?

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Reader comments

Or possibly the Times dropped it because it reads like the work of a 15 year old SWPer who has just bought his first Rage Against The Machine album.

The media can never self censor anything ever published on the net. Google’s cache may have been scrubbed, but the article is still widely available if searched for, including on modern liberty’s own site where it should have had far greater prominence:


Amongst many others.

What a silly comment, Piggy!

I agree with the basic sentiment of the article but I must also agree with piggy. It made me cringe to read it and one presumes that The Times didn’t want their readers to see what tat they were paying people to produce for them, particularly in these cash-conscious days.

Unease about ‘the police state’ and erosion of civil liberties has been growing for decades and yet, although each new proposal for legislation is met by a small storm of protest, the process steam-rollers onwards. At the end of his article, Pullman states, “Freedom is too hard for you”. Well, it certainly seems to be so for many people. How & why this came to be, and why people are seemingly so acquiescent, might have made an interesting article, not an afterthought towards the end.

Have to agree with the above, good sentiment, read like it was written by a teenager…

If they didn’t like it, why run it in the first instance?

I think the message is great. As for it being childish, I think such a charge indicates how our language has been so corrupted that one cannot face the state head-on in true horror and without cynicism, without also attracting accusations of ‘immaturity’.

Our regime constitutes this sort of argument as ‘mature’: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/nov/07/comment.politics2

So, by definition, what Pullman says must be immature. We should all emulate his immaturity.

Yeah, I was shocked that Pullman writes so badly, too.

It is worrisome that they pulled the article. There is a basic truth that citizens in democratic states need to appreciate. Namely, that governments are enormously more dangerous than terrorists.

For more see:


9. Katy Newton

I think the Times did him a favour by not publishing it, frankly. If that’s his normal standard of writing then whoever edited the Northern Lights trilogy (this is the same Philip Pullman we’re talking about, right?) deserves a medal.

It’s a hard truth but it was probably pulled because it was poor.

George Orwell did not feel the need to interrupt 1984 with an itemised list of the follies of communism.

I think piggy’s opinion is a little harsh. It comes across as the work of at least a 17-year-old.

(I wonder if the Times printed a first draft by mistake??)

An article by David Aaronovitch, telling us how we should all love Big Brother and how the Modern Liberty people were an unholy alliance of Little Englanders and Castroist fellow travellers, was also absent from the website. For balance?

Does anyone know if the Pullman piece appeared in print? According to Wikipedia it did, but it wasn’t in my copy.

13. Green Socialist

Aaronvitch typical ex marxist establishment stooge. I agree with the fact that Pullman’s stiuff reads a little “Teenage” – he is a writer of “Teenage” fiction though and the treat to liberties are all too real.

15. Alisdair Cameron

Since both the Pullman piece (agree with its sentiments, felt it didn’t read well) and the Aaronovitch piece (complacent as ever :so long as he’s comfortable everyone else can go hang) ‘vanished’, I think it may have more to do with The Times’ nose being out of joint at the role in Guardian in the Convention.

16. journeyman

During the Geert Wilders / Lord Ahmed House of Lords non-debate,there were quiet a few Left,Liberal,Fabian,Infidels..that completely forgot the issue of freedom of speech,one law for all,womens rights. and condemnation of Koranic inspired hate speech.
And once again with knee-jerk precision, had the old ” racist” mantra,cast around,as it is these days, with the happy abandon of a kinder garden snowball fight,because some of the religio-fascist are not wearing swastikas and jack-boots.
I don,t know if anybody down at Liberal Conspiracy has noticed.but the newspaper comments column on the Liberty/ LIberals Convention contained refferences to Geert Wilders again.
The left wing establshment in general is going to just have to accept that when you willingly or unwittingly accomodate a religion, that is in direct opposition to everything the Left claims to stand for, what goes around—comes around,and some one ends up getting a taste of their own medicine.
Free speech for me ,but not for those I disagree with.
The unwashed indigenous masses so dispised by the “better informed ” wine-bar intelligencia,
are wondering where the mass demonstrations are against “creeping Sharia Law”.
The imposition of Saudi Arabian speech restrictions upon our parliamentary institutions.
And the blatantly evident totalitarian unelected private industrialists club,known as the “European Council , that succeded so well in dupping the Left,with an internationalist socialist “narrative”,
of a nationalist-free,race-free,borderless,Mahdi-gra,multicultural carnival,utopia.
” Denial in the face of unpleasant facts is follly”
The Left ,Liberal,Progressives have brought this upon themselves.
Maybe that Times article was withdrawn on the same gounds that Geert Widlers was denied entry to Britain……..” In the interest of preserving cutural harmony and public order”.

17. Shatterface

It reads a lot like Pinter’s Nobel acceptance speech.

Maybe it should be read aloud, clicking your fingers like a beatnik.

18. journeyman

I have just looked at my own comment above @journeyman and it appears to have been scrambled.
If this is deletion by the staff at liberal conspiracy It would be fair to be told why.

It appears you’ve been disemvoweled.

Ouch. That must have hurt.

20. journeyman

To @Aaron
Now why do I have the sneaky feeling that Aaron knows more than he is letting on.
Or is that just my paranoia.
I think the part where i connected the general Left Establishment support for Geert Wilders expulsion to the pulling of Pullmans article must have hit a raw nerve.

” in the interest of community harmony and public securty”

No, it was just because it was off-topic rubbish. Please take your rantings somewhere else.

22. journeyman

Thanks for you message @Aaron Yes , I am now wiser as to disemvoweling by editors.
As an 57 year old Ex-pat Brit,1968 college,antri-establishment / anti-vietnam / anti-everything / hippy.
The scrambling of the comment above is that which I have come to expect from my own tribe.
I should have remebered to write “no I am not a member of the B.N.P
The one thing my own tribe has always been very good at is stiffling dissent or debate,because theres a Right Wing Neo.Con, Racist Sub Human behind every tree.
Oh one more time,No I am not amember of the B.N.P
Please unscramble my comment or debate it.

Is the Aaronovitch piece stll visible anywhere?

To all those who feel the need to blame the quality, or ‘lack’ thereof, of Pullman’s writing for it not going to press, you seem to be confusing grating self-indulgence with humour.
Pullman is a hugely famous and widely respected (whether justified or not) author, the likes of whom, you would assume, The Times would be only too happy to have writing for them. And as for Piggy’s comment at the top, I would much rather listen to the musings of a 15yr old ‘Rage Against The Machine’ fan than the insipid ramblings of some self-satisfied web-dweller who spends their nights stirring up ‘controversy’ with such comments as that. Perhaps Pullman didn’t feel the need to fly straight over the heads of the majority with views he felt needed to be heard/read by more than just those of such vast intellectual capacity as your self.

But Pullman’s article is massively self-indulgent, unclear and almost unreadable. It’s incredibly inaccessible. I don’t think anyone’s criticising it for not being intellectual enough, it’s just terrible writing. It’s like trying to read an OT prophet in some archaic translation of the bible. You have to actually decipher the thing, and if you bother to do so you realise it’s just a series of barely connected platitudes.

I accept your premise, self-indulgent maybe, even a touch naive, but unreadable? Please. His point is clear, and one that many of The Times’ audience would deserve and benefit from hearing.

27. Melchizedek

Actually, I felt that the piece read as a nicely considered, fairly competent piece of creative writing. ‘Platitudes’ aside, from a literary standpoint, the characterisation of the state as insidious, through the use of a series of disconnected statements rendered in italics, is pretty effective.

Regardless of the piece’s literary merit, surely the most important thing is that we should have adequate representation of those critical of encroachments made against personal freedoms and civil liberties. And, when an article of this nature is pulled from a national paper without explanation, it is vital that we notice that it has been done, and ask the question, why?

I think it’s the lack of sentence structure and punctuation that made it unreadable for me. I missed out sentences and whole paragraphs easily as I read it, and as the position of the narrator changes that made it incredibly confusing. So for example at first I thought he was saying “Sleep you scum” himself. Normally if something is going to take that much effort to read I would at least expect the writing to be rich, or profound or have some special reason for having to take the extra effort. In this case I think he could’ve made his point clearly in a single paragraph and we’d all be better off for it.

Well said Melchizedek.

as to why, I genuinely think it’s because the writing is so terrible. It’s not as if the points he’s making are especially controversial or haven’t been expressed in the same newspaper by other people. And as for why without explanation, that’s simple. It’s incredibly embarrassing to have to tell a world-renowned author that you’re not including his article because it’s badly written.

To say that this article is incomprehensible shows more about the reader than it does the author. The use of multiple narrators is not a new or difficult concept, but rather a way of personalising the State throughout the article. Through the use of “we want….etc” it makes the arguments more persuasive to those who do not feel any connection to academic arguments, which unfortunately is a rather large swathe of our present society. By making the article personal Pullman is surely trying to attempt to create an emotional reaction within the reader rather than appealing to logic. Whether or not you feel that this way of wrting is the best way to espouse his beliefs on a particular the article it has obviously had a positive effect on certain readers and therefore should be celebrated. We have to rememer that Pullman is not an academic writer but a writer of fiction, and as such his approach to this topic was always going to be different.

32. Peter1919

If they really pulled the article because it was badly written then why the hell did they publish it in the first place? The fact they published it suggests to me this is not the real reason that it was pulled

33. Shatterface

I think its self-indulgent toss – and I say that as a fan of Pullman’s work who agrees with his sentiments entirely.

I used to write like that when I was stoned.

“I would much rather listen to the musings of a 15yr old ‘Rage Against The Machine’ fan than the insipid ramblings of some self-satisfied web-dweller who spends their nights stirring up ‘controversy’”

Get you.

Kids, this really is a frightfully dull non-story which can be summed up in two salient points.

1) The idea that the article was pulled as an act of deference to Teh ZaNuLiarbor Police State really is such patent nonsense that I kind of assumed the initial post was a piss take. Given that during the period it was ‘censored’ the Times was still carrying a bucketload of “erosion of civil liberties” type articles (including one which extensively quoted Pullman), and also considering that its now back up, do you not think technical error is a more likely explanation?

2) It’s a shit article. Srsly.

I always dislike reading poetry on the web. It does not seem to flow – maybee it’s because you can just scroll down and look at something else.

While I’m not too keen on the style, I will pick this out, from near the end, as a good characterisation of the senior Labour attitude:

Freedom is too hard for you

We shall decide what freedom is

This is very reminiscent of the speech by Philip Gould, Blair’s pollster, and associate of Lord Mandelson, in 2005 in the House of Lords, about identity cards:

Lord Gould of Brookwood: Both the previous speakers—the latter with great emotion—were arguing for freedom. We have to ask what greater freedom is there than the freedom to place a vote for a political party in a ballot box upon the basis of a mandate and a manifesto. That is the crux of it: the people have supported this measure. That is what the noble Earl’s father fought for. But that is too trivial an answer. I know that. The fundamental argument is that the truth is that people believe that these identity cards will affirm their identity. The noble Lord opposite said that he likes to be in this House and how he is recognised in this House because it is a community that recognises him. That is how the people of this nation feel. They feel that they are part of communities, and they want recognition. For them, recognition comes in the form of this identity card. Noble Lords may think that that is strange, but it is what they feel. This is their kind of freedom. They want their good, hard work and determination to be recognised, rewarded and respected. That is what this does.

Of course it is right and honourable for noble Lords to have their views, but I say there is another view, and it is the view of the majority of this country. They want to have the respect, recognition and freedom that this card will give them. Times have changed. Politics have changed. What would not work 50 years ago, works now. It is not just me. I have the words of the leader of your party:

“I have listened to the police and security service chiefs. They have told me that ID cards can and will help their efforts to protect the lives of British citizens against terrorist acts. How can I disregard that?”.

This is not some silly idea of the phoney left. It is a mainstream idea of modern times. It is a new kind of identity and a new kind of freedom. I respect the noble Lords’ views, but it would help if they respected the fact that the Bill and the identity cards represent the future: a new kind of freedom and a new kind of identity.

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