The Cancellation of Josh Hawley’s Book Deal Isn’t a First Amendment Issue

Bizar Male

But could this cancellation violate Hawley’s contract? Well, the contract hasn’t been made public, but as I recently experienced with my own book deal, book contracts generally give the publisher great leeway. It could be that Simon & Schuster gets to walk away but Hawley gets to keep his advance, or there could be some other previously agreed‐​upon arrangement. There’s certainly a chance that the publisher is breaching the contract—it may have determined that it would lose money if it published the book, meaning that this is what law‐​and‐​economics scholars call an “efficient breach”—in which case it owes Hawley “liquidated damages” as set out in the contract or under generally accepted principles of contract law. Either way, the First Amendment isn’t at issue.

Finally, though, there’s a non‐​legal issue at play: the idea that large corporations, cultural and otherwise, are “canceling” conservatives (and libertarians) in various ways. Indeed, such “censorship” by Facebook, Google and Twitter is the very subject of Hawley’s book. The extent to which this phenomenon is real or concerning depends a lot on specific facts. Surely, if it had turned out that an author was a neo‐​Nazi Holocaust denier—or a Klan member, or a Stalinist—few would object to “de‐​platforming” him. So this is largely a debate about the “Overton window” of appropriate public discourse and policing what I’ve previously called the Satan‐​Scherbatsky line.

It’s certainly troubling that, for example, The New York Times’ publication of an op‐​ed by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) on how best to quell last summer’s rioting caused the opinion editor to lose his job, while the Gray Lady publishes regular apologies for Communist regimes (as recently as last Monday). And there are indeed “woke mobs” out there, most notably on social media, even if that choice of words was unfortunate in light of the actual mob that Hawley fist‐​pumped last Wednesday.

These are real cultural pathologies that our society must grapple with. But that doesn’t mean there’s a role for government to fix these issues—and they’re certainly not First Amendment violations.

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