There's an immense difference between burning your own book as a way of saying "I hate this book" — which adds more expression to the marketplace of ideas — and the confiscation and destruction of other people's books — which is about depriving people of access to expression that they want to consume.I think the terms Althouse chooses are a spot-on way to describe the dork down in Gainesville who is doing this -- "clown" and "attention whore" are exactly right. I'd add also suggest the sobriquet "hateful moron." But that's all that needs to be said about him.
It's offensive to say "I hate this book" about a book that some people revere, but that's the point. It's a vigorous, vicious expression. Burning your own copy of a book is the same thing. Unless you possess the only copy of the book — or, perhaps, an artistically or historically distinctive copy — the burning is just a way of being showily expressive and getting a big audience. It's absurd that any clown who wants attention can light a tiny fire and become world famous. Get a grip, people.
I find it hard to believe that Niebuhr and hyperventilators like him are big readers of important books, because their minds seem pretty feeble to me. "Torch a book and you at least symbolically deny your fellow men and women that freedom." At least symbolically. Or, to put it another way, i.e., truthfully: You don't deny other people anything. You give them something: the information that is your hatred of a book. And as they "decide for themselves whether what they read has meaning," they can take into account that you hate the book. It's not going to be a very influential piece of information, because you're just some attention whore who burned a book instead of articulating a pithy critique of it.
However, I think Althouse's other point is also very important. We have inflated this sulfurous souffle long past any real significance. The best way to deal with this clown is to keep the news cameras and reporters away from his little stunt. He should be ignored and shunned. There's no reason to show his pitiful conflagration. The publicity he's received is the oxygen that keeps his stupidity alive. If anyone feels compelled to go to Gainesville this weekend, they ought to stroll over to the football stadium and watch the Florida Gators take on South Florida. It will be a far more edifying experience then watching this attention whore try to get his 16th minute of fame.
And if you think he can't be avoided, remember that it's very easy to ignore people with a flair for self-promotion if we choose to do so. If you doubt that, riddle me this: anyone seen Cindy Sheehan lately?