36 East 36th Street
New York 16, New York
October 30, 1963
Mr. Bennett Cerf
Random House, Inc.
457 Madison Avenue
New York, New York
This is in answer to your letter of October 18, 1963.
At our first luncheon, before I submitted ATLAS SHRUGGED to Random House, you assured me of the following:
a) that Random House is non-political in its publishing policies, that is, not committed to any specific political philosophy; that you did not always agree with the views of the authors you published, but that such difference of views did not affect you qua publisher in your attitude and policy toward a book; and, therefore, that I would never encounter any political objections or sabotage at Random House;
b) that the editors at Random House were not an editorial board, but autonomous units, each dealing only with his own authors, none having any authority over or contact with the rest of the Random House list; and, therefore, that I would never have to deal or be concerned with your editors—that I would deal directly with you and Donald, and that your editors would not enter or influence our relationship in any way.
Two months ago, I asked you whether you would be interested in publishing a collection of my lectures and essays with the title-lecture “The Fascist New Frontier,” which I gave you.[*] This project was inspired by the fact that there was a growing bookstore demand for that lecture, caused by a favorable mention in Walter Winchell’s column.
I did not attempt to “sell” you this project. It was you who “sold” me on it. Your response was enthusiastic; it was you who pointed out to me that the coming election would make the book especially timely; it was you who said that the book would be controversial, sensational and a big seller. Everything you
Mr. Bennett Cerf – 2 – October 30, 1963
said indicated that you had fully understood the theme and nature of the book. In conclusion, you exclaimed enthusiastically: “‘The Fascist New Frontier’ by Ayn Rand—what a title!”
The only suggestion you made was that I integrate the various essays into chapters forming a single continuity, to which I agreed. You stated that you would publish the book on your spring list. It was a firm commitment. I so informed my agent, who said he would draw up a contract with you after my return from my trip to the West Coast.
About a month later, just before I left New York, you telephoned me and told me that your editorial staff was raising a violent protest against the publication of my book, sight unseen—and you asked me to send you a dozen copies of the pamphlet “THE FASCIST NEW FRONTIER” (which I did). You said you felt sure that the objections would cease once they had read it. You said that you were shocked and profoundly disturbed by these objections, which were political and which you had not expected.
When I telephoned you three weeks later, after my return, your attitude had changed. You were now agreeing with your editors and placing the blame on me, or on certain aspects of my lecture. Your mind was now closed; you had made a decision in my absence, without consulting me, without even giving me a hearing.
As your letter of October 18 indicates, I was not given a hearing even on October 16, when we met in your office. I was not heard. I say this, because your letter ignores everything I said at our meeting.
You write: (1) “The title THE FASCIST NEW FRONTIER, as we see it, is wrong for the book you propose. To say that the whole world, including the United States, is drifting steadily in the direction of state socialism, or whatever you want to call it, is your right and we are not making the slightest effort to dispute that right. The title, THE FASCIST NEW FRONTIER, however, singles out the present administration as the fascist element in America. We cannot accept this.”
Do you mean that to criticize the present administration is not my right? If you do, you are acceding to a totalitarian viewpoint. If you do not, then you mean that it is my right, but you do not wish to publish a book presenting my views on this particular subject. That is a political objection.
Mr. Bennett Cerf – 3 – October 30, 1963
Now consider please the first part of your statement above. “That the whole world, including the United States, is drifting steadily in the direction of state socialism…” is not the theme of my proposed book. I am not writing about the whole world. I do not believe that it is drifting toward state socialism (it is being pushed in that direction by statist intellectuals, who are failing—and the trend is changing).
The theme of my proposed book is an ideological critique of the Kennedy administration; my central point is to demonstrate that contrary to the popular illusion, the Kennedy administration’s ideology is not socialistic but fascistic.
I have stated this explicitly and repeatedly at our meeting. I am unable to believe that you have not understood me. I am also unable to believe that my theme is not made unmistakably clear in my lecture-pamphlet. I have, therefore, no choice but to believe that your insistent misstatement of my theme and your refusal to discuss my actual proposed book are motivated by an attempt to engineer some sort of compromise between me and my political antagonists.
(2) The same is true of the following statement in your letter: “Despite your eloquent arguments to the contrary, we simply will not allow a book published by us to compare excerpts from speeches by Hitler and his henchmen with excerpts from speeches by Kennedy.” You can refuse to allow it (if you care to break your word)—but you cannot claim that this is not a political objection.
To borrow your style for a moment, I will say that I simply will not allow any publisher to tell me what convictions I may or may not hold and express.
But to return to my style, I will say that when you ask me to eliminate the quotations from Hitler, you are ignoring the core and essence of my theme, which is: to denounce the basic principle of any altruist-collectivist-statist system—the principle that the individual should be sacrificed to the “public interest.” The Kennedy administration has been using, propagating and stressing that principle as no other American administration has ever done before. Since the public has been conditioned by the liberals to believe that this principle belongs only to the socialist-communist branch of collectivism, it is crucially important to demonstrate how profoundly it belongs also to the fascist-Nazi branch. This demonstration is the most important, novel and original aspect of what I have to say in my lecture.
Mr. Bennett Cerf – 4 – October 30, 1963
That is what you ask me to eliminate, and—adding insult to injury—you write: “In asking you to take out these comparisons, I do not feel we are censoring you in the slightest degree.”
I cannot believe that you have so low an estimate of my intelligence as to think that I would not know I am being asked to take out the essence of my theme. Nor do I have so low an estimate of your intelligence as to believe that you would not know it. I have, therefore, no alternative but to conclude that you have closed your mind to the real nature of the dilemma confronting you, and that you yourself are not convinced of the validity of your case.
If you were, you would present your case more openly: you would at least acknowledge my theme—I believe I have earned that much consideration from you—and then discuss it, instead of discussing some book which I never proposed to write. (See the “alternative titles” which you suggest and which are totally inappropriate to my book.)
You write: “We have editors here whom I deeply respect, and any publisher who doesn’t at least listen to the advice of his editors, is not my idea of a wise or judicious man.” That is contrary to your assurance that I would not be subject to the “advice” of your editors—of men whom I have never met and who are my political enemies.
At the time you made that promise to me, you knew that apprehension about the political views of your editorial staff was my major objection to Random House, as it was the major objection of my agent, Alan Collins. I took your word for the fact that the political bias of your staff was a thing of the past and that I would have nothing to fear on that score. Now, when my apprehensions have proved to be justified, the situation cannot be solved by trying to call our disagreement “non-political.”
To tell you the truth, I do not believe that you are trying to kid me. You are kidding yourself.
By misidentifying the theme of my book, you are trying to convince yourself that the issue involves nothing but some minor changes, and thus to switch the blame to me or to my “stubbornness.” But here is the contradiction in your case and in your letter: if those changes were minor, you would not insist on them as a pre-condition of publishing my book; if you so insist, then they are not minor—neither in the philosophy of your editors nor in mine.
Mr. Bennett Cerf – 5 – October 30, 1963
And it is with an incredulous feeling of unreality that I find it necessary to remind you that the author of ATLAS SHRUGGED and THE FOUNTAINHEAD is the last person on earth whom one can expect to modify her own convictions under the pressure of a collective—particularly an anonymous collective.
Observe the consequences of your attitude. I know that you have no desire to insult me, and yet you have found yourself forced to do so—to insult me professionally, quite apart from the political questions involved. I refer to the issue of a publisher’s right to make suggestions. You know fully as well as I do that an author of my standing is not asked to submit a manuscript “on spec” and to accept suggestions in the form of an ultimatum, that is, with the publication conditional upon the acceptance of changes. I never have and never will enter any discussion of changes under such conditions.
I have always been willing to consider a publisher’s suggestions, but only after he had agreed to publish the book, with the final decision on the content of the book remaining exclusively mine.
The last paragraph of your letter states: “I’ll await your final decision in this matter. I deeply hope you will agree to make the changes we ask for and will then let us see the rest of the manuscript.”
Since this suggestion is an affront to my professional standing, I cannot sanction the implication that you have offered me an alternative and that the final decision is to be mine. You have made the final decision. You have done it by breaking your word of the past and of the present—specifically, by rejecting a book you had agreed to publish.
I quote from your note to me of August 28, 1963: “I am sending word around to everybody at Random House that we will have a new nonfiction book by you on the Spring 1964 list called THE FASCIST NEW FRONTIER. I think this book will cause a tremendous amount of excitement.” (Italics yours.)
We had made a firm agreement. I do not intend to hold you to it. But it is you who broke it—and the least you can do is acknowledge that the final decision was yours.
I am sending a copy of this letter to Donald, since you indicated that your letter spoke for both of you.
cc: Mr. Donald Klopfer
*“The Fascist New Frontier” was first presented as a talk by AR at the Ford Hall Forum in 1962, then published as a pamphlet by the Nathanial Branden Institute and later reprinted in the 1998 revised edition of The Ayn Rand Column.
Cerf responded on November 1 with a two-page letter in which he reiterated his own points and that a title change was necessary for Random House to consider publishing the book, saying that “It seems to me that right there [in her stated theme] you have given the perfect title for the book you propose to write: ‘Ayn Rand’s Ideological Critique of the Kennedy Administration.’”