Folks, this space is reserved for fun. You know me, I like fun. But I do have some strong beliefs as you’ve seen if you’ve been reading my Friday afternoon posts for a while. And this is one. Forget about Republican or Democrat, censorship is wrong and scary! And the really scary thing is that people have been trying to sensor others for hundreds of years. Even in America. The land of liberty. Where you can even wear your feelings on your t-shirt! Read on. And have a great weekend!!!
What’s the saying – “history repeats itself”? Over the weekend I was reading about the struggles going on within our social media platforms and the question of content censorship. Let’s see – 7.8 billion people, almost 4 billion online, all talking, sharing, and expressing an opinion or two – and now we’re trying to control this – talk about a PIA (Pain in the @%$) Jobs! With the free flow of content going “in”, our social media conglomerates are working furiously trying to control what’s right and what’s wrong to allow “out”. The relatively recent move to online “newsfeeds” has perpetuated this problem. Supposedly “neutral” algorithms limit what types of information are presented on the various platforms. This dilemma took me back to my school days, and the great author and poet John Milton and his take on publishing freedom. About 375 years ago, he for the most part posed the same question, in his publishing of Areopagitica on this day in 1644, challenging the notion of licensing and control of published content in England. He asked many of the same questions – should the publishers be the ones to decide, or the readers themselves, to determine right from wrong. Here’s some history I think you’ll enjoy. Many thanks to Kevin R. Davis, past Associate General Counsel at Vanderbilt University for his insights and the First Amendment Encyclopedia on free speech. Enjoy!
- John Milton (1608–1674), one of the greatest English poets, made an important contribution to the idea of free speech and free press in a pamphlet, Areopagitica (1644), which he wrote and published in response to a restrictive printing ordinance established by Parliament in 1643. The ordinance required authors to get prior approval from an official licenser before the publication of printed materials. Milton published the tract anonymously, defying the ordinance’s prohibition.
- Milton was born in London, where he was educated at St. Paul’s School and by private tutors. He excelled in languages and later wrote poems in Greek, Latin, Italian, and English. After earning a bachelor’s degree (1629) and master’s degree (1632) from Cambridge University, he devoted the next five years to private study. In 1638 he undertook a journey to France and Italy. Returning to England in 1639 on the eve of the English Civil War, he became a staunch supporter of the Puritans against the crown and served for a time in the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell.
- Milton’s wide-ranging prose works included pamphlets on religious themes, education, and the law of divorce. His epic poems Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes, for which he is most remembered, were written after he became blind in 1652.
- England’s printing ordinance of 1643 prohibited the printing, binding, or sale of books except by persons licensed under the authority of Parliament and made the Stationers the agent of Parliament for the purpose of licensing printers. Anonymous publications were banned. The ordinance drew criticism, famously from John Milton.
- The 1643 “Ordinance for correcting and regulating the Abuses of the Press” completed Parliament’s takeover of the licensing of printers in Britain. It was just one of a series of such controls Parliament would continue to exert over the press until 1695.
- The framers of the U.S. Constitution were quite familiar with critiques of press licensing controls, which they addressed by protecting freedom of the press in our First Amendment.
- British printing regulations became a weapon against Puritan, political leaders.
- The Crown had regulated printing, primarily by means of Star Chamber decrees, since it was introduced to England in 1476. Like laws against heresy, libel, and treason, the general requirement of licensing for printers had been a way in which the Crown silenced religious and political dissent.
- Printers were licensed through the printers’ guild, the London Stationers Company, which was chartered in 1557 and given authority to conduct searches and seizures, confiscate unlicensed works, and promulgate its own regulations. In exchange for protecting the Crown’s censorship interests, the guild received the exclusive copyright to the printed works.
- The enforcement of printing laws was erratic, and the regulations became a weapon for the Crown to use against Puritan religious and political leaders during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. However, Parliament abolished the court of Star Chamber in 1641, which left English printing briefly unregulated.
- Orders issued from Parliament to the Stationers in July 1641, and again in January 1642, required the Stationers to record the name of any person bringing material to be printed. Another order issued from the House of Commons in March 1643 directed the Stationers to seize “scandalous and lying Pamphlets” and to arrest those responsible.
- The effect of the 1643 ordinance was to establish a prepublication censorship regime. The ordinance prohibited the printing, binding, or sale of books except by persons licensed under authority of Parliament and made the Stationers the agent of Parliament for the purpose of licensing printers. Anonymous publications were banned, as were the reprinting or importation of previously printed works.
- Although Areopagitica is commonly viewed as an eloquent plea for freedom of speech, in its context it should be understood as an argument for allowing printers to bring forth works that could be subjected, after publication, to evaluation, scrutiny, and censorship as might be judged appropriate.
- In Areopagitica, Milton makes four arguments against the prepublication censorship of printed materials. The first was that prepublication censorship originated with the church and for that reason should be suspect. Although this is a kind of ad hominem argument, it is consistent with Milton’s preference that works be judged through public rational scrutiny rather than by ecclesiastical hierarchy.
- Second, Milton argued that readers may benefit from reading morally incorrect books along with good ones. He said, in essence, that the practice of moral virtue requires the knowing choice of good over evil. Unless morally bad books were printed, readers would be denied the benefit of learning how to discern moral falsity through the vicarious experience of it in reading.
- Third, he argued that prepublication censorship is an ineffective means of achieving the goal of protecting public morality and religion. Many other activities – for example, music, theater, and dance (today we could add radio and cable television) – would have to be censored in order to regulate public morality completely, indicating that censorship of print alone is an impractical means to this end.
- Finally, he suggested that licensing would have the unintended effect of weakening people’s ability to recognize and affirm truths by using their reason. This argument draws on Milton’s belief that truths must be known by the use of reason rather than by acceptance of authority; unless a rich body of ideas, including some false ones, is available for rational debate, people’s faculty of reason will not flourish.
- Although the London Stationers’ Company, which regulated publishing and printing, complained to Parliament about the unlicensed publication of Areopagitica, Milton was not penalized for it, and it was largely without effect in his time.
- Milton went on to write the famous Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained amongst his poetry and other writings. Licensing of the press continued in England until 1695, 20 years after his death.
DO YOU LIKE CONTESTS?
As you may know the Kowalski Heat Treating logo finds its way
into the visuals of my Friday posts.
I. Love. My. Logo.
One week there could be three logos.
The next week there could be 15 logos.
And sometimes the logo is very small or just a partial logo showing.
But there are always logos in some of the pictures.
So, I challenge you, my beloved readers, to count them and send me
a quick email with the total number of logos in the Friday post.
On the following Tuesday I’ll pick a winner from the correct answers
and send that lucky person some great KHT swag.
So, start counting and good luck!
Oh, and the logos at the very top header don’t count.
Got it? Good. :-))))