“Areopagitica” by John Milton (1644)

The man would have made one hell of a metal guitarist. Just sayin’….

 

“Areopagitica” by John Milton (1644)

  • Euripides – liberty is when free men can advise the public freely. Those who can & do do this are to be praised. Those who can’t or won’t, can shut up. What can be better for the country than this?
  • Now those who want to advise the public are under threat of censorship
    • Not the type of “liberty” we need in this country
    • We’ve come a long way from tyranny & with the help of God & the wisdom of Parliament, we’ll continue
  • We must be able to praise things done well & to point out where & how they can be done better
  • Censorship just leaves us with writers praising the government.
    • That just assumes we can’t do any better – very arrogant
    • Even Athens allowed private citizens to make recommendations & they got Democracy for it
    • Greek cities that banned this got no improvements
  • The Licensing Order [that no book can be published unless it receives a government license] doesn’t just apply to sedition & libel but leads to the discouragement of learning & will stop truth, hinder progress of civil & religious wisdom.
  • Books aren’t dead – they have the potency of life in them
    • They preserve intelligence in extract form just as a vial does
    • Killing a book is like killing a man
    • Killing a man kills a reasonable creature
    • Destroying a book kills reason itself & the image of God
    • A good book is precious lifeblood of a master spirit embalmed for eternal life
  • Be careful in persecuting living labors of public men
    • It’s a kind of homicide, martyrdom, massacre of the breath of life – an immortal life
  • Licensing came out of the Spanish Inquisition which swallowed up many good men.

 

  • In Athens, only 2 types of books got the government’s attention – Atheist/Blasphemous & Libelous
    • Protagoras’s books were burned & he was banished for speeches questioning the gods’ existence
    • Stopped atheists & defamation
      • Even Cynics & “Old Comedy” writers were not punished in Athens – they actually became recommended reading
    • Spartans loved Homer & invited Thales to help write their laws
    • Shows what the Greeks permitted

 

  • Romans resembled the Spartans
    • Only knew of the 12 tables, Augurs & what the priests taught them
  • Stoics came to visit & showed them their philosophy & were very nearly run out of town
    • Scipio, the censor, honored them & they stayed
  • Roman comedians began to use crude scenes in their plays
    • Ban on libelous books & authors – released upon recantation
  • Augustus had libel burned & its authors punished
  • Magistrates allowed other books to be published
    • Lucretius, Lucilius, Catullus, Flaccus were allowed – either way out there stuff or very naughty
  • When Emperors became Christians, the policy remained – all was allowed unless it was libel or invectives against Christianity

 

  • 400s – Carthaginian Councils – banned Bishops from reading gentile literature but not from reading heresy, calling them “not commendable”, leaving it to one’s conscience to read them or not.
  • 800s – the Church wanted more political power & banned many books but only on a case-by-case basis
    • Martin V – prohibited & excommunicated heretic writers
    • Leo X – Spanish Inquisition tortured & killed heretic writers

 

  • Imprimaturs [publication approval officials] have no legal precedence in England or elsewhere
    • Books should be able to stand trial & defend themselves
    • If such tactics existed in previous generations, we would never have had the Protestant Reformation
    • Even Paul included quotes from Greek poets in his speeches & scripture
  • This attitude is as if to study heathen or heretical writings would Christianity against itself through Sophistry
  • The 2 Apollinariuses made 7 liberal sciences out of the Bible & to be deprived of such a way of thinking would be worse than any form of persecution any Roman Emperors
  • Dionysius Alexandrius was loath to read anything iffy but then God said to him: Read anything you can get your hands on because you’ve got the ability to judge & examine them for yourself
    • Knowledge can’t defile and books can’t defile the will or conscience
    • Books are like meat – some nourishing, some not
      • God said to Peter to kill & eat whatever, leaving the choice to each man’s discretion
      • Good books are not unusuable to bad minds
      • Bad books don’t poison good minds
      • The difference between the 2 is that bad books serve to discover, forewarn & illustrate to a good reader
    • God entrusts us to decide our own actions by giving us reason – doesn’t wish to keep us in a perpetual childhood

 

  • Good & evil – knowledge of good is tied to knowledge of evil
    • Adam was doomed to know good by knowing evil
    • Vice must be understood to be avoided
    • Knowledge of vice is necessary for knowledge of virtue
  • Evil manners learned perfectly well without books – evil doctrines spread the same way
    • But a teacher cannot guide without books
    • Licensing is a vain & impossible attempt to guide
    • No reason to deprive wise men of any tools for guiding his wisdom
      • Restraining a fool is no hindrance to his folly
    • A wise man can make better use of bad books than an idiot could do with even the Bible
  • Regarding temptations – bad books aren’t temptations to all men – can be useful drugs & effective medicines
    • You may want to steer children & childish men from them but not through licensing – won’t get desired results
  • Truth spreads faster than what tries to destroy it
    • no nation has ever used licensing if it valued books at all
    • will lead to a strictness to regulate everything in an effort to prevent corruption – music, conversation, etc
  • Impunity & remissness are bad but use persuasion & not law against them
    • When God gave Adam reason, he gave him the freedom to choose, leaving us freed before a provoking object & God’s praise comes from us resisting it

 

  • Can’t remove sin by removing the object of sin
    • Taking treasure from a greedy man doesn’t make him any less greedy
  • God orders us to be virtuous but doesn’t remove any desirable things & gives us minds that can wander beyond limit & satiety
    • Why be more rigorous than God with respect to books?
    • God likes a virtuous man more than he dislikes a vicious one
  • Licensing doesn’t stop all the libel cases
    • That’s argument enough against this law
    • You’ll also have to go back & ban all the older bad books & ban all importation of foreign bad books
  • Who are the licensers?
    • A man who decides if a book dies or is never born must be of high quality, learned, judicious & makes no mistakes
    • The job would be tedious & unpleasant, reading entire volumes of books he wouldn’t choose to read on his own
  • Damage – this will discourage learning & learned men who were born to learn, study, read & write
    • You distrust their judgment & honesty & they haven’t even offended yet
    • Like they’re schoolboys being watched over their shoulders by the teacher
    • When a man writes, he summons his reason & deliberation for help, searches, meditates
    • If nothing can put them beyond mistrust & suspect, most men will not go through the bother of reading & writing at all
  • It’s a dishonor to him to submit to a censor
    • You’re taking out the foundation of any improvement on already written materials, stopping advancement altogether
  • Past writers will be judged by today’s standards
    • They may have been acceptable in their day & maybe not today & will be consigned to the literary scrapheap of history
  • It’s an insult to the living, dead & the nation that every word printed must undergo such a process to be given a stamp to be considered “acceptable”
    • Truth & understanding can’t be monopolized & standardized
      • It will turn the country into Philistines
  • Do we not trust the public with a pamphlet? Why not just punish them for being vicious & ungrounded?
    • It’s not wise – there are other ways to the public can be corrupted
  • The Act must say bad things about the clergy who seem to guide their flock to be corruptible by “bad books”
    • All their sermons, lectures, etc. are under scrutiny too
  • I’ve seen other countries with this sort of tyranny
    • I’m glad to be born in a place with philosophical freedom
    • The people elsewhere (Italy) bemoan their terrible situation
    • Galileo was imprisoned because his Astronomy rubbed the Church the wrong way
    • Those who spoke out against the Spanish Inquisition did not live to tell the tale
  • England’s so fearful we’ve become suspicious of all men to the point that we fear each book & page before we even know its contents
    • Every conversation, every Church sermon will be watched
      • The Church itself is now subject to government approval.
  • Parliament is making it so that freedom of the press is enthralled under a prelatical commission of 20 – people’s rights & privileges are nullified, freedom of learning is in fetters
    • Instead of suppressing seeds & schisms, it raise them & gives them a reputation
      • Viscount of St Albans – Punishing wit enhances its authority & a forbidden writing is though to have a certain spark of truth that flies up in the faces of those who seek to tread it out
  • Faith & knowledge thrive in exercise
    • Without these, people will stop writing & inquiring because they will know they’ll be censored
  • If we think we’re in the right, don’t hold the truth guiltily
    • It makes us weak & hide in the dark
    • Even Christ preached in public – effectively publishing his words
    • Easy to refute if it isn’t the truth
  • Truth came into the world with Christ but when he & the Apostles died, a race of deceivers came out & shred the truth into a thousand pieces & scattered them all around the world
    • We have to find them all
  • Don’t suppress the innovators like Huss, Jerome, Luther & Calvin – they’d never be known otherwise

 

Namesake for this piece – the Areopagus on the Acropolis is was where many a Greek censor operated & many a trial occurred.

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