Saturday, October 12, 2013

the downward spiral

As we read Areopagitica we were prompted to look beyond the obvious notion that Milton is refuting the censoring and licensing of written text. So that is how I've been reading it. And what I've found so far (in the first half) is quite intriguing...and a little bit scary.
Milton is making the case, that is to say, he is more concerned with what will happen to the government and state as a result of censoring books than he is at the fact that his books will need to be censored and licensed (although he has a major beef with that.) He is afraid of what it will lead to. It's apparent through his other writings that Milton is good at extrapolating and coming up with potential projections of his ideas. And his projection, coupled with past examples, is not a great one. 

He brings up examples to illustrate his point citing the latter reign of Rome ("From hence we shall meet with little else but tyranny in the Roman Empire, that we may not marvel, if not so often bad as good books were silenced"), the Roman Catholic Inquisition, as well as an offshoot, the Spanish Inquisition, ("but from the most anti-christian council and the most tyranneous inquisition that ever inquired.")
In a way, it's similar to how some people are looking at the government in the U.S. now. Milton saw tendencies and recursions to past institutions that either ended badly or were from the start, corrupt. Some today claim/fear that the current government is okay with ideas that were held in regimes past that are very un-American and exactly what our forefathers fought so dearly to protect. And we can see the outcries from those that are watching and paying attention (I don't claim to be one - though I am trying to find my niche in it all.) 
Milton knows history - there is no denying that - and while at the first, most accessible level, it might be a treatise demanding freedom of speech (or the freedom to let speech be "tried" by the public) it is really a warning and command to stop before the path is too far tread they lose what they have been fighting so hard to attain. 


  1. It really is a pretty interesting debate, though, and it's one that goes on still. The thing is, we seem really excited about freedom of the press/expression when people are creating things that we like or agree with, but when it comes to other things, we may be more hesitant. Recently, for example, the UK put in nationwide pornography blockers that make it so users have to opt in, basically with a signed agreement saying they are okay with that kind of stuff coming through their Internet connection. Well, in the end, that is censorship, but we don't seem to be real upset about the fact that people's rights of expression are not being, well... expressed. Does censorship have a proper place in society, or does it simply open the way for governments to overstep their bounds?

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  3. The idea that Milton could be warning the government about this downward spiral is a fascinating idea. I hadn't thought of Milton actually warning the government, since I usually see him as a radical that criticizes and fights against the government. This idea does give some interesting depth to Milton as a person who may not necessarily wish to see the government topple.

  4. I think that if censorship belongs anywhere, that place is in the private sector, not government. If we truly believe that people should be able to freely share their ideas, then we can't advocate a government that limits it.

  5. Reminds me of [insert dystopian novel here]. The government is all-powerful, and what if that started with little things like trying to control the kinds of media that are available to people?