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- John Milton (1644) -

Areopagitica is John Milton's impassioned (if not initially successful) protest against censorship and obstruction of the press. While the work did not produce immediate results and seems rather conservative to modern tastes, it grew to have great significance to later generations and was instrumental in forming many modern defenses of literary freedom.

Throughout the piece, Milton makes numerous religious and classical allusions (to the point of tedium). He considered the political freedom of ancient Greece to have been an ideal situation and attempts to link the greatness of Greece with the greatness of England. In addition, the Protestant Milton got a tremendous mileage out of continually evoking the frightening and hated visage of the Catholic Church, which had created in 1559 the infamous "Index of Prohibited Books".

Milton brings up three central points in his attack of censorship. Firstly, books are not the sole purveyors of evil or destructive information, so attempts to halt the flow of evil or destructive information by regulating book publishing would necessarily be ineffective. Secondly, you would need inhumanly perfect individuals to serve as judges, or personal biases and misunderstanding would creep into the system and damage the chances that "good" books had of publication. Thirdly, even "bad" books can serve a constructive purpose by strengthening an individual's resistance to faulty or evil ideas - if a person can be exposed to poisonous thoughts and triumph, their spirit will be the stronger for the contest.

"For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand unlesse warinesse be us'd, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life."

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"For books are as meats and viands are; some of good, some of evill substance; and yet God in that unapocryphal vision, said without exception, Rise Peter, kill and eat, leaving the choice to each mans discretion. Wholesome meats to a vitiated stomack differ little or nothing from unwholesome; and best books to a naughty mind are not unappliable to occasions of evill. Bad meats will scarce breed good nourishment in the healthiest concoction; but herein the difference is of bad books, that they to a discreet and judicious Reader serve in many respects to discover, to confute, to forewarn, and to illustrate....Good and evill we know in the field of this World grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involv'd and interwoven with the knowledge of evill, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discern'd, that those confused seeds which were impos'd on Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixt. It was from out the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdome can there be to choose, what continence to forbeare without the knowledge of evill?"
-John Milton, Areopagitica

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