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Areopagitica

Page history last edited by Melissa 12 years, 9 months ago

 

In June 1643, the English Parliament reinstated censorship of the press.  In objection to this law, John Milton published Areopagitica in November 1644, stating that freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of the press are all blessings and necessities in the growth of any single person and of any single nation.

 

The title Areopagitica refers to both the Logos Areopagiticos by the Athenian orator Isocrates in the fifth century in which he discusses a political reformation in Greece and to Paul in Acts 17:18-34 of the Bible where Paul speaks to the Athenians at Areopagus about Christianity.

 

In order to fully understand Areopagitica it is necessary to put it into the context of the time, both socially and politically. Instead of being ruled by the king and the hierarchy, England in 1643 was ruled mostly by Parliament and the Protestant clergy. To the people of England, religious and moral thought was a main priority, and to defy the church was, in their minds, to defy God.

 

Events leading up to the publishing of Areopagitica are also vital in understanding its meaning.  In January 1644 the “five dissenting brethren,” led by Thomas Goodwin, published An Apologeticall Narration, questioning church government.  Questions of a free pulpit and the rights of the clergy were brought up and quickly grew to questions about the freedom of the press and the rights of men in both secular and religious matters.  After An Apologeticall Narration was published, other pamphlets were distributed debating back and forth about the government, the church, and the rights that persons should be granted.

 

On the surface, Areopagitica seems to be just a response to Parliament’s order censoring books and pamphlets, but in actuality, Milton raises questions about liberty in its entirety and brings forth for the first time the concept of a free marketplace of ideas. 

 

The order that Parliament passed, forced authors to have their work approved by government appointed censors before it could be published.  Milton believes that there should not be censorship before publication because by doing so the government was attempting to control not only what was written, but what was thought. Censorship is a disservice to the people, making them unable to formulate their own opinions by reading and hearing all sides of an argument and then determining for themselves right and wrong.  One argument Milton makes is that to deny people these rights is to deny them the life they have been given by God. 

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A funny clip from the TV show Family Guy showing how even today the press is censored, not by the English Parliament, but by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

 

There are other means to control a book than censorship; it can be ignored or critiqued. Milton claimed that even reading false information could lead to greater understanding of the truth. Truth leads to knowledge and to developing technology, which should create more efficient ways and ideas. 

 

Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, has stated that the technology we have today is flattening American culture with television, the Internet and social websites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Wikipedia.  Milton would argue that these tools are necessary in allowing an individual to come to their own conclusions and that without them a well-rounded opinion could not be formulated.  

 

To read more about Freedom of the Press Click Here

 

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Another video about the FCC sung to the tune of the American patriotic song, My Country ‘Tis of Thee and leaves the viewer off with a thank you from the First Amendment. 

 

 Bibliography

 

Haller, William. (1927). Before Areopagitica. PMLA, Vol. 42, No. 4, 875-900

  • Haller discusses the historical context leading up to Milton writing Areopagitica. He captures the political, social, and religious structure of the time.

 

 Hocking, William. (1947). Freedom of the Press. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.

  • This book describes the impact of Areopagitica from 1644 until the mid-20th century throughout the world.  It also describes the background of Milton‘s reasoning for Areopagitica.

 

Kendall, Willmore. (1960). How to Read Milton’s Areopagitica. The Journal of Politics, Vol. 22 No. 3, 439-473

  • Willmore delves deeper into the political philosophy of Areopagitica.  He discusses the underlying questions and points that Milton brings up and breaks it down into four parts.

 

Loewnstein, David A. (1988). "Areopagitica and the Dynamics of History." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900Vol. 28, 77-93

  • Loewnstein explains the historical significance of Areopagitica along with the historical context it was written in.

 

Milton, John. (1927). Areopagitica. London, England: J.M. Dent & Sons LTD.

  •  This book is Milton’s address to the Parliament of England in favor of Freedom of the Press. In June 1643 Parliament re-established the censorship of the press and as a result Milton argues the necessity of  freedom of expression.  Areopagitica also lays the groundwork for the First Amendment, the Alien and Sedition Acts and the Zenger Trial.  

 

 

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