Milton’s Areopagitica

Areopagitica, John Milton’s famous pamphlet containing a bold defense of one’s right to freedom of speech, was written in 17th century England during a time where written works were heavily censored. Few publications made it to the printing press, as they had to first be approved by a chamber of parliament which ensured nonconformist ideologies could not be widely spread. Milton’s writings contained scathing criticisms against censorship, notable of which include his arguments against liscensing orders. According to Milton, these orders, which sought to bust any attempts of printing without a liscense, were futile in accomplishing Parliaments goal of censoring unapproved ideology. He argued that in order to stifle such thought, “all the sources of sin must be addressed: songs, dances, lutes, whispers at balconies, food and drink, wanton clothing, temptations to idleness” (Blasi, 6). Milton also states that public access to diverse perspectives is essential to intellectual progress. He cites that many influential christian figureheads and preachers benefitted from reading the works of those who were considered heretics. In response to the counterargument that objectively destructive ideology could spread with a laissez-faire approach to publishing, Milton argues that such ideas will spread with or without written works, and that readers will be strong minded with diverse perspectives, and be able think critically about dangerous perspectives. If Milton’s audience was still not convinced, he adds the real life example of free press in England from 1640-1643. During a time when the Parliament committee for censoring publications was disbanded, free press flourished throughout the country. Milton noted that the lack of censorship “caused a dramatic increase in both the volume of advocacy and the range of views expressed… The number of pamphlets published during the year 1640 was 22; in 1642, it was 1,966” (Blasi, 3). Milton’s passion for free speech has inspired institutions and laws across the world, including the constitution of the United States. His influence is to thank for countless instances in which freedom of speech prevailed, creating a society of diverse, critical thought.

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