11/23 – Areopagitica

Artist’s depiction of Milton for William Blake’s poem “John Milton”. (Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1644, Englishman John Milton published Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England [sic]. Inspired by the similarly-named work of Isocrates in 4th century BCE, Milton (author of Paradise Lost) wrote Areopagitica in protest of the Licensing Order of 1943, a British law requiring licensing for anyone wishing to mass-produce literature via printing press. Milton argued that well-meaning criticism of the government was far more useful than false flattery, and that individually biased licensing officials would hold essentially god-like power. Interestingly, Milton did not advocate for total freedom of speech, explaining that any who made offensive or dishonest statements should be punished with “the fire and the executioner”. Although freedom of the press on Milton’s terms did not come about until 1659, Areopagitica is now regarded as one of the most significant justifications of freedom of speech – a core foundation of many modern democracies (at least in theory).

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