Monday, October 1, 2012

The Legend of Areopagitica

King Charles I, an arrogant man, was at constant odds with Parliament over money and his marriage to Henrietta Maria of France, a Catholic. In 1629, he ordered Parliament not to meet, and this lasted for eleven years. He ordered the Scots to use a prayer book during their worship services, which resulted in the Scots invading England in 1639. While he tried to avoid Parliament for much of his reign, Charles I found it impossible since that's where funding came from, so he allowed Parliament to meet in 1640 so they could deal with their Scot problem. The reunion didn't ease the tension, and things escalated. In 1642, Charles I and three hundred soldiers went to Parliament to arrest five members who greatly criticized the king, but they found the building empty. Someone had given them warning and they fled to London. The English Civil War began soon after. During the height of the war, while England was fighting over money, religion, and tyranny, John Milton began to fight a different battle. The Licensing Order of 1643 was an effort by Parliament not to permit free speech, but to override the monarchy's censorship "law" with their own. This Order allowed them to, among other things, arrest authors and destroy materials they found "offensive to the government." Looking to Isocrates for inspiration, John Milton took issue with this. To convince Presbyterians in Parliament of the ills of censorship, he published a speech called "Areopagitica" in 1644. In it he lays out his grievances, explaining the importance of freedom and wrong ideas and the value of debate. In the end, Milton wasn't able to convince Parliament to dump censorship and adopt freedom. That would come twenty years after his death. At the end of the War, England prevailed and King Charles I was beheaded and Parliament worked to restore their fractured government.

It was during the reign of James I the Pilgrims took off for the New World in the Mayflower, seeking religious freedom and freedom from a tyrannical king while, luckily, avoiding the reign of his tragic son. While freedom of the press was farthest from their minds, it's John Milton's words, bold in a hostile time, that should ring the loudest for us, especially during this 2012 election year. In it he says:
"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 scholars call these words, and the rest of his speech, one of the greatest defenses of the freedom of the press. The freedom of the press is precious to a free society because it allows us to take our ideologies and values and publish them for the world to see, spawning new ideas and stirring debate. Freedom of the press creates an informed people allow them to see their government for what they are and not how the government wants to be seen. Our founding fathers knew the danger of government dipping its hands in the press and they sought to prevent that with the writing of the First Amendment. We have the unique freedom to disagree with our government - call them liars, question their integrity, and demand change. Freedom of religion and speech are very important, but these things can be done behind closed doors and with trusted friends; but we're not truly free until we have access to the public square.

If censoring our press could put us in political slavery, and this is basic common sense, why do I see MSNBC doctoring campaign footage? Why is NBC editing 911 tapes? Why are our news outlets reporting on a "long lost" video of Romney talking about the 47% and not reporting on an old tape of Obama talking about redistribution? Why did George Stephanopolous throw New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie hardball questions then treat his next guest, David Plouffe, Senior White House Advisor, as if he's delicate? Why is Fox News asking the hard questions about Libya while everyone else is pretending "under investigation" is a valid excuse? New Media offers a great alternative for those wanting to be informed rather than coddled and mislead, but we still have cable news and regular broadcast to deal with. Yes, it is misleading to fake outrage over some things while keeping hush about others in order to sway public opinion. That's the politician's job, not the press. Our politicians are supposed to lie to us, keep things from us, use emotion to sway us one way or the other, and it's the job of the press to keep them straight and keep us from becoming ignorant. Our media becoming complicit with any government is no different than government dipping their hands, and that's not what the cornerstone on which this country was built. Libby Sternberg of writes:
Conservatives are used to media bias, used to hearing excuses made for “out of context” gaffes by Democrats and the collective gasps of horror at similar stumbles by Republicans. We’re used to the stories of Democratic errors being turned into Mean-Republicans-Point-Out-Democratic Mistakes headlines. But ignoring real news literally blowing up in reporters’ faces seems to me a new low and probably accounts for why fewer and fewer people subscribe to mainstream newspapers or rely on broadcast news.
Being "used-to" something leads to complacency which leads to us losing our country. Old Media or New Media, it doesn't matter - they serve us. They are educators in the unconventional sense, and when we don't hold them accountable we have only ourselves to blame. It's not enough to create alternative Internet news outlets that report everything; we have to be louder than that because if this continues then how long until our Government demands their loyalty? Our loyalty? We are foolish to think it would never come to that. We need only to read John Milton's plea or hear King Charles I's life story to know the destruction of our basic freedoms is not only possible, but - if we continue on this path - inevitable. Remember this: an uninformed electorate also has the right to vote.

At the beginning of his speech, John Milton quotes Euripides:
This is true liberty, when free-born men,
Having to advise the public, may speak free,
Which he who can, and will, deserves high praise;
Who neither can, nor will, may hold his peace:
What can be juster in a state than this?

John Milton reminds us God gave us reason, "freedom to choose". Government doesn't have to take away our freedoms for us to lose it, we can do that ourselves by not knowing why such freedoms exist in the first place.

Read John Milton's Areopagitica


  1. Dear Savvy--
    I discovered your blog several months ago, I think on a link from I Hate The Media, to your entry on "Uncle Tom's Cabin." What a revelation! Although a life-long conservative and Republican, I had never -as you suggested- actually read the book and had only the vaguest notion of what it was actually about. I have since downloaded and started reading it.

    And of course the other thing that so impressed me was you yourself. Wow! How fortunate we are to have you with us on our side! Thank you for being so bright and bold, with the courage to speak out. I can hardly imagine the grief others must give you for your outspoken eloquence. (I should also note that in your favor, you're wearing a Red Sox shirt. I'm at work in Boston as I write this.)

    Finally --I have to complete the full measure of flattery here -- you are very attractive! You make me wish I was half my age (sorry, I don't mean to imply anything improper with that.) As it is, I have daughters who are nearly as old as you! (And a wife of course!)

    Anyway, God bless you and your efforts, keep up the great work, all best wishes, etc., and if you ever happen to be in Boston, I'd be glad to treat you to lunch.

    --Rob M

  2. Oh how I wish Americans would wake up and realize the injustice our biased media does to our well being! We're at the tipping point. And I'm so sick of the Brittany Spears stories - even the outlets I like cover the fluff. My grandfather always said 99% of Americans were morons...I like to hope they wake up and educate themselves. Well written piece!


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