On Censorship

On Censorship

The word “censorship” immediately provokes a hostile reaction since traditionally it indicates the intention of authorities, whether clerical or secular, to curtail freedom. The very essence of Western technological civilization is incompatible with censorship, for the latter presupposes an authority to decree what should be allowed and what forbidden —whereas the entire adventure of discoveries and inventions began with a revolt against authority. Any school book can furnish abundant examples of censors making fools of themselves, beginning with Gallileo’s persecutors and ending with judges ordering literary works confiscated for immorality, precisely those works which subsequently enter the classical canon of required school reading.

Nevertheless, although parliamentary systems have guaranteed freedom of scientific inquiry and the right to proclaim political heresies, there has been an effort in our century, as in the past, to retain the concept of an offense against what is called public morality. Such attempts, as we can see today, have been doomed to defeat on account of the ever greater intimidation of censors who have been branded fools and reactionaries. Of considerable importance here has been the anxiety of the churches ready to make concessions just to maintain their new image as enlightened and progressive institutions. The citadel of so-called public morality fell as soon as the first gap appeared in the wall— general agreement as to the inviolability of a work of art, i.e., the agreement that anything may be depicted in words, stone, line, or color if the goal is “artistic.” Twenty years ago the works of Henry Miller were banned in America, today they can be bought in paperback. This one example is enough to illustrate the general change

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Duggan | University of California Press Gardels