Modern First Amendment

Milton’s Areopagitica Commentary

Blasi’s lecture attempts to examine the liberal idea of free speech in terms of Milton’s 1644 article Aeropagitica. Milton’s article focuses on the issue with the licensing system in England during the 1640s as the government is trying to censor writings an extreme amount. There are four sections to Milton’s argument: the lineage of censorship and licensing, the importance of reading anything and everything, what will prevent the licensing order from working properly, how this will affect society’s progression and education. Blasi examines every part of Milton’s article with a fine-tooth comb finding its pitfalls and even more importantly finding the arguments that are still true today. 

One of the most important concerns is how the limits of freedom of speech will be tested as new forms of mass communications arise. At the time of Milton’s oration, the printing press was the newest form of mass communication that could be used for evil and today its the internet. This is something I agree with as with every post, tweet, and comment we run into the issue of what can we say on the internet?. The dangers of the internet are far more severe than the printing press as with the internet you can track down someone, persuade a young child to do devious things, and join dangerous extremist groups. With that said we shouldn’t go to extremes in censoring our ideas and thoughts on the internet because of a few bad apples this is the point Milton is trying to make. When arguably dangerous posts appear, or in Milton’s case articles, review them and take them down. We shouldn’t make every single person jump through hoops in order to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Just those whose ideas pose a threat to society. This could include extremist propaganda encouraging those who are easily manipulated to join them, threatening bodily harm to someone, and selling of illegal substances or a wide variety of other things. The point Milton is trying to make, that still applies today, is the actions of a few should not reflect and damage us all. Why should our freedom be restricted because someone tweeted I’m going to [insert violent act] the [insert important figure or person]. 

Milton also argues that society will become stagnant if ideas that differ from the government are not allowed to be voiced. If people hadn’t been allowed to stand up for gay marriage would that law have been changed? If we are not allowed to voice our views on gun control laws will these laws change? If people weren’t allowed to voice the need for religious freedom would more countries still practice religious persecution? These are examples that have happened or are in the midst of happening today.  And the answer is had people not been allowed to voice their opinion because it was different from the government’s opinion and learn that there were others out there who felt the same our society would be a very different one. It would be a society where women couldn’t vote, where you would have to follow the religion the government decreed, there might still be slavery, and LGBTQ+ people would likely be persecuted for something they cannot control. This point made by Milton will always stand true. It will always be an important reason why we need freedom of speech. It will as Blasi said, “remain timeless”.

These are just my main takeways as far as what is most revalvent to free speech today from Miltons 1644 article.

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