Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Ross on Bird on freedom of press and speech

At The New Rambler Review, Trevor Ross (Dalhousie University) has reviewed Wendell Bird's new book, The Revolution in Freedoms of Press and Speech: From Blackstone to the First Amendment and Fox’s Libel Act (Oxford University Press, 2020). Here is the essay's intro: 

John Milton saw no inconsistency in simultaneously arguing for “the liberty of unlicensed printing” and declaring that “mischievous and libellous” books ought to be burnt. Licensing or pre-publication censorship was illegitimate, he believed, because it did not involve the due process of law. It accorded the licenser the discretion to decide a writer’s freedom to publish and thus denied the writer the opportunity to exercise free will and face the consequences of this exercise before “the hazard of law and penalty.” By contrast, post-publication censorship conducted according to existing laws did not, in Milton’s view, prevent the exercise of free will but rather safeguarded it. It was a transparent mechanism by which the state punished sowers of discord, lies, and superstition whose work threatened the individual’s free will by inciting violence or inviting tyranny.

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--Mitra Sharafi