There is no possibility that John Milton could have perceived the world humanity inhabits today, much less the United States; however, Milton’s transcendent masterpiece of prose, Areopagitica, addresses not only censorship of good books in his day, but still speaks into what to do about today’s threats of censorship. As one of the keystone contributors to human literature, what Milton has to say sheds meaningful light on the questions and concerns of book banning, burning, and censorship in the United States and the questions surrounding its justification.
Amazon recently was caught in the act of virtual book burning; this should worry anyone who desires to promote the free range of knowledge to be offered in books, especially when it is carried out by one of the world’s largest companies and distributors of books. Milton’s case for the danger of silencing voices is that individuals are perfectly capable of sifting through the reasonable voices and the miscellaneous banter: “. . . this doubtless is more wholesome, more prudent, and more Christian, that many be tolerated, rather than all compelled” (747). Even if there are books published that some people may find repulsive or consider trash, Milton pleads that no voice be silenced and to let the people decide what is worthy to be read and what isn’t; no voice should be silenced wholly.
Only months ago as well, CNN reported the banning of six particular Dr. Seuss books. These books will no longer be printed over concerns of portraying people in harmful ways. It should also be of concern to people that perhaps the world’s most famous creative mind, Dr. Seuss, has books being deemed no longer acceptable to be published. Milton brings up a point in his day that still stands in our current time: “. . . whenas debtors and delinquents may walk abroad without a keeper, but unoffensive books must not stir forth without a visible jailor in their title” (737). Silencing creative minds does not fix anything; it just hides the issues. It is dangerous to ban the publishing of creative minds, especially those long dead like Dr. Seuss, who now belong to history.
Book banning in the US also destroys knowledge and diversity; many classics have already been banned in certain states, and many LGBTQ books are banned frequently. Milton yet again speaks to this modern day phenomena: “. . . there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage to his wisdom, while we seek to restrain from a fool that which being restrained will be no hinderance to his folly . . . a wise man will make better use of an idle pamphlet than a fool will do of sacred scripture” (730 & 731), for “. . . he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye” (720). Knowledge and diversity move the world forward, so it is therefore dangerous to hinder that progress.
A “Ministry of Truth” in the United States? This form of autocracy is almost comical for a nation like ours. If the US were to ever fall to this extreme, Milton speaks of the foolishness of this kind of system: “. . . that none must be heard but whom they [the government] like, is the worst and newest opinion of all others; and is the chief cause why sects and schisms do so much abound . . . ” (748). A nation is fallen when the free range of knowledge and ideas in books is limited by what a government desires.
It is important to remember Milton’s words that “[w]here there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion is in good men is but knowledge in the making” (743), and that instead of banning books, we should have “[a] little generous prudence, a little forbearance of one another, and some grain of charity might win all these diligences to join and unite into one general and brotherly search after truth . . . ” (744). This is how society will progress in the United States.
Milton, John. John Milton Complete Poems and Major Prose. Edited by Merritt Hughes. The Odyssey Press, 1957.
Student Representative, Southern Region, 2021-2022
Alpha Alpha Omega Chapter
University of Georgia, Athens, GA
2021 Banned Books Week Social Media Contest
In celebration of Banned Books Week Sigma Tau Delta and National English Honor Society are teaming up to host the sixth annual Banned Books Week social media contest. To participate you must tag us in a post on any of the following social media accounts:
- NEHS Facebook
- NEHS Twitter (@NEHSXpress)
- Sigma Tau Delta Facebook
- Sigma Tau Delta Twitter (@EnglishCon)
- Instagram (@EnglishMatters)
- or snap us at englishmatters on Snapchat
What to do in your post:
Books are banned for a variety of reasons. Take your own original photo of your favorite banned book and share with us (on one social media platform) one of the reasons it has been contested. If you wish to post on a second platform, please choose a second banned book to post about.
The contest will run from Sunday, September 26-Saturday, October 2. Everyone who participates during this time frame will be entered in a drawing to win one of three $25 Amazon gift cards. A $45 Amazon gift card also will be awarded for the best overall post. Select submissions will be shared across our social media platforms.
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