Plato (428-348 b.c.e.) was among the earliest proponents of censorship of the arts. His Laws (360 b.c.e.) argued for strict censorship of the literary and visual arts, particularly poetic metaphor, which he claimed interfered with achieving pure, conceptual truth.
Early Christianity took a similar position concerning mythology and art. The Roman Catholic church eventually uti-lized censorship to control philosophical, artistic, and religious truth generally. In 1521, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V issued the Edict of Worms, which prohibited the printing, dissemination, or reading of Martin Luther’s work. The Index librorum prohibitorum (1564), which was published by the Vatican, condemned specific books. The Index included such works as Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632); Galileo was subsequently prosecuted for heresy during the Inquisition.
The scope of governmental censorship in Europe changed with the separation of powers between the church and state. When church courts were abolished and religious beliefs and morés were no longer subject to government control, censorship laws focused on political speech and writing. Works criticizing government practices ran the risk of prosecution for seditious libel in England; in France, Napoleon censored newspapers, publications, theatrical productions, and even private correspondence at will.
Politically motivated censorship became common in countries with totalitarian governments, from communism to dictatorships. The Communist Manifesto (1848) of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was banned throughout Europe, yet subsequently communist leaders from Lenin to Mao Zedong to Fidel Castro routinely practiced political censorship. In the Soviet Union, political censorship targeted the arts when it imposed the doctrine of “socialist realism” in 1932. The following year in Germany, Adolf Hitler organized nationwide book burnings in the name of the National Socialist government. Soviet-bloc writers, artists, and scientists have been imprisoned, exiled, and have had their work confiscated, when it has been deemed ideologically impure. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested in 1945 for a pejorative remark about Joseph Stalin, spent eleven years in prison, and was finally exiled in 1974. In Muslim fundamentalist countries, religious censorship is the norm. For example, the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1989) prompted Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini to...
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