Writing in a State of Siege (Magill's Literary Annual 1984)
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” One suspects that Jefferson would have extended his comments to include books as well, preferring the free exchange of ideas to any attempts to suppress the truth. The roots of this idealistic belief go back in Western civilization to Greek society. The nineteenth century English philosopher John Stuart Mill may have expressed this optimistic dictum best when he declared in On Liberty that if intelligent men are allowed to consider differing opinions without being inhibited in their search for truth, they will ultimately discover what is right and will be able to act in accordance with their discovery.
Such confidence in man’s ability to think for himself has met with constant opposition from those who have adopted what they consider a more pragmatic view of the average person’s ability to apprehend the truth amid a confusing jumble of falsehoods and divergent opinions. The pragmatists can easily be divided into two camps: those who believe that average men can never be so intelligent as to be able to perceive the truth without much help and those who believe that the general populace may be able to reach that level of sophistication some day—but not yet. An apt spokesman for the first of these dissenters is Matthew Arnold, who...
(The entire section is 2438 words.)
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