Milton's Areopagitica is one of the great classical defenses of free speech. It is also, more narrowly, a defense of unlicensed printing. This means that it specifically argues that a printer should not require the government's permission to produce texts, which would amount to official censorship of the material in question.
Milton begins by pointing out that no system of licensing prevailed in classical Greece or Rome. Even when Rome became Christian, the books of those who were condemned as heretics were only burned after publication, when they had been "examined, refuted, and condemned in the general Councils." Milton says that the system of licensing is a Catholic innovation, instituted by the Spanish Inquisition and since embraced enthusiastically by tyrannical Popes. This, of course, was an argument likely to carry weight with a Protestant parliament.
Milton then discusses the uses of reading. He says that
Moses, Daniel, and Paul, who were skillful in all the learning of the...
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