Censorship 9 Essay, Research Paper
Censorship is, and has always has been, a very important issue in America. Bradley Steffens’ book Censorship discusses the history and many of the issues that pertain to censorship. In the introduction, Steffens establishes that the power of words is often used to influence and shape the lives of people and events. He cites many of history’s most important people who have made a lasting and inspiring mark on our society. He then goes on to show how words can be used to destroy lives and used in propaganda, promoting hatred and fear. This is the beginning to understanding some of the main issues behind censorship. Should people be able to say what they want, or should the government be able to take that freedom away for it’s safety?
The first chapter outlines the history of censorship throughout the world, and tells why it has become such an issue in today’s society. He starts as early as Biblical times and moves through Ancient Greece, the Inquisition, the start of the press and censorship in Britain. This leads to the British rule in America and eventually to the Revolution, which happened partly because of British censorship. The next five chapters basically outline different issues today involving censorship, whether it is constitutional, when it is constitutional, and what constitutes as legal censorship. Steffens talks about time, place and manner, incitement, fighting words, obscenity, and other issues. Many court cases are cited in each chapter in order to show the real controversy. At the end of the book, numerous censorship related organizations are listed with contact information, and a comprehensive Works Cited section, with suggestions for further reading.
Steffens does a wonderful job of showing all the sides of the issue. As early as the introduction, he show how words can be used by different people for different purposes. For example, the way and purpose Shakespeare and Jefferson used words differed greatly from the way, and for what reason, Hitler used them. This is the inherent problem with freedom of speech. Should people like Hitler be censored in today’s society, or be guaranteed the freedom of speech under the First Amendment. He also goes quite deep into the complexities of each case and instance he mentions, examining every part and every angle to the law and ruling in question.
Steffens also gives much needed factual information to support what he is trying to say. In each chapter, and every section of each chapter he addresses and issue and supports it with at least one good example. For example, in the fourth chapter titled “Incitement,” he discusses the issue of inciting a crowed to break the law in some way. In this chapter he mentions the historic case of Schenck v. United States, and explains that Charles Schenck distributed leaflets to thousands of young men, urging them not to join the army, and to resist the draft. Because of this he was arrested under the Criminal Espionage Act.
This book was not written to sway people’s opinion on the issue of censorship. It seems to be more intended to educate people about censorship and what it’s history has been like and what it’s current problems are today. The only problem with the book is that it is written at a very low level. Most people much younger could read this book with no problem. He has to define every hard word he uses which limits the way he can properly convey the subject. Censorship is a complex issue because it involves many different angles and many different cases and circumstances. The same ruling may not apply to picketers outside an abortion clinic to a highschool newspaper. Lawmakers, and ultimately the Supreme Court, have to rule according to what it right according to the situation. Unfortunately what is right for them and who is lobbying them may not be right for much of the rest of the United States. Depending on who is sitting as a Justice on the Supreme court, freedoms can given and taken away. Also, with new mediums through which people can convey ideas, new cases of censorship can arise. Violence on TV is a prime example of this. Many people have become increasingly anxious about what this kind of violence is doing to their children. Some people push for the government to do something about this, others say that it is up to the parent to decide. Where ever this argument leads there will always be disagreement. This is the inherent problem with censorship. People want to be free to do what they want and do not want people telling them what they can and can not say. Unfortunately, one way the government thinks it can control and protect the public is through censorship. If the public does something to threaten the government, they react often by censorship. One of the more important points he discusses is the paradox of liberty. In order to secure individual rights is to establish government, but the only way to establish law and government, is to give up some of those liberties. As better put by Justice Frankfurter “Freedom of expression is the well-spring of our civilization–the cvicilization we seek to protect and maintain and further by recognizing the right of Congress to put some limitation upon expression. Such are the paradoxes of life.”