Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/77

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

Condillac, Helvetius, and others. In the present century all force has ceased, though certain advances in science have awakened opposition—for instance, the teaching of geology that the world had existed for millions of years, and had taken its shape under natural laws. This was thought to be against the Bible; so, too, vaccination and anæsthetics and other new things have been opposed with unnecessary haste and heat, as devices to defeat God's will. But to-day science and philosophy are free in many lands, while the narrow and restrictive policy which still obtains in others is gradually yielding.

Freedom of political thought is largely increased, though despotism and obstructive social systems have been much in the way; but, as the civil despotisms have changed into constitutional governments, there has been a steady increase of freedom.

Freedom of publication has likewise increased. In the middle ages nothing was allowed to be published that was against the opinions of the ruling powers in church or in state, nothing in theology, philosophy, science, or literature; though of course this tyranny was by no means complete, and very many were the attacks on received opinions. Still, as a rule, the press was enslaved. Despotic governments in church or state have not allowed a free press, except in instances of a mild sovereign or upon matters foreign to any interest of the rulers. The general policy has been to forbid all utterance that in any way is subversive of the authority or influence of government. We have heard much of regulation of the press, in political matters, which means despotic interference with it; the governments have been afraid of it; the upper classes in church, state, society, and industrial enterprise, have been afraid of it; it is rather the mouthpiece of truth and of justice for the people; wherefore "the complete proper liberty of the press is the conquest of a high civilization."

In France the Revolution witnessed the freedom, even the license, of the press. Bonaparte followed. He feared and hated free thought, and was, in some directions, its persistent opponent and oppressor; he exerted the immense power which he possessed to trammel the press; he cherished a mean jealousy of every kind of intellectual superiority which he could not enslave.

In Austria, Spain, and Italy, under their despotic governments, influenced more or less by the priests, a strict censorship has been exercised over all thought interfering with civil or with ecclesiastical despotism. Yet, since the civil absolutism has decreased, the liberty of the press has increased, until now, in Italy at least, it is complete.

The English-speaking lands have a free press; so, I believe, have the Spanish republics of America, and the same is true of Germany, Holland, and Belgium, and to a less extent of Scandinavian countries. In all these lands the principle has largely prevailed that writing and publishing are in themselves indifferent matters to government.

Such is a review of the progress of liberty of thought, especially