During the height of the English civil war between the royalists (defending Charles I) and the Parliamentarians, one amazing poet – John Milton – wrote a polemical tract called Areopagitica. This prose is today considered to be historically one of the most influential and impassioned philosophical defenses of freedom. It truly is a well-reasoned and compelling read – and became a cornerstone of modern thought having influenced people like Thomas Jefferson (and many of the founders of the United States).
John Milton’s name is enshrined in the ceiling of the Library of congress.Milton used religious and classical references to strengthen his argument for establishing a “market place for ideas”. He complimented Britain’s revolutionaries for overcoming the tyranny of the then King Charles I; but then starts off by declaring that constructive criticism is far better than false flattery. He argues that the representatives of the people must be advocates for, and voices of reason and use their best judgment in carrying out their duties.He argues against licensing and censorship. And that to limit free expression prior to publication would have a chilling effect on expression and speech and the pursuit of truth. Here are some quotes from his writing (note he uses religious concepts to defend free speech):
– [A]s good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were in the eye.
– Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties. – [T]hough all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play on the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?
– Truth indeed came once into the world with her divine Master, and was a perfect shape most glorious to look on: but when he ascended, and his Apostles after him were laid asleep, then straight arose a wicked race of deceivers, who, as that story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspirators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since, the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb, still as they could find them. We have not yet found them all, Lords and Commons, nor ever shall do, till her Master’s second coming […]
– A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life. (This is enshrined above the entrance to the New York Public Library)
Areopagitica has also been cited in numerous Supreme Court opinions involving freedom of speech – as if it was part of the U.S. constitution.Ironically, Iran’s Mullahs have tended to be protectorates of enterprise and often enjoy the support of Iran’s Bazaari class. The Mullahs and their families too enjoy going to Dubai and having 50 varieties of clothing or toothpaste to choose from when shopping, yet they refuse to allow for a market place of ideas – as if the two notions were disconnected. Yet ideas are no different to products. Ideas are developed, produced and consumed – just like products. Without freedom of expression and speech – there is inevitably also a restriction on enterprise and therefore economic activity. You cannot have one without the other.
True prosperity requires freedom and liberty.Free will and choice are fundamental concepts of economic activity and the free enterprise system. New technologies (i.e. new ideas) emerge e.g. iPhones, iPads etc. and supplant old technologies (i.e. ideas). Apple is the world’s most valuable enterprise, simply because it ‘freely’ developed the best ideas in the market place. Consumers get to choose winners and losers – and they must have chosen wisely (one has to assume). Why can’t these marketplace concepts resonate with the Mullahs? Also ironically, they seek freedom to pursue nuclear enrichment and advance Iranian technology and capability – yet simultaneously restrict freedom and expression domestically. The two ideas do not reconcile with one another.
Unless, of course, it’s all about “power” and nothing else. Their religious beliefs are false. Their reasoning and rationales are false. All their premises are false. Their ideas suck. They are fundamentally insecure and seek power and only power. They want to monopolize everything. They are sore losers, and won’t compete. If they truly believed they had the right ideas, they would never be afraid of dissent or the people’s free will to choose the right ideas – just like the people are free to buy whichever brand of bread that they want.
If you believe in the concept and supremacy of free markets – then you must also support a free marketplace for ideas.