Tue, 04 Jan 2011
The printing press and the internet.
A chapter in "Radical Enlightenment" by Jonathan Israel reminded me of the unfolding story of censorship of the internet in China. The chapter, "Censorship and Culture", recounts the efforts by religious and secular authorities in Europe to suppress erotica, philosophy challenging religion, and undesirable political opinions during the years 1650 to 1750.
The problem for the churches and governments was the printing press and transportation. Books were printed in many different locations, often surreptitiously, and smuggled across borders. Similar, it strikes me, to the difficulty faced by the Chinese government to control, not just a Google, but hundreds of millions of individual citizens.
Of course, there is no reason to think culture will evolve in China as it did in Europe, but it is interesting to think that the freedom to form ones own opinions and to say, even publish, what one opines was not always a western value. Even enlightened opinion felt the state should defend morals and religion. Intellectual freedom and freedom of the press were radical ideas in Europe during the century. Suppression of the atheists seemed as acceptable to most seventeenth century Europeans as the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo does to the Chinese today.
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