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Quotations about Censorship,
Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press,
Banned Books & Burned Books,
Political Correctness, etc.


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We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. ~John Stuart Mill, "Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion," On Liberty, 1859


The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion, incapable, that is, of doing an honest or intelligent job, and thus guarantees a steady intellectual decline...~Henry Steele Commager, "Free Enterprise in Ideas," Freedom, Loyalty, Dissent, 1954  [This essay was originally published in The Saturday Review, but I'm not sure if it was 1947 or 1952. —tg]


In a free society a citizen has the power to choose, and bears responsibility for the choices he makes. Censorship laws deprive us of choice and responsibility. They diminish us, and they diminish our society. ~Howard Moody, "Toward a New Definition of Obscenity," 1965


But if the First Amendment means anything, it means that a man cannot be sent to prison merely for distributing publications which offend a judge's esthetic sensibilities, mine or any other's. Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression they put their faith, for better or for worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from the interference of a policeman's intrusive thumb or a judge's heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance. A book worthless to me may convey something of value to my neighbor. In the free society to which our Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself. ~United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, Ginzburg v. United States, dissenting opinion, 1966


In general, we have as natural a right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk, and hazard. I know many books which have bored their readers, but I know of none which has done real evil. ~Voltaire, 1764


Damn the expurgated books! I say damn 'em! The dirtiest book in all the world is the expurgated book. ~Walt Whitman, 1888


Think for yourselves, and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too. ~Voltaire (1694–1778), "On Toleration"


I am thankful for all the complaining I hear about our government because it means we have freedom of speech. ~Nancie J. Carmody, "I Am Thankful For…," in Family Circle magazine, 1999


If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. ~John Stuart Mill, "Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion," On Liberty, 1859


But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the exiting generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error. ~John Stuart Mill, "Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion," On Liberty, 1859


      Is learning safe? That is a question we often hear nowadays, and there are some Americans who have concluded in the negative. Our schools and colleges are accused of subversive activities, textbooks are banned, teachers are suspected for what they do and say not merely as individual citizens but as members of their profession. If a little learning is dangerous, a lot of learning is much more dangerous. It will destroy our faith and make us traitors to our country.
      I believe that the people who talk this way prove better than any evidence I have offered here that Alexander Pope was right. Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education. ~A. Whitney Griswold, "A Little Learning," Essays on Education, 1954


To kill words with fear,
It's a dreadful thing.
      —Don't.
~Terri Guillemets, "Censorship," 2018, blackout poetry created from Charles Dickens, "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain," 1848


Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. ~A. J. Liebling, in The New Yorker, 1960


Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it, he does not hurt or controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know. This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech; a Thing terrible to Publick Traytors. ~Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin), 1722


I wonder how many Americans are aware how deep the issue of book burning goes. This is a time when great passions are loose in the world... You don't have to like a book in order to let it stand on the shelves. When you burn books, however wrong and bad they may be, you are doing an indignity to every book... The crime of book purging is that it involves a rejection of the word. For the word is never absolute truth, but only man's frail and human effort to approach the truth. To reject the word is to reject the human search. ~Max Lerner, 1953


Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them. ~Mark Twain


What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burnt me; nowadays they are content with burning my books. ~Sigmund Freud, 1933


That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well. ~Heinrich Heine, 1821


The history of persecution is a history of endeavours to cheat nature, to make water run up hill, to twist a rope of sand. It makes no difference whether the actors be many or one, a tyrant or a mob. A mob is a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason, and traversing its work. The mob is man voluntarily descending to the nature of the beast... Its actions are insane, like its whole constitution. It persecutes a principle; it would whip a right; it would tar-and-feather justice, by inflicting fire and outrage upon the houses and persons of those who have these... The martyr cannot be dishonoured. Every lash inflicted is a tongue of fame; every prison a more illustrious abode; every burned book or house enlightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side. The minds of men are at last aroused; reason looks out and justifies her own, and malice finds all her work vain. It is the whipper who is whipped, and the tyrant who is undone. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Compensation," 1841


The paper burns, but the words fly away. ~Akiba ben Joseph (40–c.135 CE), as quoted in Yuva Bharati, 1970s


Did you ever hear anyone say, "That book had better be banned because I might read it and it might be very damaging to me?" ~Joseph Henry Jackson, 1953


Now appears a band of wasp-like censors to put the finishing touches on a literature and an art that has struggled all too feebly as it is. ~Theodore Dreiser, "Life, Art and America," 1917


A really pure mind does not know enough about dirt to venture at scrubbing other minds. ~Henry Stanley Haskins, "The Ancient Virtues," Meditations in Wall Street, 1940


If you don't have this freedom of the press, then all these little fellows are weaseling around and doing their monkey business and they never get caught. ~Judge Harold R. Medina, c.1978


The best Princes have ever encouraged and promoted Freedom of Speech; they know that upright Measures would defend themselves, and that all upright Men would defend them. ~Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin), 1722


Assassination is the extreme form of censorship... ~Bernard Shaw, 1910 July 14th Preface to The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, a 1909 play, "The Rejected Statement: Part I," published 1911  [Bookmans Entertainment Exchange, an Arizona used bookstore chain established 1976, has a bookmark and merchandise: 'Censorship — The Assassination of an Idea ™' —tεᖇᖇ¡·g, 2005]


To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves. ~Claude-Adrien Helvétius


Censorship offends me. ~Author unknown


In 1946 the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution reading in part, "freedom of information is a fundamental human right, and the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated." This is our touchstone as well. This is the code of the Voice of America. We welcome the view of others. We seek a free flow of information across national boundaries and oceans, across iron curtains and stone walls. We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people. ~John F. Kennedy, 1962


Clutch some hope from fear — read banned books. ~Terri Guillemets


It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that." As if that gives them certain rights. It's simply a whine, just no more than a whine. "I find that offensive": it has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ~Stephen Fry


Imagine a world in which we are all enlightened by objective truths rather than offended by them. ~Neil deGrasse Tyson, @neiltyson, tweet, 2014


[T]he German censorship forbade or mutilated my every book, which was like sticking pins into my soul... ~Israel Zangwill, Dreamers of the Ghetto, "From a Mattress Grave," 1897  [character Heinrich Heine speaking —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


The worst part of censorship is XXX  XXXXXX  XX  XXXXXXX. ~Bumper sticker


What's in the raging flame
of banned books burning?
Knowledge, truth, learning;
courage, freedom, yearning.
~Terri Guillemets


Freedom of Speech is ever the Symptom, as well as the Effect of a good Government. ~Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin), 1722


God forbid that any book should be banned. The practice is as indefensible as infanticide. ~Rebecca West, "The Tosh Horse," 1922


They try to burn the Devil out from books, but Angels of knowledge resist the flames of fear. ~Terri Guillemets


But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn't anger me. ~Mark Twain, letter to Harriet E. Whitmore, 1907


I mean, if we don't believe in free expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. ~Noam Chomsky, 1992


I offer you my sincere apology for mutilating your brave and admirable work. In publishing it in English, I have omitted certain portions, much against my inclination. Perhaps you, who live in a land that enjoys a greater freedom of the press than we know in the United States, will wonder why I was forced to do this. Let me, then, explain to you that the men whose ugly souls your Célestine does not hesitate to lay bare are types, to a greater or less extent, of most of the men whom we place in our halls of legislation to make our laws, in our halls of administration to execute them, and in our halls of so-called justice to interpret and enforce them, and that among the laws which they have made are some, aimed ostensibly at the suppression of obscene literature, that are really intended to protect from exposure their own obscene lives and those of others of their ilk, and to protect from attack the social evils and political institutions upon which they thrive. These lawless law-givers hope, by obscuring the sufficiently sharp line that divides the vulgar appeal to eroticism from the earnest narrative of the honest thinker and the truthful picture of the conscientious artist, to brand both with the same condemnation, and thus secure immunity for those who, by all the various forms of exploitation, deal, as Célestine bluntly says, in human meat. This is why it is unsafe to publish in the English language those portions of her diary which I have omitted. But, if, as I hope and believe, the portions that are here printed shall do something to change the public opinion that sanctions the claim of these law-givers to legislative power, I am sure that you will excuse a liberty which under other circumstances would be an inexcusable act of vandalism. ~Benjamin R. Tucker, To Monsieur Octave Mirbeau, translator's preface to A Chambermaid's Diary, 1900


The greatest obscenity is man's inhumanity to man. ~Howard Moody


Don't burn books — let them set young minds on fire. ~Terri Guillemets


Books are written by martyr-men, not for rich men alone but for all men. If we consider it, every human being has, by the nature of the case, a right to hear what other wise human beings have spoken to him. It is one of the Rights of Men; a very cruel injustice if you deny it to a man! ~Thomas Carlyle, letter to John Sterling, 1840


Let us be thankful that there is no court by which we can be excluded from our share in the inheritance of the great poets of all ages and countries, to which our simple humanity entitles us... ~James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), "Nationality in Literature"


Let knowledge live. Burn your fears instead. ~Terri Guillemets


Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly. ~Albert Einstein, on the controversy surrounding Bertrand Russell's appointment to the faculty of the City University of New York, quoted in The New York Times, 1940  [According to Alice Calaprice in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, "Some conservative religious and so-called patriotic New Yorkers regarded Russell as a propagandist against religion and morality and brought legal suit against his appointment. His teaching contract was rescinded." —tεᖇᖇ¡·g]


Books light the world — to burn them extinguishes the flame. ~Terri Guillemets


What the book could never have done for itself, or for its author, persecution did for them both. 'On the Mind' became not the success of a season, but one of the most famous books of the century. The men who had hated it, and had not particularly loved Helvétius, flocked round him now. Voltaire forgave him all injuries, intentional or unintentional. 'What a fuss about an omelette!' he had exclaimed when he heard of the burning. How abominably unjust to persecute a man for such an airy trifle as that! 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,' was his attitude now. ~S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall), "Helvétius: The Contradiction," The Friends of Voltaire, 1906


Books that get burned are written by authors whose souls are on fire with passion or knowledge. ~Terri Guillemets


The populist authoritarianism that is the downside of political correctness means that anyone, sometimes it seems like everyone, can proclaim their grief and have it acknowledged. The victim culture, every sufferer grasping for their own Holocaust, ensures that anyone who feels offended can call for moderation, for dilution, and in the end, as is all too often the case, for censorship. And censorship, that by-product of fear — stemming as it does not from some positive agenda, but from the desire to escape our own terrors and superstitions by imposing them on others — must surely be resisted. ~Jonathon Green, "Did You Say 'Offensive?,'" wordwizard.com, late 1990s


To burn one book is to burn the entire library. ~Terri Guillemets



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