In today’s Western society we may not pay much attention to censorship in the course of our daily routine, but it is a practice that has been exercised countless times ever since humanity’s existence. The reasons for banning a book during these modern times are various and deal mostly with matters related to racism, inappropriate sexual content, violence, political bias, and so on. But when did the act of banning books start? And why were books banned and still are being banned?
The first real systematic banning of books was carried out by the Catholic Church in its early years. Books that contained content judged to be heretical, blasphemous, profane, obscene, and impious were prohibited. The Church’s main concern was to avoid the “contamination” of faith and moral corruption. The Church had so much power and influence even during the first centuries of its existence that it was able to manipulate the decisions of many emperors thorough the reign of the Roman Empire.
In 1559, Pope Paul IV created the first Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which means the “List of Prohibited Books” in English. This list of taboo books had gone through numerous revisions and the last edition was published in 1966. The first edition documented 126 titles written by 117 different authors, and more than 300 books recorded in the list were anonymously published.
Reading those lists today is a bit awkward. Throughout the centuries, distinguished individuals who were the foundations for modern literature and thought had their works banned (but fortunately not all works of each person were banned). Dante Alighieri, William of Ockham, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, Daniel Defoe, Gustave Flaubert, Victor Hugo, Immanuel Kant, Jean de La Fontaine, Karl Marx, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire are just a few of the great thinkers whose writings were prohibited. Over time, the power of the Church declined, so the books that were deemed inappropriate were made accessible once more.
In recent history (minus the exceptions of extreme regimes like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union), censorship has been more concerned with issues like morality, respect for the individual, religion, race, etc. And although a lot has changed in past 15-20 years, censorship will always be a topic for discussion. From one point of view, censorship is a good attempt to protect people and discourage the circulation of dangerous information and materials, but on the other hand, it is a barrier to the access of vital knowledge that can lead to enlightenment.
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