- Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Social Contract…
The struggle of reason against authority has ended in what appears now to be a decisive and permanent victory for liberty. In the most civilized and progressive countries, freedom of discussion is recognized as a fundamental principle. In fact, we may say it is accepted as a test of enlightenment, and the man in the street is forward in acknowledging that countries like Russia and Spain, where opinion is more or less fettered, must on that account be considered less civilized than their neighbours. All intellectual people who count take it for granted that there is no subject in heaven or earth which ought not to be investigated without any deference or reference to theological assumptions. No man of science has any fear of publishing his researches, whatever consequences they may involve for current beliefs. Criticism of religious doctrines and of political and social institutions is free. Hopeful people may feel confident that the victory is permanent; that intellectual freedom is now assured to mankind as a possession for ever; that the future will see the collapse of those forces which still work against it and its gradual diffusion in the more backward parts of the earth. Yet history may suggest that this prospect is not assured. Can we be certain that there may not come a great set-back? For freedom of discussion and speculation was, as we saw, fully realized in the Greek and Roman world, and then an unforeseen force, in the shape of Christianity, came in and laid chains upon the human mind and suppressed freedom and imposed upon man a weary struggle to recover the freedom which he had lost. Is it not conceivable that something of the same kind may occur again? that some new force, emerging from the unknown, may surprise the world and cause a similar set-back?
The Freedom of College | Intro to Political Theory Blog
Of course, the present administration of the common law in regard to blasphemy does not endanger the liberty of those unbelievers who have the capacity for contributing to progress. But it violates the supreme principle of liberty of opinion and discussion. It hinders uneducated people from saying in the only ways in which they know how to say it, what those who have been brought up differently say, with impunity, far more effectively and far more insidiously. Some of the men who have been imprisoned during the last two years, only uttered in language of deplorable taste views that are expressed more or less politely in books which are in the library of a bishop unless he is a very ignorant person, and against which the law, if it has any validity, ought to have been enforced. Thus the law, as now administered, simply penalizes bad taste and places disabilities upon uneducated freethinkers. If their words offend their audience so far as to cause a disturbance, they should be prosecuted for a breach of public order,  not because their words are blasphemous. A man who robs or injures a church, or even an episcopal palace, is not prosecuted for sacrilege, but for larceny or malicious damage or something of the kind.
Such is the drift of Mill’s main argument. The present writer would prefer to state the justification of freedom of opinion in a somewhat different form, though in accordance with Mill’s reasoning. The progress of civilization, if it is partly conditioned by circumstances beyond man’s control, depends more, and in an increasing measure, on things which are within his own power. Prominent among these are the advancement of knowledge and the deliberate adaptation of his habits and institutions to new conditions. To advance knowledge and to correct errors, unrestricted freedom of discussion is required. History shows that knowledge grew when speculation was perfectly free in Greece, and that in modern times, since restrictions on inquiry have been entirely removed, it has advanced with a velocity which would seem diabolical to the slaves of the mediaeval Church. Then, it is obvious that in order to readjust social customs, institutions, and methods to new needs and circumstances, there must be unlimited freedom of canvassing and criticizing them, of expressing the most unpopular opinions, no matter how offensive to prevailing sentiment they may be. If the history of civilization has any lesson to teach it is this: there is one supreme condition of mental and moral progress which it is completely within the power of man himself to secure, and that is perfect liberty of thought and discussion. The establishment of this liberty may be considered the most valuable achievement of modern civilization, and as a condition of social progress it should be deemed fundamental. The considerations of permanent utility on which it rests must outweigh any calculations of present advantage which from time to time might be thought to demand its violation.
Three Centuries of the Lockean-Rousseauean Debate - …
The new States which Napoleon set up in Italy exhibited toleration in various degrees, but real liberty was first introduced in Piedmont by Cavour (1848), a measure which prepared the way for the full liberty which was one of the first-fruits of the foundation of the Italian kingdom in 1870. The union of Italy, with all that it meant, is the most signal and dramatic act in the triumph of the ideas of the modern State over the traditional principles of the Christian Church. Rome, which preserved those principles most faithfully, has offered a steadfast, we may say a heroic, resistance to the liberal ideas which swept Europe in the nineteenth century. The guides of her policy grasped thoroughly the danger which liberal thought meant for an institution which, founded in a remote past, claimed to be unchangeable and never out of date. Gregory XVI issued a solemn protest maintaining authority against freedom, the mediaeval against the modern ideal, in an Encyclical Letter (1832), which was intended as a rebuke to some young French Catholics (Lamennais and his friends) who had conceived the promising idea of transforming the Church by the Liberal spirit of the day. The Pope denounces “the absurd and erroneous maxim, or rather insanity, that liberty of conscience should be procured and guaranteed to every one. The path to this pernicious error is prepared by that full and unlimited liberty of thought which is spread abroad to the misfortune of Church and State and which certain persons, with excessive impudence, venture to represent as an advantage for religion. Hence comes the corruption of youth, contempt for religion and for the most venerable laws, and a general mental change in the world—in short the most deadly scourge of society; since the experience of history has shown that the States which have shone by their wealth and power and glory have perished just by this evil— immoderate freedom of opinion, licence of conversation, and love of novelties. With this is connected the liberty of publishing any writing of any kind. This is a deadly and execrable liberty for which we cannot feel sufficient horror, though some men dare to acclaim it noisily and enthusiastically.” A generation later Pius IX was to astonish the world by a similar manifesto—his Syllabus of Modern Errors (1864). Yet, notwithstanding the fundamental antagonism between the principles of the Church and the drift of modern civilization, the Papacy survives, powerful and respected, in a world where the ideas which it condemned have become the commonplace conditions of life.
Enlightenment (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The policy and principles of Frederick were formulated in the Prussian Territorial Code of 1794, by which unrestricted liberty of conscience was guaranteed, and the three chief religions, the Lutheran, the Reformed, and the Catholic, were placed on the same footing and enjoyed the same privileges. The system is “jurisdictional”; only, three Churches here occupy the position which the Anglican Church alone occupies in England. The rest of Germany did not begin to move in the direction pointed out by Prussia until, by one of the last acts of the Holy Roman Empire (1803), the Westphalian settlement had been modified. Before the foundation of the new Empire (1870), freedom was established throughout Germany.