Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

“In the belief that without strict limitation to the observation of facts and the calculation of probabilities the cognitive mind would be overreceptive to charlatanism and superstition, that system is preparing arid ground for the greedy acceptance of charlatanism and superstition. Just as prohibition has always ensured the admission of the poisonous product, the blocking of the theoretical imagination has paved the way for political delusion. Even when people have not already succumbed to such delusion, they are deprived by the mechanisms of censorship, both the external ones and those implanted within them, of the means of resisting it.”

– Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer, Dialectic Of Enlightenment. 1944/1947. Translated by  Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002. 

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“Charge of Complicity In Breaking ‘Padlock’,” Ottawa Citizen. July 25, 1938. Page 03.

Two Men Who Tried to Wire Constables Inside Their Own Car Escape But Man Who Helped Them Charged With ‘Complicity After the Fact.’

Canadian Press.
QUEBEC, July 25. – F. X. Lessard, self-styled ‘only living Communist to break open a Duplessis padlock for Communists.’ remained in the cells today while friends considered means of raising bail of $1,200 set Saturday by Judge Hugues Fortier when the 40-yer-old carpenter appeared before him on a charge of ‘willfully breaking a provincial law.’

Behind bars also was Henri Beaulieu, the man police charged with ‘complicity after the fact’ in the escape of two men who tried to imprison guards in their automobile Friday while Lessard entered the home authorities padlocked two days before because of the carpenters alleged Communistic activities.

When police went to the six-room Lessard dwelling last Tuesday to advise the family the flat would be locked up for a year under the special law aimed at halting the spread of Communism, it was the authorities’ third visit to homes occupied by the carpenter. Twice before they had seized literature from Lessard’s dwellings.

Away at work when police told Mrs. Lessard the family would have to evacuate the premises ‘within 24 hours,’ the carpenter again was absent when two detectives arrived the following day to execute the withdrawal order. His blue-eyed, middle aged wife and two children were marched from their home singing the ‘Internationale’ and the ‘Young Guard’ after refusing to remove their furniture. 

Two policemen immediately were detailed to guard the abandoned flat, located in to the top of a tall building below steep St. Sauveur cliff.

Curious lookers-on frequently engaged the two guarding officers in casual conversation and the police saw nothing to arouse their suspicions when two men approached their parked car Friday ostensibly for a chat.

But the officers were startled suddenly to notice their ‘callers’ slyly were binding the car’s doors with strong wire and when the guards attempted to seize the men the pair fled – just as Lessard walked along the sidewalk, pulled open a street door, and ran up three flights of stairs to his former home.

Drawing revolvers, the policemen followed and on reaching the top of the stairs they found the ‘padlocks’ (official seals of Quebec province) had been smashed. Lessard, calmly walking about the kitchen, made no resistance to arrest.

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Police, censorship and public opinion

Whilst the types of routine police work described so far were bound to increase in
step with population growth and the more complex demands of a relatively
prosperous capital city, the police master also acquired additional responsibilities as a
direct result of political changes. Until 1770, all pre-publication censorship had been
the explicit responsibility of the professors of the University of Copenhagen, but
during the brief dominance of Struensee (1770–1772) freedom of the press was at
first proclaimed unconditionally, then (1771) slightly qualified to ensure that author
and publisher could each be held responsible by the Copenhagen police master for
matters that might be libellous or against the law. All publications henceforth had to
carry the name both of the author and publisher, and failure to name the author meant
that the publisher carried full liability in case of prosecution. Surprisingly, this quite
generous statement of freedom from censorship was not rescinded after the
precipitous fall of Struensee and the collapse of his power structure in January 1772,
but in practice a reaction set in quite quickly. The prosecution and conviction (March
1773) of Christian Thura, for his politically subversive but unsophisticated journal Den
patriotiske Sandsiger
, probably convinced the now very conservative government that
further action was required. On 20 October 1773 the Copenhagen police master was
given the additional remit of ensuring that no newspaper or journal carried material
regarding the state and its government, or anything deemed to constitute subversive
rumour or false information. In effect, he was now expected not merely to enforce
the censorship-decisions of others (as had been the case since 1701), but also to make
his own judgements on the nature and content of a not very clearly defined range of
printed material, with particular emphasis on the expanding range of journals and

Predictably, there is not much documentation regarding actual police practice in
the wake of these changes. The overthrow of the Struensee government had in itself
been greeted with popular enthusiasm in Copenhagen, and it is likely that many
writers (noting the fate of Thura, and probably themselves tending to be in tune with
the prevailing hostility to radical or foreign influences) resorted to self-censorship. As
late as April 1785, a whole year after the palace coup which secured power in the
hands of a more liberal ministerial team under the regency of the crown prince, the
police master was still being instructed to remain vigilant: the fact that he was
expected to call a meeting of all printers in Copenhagen, and to explain to them that
they would be prosecuted if they printed material which might be deemed improper
(including songs and cartoons), also indicates how relatively easily the government
could pressurise those whose livelihood depended on the print trade. This may have
been sufficient to keep journalists and pamphleteers at bay for the time being, and
during the 1780s only a handful of fairly minor prosecutions appear to have been
undertaken by the police master.

In 1790, with fears of the French Revolution spreading, the crown once more
became anxious about the possible impact of subversive texts. It was goaded into
action partly by some very ephemeral satires, partly by the slightly more substantial
Julemærker fra Landet og Byen, whose author, Niels Ditlev Riegels, amongst other things
used French precedents to argue for the creation of a representative assembly. His
publication appeared anonymously, in breach of the 1771 and 1773 decrees, so the
printer was landed with a substantial fine imposed after a hearing in the police court.

But procedures were now changed, and a decree of December 1790, whilst re-stating
the principle of freedom of the press, indicated that those accused of publishing
libellous or seditious tracts would henceforth be prosecuted through the normal lawcourts.
The office of the police master, deprived of final authority in such matters,
seems to have been given powers akin to those of a public prosecutor: he was made
responsible for notifying central government (Danske Kancelli) of all printing abuses
and transgressions, and all publishers were required to send him a copy of any
publication which did not also carry the name of the author.

The police master was directly involved in drafting the 1790 decree, so one is
entitled to assume that it might at least in part constitute a practical response to the
changing domestic and international context. Yet the preamble offered no precise
explanation of what had caused concern, beyond some vague assertions that a few
irresponsible writers were abusing current legislation and were prepared to put the
moral and political consensus at risk. Over the next few years, as the international
context worsened and the crown prince himself became the target of critics, a
polarization in public debate was probably inevitable. In 1794 (following industrial
action taken by the carpenters in Copenhagen, quickly repressed by military force)
serious charges were brought against several writers, including Heiberg and Malthe
Bruun, the latter accused of fuelling the strikes through his journal Vækkeren. Whether
the government was right, in general, in fearing the impact of subversive publications
is highly questionable; in this particular case, within the capital at least, opinion was
divided, and the government would have found little comfort in the public support
Bruun was given over the resulting fine. These high-profile cases helped to ensure
sustained public discussion of the importance of free speech for most of the 1790s,
and it is significant that the final retrenchment did not come until 1799, when a much
more restrictive press law was finally imposed. By then the police had in effect
become part of a fairly complex machinery, within which they had only limited
discretion. Significantly, when the police master was again consulted during the
drafting of the 1799 legislation, he expressed concern about his widened but not very
clearly defined responsibilities.

Already in 1795, the most influential Copenhagen literary journal, the
Kiøbenhavnske lærde Efterretninger, had summed up the key issues very neatly when it
reviewed the published accounts of the trials of four writers prosecuted under this
system: it noted that ‘posterity…will see that, in Denmark at the end of the
eighteenth century, one well-known writer was found guilty of having spoken the
truth about a foreigner, another was convicted for carelessness, imprecision and lack
of caution, and a third was, without due process or judgement, cast into prison for
attempting to ridicule, in print, dogmas which seemed ridiculous to him; posterity
will at the same time perhaps read the testimony both of our own writers, and those
from abroad … praising the glorious security and protection afforded for human
rights in the states of the king of the Danes – and they will be puzzled!’. Such an
explicit remark in a respected journal would have been unthinkable ten years earlier:
public opinion had evidently come some way out of the shadows of the absolutist
state. Equally clearly, neither the government nor the police master had worked out
how to manage press freedom in a way compatible both with the perceived security of
the state and with the expectations of the more free-thinking Copenhagen
intellectuals. The city clearly did have a lively ‘public sphere’ of a kind recognizable

to 20th-century theorists such as Habermas, but the extent to which independent
debate could manifest itself in print had not yet been clarified with sufficient
consistency for even the leading protagonists to be able to speak without fear. In this
respect Denmark was no different from the rest of contemporary Europe; but given
that it had experimented with the abolition of censorship already from 1770, and had
had what seemed a relatively liberal and enlightened government since 1784, it is
likely that the lack of precision about the permissible boundaries of acceptable
published opinion may in itself have represented something of a tacit consensus
amongst those in power. Modifying a strongly absolutist regime into something more
open to debate, more committed to active public consensus, was not a simple task.” 

–  Thomas Munck, “’Keeping the Peace’: ‘Good police’ and civic order in 18th-century Copenhagen.” Scandinavian Journal of History, Vol. 32, No. 1. March 2007, pp. 46-49 

Art is Christian August Lorentzen,

Frederiksholm Canal in Copenhagen. Oil on canvas, 1794.

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“Helen Hayes Helps Save The American Theatre from Censorship,” LIFE. May 31, 1937. Pages 17 to 21.

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