October 14, 2017

Karl Marx On Freedom of the Press

[As a privilege of particular individuals or a privilege of the human mind?]

From the standpoint of the idea, it is self-evident that freedom of the press has a justification quite different from that of censorship because it is itself an embodiment of the idea, an embodiment of freedom, a positive good, whereas censorship is an embodiment of unfreedom, the polemic of a world outlook of semblance against the world outlook of essence; it has a merely negative nature.

No! No! No! our speaker breaks in. I do not find fault with the semblance, but with the essence. Freedom is the wicked feature of freedom of the press. Freedom creates the possibility of evil. Therefore freedom is evil.

Evil freedom!

"He has stabbed her in the dark forest And sunk the body in the depths of the Rhine! [A]


"This time I must talk to you, Lord and master, hear me calmly!" [B]

But does not freedom of the press exist in the land of censorship? The press in general is a realisation of human freedom. Consequently, where is a press there is freedom of the press.

True, in the land of censorship the state has no freedom of the press, but one organ of the state has it, viz., the government. Apart from the fact that official government documents enjoy perfect freedom of the press, does not the censor exercise daily an unconditional freedom of the press, if not directly, then indirectly?

Writers are, as it were, his secretaries. When the secretary does not express the opinion of his chief, the latter strikes out the botch. Hence the censorship makes the press.

The censor's deletions are for the press what the straight lines — kus — of the Chinese are for their thought. The censor's kus are the categories of literature, and it is well known that the categories are the typical souls of the whole content.

Freedom is so much the essence of man that even its opponents implement it while combating its reality; they want to appropriate for, themselves as a most precious ornament what they have rejected as an ornament of human nature.

No man combats freedom; at most he combats the freedom of others. Hence every kind of freedom has always existed, only at one time as a special privilege, at another as a universal right.

The question has now for the first time been given a consistent meaning. It is not a question whether freedom of the press ought to exist, for it always exists. The question is whether freedom of the press is a privilege of particular individuals or whether it is a privilege of the human mind. The question is whether a right of one side ought to be a wrong for the other side. The question is whether "freedom of the mind" has more right than "freedom against the mind".

If, however, the "free press" and "freedom of the press" as the realisation of "universal freedom" are to be rejected, then this applies still more to censorship and the censored press as the realisation of a special freedom, for how can the species be good if the genus is bad? If the speaker were consistent he would have to reject not the free press, but the press as a whole. According to him, the press would only be good if it were not a product of freedom, i.e., not a human product. Hence in general only animals or gods would have the right to a press.

Or ought we perhaps — the speaker dare not say it outright — to suppose divine inspiration of the government and of the speaker himself?

If a private person boasts of divine inspiration, there is only one speaker in our society who can refute him officially, viz., the psychiatrist.

English history, however, has sufficiently well demonstrated how the assertion of divine inspiration from above gives rise to the counter-assertion of divine inspiration from below; Charles I went to the scaffold as the result of divine inspiration from below.

True, our speaker from the knightly estate proceeds, as we shall hear later, to describe censorship and freedom of the press, the censored press and the free press, as two evils, but he does not go so far as to admit that the press in general is an evil.

On the contrary! He divides the entire press into "good" and bad".

About the bad press, we are told something incredible: that its aim is badness and the greatest possible dissemination of badness. We pass over the fact that the speaker has too much confidence in our credulity when he demands that we should take his word for it and believe in badness as a profession. We merely remind him of the axiom that everything human is imperfect. Will not, therefore, the bad press also be imperfectly bad, and therefore good, and the good press imperfectly good, and therefore bad?

The speaker, however, shows us the reverse side. He asserts that the bad press is better than the good press, for it is always on the offensive, whereas the good press is on the defensive. But he has himself told us that man's development ends only with his death. Of course, he has not told us much by that, he has said nothing but that life ends with death. But if human life is development and the good press is always on the defensive, acting only by "defending, restraining and consolidating" itself, does it not thereby continually oppose development, and therefore life? Hence either this good defensive press is bad, or development is the bad thing. In view of this, the speaker's previous assertion, too, that the aim of the "bad press is the greatest possible dissemination of bad principles and the greatest possible furtherance of bad frames of mind" loses its mystical incredibility in a rational interpretation: the bad feature of the bad press lies in the greatest possible dissemination of principles and the greatest possible furtherance of a frame of mind.

The relation of the good press to the bad press becomes still stranger when the speaker assures us that the good press is impotent and the bad press omnipotent, for the former is without effect on the people, whereas the latter has an irresistible effect. For the speaker, the good press and the impotent press are identical. Does he want to say, therefore, that what is good is impotent or that what is impotent is good?

He contrasts the sober voice of the good press to the siren song of the bad press. But surely a sober voice allows of the best and most effective singing. The speaker seems to be acquainted only with the sensuous heat of passion, but not with the hot passion of truth, not with the victory-assured enthusiasm of reason, not the irresistible ardour of moral powers.

Under the frames of mind of the bad press he includes "pride, which recognises no authority in church and state", "envy", which preaches abolition of the aristocracy, and other things, which we shall deal with later. For the time being, let us be satisfied with the question: Whence does the speaker know that this isolated element is the good? If the universal powers of life are bad and we have heard that the bad is omnipotent, that it is what influences the masses, what or who has still any right to claim to be good? The arrogant assertion is this: my individuality is the good, those few individuals who are in accord with my individuality are the good, and the wicked, bad press refuses to recognise it. The bad press!

If at the beginning the speaker turned his attack on freedom of the press into an attack on freedom in general, here he turns it into an attack on the good. His fear of the bad is seen to be a fear of the good. Hence he founds censorship on a recognition of the bad and a refusal to recognise the good. Do I not despise a man to whom I say in advance: your opponent is bound to be victorious in the struggle, because, although you yourself are a very sober fellow and a very good neighbour, you are a very poor hero; because, although you bear consecrated arms, you do not know how to use them; because, although you and I, both of us, are perfectly convinced of your perfection, the world will never share this conviction; because, although things are all right as regards your intention, they are in a bad way as regards your energy?

Although the speaker's distinction between the good press and the bad press makes any further refutation superfluous, since this distinction becomes entangled in its own contradictions, nevertheless we must not lose sight of the main thing, namely, that the speaker has formulated the question quite incorrectly and has based himself on what he had to prove.

If one wants to speak of two kinds of press, the distinction between them must be drawn from the nature of the press itself, not from considerations lying outside it. The censored press or the free press, one of these two must be the good or the bad press. The debate turns precisely on whether the censored press or the free press is good or bad, i.e., whether it is in the nature of the press to have a free or unfree existence. To make the bad press a refutation of the free press is to maintain that the free press is bad and the censored press good, which is precisely what had to be proved.

Base frames of mind, personal intrigues, infamies, occur alike in the censored and the free press. Therefore the generic difference between them is not that they produce individual products of this or that kind; flowers grow also in swamps. We are concerned here with the essence, the inner character, which distinguishes the censored from the free press.

A free press that is bad does not correspond to its essence. The censored press with its hypocrisy, its lack of character, its eunuch's language, its dog-like tail-wagging, merely realises the inner conditions of its essential nature.

The censored press remains bad even when it turns out good products, for these products are good only insofar as they represent the free press within the censored press, and insofar as it is not in their character to be products of the censored press. The free press remains good even when it produces bad products, for the latter are deviations from the essential nature of the free press. A eunuch remains a bad human being even when he has a good voice. Nature remains good even when she produces monstrosities.

The essence of the free press is the characterful, rational, moral essence of freedom. The character of the censored press is the characterless monster of unfreedom; it is a civilised monster, a perfumed abortion.

Or does it still need to be proved that freedom of the press is in accord with the essence of the press, whereas censorship contradicts it? Is it not self-evident that external barriers to a spiritual life are not part of the inner nature of this life, that they deny this life and do not affirm it?

In order really to justify censorship, the speaker would have had to prove that censorship is part of the essence of freedom of the press; instead he proves that freedom is not part of man's essence. He rejects the whole genus in order to obtain one good species, for is not freedom after all the generic essence of all spiritual existence, and therefore of the press as well? In order to abolish the possibility of evil, he abolishes the possibility of good and realises evil, for only that which is a realisation of freedom can be humanly good.

We shall therefore continue to regard the censored press as a bad press so long as it has not been proved to us that censorship arises from the very essence of freedom of the press.

But even supposing that censorship and the nature of the press come into being together, although no animal, let alone an intelligent being, comes into the world in chains, what follows from that? That freedom of the press, as it exists from the official viewpoint, that is, the censorship, also needs censorship. And who is to censor the governmental press, if not the popular press?

True, another speaker thinks that the evil of censorship would be removed by being tripled, by the local censorship being put under provincial censorship, and the latter in its turn under Berlin censorship, freedom of the press being made one-sided, and the censorship many-sided. So many roundabout ways merely to live! Who is to censor the Berlin censorship? Let us therefore return to our speaker.

At the very beginning, he informed us that no light would emerge from the struggle between the good and the bad press. But, we may now ask, does he not want to make this useless struggle permanent? According to his own statement, is not the struggle itself between the censorship and the press a struggle between the good and the bad press?

Censorship does not abolish the struggle, it makes it one-sided, it converts an open struggle into a hidden one, it converts a struggle over principles into a struggle of principle without power against power without principle. The true censorship, based on the very essence of freedom of the press, is criticism. This is the tribunal which freedom of the press gives rise to of itself. Censorship is criticism as a monopoly of the government. But does not criticism lose its rational character if it is not open but secret, if it is not theoretical but practical, if it is not above parties but itself a party, if it operates not with the sharp knife of reason but with the blunt scissors of arbitrariness, if it only exercises criticism but will not submit to it, if it disavows itself during its realisation, and, finally, if it is so uncritical as to mistake an individual person for universal wisdom, peremptory orders for rational statements, ink spots for patches of sunlight, the crooked deletions of the censor for mathematical constructions, and crude force for decisive arguments?

During our exposal, we have shown how the fantastic, unctuous, soft-hearted mysticism of the speaker turns into the hard-hearted-ness of pettifogging mental pragmatism and into the narrowmindedness of an unprincipled empirical calculation. In his arguments on the relation between the censorship law and the press law, between preventive and repressive measures, he spares us this trouble by proceeding himself to make a conscious application of his mysticism.

"Preventive or repressive measures, censorship or press law, this alone is the question at issue, in which connection it would not be inexpedient to examine somewhat more closely the dangers which have to be removed on one side or the other. Whereas censorship seeks to prevent what is evil, the press law seeks by punishment to guard against its repetition. Like all human institutions, both are imperfect, but the question here is which is the less so. Since it is a matter of purely spiritual things, one problem — indeed the most important for both of them — can never be solved. That is the problem of finding a form which expresses the intention of the legislator so clearly and definitely that right and wrong seem to be sharply separated and all arbitrariness removed. But what is arbitrariness except acting according to individual discretion? And how are the effects of individual discretion to be removed where purely spiritual things are concerned? To find the guiding line, so sharply drawn that inherent in it is the necessity of having to be applied in every single case in the meaning intended by the legislator, that is the philosopher's stone, which has not been discovered so far and is hardly likely to be. Hence arbitrariness, if by that one understands acting according to individual discretion, is inseparable both from censorship and from the press law. Therefore we have to consider both in their necessary imperfection and its consequences. If the censorship suppresses much that is good, the press law will not be capable of preventing much that is bad. Truth, however, cannot be suppressed for long. The more obstacles are put in its way, the more keenly it pursues its goal, and the more resoundingly it achieves it. But the bad word, like Greek fire, cannot be stopped after it has left the ballista, and is incalculable in its effects, because for it nothing is holy, and it is inextinguishable because it finds nourishment and means of propagation in human hearts."

The speaker is not fortunate in his comparisons. He is overcome with a poetic exultation as soon as he begins to describe the omnipotence of the bad. We have already heard how the voice of the good has an impotent, because sober, sound when pitted against the siren song of evil. Now evil even becomes Greek fire, whereas the speaker has nothing at all with which to compare truth, and if we were to put his "sober" words into a comparison, truth would be at best a flint, which scatters sparks the more brightly the more it is struck. A fine argument for slave traders — to bring out the Negro's human nature by flogging, an excellent maxim for the legislator — to issue repressive laws against truth so that it will the more keenly pursue its goal. The speaker seems to have respect for truth only when it becomes primitive and spontaneous and is manifested tangibly. The more barriers you put in the way of truth, the more vigorous is the truth you obtain! Up with the barriers!

But let us allow the sirens to sing!

The speaker's mystical "theory of imperfection" has at last borne its earthly fruits; it has thrown its moonstones at us; let us examine the moonstones!

Everything is imperfect. The censorship is imperfect, the press law is imperfect. That determines their essence. There is nothing more to say about the correctness of their idea, nothing remains for us to do except, from the standpoint of the very lowest empiricism, to find out by calculating probabilities on which side the most dangers lie. It is purely a difference of time whether measures are taken to prevent the evil itself by means of censorship or repetition of the evil by means of the press law.

One sees how the speaker, by the empty phrase about "human imperfection", manages to evade the essential, internal, characteristic difference between censorship and press law and transforms the controversy from a question of principle into a fairground dispute as to whether more bruised noses result from the censorship or from the press law.

If, however, a contrast is drawn between the press law and the censorship law, it is, in the first place, not a question of their consequences, but of their basis, not of their individual application, but of their legitimacy in general. Montesquieu has already taught us that despotism is more convenient to apply than legality and Machiavelli asserts that for princes the bad has better consequences than the good. Therefore, if we do not want to confirm the old Jesuitical maxim that a good end — and we doubt even the goodness of the end — justifies bad means, we have above all to investigate whether censorship by its essence is a good means.

The speaker is right in calling the censorship law a preventive measure, it is a precautionary measure of the police against freedom, but he is wrong in calling the press law a repressive measure. It is the rule of freedom itself which makes itself the yardstick of its own exceptions. The censorship measure is not a law. The press law is not a measure.

In the press law, freedom punishes. In the censorship law, freedom is punished. The censorship law is a law of suspicion against freedom. The press law is a vote of confidence which freedom gives itself. The press law punishes the abuse of freedom. The censorship law punishes freedom as an abuse. It treats freedom as a criminal, or is it not regarded in every sphere as a degrading punishment to be under police supervision? The censorship law has only the form of a law. The press law is a real law.

The press law is a real law because it is the positive existence of freedom. It regards freedom as the normal state of the press, the press as the mode of existence of freedom, and hence only comes into conflict with a press offence as an exception that contravenes its own rules and therefore annuls itself. Freedom of the press asserts itself as a press law, against attacks on freedom of the press itself, i.e., against press offences. The press law declares freedom to be inherent in the nature of the criminal. Hence what he has done against freedom he has done against himself and this self-injury appears to him as a punishment in which he sees a recognition of his freedom.

The press law, therefore, is far from being a repressive measure against freedom of the press, a mere means of preventing the repetition of a crime through fear of punishment. On the contrary, the absence of press legislation must be regarded as an exclusion of freedom of the press from the sphere of legal freedom, for legally recognised freedom exists in the state as law. Laws are in no way repressive measures against freedom, any more than the law of gravity is a repressive measure against motion, because while, as the law of gravitation, it governs the eternal motions of the celestial bodies, as the law of falling it kills me if I violate it and want to dance in the air. Laws are rather the positive, clear, universal norms in which freedom has acquired an impersonal, theoretical existence independent of the arbitrariness of the individual. A statute-book is a people's bible of freedom.

Therefore the press law is the legal recognition of freedom of the press. It constitutes right, because it is the positive existence of freedom. It must therefore exist, even if it is never put into application, as in North America, whereas censorship, like slavery, can never become lawful, even if it exists a thousand times over as a law.

There are no actual preventive laws. Law prevents only as a command. It only becomes effective law when it is infringed, for it is true law only when in it the unconscious natural law of freedom has become conscious state law. Where the law is real law, i.e., a form of existence of freedom, it is the real existence of freedom for man. Laws therefore, cannot prevent a man's actions, for they are indeed the inner laws of life of his action itself, the conscious reflections of his life. Hence law withdraws into the background in the face of man's life as a life of freedom, and only when his actual behaviour has shown that he has ceased to obey the natural law of freedom does law in the form of state law compel him to be free, just as the laws of physics confront me as something alien only when my life has ceased to be the life of these laws, when it has been struck by illness. Hence a preventive law is a meaningless contradiction.

A preventive law, therefore, has within it no measure, no rational rule, for a rational rule can only result from the nature of a thing, in this instance of freedom. It is without measure, for if prevention of freedom is to be effective, it must be as all-embracing as its object, i.e., unlimited. A preventive law is therefore the contradiction of an unlimited limitation, and the boundary where it ceases is fixed not by necessity, but by the fortuitousness of arbitrariness, as the censorship daily demonstrates ad oculos. [C]

The human body is mortal by nature. Hence illnesses are inevitable. Why does a man only go to the doctor when he is ill, and not when he is well? Because not only the illness, but even the doctor is an evil. Under constant medical tutelage, life would be regarded as an evil and the human body as an object for treatment by medical institutions. Is not death more desirable than life that is a mere preventive measure against death? Does not life involve also free movement? What is any illness except life that is hampered in its freedom? A perpetual physician would be an illness in which one would not even have the prospect of dying, but only of living. Let life die; death must not live. Has not the spirit more right than the body? Of course, this right has often been interpreted to mean that for minds capable of free motion physical freedom of movement is even harmful and therefore they are to be deprived of it. The starting point of the censorship is that illness is the normal state, or that the normal state, freedom, is to be regarded as an illness. The censorship continually assures the press that it, the press, is ill; and even if the latter furnishes the best proofs of its bodily health, it has to allow itself to be treated. But the censorship is not even a learned physician who applies different internal remedies according to the illness. It is a country surgeon who knows only a single mechanical panacea for everything, the scissors. It is not even a surgeon who aims at restoring my health, it is a surgical aesthete who considers superfluous everything about my body that displeases him, and removes whatever he finds repugnant; it is a quack who drives back a rash so that it is not seen, without caring in the least whether it then affects more sensitive internal parts.

You think it wrong to put birds in cages. Is not the cage a preventive measure against birds of prey, bullets and storms? You think it barbaric to blind nightingales, but it does not seem to you meaningless at all barbaric to put out the eyes of the press with the sharp pens of the censorship. You regard it as despotic to cut a free person's hair against his will, but the censorship daily cuts into the flesh of thinking people and allows only bodies without hearts, submissive bodies which show no reaction, to pass as healthy!

Rheinische Zeitung 
No. 132, Supplement 
May 12 1842


We have shown how the press law expresses a right and the censorship law a wrong. The censorship itself, however, admits that it is not an end in itself, that it is not something good in and for itself, that its basis therefore is the principle: "The end justifies the means." But an end which requires unjustified means is no justifiable end, and could not the press also adopt the principle and boast: "The end justifies the means"?

The censorship law, therefore, is not a law, it is a police measure; but it is a bad police measure, for it does not achieve what it intends, and it does not intend what it achieves.

If the censorship law wants to prevent freedom as something objectionable, the result is precisely the opposite. In a country of censorship, every forbidden piece of printed matter, i.e., printed without being censored, is an event. It is considered a martyr, and there is no martyr without a halo and without believers. It is regarded as an exception, and if freedom can never cease to be of value to mankind, so much the more valuable is an exception to the general lack of freedom. Every mystery has its attraction. Where public opinion is a mystery to itself, it is won over from the outset by every piece of writing that formally breaks through the mystical barriers. The censorship makes every forbidden work, whether good or bad, into an extraordinary document, whereas freedom of the press deprives every written work of an externally imposing effect.

If the censorship is honest in its intention, it would like to prevent arbitrariness, but it makes arbitrariness into a law. No danger that it can avert is greater than itself. The mortal danger for every being lies in losing itself. Hence lack of freedom is the real mortal danger for mankind. For the time being, leaving aside the moral consequences, bear in mind that you cannot enjoy the advantages of a free press without putting up with its inconveniences. You cannot pluck the rose without its thorns! And what do you lose with a free press?

The free press is the ubiquitous vigilant eye of a people's soul, the embodiment of a people's faith in itself, the eloquent link that connects the individual with the state and the world, the embodied culture that transforms material struggles into intellectual struggles and idealises their crude material form. It is a people's frank confession to itself, and the redeeming power of confession is well known. It is the spiritual mirror in which a people can see itself, and self-examination is the first condition of wisdom. It is the spirit of the state, which can be delivered into every cottage, cheaper than coal gas. It is all-sided, ubiquitous, omniscient. It is the ideal world which always wells up out of the real world and flows back into it with ever greater spiritual riches and renews its soul.

In the course of our exposal we have shown that censorship and press law are as different as arbitrariness and freedom, as formal law and actual law. But what holds good of the essence, holds good also of the appearance. What rightly holds good of both, holds good also of their application. Just as a press law is different from a censorship law, so the judge's attitude to the press differs from the attitude of the censor.

Of course, our speaker, whose eyes are fixed on the heavens, sees the earth far below him as a contemptible heap of dust, so that he has nothing to say about any flowers except that they are dusty. Here too, therefore, he sees only two measures which are equally arbitrary in their application, for arbitrariness is acting according to individual discretion, and the latter, he says, is inseparable from spiritual things, etc., etc. If the understanding of spiritual things is individual, how can one spiritual view be more right than another, the opinion of the censor more right than the opinion of the author? But we understand the speaker. It is notable that he goes out of his way to describe both censorship and press law as being without right in their application, in order to prove the right of the censorship, for since he knows everything in the world is imperfect, the only question for him is whether arbitrariness should be on the side of the people or on the side of the government.

His mysticism turns into the licence of putting law and arbitrariness on the same level and seeing only a formal difference where moral and legal opposites are concerned, for his polemic is directed not against the press law, but against law in general. Or is there any law which is necessarily such that in every single case it must be applied as the legislator intended and all arbitrariness absolutelyexcluded? Incredible audacity is needed to call such a meaningless task the philosopher's stone, since it could only be put forward by the most extreme ignorance. The law is universal. The case which has to be settled in accordance with the law is a particular case. To include the particular in the universal involves a judgment. The judgment is problematic. The law requires also a judge. If laws applied themselves, courts would be superfluous.

But everything human is imperfect! Therefore, edite, bibite! [A] Why do you want judges, since judges are human? Why do you want laws, since laws can only be executed by human beings, and all human operations are imperfect? Submit yourselves then to the goodwill of your superiors! Rhenish justice, like that of Turkey, is imperfect! Therefore, edite, bibite!

What a difference there is between a judge and a censor!

The censor has no law but his superiors. The judge has no superiors but the law. The judge, however, has the duty of interpreting the law, as he understands it after conscientious examination, in order to apply it in a particular case. The censor's duty is to understand the law as officially interpreted for him in a particular case. The independent judge belongs neither to me nor to the government. The dependent censor is himself a government organ. In the case of the judge, there is involved at most the unreliability of an individual intellect, in the case of the censor the unreliability of an individual character. The judge has a definite press offence put before him; confronting the censor is the spirit of the press. The judge judges my act according to a definite law; the censor not only punishes the crime, he makes it. If I am brought before the court, I am accused of disobeying an existing law, and for a law to be violated it must indeed exist. Where there is no press law there is no law which can be violated by the press. The censorship does not accuse me of violating an existing law. It condemns my opinion because it is not the opinion of the censor and his superiors. My openly performed act, which is willing to submit itself to the world and its judgment, to the state and its law, has sentence passed on it by a hidden, purely negative power, which cannot give itself the form of law, which shuns the light of day, and which is not bound by any general principles.

A censorship law is an impossibility because it seeks to punish not offences but opinions, because it cannot be anything but a formula for the censor, because no state has the courage to put in general legal terms what it can carry out in practice through the agency of the censor. For that reason, too, the operation of the censorship is entrusted not to the courts but to the police.

Even if censorship were in fact the same thing as justice, in the first place this would remain a fact without being a necessity. But, further, freedom includes not only what my life is, but equally how I live, not only that I do what is free, but also that I do it freely. Otherwise what difference would there be between an architect and a beaver except that the beaver would be an architect with fur and the architect a beaver without fur?

Our speaker returns superfluously once again to the effects of freedom of the press in the countries where it actually exists. Since we have already dwelt on this subject at length, we shall here only touch further on the French press. Apart from the fact that the defects of the French press are the defects of the French nation, we find that the evil is not where the speaker looks for it. The French press is not too free; it is not free enough. It is true that it is not subject to a spiritual censorship, but it is subject to a material censorship, in the shape of high money sureties. It operates materially precisely because it is taken out of its proper sphere and drawn into the sphere of large trade speculations. Moreover, large trade speculations are a matter for large towns. Hence the French press is concentrated at few points, and if a material force has a demoniac effect when concentrated at few points, why should this not apply to a spiritual force also?

If, however, you are bent on judging freedom of the press not by its idea, but by its historical existence, why do you not look for it where it historically exists? Naturalists seek by experiment to reproduce a natural phenomenon in its purest conditions. You do not need to make any experiments. You find the natural phenomenon of freedom of the press in North America in its purest, most natural form. But if there are great historical foundations for freedom of the press in North America, those foundations are still greater in Germany. The literature of a people, and the intellectual culture bound up with it, are indeed not only the direct historical foundations of the press, but are the latter's history itself. And what people in the world can boast of these most immediate historical foundations for freedom of the press more than the German people can?

But, our speaker again breaks in, woe to Germany's morals if its press were to become free, for freedom of the press produces "an inner demoralization, which seeks to undermine faith in man's higher purpose and thereby the basis of true civilisation".

It is the censored press that has a demoralizing effect. Inseparable from it is the most powerful vice, hypocrisy, and from this, its basic vice, come all its other defects, which lack even the rudiments of virtue, and its vice of passivity, loathsome even from the aesthetic point of view. The government hears only its own voice, it knows that it hears only its own voice, yet it harbours the illusion that it hears the voice of the people, and it demands that the people, too, should itself harbour this illusion. For its part, therefore, the people sinks partly into political superstition, partly into political disbelief, or, completely turning away from political life, becomes a rabble of private individuals.

Since the press daily praises the government-inspired creations in the way that God spoke of His Creations only on the Sixth day: "And, behold, it was very good", and since, however, one day necessarily contradicts the other, the press lies continually and has to deny even any consciousness of lying, and must cast off all shame.

Since the nation is forced to regard free writings as unlawful, it becomes accustomed to regard what is unlawful as free, freedom as unlawful and what is lawful as unfree. In this way censorship kills the state spirit.

But our speaker is afraid of freedom of the press owing to his concern for "private persons". He overlooks that censorship is a permanent attack on the rights of private persons, and still more on ideas. He grows passionate about the danger to individual persons, and ought we not to grow passionate about the danger threatening society as a whole?

We cannot draw a sharper distinction between his view and ours than by contrasting his definitions of "bad frames of mind" to ours.

A bad frame of mind, he says, is "pride, which recognises no authority in church and state". And ought we not to regard as a bad frame of mind the refusal to recognise the authority of reason and law?

"It is envy which preaches abolition of everything that the rabble calls aristocracy."

But we say, it is envy which wants to abolish the eternal aristocracy of human nature, freedom, an aristocracy about which even the rabble can have no doubt.

"It is the malicious gloating which delights in personalities, whether lies or truth, and imperiously demands publicity so that no scandal of private life will remain hidden."

It is the malicious gloating which extracts tittle-tattle and personalities from the great life of the peoples, ignores historical reason and serves up to the public only the scandals of history; being quite incapable of judging the essence of a matter, it fastens on single aspects of a phenomenon and on individuals, and imperiously demands mystery so that every blot on public life will remain hidden.

"It is the impurity of the heart and imagination which is titillated by obscene pictures."

It is the impurity of the heart and imagination which is titillated by obscene pictures of the omnipotence of evil and the impotence of good, it is the imagination which takes pride in sin, it is the impure heart which conceals its secular arrogance in mystical images.

"It is despair of one's own salvation which seeks to stifle the voice of conscience by denial of God."

It is despair of one's own salvation which makes personal weaknesses into weaknesses of mankind, in order to rid one's own conscience of them; it is despair of the salvation of mankind which prevents mankind from obeying its innate natural laws and preaches the necessity of immaturity; it is hypocrisy which shelters behind God without believing in His reality and in the omnipotence of the good; it is self-seeking which puts personal salvation above the salvation of all.

These people doubt mankind in general but canonise individuals. They draw a horrifying picture of human nature and at the same time demand that we should bow down before the holy image of certain privileged individuals. We know that man singly is weak, but we know also that the whole is strong.

Finally, the speaker recalled the words proclaimed from the branches of the tree of knowledge for whose fruits we negotiate today as then:

"Ye shall not surely die, in the day that ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

Although we doubt that the speaker has eaten of the tree of knowledge, and that we (the Rhine Province Assembly of the Estates) then negotiated with the devil, about which at least Genesis tells us nothing, nevertheless we concur with the view of the speaker and merely remind him that the devil did not lie to us then, for God himself says: "Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."

We can reasonably let the speaker's own words be the epilogue to this speech:

"Writing and speaking are mechanical accomplishments."

However much our readers may be tired of these "mechanical accomplishments", we must, for the sake of completeness, let the urban estate, after the princely and knightly estates, also give vent to its feelings against freedom of the press. We are faced here with the opposition of the bourgeois, not of the citoyen.

The speaker from the urban estate believes that he joins Sieyès in making the philistine remark:

"Freedom of the press is a fine thing, so long as bad persons do not meddle in it." "Against that no proven remedy has yet been found", etc., etc.

The point of view which calls freedom of the press a thing deserves praise at least on account of its naively. This speaker can be reproached with anything at all, but not with lack of sobriety or excess of imagination.

So freedom of the press is a fine thing, and something which embellishes the sweet customary mode of life, a pleasant, worthy thing. But there are also bad persons, who misuse speech to tell lies, the brain to plot, the hands to steal, the feet to desert. Speech and thought, hands and feet would be fine things — good speech, pleasant thought, skilful hands, most excellent feet — if only there were no bad persons to misuse them! No remedy against that has yet been found.

"Sympathy for the constitution and freedom of the press must necessarily be weakened when it is seen that they are bound up with eternally changeable conditions in that country" (France) "and with an alarming uncertainty about the future.

When for the first time the discovery in the science of the universe was made that the earth is a mobile perpetuum, many a phlegmatic German must have taken a tight hold of his nightcap and sighed over the eternally changeable conditions of his Fatherland, and an alarming uncertainty about the future must have made him dislike a house that turned upside down at every moment.
Rheinische Zeitung, No. 135, Supplement, May 15 1842

[Freedom in General]

Freedom of the press is as little responsible for the "changeable conditions" as the astronomer's telescope is for the unceasing motion of the universe. Evil astronomy! What a fine time that was when the earth, like a respectable townsman, still sat in the centre of the universe, calmly smoked its clay pipe, and did not even have to put on the light for itself, since the sun, moon and stars like so many obedient night lamps and "fine things" revolved around it.

"He who never destroys what he has built, ever stands
On this terrestrial world, which itself never stands still,"
says Hariri, who is no Frenchman by birth, but an Arab." [A]

The estate of the speaker finds expression very definitely in the thought:

"The true, honest patriot is unable to suppress his feeling that constitution and freedom of the press exist not for the welfare of the people, but to satisfy the ambition of individuals and for the domination of parties."

It is well known that a certain kind of psychology explains big things by means of small causes and, correctly sensing that everything for which man struggles is a matter of his interest, arrives at the incorrect opinion that there are only "petty" interests, only the interests of a stereotyped self-seeking. Further, it is well known that this kind of psychology and knowledge of mankind is to be found particularly in towns, where moreover it is considered the sign of a clever mind to see through the world and perceive that behind the passing clouds of ideas and facts there are quite small, envious, intriguing manikins, who pull the strings setting everything in motion. However, it is equally well known that if one looks too closely into a glass, one bumps one's own head, and hence these clever people's knowledge of mankind and the universe is primarily a mystified bump of their own heads.

Half-heartedness and indecision are also characteristic of the speaker's estate.

"His feeling of independence inclines him to favour freedom of the press" (in the sense of the mover of the motion), "but he must listen to the voice of reason and experience."

If the speaker had said in conclusion that while his reason disposed him in favour of freedom of the press his feeling of dependence set him against it, his speech would have been a perfect genre picture of urban reaction.

"He who has a tongue and does not speak,
Who has a sword and does not fight,
What is he indeed but a wretched wight?"

We come now to the defenders of press freedom and begin with the main motion. We pass over the more general material, which is aptly and well expressed in the introductory words of the motion, in order at once to stress the peculiar and characteristic standpoint of this speech.

The mover of the motion desires that freedom of the press should not be excluded from the general freedom to carry on a trade, a state of things that still prevails, and by which the inner contradiction appears as a classical example of inconsistency.

"The work of arms and legs is free, but that of the brain is under tutelage. Of cleverer brains no doubt? God forbid, that does not come into question as far as the censors are concerned. To him whom God gives an official post, He gives also understandingly!"

The first thing that strikes one is to see freedom of the press included under freedom of trade. However, we cannot simply reject the speaker's view. Rembrandt painted the Madonna as a Dutch peasant woman; why should our speaker not depict freedom in a form which is dear and familiar to him?

No more can we deny that the speaker's point of view has a certain relative truth. If the press itself is regarded merely as a trade, then, as a trade carried on by means of the brain, it deserves greater freedom than a trade carried on by means of arms and legs. The emancipation of arms and legs only becomes humanly significant through the emancipation of the brain, for it is well known that arms and legs become human arms and legs only because of the head which they serve.

Therefore, however peculiar the speaker's point of view may appear at first glance, we must absolutely prefer it to the empty, nebulous and blurry arguments of those German liberals who think freedom is honoured by being placed in the starry firmament of the imagination instead of on the solid ground of reality. It is in part to these exponents of the imagination, these sentimental enthusiasts, who shy away from any contact of their ideal with ordinary reality as a profanation, that we Germans owe the fact that freedom has remained until now a fantasy and sentimentality.

Germans are in general inclined to sentiment and high-flown extravagance, they have a weakness for music of the blue sky. It is therefore gratifying when the great problem of the idea is demonstrated to them from a tough, real standpoint derived from the immediate environment. Germans are by nature most devoted, servile and respectful. Out of sheer respect for ideas they fail to realise them. They make the worship of them into a cult, but they do not cultivate them. Hence the way adopted by the speaker seems suitable for familiarising Germans with his ideas, for showing them that it is not a question here of something inaccessible to them, but of their immediate interests, suitable for translating the language of the gods into that of man.

We know that the Greeks believed that in the Egyptian, Lydian and even Scythian gods they could recognise their Apollo, their Athena, their Zeus, and they disregarded the specific features of the foreign cults as subsidiary. It is no crime, therefore, if the German takes the goddess of freedom of the press, a goddess unknown to him, for one of his familiar goddesses, and accordingly calls it freedom of trade or freedom of property.

Precisely because we are able to acknowledge and appreciate the speaker's point of view, we criticise it the more severely.

"One could very well imagine the continued existence of crafts side by side with freedom of the press, because trade based on brain work could require a higher degree of skill, putting it on the same level as the seven free arts of old; but the continued unfreedom of the press alongside freedom of trade is a sin against the Holy Ghost."

Of course! The lower form of freedom is obviously considered to be without rights if the higher form has no rights. The right of the individual citizen is a folly if the right of the state is not recognised. If freedom in general is rightful, it goes without saying that a particular form of freedom is the more rightful as freedom has achieved in it a finer and better-developed existence. If the polyp [jellyfish] has a right to existence because the life of nature is at least dimly evident in it, how much more so the lion in which life rages and roars?

However correct the conclusion that the existence of a higher form of right can be considered proved by the existence of a lower form, the application is wrong when it makes the lower sphere a measureof the higher and turns its laws, reasonable within their own limits, into caricatures by claiming that they are not laws of their own sphere, but of a higher one. It is as if I wanted to compel a giant to live in the house of a pigmy.

Freedom of trade, freedom of property, of conscience, of the press, of the courts, are all species of one and the same genus, of freedom without any specific name. But it is quite incorrect to forget the difference because of the unity and to go so far as to make a particular species the measure, the standard, the sphere of other species. This is an intolerance on the part of one species of freedom, which is only prepared to tolerate the existence of others if they renounce themselves and declare themselves to be its vassals.

Freedom of trade is precisely freedom of trade and no other freedom because within it the nature of the trade develops unhindered according to the inner rules of its life. Freedom of the courts is freedom of the courts if they follow their own inherent laws of right and not those of some other sphere, such as religion. Every particular sphere of freedom is the freedom of a particular sphere, just as every particular mode of life is the mode of life of a particular nature. How wrong it would be to demand that the lion should adapt himself to the laws of life of the polyp! How false would be my understanding of the interconnection and unity of the bodily organism if I were to conclude: since arms and legs function in their specific way, the eye and ear — organs which take man away from his individuality and make him the mirror and echo of the universe — must have a still greater right to activity, and consequently must be intensified arm-and-leg activity.

As in the universe, each planet, while turning on its own axis, moves only around the sun, so in the system of freedom each of its worlds, while turning on its own axis, revolves only around the central sun of freedom. To make freedom of the press a variety of freedom of trade is a defence that kills it before defending it, for do I not abolish the freedom of a particular character if I demand that it should be free in the manner of a different character? Your freedom is not my freedom, says the press to a trade. As you obey the laws of your sphere, so will I obey the laws of my sphere. To be free in your way is for me identical with being unfree, just as a cabinet-maker would hardly feel pleased if he demanded freedom for his craft and was given as equivalent the freedom of the philosopher.

Let us lay bare the thought of the speaker. What is freedom? He replies: Freedom of trade, which is as if a student, when asked what is freedom, were to reply: It is freedom to be out at night.

With as much right as freedom of the press, one could include every kind of freedom in freedom of trade. The judge practises the trade of law, the preacher that of religion, the father of a family that of bringing up children. But does that express the essence of legal, religious and moral freedom?

One could also put it the other way round and call freedom of trade merely a variety of freedom of the press. Do craftsmen work only with hands and legs and not with the brain as well? Is the language of words the only language of thought? Is not the language of the mechanic through the steam-engine easily perceptible to my ear, is not the language of the bed manufacturer very obvious to my back, that of the cook comprehensible to my stomach? Is it not a contradiction that all these varieties of freedom of the press are permitted, the sole exception being the one that speaks to my intellect through the medium of printer's ink?

In order to defend, and even to understand, the freedom of a particular sphere, I must proceed from its essential character and not its external relations. But is the press true to its character, does it act in accordance with the nobility of its nature, is the press free which degrades itself to the level of a trade? The writer, of course, must earn in order to be able to live and write, but he must by no means live and write to earn.

When Béranger sings:

Je ne vis que pour faire des chansons,
Si vous m'ôtez ma place Monseigneur
Je ferai des chansons pour vivre.

[I live only to compose songs.
If you dismiss me, Monseigneur,
I shall compose songs in order to live.]

This threat contains the ironic admission that the poet deserts his proper sphere when for him poetry becomes a means.

The writer does not at all look on his work as a means. It is an end in itself, it is so little a means for him himself and for others that, if need be, he sacrifices his existence to its existence. He is, in another way, like the preacher of religion who adopts the principle: "Obey God rather than man", including under man himself with his human needs and desires. On the other hand, what if a tailor from whom I had ordered a Parisian frock-coat were to come and bring me a Roman toga on the ground that it was more in keeping with the eternal law of beauty!

The primary freedom of the press lies in not being a trade. The writer who degrades the press into being a material means deserves as punishment for this internal unfreedom the external unfreedom of censorship, or rather his very existence is his punishment.

Of course, the press exists also as a trade, but then it is not the affair of writers, but of printers and booksellers. However, we are concerned here not with the freedom of trade of printers and booksellers, but with freedom of the press.

Indeed, our speaker does not stop at regarding the right to freedom of the press proved because of freedom of trade; he demands that freedom of the press, instead of being subject to its own laws, should be subject to the laws of freedom of trade. He even joins issue with the spokesman of the commission, who defends a higher view of freedom of the press, and he puts forward demands which can only produce a comic effect, for it becomes comic when the laws of a lower sphere are applied to a higher one, just as, conversely, it has a comic effect when children become passionate.

"He speaks of authorised and unauthorised authors. He understands by this that even in the sphere of freedom of trade the exercise of a right that has been granted is always bound up with some condition which is more or less difficult to fulfil, depending on the occupation in question. Obviously, masons, carpenters and master builders have to fulfil conditions from which most other trades are exempt." "His motion concerns a right in particular, not in general."

First of all, who is to grant authority? Kant would not have admitted Fichte's authority as a philosopher, Ptolemy would not have admitted that Copernicus had authority as an astronomer, nor Bernard of Clairvaux Luther's authority as a theologian. Every man of learning regards his critics as "unauthorised authors". Or should the unlearned decide who should have the authority of a man of learning? Obviously the judgment would have to be left to the unauthorised authors, for the authorised cannot be judges in their own case. Or should authority be linked with estate? The cobbler Jakob Böhme was a great philosopher. [B] Many a philosopher of repute is merely a great cobbler.

By the way, when speaking of authorised or unauthorised authors, to be consistent one must not rest content with distinguishing between individual persons, one must divide the press as a trade into various trades and draw up different trade certificates for the different spheres of literary activity. Or ought the authorised writer to be able to write about everything? From the outset, the cobbler has more authority than the lawyer to write about leather. The day-labourer has just as much authority as the theologian to write about whether one should work or not on holidays. If, therefore, authority is linked with special objective conditions, every citizen will be at one and the same time an authorised and an unauthorised writer, authorised in matters concerning his profession, and unauthorised in all others.

Apart from the fact that in this way the world of the press, instead of being a bond uniting the nation, would be a sure means of dividing it, that the difference between the estates would thus be fixed intellectually, and the history of literature would sink to the level of the natural history of the particular intelligent breeds of animals; apart from the disputes over the dividing lines between them and conflicts which could neither be settled nor avoided; apart from the fact that lack of talent and narrow-mindedness would become a law for the press, for the particular can be seen intellectually and freely only in connection with the whole and therefore not in separation from it — apart from all this, since reading is as important as writing, there would have to be authorised and unauthorised readers, a consequence which was drawn in Egypt, where the priests, the authorised authors, were at the same time the sole authorised readers. And it is highly expedient that only the authorised authors should be given authority to buy and read their own works.

What inconsistency If privilege prevails, the government has every right to maintain that it is the sole authorised author as regards what it does or does not do. For if you consider yourself authorised as a citizen to write not only about your particular estate, but about what is most general, viz., the state, should not other mortals, whom you wish to exclude, be authorised as human beings to pass judgment on a very particular matter, viz., your authority and your writings?

The result would be the comical contradiction that the authorised author might write without censorship about the state, but the unauthorised author might write about the authorised author only by permission of the censorship.

Freedom of the press will certainly not be achieved by a crowd of official writers being recruited by you from your ranks. The authorised authors would be the official authors, the struggle between censorship and freedom of the press would be converted into a struggle between authorised and unauthorised writers.

Hence a member of the fourth estate correctly replies to this:

"If some restriction on the press must still exist, let it be equal for all parties, that is, that in this respect no one class of citizens is allowed more rights than another".

The censorship holds us all in subjection, just as under a despotic regime all are equal, if not in value, then in absence of value; that kind of freedom of the press seeks to introduce oligarchy in the sphere of intellectual life. The censorship declares that an author is at most inconvenient, unsuitable within the bounds of its realm. That kind of freedom of the press claims to anticipate world history, to know in advance the voice of the people, which hitherto has been the sole judge as to which writer has "authority" and which is "without authority". Whereas Solon did not venture to judge a man until after his life was over, after his death, this view presumes to judge a writer even before his birth.

The press is the most general way by which individuals can communicate their intellectual being. It knows no respect for persons, but only respect for intelligence. Do you want ability for intellectual communication to be determined officially by special external signs? What I cannot be for others, I am not and cannot be for myself. If I am not allowed to be a spiritual force for others, then I have no right to be a spiritual force for myself; and do you want to give certain individuals the privilege of being spiritual forces? just as everyone learns to read and write, so everyone must have the right to read and write.

For whom, then, is the division of writers into "authorised" and "unauthorised" intended? Obviously not for the truly authorised, for they can make their influence felt without that. Is it therefore for the "unauthorised" who want to protect themselves and impress others by means of an external privilege?

Moreover, this palliative does not even make a press law unnecessary, for, as a speaker from the peasant estate remarks:

"Cannot a privileged person, too, exceed his authority and be liable to punishment? Therefore, in any case, a press law would be necessary, with the result that one would encounter the same difficulties as with a general law on the press."

If the German looks back on his history, he will find one of the main reasons for his slow political development, as also for the wretched state of literature prior to Lessing, in the existence of "authorised writers". The learned men by profession, guild or privilege, the doctors and others, the colourless university writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with their stiff pigtails and their distinguished pedantry and their petty hair-splitting dissertations, interposed themselves between the people and the mind, between life and science, between freedom and mankind. It was the unauthorised writers who created our literature. Gottsched and Lessing-there you have the choice between an "authorised" and "unauthorised" writer!

In general, we have no liking for "freedom" that only holds good in the plural. England is a proof on a big historical scale how dangerous for "freedom" is the restricted horizon of "freedoms".

"Ce mot des libertés," says Voltaire, "des privilèges, suppose I'assujettissement. Des libertés sont des exemptions de la servitude générale." [C]

Further, if our speaker wants to exclude anonymous and pseudonymous writers from freedom of the press and subject them to censorship, we would point out that in the press it is not the name that matters, but that, where a press law is in force, the publisher, and through him the anonymous and pseudonymous writer as well, is liable to prosecution in the courts. Moreover, when Adam gave names to all the animals in paradise, he forgot to give names to the German newspaper correspondents, and they will remain nameless in saecula saeculorum. [D]

Whereas the mover of the motion sought to impose restrictions on persons, the subjects of the press, other estates want to restrict the objective material of the press, the scope of its operation and existence. The result is a soulless bargaining and haggling as to how much freedom freedom of the press ought to have.

One estate wants to limit the press to discussing the material, intellectual and religious state of affairs in the Rhine Province; another wants the publication of "local newspapers", whose title indicates their restricted content; a third even wants free expression of opinion to be allowed in one newspaper only in each province!!!

All these attempts remind one of the gymnastics teacher who suggested that the best way to teach how to jump was to take the pupil to a big ditch and show him by means of a cotton thread how far he ought to jump across the ditch. Of course, the pupil had first to practise jumping and would not be allowed to clear the whole ditch on the first day, but from time to time the thread would be moved farther away. Unfortunately, during his first lesson the pupil fell into the ditch, and he has been lying there ever since. The teacher was a German and the pupil's name was "freedom".

According to the average normal type, therefore, the defenders of freedom of the press in the Sixth Rhine Province Assembly differ from their opponents not as regards content, but in their trend. The narrow-mindedness of a particular estate opposes the press in one case, and defends it in another; some want the government alone to have privileges, others want them to be shared among more persons; some want a full censorship, others a half censorship; some want three-eighths freedom of the press, others none at all. God save me from my friends!

Completely at variance with the general spirit of the Assembly, however, are the speeches of the commission's spokesman and those of some members of the peasant estate.

Among other things, the spokesman declared:

"In the life of peoples, as in that of individuals, it happens that the fetters of a too long tutelage become intolerable, that there is an urge for independence, and that everyone wants to be responsible himself for his actions. Thereupon the censorship has outlived its time; where it still exists it will be regarded as a hateful constraint which prohibits what is openly said from being written."

Write as you speak, and speak as you write, our primary schoolteachers taught us. Later what we are told is: say what has been prescribed for you, and write what you repeat after others.

"Whenever the inevitable progress of time causes a new, important interest to develop and gives rise to a new need, for which no adequate provision is contained in the existing legislation, new laws are necessary to regulate this new state of society. Precisely such a case confronts us here."

That is the truly historical view in contrast to the illusory one which kills the reason of history in order subsequently to honour its bones as historical relics.

"Of course, the problem" (of a press code) "may not be quite easy to solve; the first attempt that is made will perhaps remain very incomplete But all states will owe a debt of gratitude to the legislator who is the first to take up this matter, and under a king like ours, it is perhaps the Prussian government that is destined to have the honour to precede other countries along this path, which alone can lead to the goal."

Our whole exposal has shown how isolated this courageous, dignified and resolute view was in the Assembly. This was also abundantly pointed out to the spokesman of the commission by the chairman himself. Finally, it was expressed also by a member of the peasant estate in an ill-humoured but excellent speech:

"The speakers have gone round and round the question before us like a cat round hot porridge." "The human spirit must develop freely in accordance with its inherent laws and be allowed to communicate its achievements, otherwise a clear, vitalising stream will become a pestiferous swamp. If any nation is suitable for freedom of the press it is surely the calm, good-natured German nation, which stands more in need of being roused from its torpor than of the strait jacket of censorship. For it not to be allowed freely to communicate its thoughts and feelings to its fellow men very much resembles the North American system of solitary confinement for criminals, which when rigidly enforced often leads to madness. From one who is not permitted to find fault, praise also is valueless; in absence of expression it is like a Chinese picture in which shade is lacking. Let us not find ourselves put in the same company as this enervated nation!"

If we now look back on the press debates as a whole, we cannot overcome the dreary and uneasy impression produced by an assembly of representatives of the Rhine Province who wavered only between the deliberate obduracy of privilege and the natural impotence of a half-hearted liberalism. Above all, we cannot help noting with displeasure the almost entire absence of general and broad points of view, as also the negligent superficiality with which the question of a free press was debated and disposed of. Once more, therefore, we ask ourselves whether the press was a matter too remote from the Assembly of the Estates, and with which they had too little real contact, for them to be able to defend freedom of the press with the thorough and serious interest that was required?

Freedom of the press presented its petition to the estates with the most subtle captatio benevolentiae. [E]

At the very beginning of the Assembly session, a debate arose in which the chairman pointed out that the printing of the Assembly proceedings, like all other writings, was subject to censorship, but that in this case he took the place of the censor.

On this one point, did not the question of freedom of the press coincide with that of freedom of the Assembly? The conflict here is the more interesting because the Assembly in its own person was given proof how the absence of freedom of the press makes all other freedoms illusory. One form of freedom governs another just as one limb of the body does another. Whenever a particular freedom is put in question, freedom in general is put in question.

Whenever one form of freedom is rejected, freedom in general is rejected and henceforth can have only a semblance of existence, since the sphere in which absence of freedom is dominant becomes a matter of pure chance. Absence of freedom is the rule and freedom an exception, a fortuitous and arbitrary occurrence. There can, therefore, be nothing wronger than to think that when it is a question of a particular form of existence of freedom, it is a particular question. It is the general question within a particular sphere. Freedom remains freedom whether it finds expression in printer's ink, in property, in the conscience, or in a political assembly. But the loyal friend of freedom whose sense of honour would be offended by the mere fact that he had to vote on the question whether freedom was to be or not to be — this friend becomes perplexed when confronted with the peculiar material form in which freedom appears. He fails to recognise the genus in the species; because of the press, he forgets about freedom, he believes he is judging something whose essence is alien to him, and he condemns his own essence. Thus the Sixth Rhine Province Assembly condemned itself by passing sentence on freedom of the press.

The highly sage, practical bureaucrats who secretly and unjustifiably think of themselves in the way that Pericles openly and rightly boasted of himself: "I am a man who is the equal of anyone both in knowing the needs of the state and in the art of expounding them" [F] — these hereditary leaseholders of political intelligence will shrug their shoulders and remark with oracular good breeding that the defenders of freedom of the press are wasting their efforts, for a mild censorship is better than a harsh freedom of the press. We reply to them with the words of the Spartans Sperthias and Bulis to the Persian satrap Hydarnes:

"Hydames, you have not equally weighed each side in your advice to us. For you have tried the one which you advise, the other has remained untried by you. You know what it means to be a slave, but you have never yet tried freedom, to know whether it is sweet or not. For if you had tried it, you would have advised us to fight for it, not merely with spears, but also with axes." [G]

Rheinische Zeitung
No. 139, Supplement
May 19 1842


[A] Marx cites these and the following lines of Hariri's poem from Friedrich Ruckert's Die Verwandlungen des Abu Seid von Serug, oder die Makamen des Hariri, Stuttgan, 1826.

[B] Cf. H. Heine, Die romantische Schule, II, 3.

[C] "This word of the liberties, of the privileges, suppose subjection. Liberties are exemptions from general servitude."

[D] For ever and ever.

[E] Attempt to arouse goodwill.

[F] Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Vol I, Book 2, 60.

[G] Herodot, Historiae, Vol II, Book 7, 135.