Montag, 29. September 2008

Is there any justification for censorship in a democracy?

Academic Essay Writing, SS2008, lecturer: Linda Paul, home essay
Every so-called democracy in the world applies censorship while pretending freedom of speech. Freedom in general is one of the main principles of democracies but its limitation even more so. In contrast to anarchy, which stands for “no rule”, democracy stands for “rule of the people”[1]. And if something is ruled, individual freedom is limited. Censorship is one of many means to assure the rule of one part of the people over another. Therefore there is not only a justification for censorship in a democracy but an essential need for it.
While democracy is generally seen as the ideal form of governing a society, one can also regard it from a critical point of view. Contrarily to what the word democracy implies, it is not the whole of the people that is governing, because in that case there would be nobody left to be governed. Instead, it is the conceptions, the values and the rules of the majority of a nation that are imposed upon the rest of it. Indeed, very often, the intention to protect minorities serves as justification for censorship, but a closer look can reveal that it is actually a threat to the moral system of the majority that is taken care of. A prototypical example for such an action is the censoring of books like Of Mice and Men or The Catcher in the Rye: While certain people argue that these books endanger the rights of minorities[2], no serious harm has so far been reported to have been caused by the reading of them. Nevertheless are they two of the most challenged books of the American Library Association[3]. The language they use and the values they promote belong to a minor, rather liberal part of society and therefore pose a threat to the conservative moral system of the majority of society.
There is a second fact that needs to be taken into consideration when evaluating the democratic system: Since it is an “indirect, representative democracy” one is living in, it is not even the majority of the people that is ruling but only its representatives. Thus, it is actually only a very small minority holding the power to rule and regulate the lives of a whole nation. Once elected into this powerful position, this small elite of people will make quite a great effort to stay there, and censorship can be one of many different means to do so. It is an effective way to control common sense because it takes direct influence on the public discourse. With censorship, undesirable rivals also wanting to gain a powerful position can partly be erased from cultural reality. If the prohibition of political parties - an extreme form of censorship - such as the KPD in 1956 is fortunately not very common in Germany, the limitation of their symbolic expression though is widely accepted, as show the examples of the NPD and other right winged parties. While the main argument for political censoring is the protection of democracy and liberty[4], the fact that one is not allowed to freely inform oneself about parties proposing other political systems than democracy is an indication of the dictatorial character of the present political system.
The given reasons for the use of censorship show that there is need for it in order to maintain democracy as the governing system as well as the position of those who benefit from it. If it was not the main goal of political leaders to conserve the present state of things but to enlarge freedom and responsibility for each individual of a nation one would realize that censorship deletes and hides important manifestations of the wants and needs of the people.

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