How Today’s Censors Hide Behind Science and Psychology

The history of censorship in the United States is a long and ugly one—and far from over. This is also an ironic story, as seemingly successful efforts to ban unwanted expression give way to more and greater freedom of speech.

The Mind of the Cynsor and the Eye of the Beholder, legendary First Amendment lawyer Robert Corn-Revere documents how attempts by legendary censors such as Anthony Comstock (the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, whose name became synonymous with priggishness), Fredric Wertham (the communist-friendly psychiatrist whose crusade against comic books changed the publishing industry), and Newton Minow (the sainted FCC chairman who memorably—and incorrectly—denounced television as a “vast wasteland”) ended up creating backlashes that undermined their attempts to control what Americans could read, watch, and listen to.

Corn-Revere says that while no one admits to being acensor nowadays, attempts to invalidate the First Amendment are all around us. Especially when it is about limiting speech for the sake of protecting religious, ethnic and sexual minority feelings. Corn-Revere says, “If you take a look at history you will see that it was the protection of individual speech rights which has made mass movements of minorities and people previously marginalized possible.” There wouldn’t’ have been any gay rights movements or women’s movements. The civil rights movement was certainly a landmark time in the history of protecting individual speech.

Also, he discusses concerns about Millennials’ and Gen Z shifting away from strong defenses of First Amendment rights, how every attempt to make elected officials responsible for speech is worse than trusting the unregulated marketplace of ideas and his optimism about the future.