Ridicule, Censorship, and the Regulation of Public Speech: The Case of Shaftesbury
Modern Intellectual History
Cambridge University Press (CUP): HSS Journals
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Cambridge University Press via the DOI in this record.
The Third Earl of Shaftesbury has been celebrated for his commitment to free public discourse regulated only by standards of politeness, a commitment exemplified by his defense of the freedom to ridicule. This article complicates this picture by tracing Shaftesbury’s response to the early eighteenth-century crisis of public speech precipitated by the demise of pre-publication censorship and growing uncertainty about intellectual property in the print trade. Shaftesbury, the article shows, was a determined opponent of pre-publication censorship through licensing, but he was also aware of the dangers posed to religious liberty by, in particular, clerical attacks on toleration, and sought ways to curb them that included corrective action by the state. When the Whigs opted to impeach the High-Church cleric Henry Sacheverell, whose supporters had capitalized on an unregulated print market to disseminate his sermons ridiculing Whig principles, Shaftesbury expressed satisfaction with their choice. But he did not stop there. The article reads Shaftesbury’s 1710 Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author against the backdrop of the Sacheverell controversy, and shows how the earl used it to undercut Sacheverell’s claim that clerical speech enjoyed special status.
Published online: 10 October 2016