Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction
|Written||10 February 1842|
First published: in Anekdota zur neuesten deutschen Philosophie und Publicistik, Bd. I, 1843
Comments on the Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction was the first work written by Marx as a revolutionary journalist. It was occasioned by the censorship instruction of the Prussian Government of December 24, 1841. Though formulated in moderate liberal terms, the instruction actually not only retained but intensified the censorship of the press. Written between January 15 and February 10, 1842, just after the publication of the instruction in the press (it was published in the Allgemeine Preussische Staats-Zeitung No. 14, January 14, 1842; Marx cites from this publication), the article was originally intended for the Deutsche Jahrbücher under the editorship of Arnold Ruge (see this volume, p. 381) but because of the censorship restrictions it was published only in 1843 in Switzerland in Anekdota which contained works by appositional authors, mostly Young Hegelians.
Excerpts from the article were reprinted in the Mannheimer Abendzeitung Nos. 71 and 72, March 26 and 28, 1843.
In 1851 Hermann Becker, a member of the Communist League, made an attempt to publish Marx’s collected works in Cologne. On the author’s initiative the first issue began with this article (see Gesammette Aufsätze von Karl Marx, herausgegeben von Hermann Becker, 1. Heft, Köln, 1851). However, the publication was ceased because of the government repressions.
The first English translation of the article appeared in Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, New York, 1967, pp. 67-92, and an excerpt from it in Karl Marx. Early Texts, Oxford, 1971, pp. 26-30. P. 109 (Notes MECW, 1975)
We are not one of those malcontents who, even before the appearance of the new Prussian censorship decree, exclaim: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. On the contrary, since an examination of already promulgated laws is approved in the new instruction, even if it should prove not to agree with the government's views, we are making a start with this at once. Censorship is official criticism; its standards are critical standards, hence they least of all can be exempted from criticism, being on the same plane as the latter.
Certainly everyone can only approve of the general trend expressed in the introduction to the instruction:
"In order already now to free the press from improper restrictions, which are against the intentions of the All-Highest, His Majesty the King, by a supreme order issued to the royal state ministry on the 10th of this month, has been pleased to disapprove expressly of any undue constraint on the activity of writers and, recognising the value and need of frank and decent publicity, has empowered us to direct the censors anew to due observance of Article II of the censorship decree of October 18, 1819."
Certainly! If censorship is a necessity, frank liberal censorship is still more necessary.
What might immediately arouse some surprise is the date of the law cited; it is dated October 18, 1819. What? Is it perhaps a law which conditions of time made it necessary to repeal? Apparently not; for the censors are only directed "anew" to ensure observance of it. Hence the law has existed until 1842, but it has not been observed, for it has been called to mind "in order already now" to free the press from improper restrictions, which are against the intentions of the All-Highest.
The press, in spite of the law, has until now been subjected to improper restrictions - that is the immediate conclusion to be drawn from this introduction.
Is this then an argument against the law or against the censors? We can hardly assert the latter. For twenty-two years illegal actions have been committed by an authority which has in its charge the highest interest of the citizens, their minds, by an authority which regulates, even more than the Roman censors did, not only the behaviour of individual citizens, but even the behaviour of the public mind. Can such unscrupulous behaviour of the highest servants of the state, such a thoroughgoing lack of loyalty, be possible in the well-organised Prussian state, which is proud of its administration? Or has the state, in continual delusion, selected the most incapable persons for the most difficult posts? Or, finally, has the subject of the Prussian state no possibility of complaining against illegal actions? Are all Prussian writers so ignorant and foolish as to be unacquainted with the laws which concern their existence, or are they too cowardly to demand their observance?
If we put the blame on the censors, not only their own honour, but the honour of the Prussian state, and of the Prussian writers, is compromised.
Moreover, the more than twenty years of illegal behaviour of the censors in defiance of the law would provide argumentum ad hominem that the press needs other guarantees than such general instructions for such irresponsible persons; it would provide the proof that there is a basic defect in the nature of the censorship which no law can remedy.
If, however, the censors were capable, and the law was no good, why appeal to it afresh for removal of the evil it has caused?
Or should, perhaps, the objective defects of an institution be ascribed to individuals, in order fraudulently to give the impression of an improvement without making any essential improvement? It is the habit of pseudo-liberalism, when compelled to make concessions, to sacrifice persons, the instruments, and to preserve the thing itself, the institution. In this way the attention of a superficial public is diverted.
Resentment against the thing itself becomes resentment against persons. It is believed that by a change of persons the thing itself has been changed. Attention is deflected from the censorship to individual censors, and those petty writers of progress by command allow themselves petty audacities against those who have fallen out of favour and perform just as many acts of homage towards the government.
Yet another difficulty confronts us.
Some newspaper correspondents take the censorship instruction for the new censorship decree itself. They are mistaken, but their mistake is pardonable. The censorship decree of October 18, 1819, was to continue only provisionally until 1824, and it would have remained a provisional law to the present day if we had not learnt from the instruction now before us that it has never been implemented.
The 1819 decree was also an interim measure, with the difference that in its case a definite period of expectation of five years was indicated, whereas in the new instruction it is of unlimited duration, and that at that time laws on the freedom of the press were the object of expectation whereas now it is laws on censorship.
Other newspaper correspondents regard the censorship instruction as a refurbishing of the old censorship decree. Their error will be refuted by the instruction itself.
We regard the censorship instruction as the anticipated spirit of the presumable censorship law. In so doing we adhere strictly to the spirit of the 1819 censorship decree, according to which laws and ordinances are of equal significance for the press. (See the above-mentioned decree, Article XVI, No. 2.)
Let us return to the instruction.
"According to this law," namely, Article II, "the censorship should not prevent serious and modest investigation of truth, nor impose undue constraint on writers, or hinder the book trade from operating freely."
The investigation of truth which should not be prevented by the censorship is more particularly defined as one which is serious and modest. Both these definitions concern not the content of the investigation, but rather something which lies outside its content. From the outset they draw the investigation away from truth and make it pay attention to an unknown third thing. An investigation which continually has its eyes fixed on this third element, to which the law gives a legitimate capriciousness, will it not lose sight of the truth? Is it not the first duty of the seeker after truth to aim directly at the truth, without looking to the right or left? Will I not forget the essence of the matter, if I am obliged not to forget to state it in the prescribed form?
Truth is as little modest as light, and towards whom should it be so? Towards itself? Verum index sui et falsi. Therefore, towards falsehood?.
If modesty is the characteristic feature of the investigation, then it is a sign that truth is feared rather than falsehood. It is a means of discouragement at every step forward I take. It is the imposition on the investigation of a fear of reaching a result, a means of guarding against the truth.
Further, truth is general, it does not belong to me alone, it belongs to all, it owns me, I do not own it. My property is the form, which is my spiritual individuality. Le style c'est l'homme. Yes, indeed! The law permits me to write, only I must write in a style that is not mine! I may show my spiritual countenance, but I must first set it in the prescribed folds! What man of honour will not blush at this presumption and not prefer to hide his head under the toga? Under the toga at least one has an inkling of a Jupiter's head. The prescribed folds mean nothing but bonne mine a mauvais jeu.
You admire the delightful variety, the inexhaustible riches of nature. You do not demand that the rose should smell like the violet, but must the greatest riches of all, the spirit, exist in only one variety? I am humorous, but the law bids me write seriously. I am audacious, but the law commands that my style be modest. Grey, all grey, is the sole, the rightful colour of freedom. Every drop of dew on which the sun shines glistens with an inexhaustible play of colours, but the spiritual sun, however many the persons and whatever the objects in which it is refracted, must produce only the official colour! The most essential form of the spirit is cheerfulness, light, but you make shadow the sole manifestation of the spirit; it must be clothed only in black, yet among flowers there are no black ones. The essence of the spirit is always truth itself but what do you make its essence? Modesty. Only the mean wretch is modest, says Goethe, and you want to turn the spirit into such a mean wretch? Or if modesty is to be the modesty of genius of which Schiller speaks, then first of all turn all your citizens and above all your censors into geniuses. But then the modesty of genius does not consist in what educated speech consists in, the absence of accent and dialect, but rather in speaking with the accent of the matter and in the dialect of its essence. It consists in forgetting modesty and immodesty and getting to the heart of the matter. The universal modesty of the mind is reason, that universal liberality of thought which reacts to each thing according to the latter's essential nature.
Further, if seriousness is not to come under Tristram Shandy's definition according to which it is a hypocritical behaviour of the body in order to conceal defects of the soul, but signifies seriousness in substance, then the entire prescription falls to the ground. For I treat the ludicrous seriously when I treat it ludicrously, and the most serious immodesty of the mind is to be modest in the face of immodesty.
Serious and modest! What fluctuating, relative concepts! Where does seriousness cease and jocularity begin? Where does modesty cease and immodesty begin? We are dependent on the temperament of the censor. It would be as wrong to prescribe temperament for the censor as to prescribe style for the writer. If you want to be consistent in your aesthetic criticism, then forbid also a too serious and too modest investigation of the truth, for too great seriousness is the most ludicrous thing of all, and too great modesty is the bitterest irony.
Finally, the starting point is a completely perverted and abstract view of truth itself. All objects of the writer's activity are comprehended in the one general concept "truth". Even if we leave the, subjective side out of account, viz., that one and the same object is refracted differently as seen by different persons and its different aspects converted into as many different spiritual characters, ought the character of the object to have no influence, not even the slightest, on the investigation? Truth includes not only the result but also the path to it. The investigation of truth must itself be true; true investigation is developed truth, the dispersed elements of which are brought together in the result. And should not the manner of investigation alter according to the object? If the object is a matter for laughter, the manner has to seem serious, if the object is disagreeable, it has to be modest. Thus you violate the right of the object as you do that of the subject. You conceive truth abstractly and turn the spirit into an examining magistrate, who draws up a dry protocol of it.
Or is there no need of this metaphysical twisting? Is truth to be understood as being simply what the government decrees, so that investigation is added as a superfluous, intrusive element, but which for etiquette's sake is not to be entirely rejected? It almost seems so. For investigation is understood in advance as in contradiction to truth and therefore appears with the suspicious official accompaniment of seriousness and modesty, which of course is fitting for the layman in relation to the priest. The government's understanding is the only state reason. True, in certain circumstances of time, concessions have to be made to a different understanding and its chatter, but this understanding comes on the scene conscious of the concession and of its own lack of right, modest and submissive, serious and tedious. If Voltaire says: "Tous les genres sont bons, excepte le genre ennuyeux", in the present case the genre ennuyant becomes the exclusive one, as is already sufficiently proved by the reference to the "proceedings of the Rhine Province Assembly". Why not rather the good old German curialistic style? You may write freely, but at the same time every word must be a curtsey to the liberal censorship, which allows you to express your equally serious and modest opinions. Indeed, do not lose your feeling of reverence!
The legal emphasis is not on truth but on modesty and seriousness. Hence everything here arouses suspicion: seriousness, modesty and, above all, truth, the indefinite scope of which seems to conceal a very definite but very doubtful kind of truth.
"The censorship," the instruction states further, "should therefore by no means be implemented in a narrow-minded interpretation going beyond this law."
By this law is meant in the first place Article II of the 1819 decree, but later the instruction refers to the "spirit" of the censorship decree as a whole. The two provisions are easily combined. Article II is the concentrated spirit of the censorship decree, the further subdivision and more detailed specification of this spirit being found in the other articles. We believe the above-mentioned spirit cannot be better characterised than by the following expressions of it:
Article VII. "The freedom from censorship hitherto accorded the Academy of Sciences and the universities is hereby suspended for five years."
- 10. "The present temporary decision shall remain in force for five years from today. Before the expiry of this term there shall be a thorough investigation in the Bundestag of how the kind of provisions regarding freedom of the press proposed in Article 18 of the Bundesakte could be put into effect, and thereby a definite decision reached on the legitimate limits of freedom of the press in Germany."
A law which suspends freedom of the press where it has hitherto existed, and makes it superfluous through censorship where it was to be brought into existence, can hardly be called one favourable to the press. Moreover, §10 directly admits that provisionally a censorship law will be introduced instead of the freedom of the press proposed in Article 18 of the Bundesakte and perhaps intended to be put into effect at some time. This quid pro quo at least reveals that the circumstances of the time called for restrictions on the press, and that the decree owes its origin to distrust of the press. This annoyance is even excused by being termed provisional, valid for only five years - unfortunately it has lasted for 22 years.
The very next line of the instruction shows how it becomes involved in a contradiction. On the one hand, it will not have the censorship implemented in any interpretation that goes beyond the decree, and at the same time it prescribes such excess:
"The censor can very well permit a frank discussion also of internal affairs."
The censor can, but he does not have to, there is no necessity. Even this cautious liberalism very definitely goes not only beyond the spirit but beyond the definite demands of the censorship decree. The old censorship decree, to be exact, Article II cited in the instruction, not only does not permit any frank discussion of Prussian affairs, but not even of Chinese affairs.
"Here," namely, among violations of the security of the Prussian state and the German Federated States, the instruction comments, "are included all attempts to present in a favourable light parties existing in any country which work for the overthrow of the state system."
Is this the way a frank discussion of Chinese or Turkish national affairs is permitted? And if even such remote relations endanger the precarious security of the German Federation, how can any word of disapproval about internal affairs fail to do so?
Thus, on the one hand, the instruction goes beyond the spirit of Article II of the censorship decree in the direction of liberalism - an excess whose content will become clear later, but which is already formally suspicious inasmuch as it claims to be the consequence of Article II, of which wisely only the first half is quoted, the censor however being referred at the same time to the article itself. On the other hand, the instruction just as much goes beyond the censorship decree in an illiberal direction and adds new press restrictions to the old ones.
In the above-quoted Article II of the censorship decree it is stated:
"Its aim" (that of the censorship) "is to check all that is contrary to the general principles of religion, irrespective of the opinions and doctrines of individual religious parties and sects permitted in the state."
In 1819, rationalism still prevailed, which understood by religion in general the so-called religion of reason. This rationalist point of view is also that of the censorship decree, which at any rate is so inconsistent as to adopt the irreligious point of view while its aim is to protect religion. For it is already contrary to the general principles of religion to separate them from the positive content and particular features of religion, since each religion believes itself distinguished from the various other would-be religions by its special nature, and that precisely its particular features make it the true religion. In quoting Article II, the new censorship instruction omits the restrictive additional clause by which individual religious parties and sects are excluded from inviolability, but it does not stop at this and makes the following comment:
"Anything aimed in a frivolous, hostile way against the Christian religion in general, or against a particular article of faith, must not be tolerated."
The old censorship decree does not mention the Christian religion at all; on the contrary, it distinguishes between religion and all individual religious parties and sects. The new censorship instruction does not only convert religion in general into the Christian religion, but adds further a particular article of faith. A delightful product of our Christianised science! Who will still deny that it has forged new fetters for the press? Religion, it is said, must not be attacked, whether in general or in particular. Or do you perhaps believe that the words frivolous and hostile have made the new fetters into chains of roses? How adroitly it is written: frivolous, hostile! The adjective frivolous appeals to the citizen's sense of decorum, it is the exoteric word for the world at large, but the adjective hostile is whispered into the censor's ear, it is the legal interpretation of frivolity. We shall find in this instruction more examples of this subtle tact, which offers the public a subjective word that makes it blush and offers the censor an objective word that makes the author grow pale. In this way even lettres de cachet could be set to music.
And in what a remarkable contradiction the censorship instruction has entangled itself! It is only a half-hearted attack that is frivolous, one which keeps to individual aspects of a phenomenon, without being sufficiently profound and serious to touch the essence of the matter; it is precisely an attack on a merely particular feature as such that is frivolous. If, therefore, an attack on the Christian religion in general is forbidden, it follows that only a frivolous attack on it is permitted. On the other hand, an attack on the general principles of religion, on its essence, on a particular feature insofar as it is a manifestation of the essence, is a hostile attack. Religion can only be attacked in a hostile or a frivolous way, there is no third way. This inconsistency in which the instruction entangles itself is, of course, only a seeming one, for it depends on the semblance that in general some kind of attack on religion is still permitted. But an unbiassed glance suffices to realise that this semblance is only a semblance. Religion must not be attacked, whether in a hostile or a frivolous way, whether in general or in particular, therefore not at all.
But if the instruction, in open contradiction to the 1819 censorship decree, imposes new fetters on the philosophical press, it should at least be sufficiently consistent as to free the religious press from the old fetters imposed on it by the former rationalist decree. For it declares that the aim of the censorship is also
"to oppose fanatical transference of religious articles of faith into politics and the confusion of ideas resulting therefrom".
The new instruction, it is true, is clever enough not to mention this provision in its commentary, nevertheless it accepts it in citing Article II. What does fanatical transference of religious articles of faith into politics mean? It means making religious articles of faith, by their specific nature, a determining factor of the state; it means making the particular nature of a religion the measuring-rod of the state. The old censorship decree could rightly oppose this confusion of ideas, for it left a particular religion, its definite content, open to criticism. The old decree, however, was based on the shallow, superficial rationalism which you yourselves despised. But you, who base the state even in details on faith and Christianity, who want to have a Christian state, how can you still recommend the censorship to prevent this confusion of ideas?
The confusion of the political with the Christian-religious principle has indeed become official doctrine. We want to make this confusion clear in a few words. Speaking only of Christianity as the recognised religion, you have in your state Catholics and Protestants. Both make equal claims on the state, just as they have equal duties to it. They both leave their religious differences out of account and demand equally that the state should be the realisation of political and juridical reason. But you want a Christian state. If your state is only Lutheran-Christian, then for the Catholic it becomes a church to which he does not belong, which he must reject as heretical, and whose innermost essence is contrary to him. It is just the same the other way round. If, however, you make the general spirit of Christianity the particular spirit of your state, you nevertheless decide on the basis of your Protestant views what the general spirit of Christianity is. You define what a Christian state is, although the recent period has taught you that some government officials are unable to draw the line between the religious and the secular, between state and church. In regard to this confusion of ideas, it was not censors but diplomats who had, not to decide, but to negotiate. Finally, you are adopting a heretical point of view when you reject definite dogma as non-essential. If you call your state a general Christian state, you are admitting with a diplomatic turn of phrase that it is un-Christian. Hence either forbid religion to be introduced at all into politics - but you don't want that, for you want to base the state not on free reason, but on faith, religion being for you the general sanction for what exists - or allow also the fanatical introduction of religion into politics. Let religion concern itself with politics in its own way, but you don't want that either. Religion has to support the secular authority, without the latter subordinating itself to religion. Once you introduce religion into politics, it is intolerable, indeed irreligious, arrogance to want to determine secularly how religion has to act in political matters. He who wants to ally himself with religion owing to religious feelings must concede it the decisive voice in all questions, or do you perhaps understand by religion the cult of your own unlimited authority and governmental wisdom?
There is yet another way in which the orthodox spirit of the new censorship instruction comes into conflict with the rationalism of the old censorship decree. The latter includes under the aim of the censorship also suppression of "what offends against morality and good manners". The instruction reproduces this passage as a quotation from Article II. Its commentary, however, while making additions as regards religion, contains omissions as regards morality. Offending against morality and good manners becomes violation of "propriety and manners and external decorum". One sees: morality as such, as the principle of a world that obeys its own laws, disappears, and in place of the essence external manifestations make their appearance, police respectability, conventional decorum. Honour to whom honour is due, we recognise true consistency here. The specifically Christian legislator cannot recognise morality as an independent sphere that is sacrosanct in itself, for he claims that its inner general essence belongs to religion. Independent morality offends against the general principles of religion, but the particular concepts of religion conflict with morality. Morality recognises only its own universal and rational religion, and religion recognises only its particular positive morality. Hence, according to this instruction, the censorship must reject the intellectual heroes of morality, such as Kant, Fichte and Spinoza, as irreligious, as violating propriety, manners, and external decorum. All these moralists start out from a contradiction in principle between morality and religion, for morality is based on the autonomy of the human mind, religion on its heteronomy. Let us turn from these undesirable innovations of the censorship - on the one hand, the weakening of its moral conscience, on the other hand, the rigorous heightening of its religious conscience - to what is more welcome, the concessions.
It "follows in particular that writings in which the state administration is assessed as a whole or in its individual branches, laws that have been or are still to be promulgated are examined for their inner value, mistakes and misconceptions revealed, improvements indicated or suggested, are not to be rejected because they are written in a spirit that does not agree with the government's views, as long as their formulation is decent and their tendency well-meaning".
Modesty and seriousness of investigation - both the new instruction and the censorship decree make this demand, but for the former decorous formulation is as little sufficient as truth of content. For it the tendency is the main criterion, indeed it is its all-pervading thought, whereas in the decree itself not even the word tendency is to be found. Nor does the new instruction say what constitutes tendency, but how important it is for it may be seen from the following extract:
"In this connection it is an indispensable premise that the tendency of remonstrances expressed against measures of the government should not be spiteful or malevolent, but well-intentioned, and goodwill and insight are required of the censor so that he knows how to distinguish between the one case and the other. Considering this, the censors must also pay special attention to the form and tone of writings for the press and insofar as, owing to passion, vehemence and arrogance, their tendency is found to be pernicious, must not allow them to be printed."
The writer, therefore, has fallen victim to the most frightful terrorism, and is subjected to the jurisdiction of suspicion. Laws against tendency, laws giving no objective standards, are laws of terrorism, such as were invented owing to the emergency needs of the state under Robespierre and the corruption of the state under the Roman emperors. Laws which make their main criterion not actions as such, but the frame of mind of the doer, are nothing but positive sanctions for lawlessness. Better like that Russian Tsar to have everyone's beard cut off by Cossacks in his service than to make the state of mind due to which I wear a beard the criterion for the cutting.
Only insofar as I manifest myself externally, enter the sphere of the actual, do I enter the sphere of the legislator. Apart from my actions, I have no existence for the law, am no object for it. My actions are the sole thing by which the law has a hold on me; for they are the sole thing for which I demand a right of existence, a right of actuality, owing to which therefore I come within the sphere of actual law. The law which punishes tendency, however, punishes me not only for what I do, but for what I think, apart from my actions. It is therefore an insult to the honour of the citizen, a vexatious law which threatens my existence.
I can turn and twist as I will, it is not a question of the facts. My existence is under suspicion, my innermost being, my individuality, is considered bad, and it is for this opinion of me that I am punished. The law punishes me not for any wrong I commit, but for the wrong I do not commit. I am really being punished because my action is not against the law, for only because of that do I compel the lenient, well-meaning judge to seize on my bad frame of mind, which is clever enough not to come out in the open.
The law against a frame of mind is not a law of the state promulgated for its citizens, but the law of one party against another party. The law which punishes tendency abolishes the equality of the citizens before the law. It is a law which divides, not one which unites, and all laws which divide are reactionary. It is not a law, but a privilege. One may do what another may not do, not because the latter lacks some objective quality, like a minor in regard to concluding contracts; no, because his good intentions and his frame of mind are under suspicion. The moral state assumes its members to have the frame of mind of the state, even if they act in opposition to an organ of the state, against the government. But in a society in which one organ imagines itself the sole, exclusive possessor of state reason and state morality, in a government which opposes the people in principle and hence regards its anti-state frame of mind as the general, normal frame of mind, the bad conscience of a faction invents laws against tendency, laws of revenge, laws against a frame of mind which has its seat only in the government members themselves. Laws against frame of mind are based on an unprincipled frame of mind on an immoral, material view of the state.
They are the involuntary cry of a bad conscience. And how is a law of this kind to be implemented? By a means more revolting than the law itself: by spies, or by previous agreement to regard entire literary trends as suspicious, in which case, of course, the trend to which an individual belongs must also be inquired into. Just as in the law against tendency the legal form contradicts the content, just as the government which issues it lashes out against what it is itself, against the anti-state frame of mind, so also in each particular case it forms as it were the reverse world to its laws, for it applies a double measuring-rod. What for one side is right, for the other side is wrong. The very laws issued by the government are the opposite of what they make into law.
The new censorship instruction, too, becomes entangled in this dialectic. It contains the contradiction of itself doing, and making it the censor's duty to do, everything that it condemns as anti-state in the case of the press.
Thus the instruction forbids writers to cast suspicion on the frame of mind of individuals or whole classes, and in the same breath it bids the censor divide all citizens into suspicious and unsuspicious, into well-intentioned and evil-intentioned. The press is deprived of the right to criticise, but criticism becomes the daily duty of the governmental critic. This reversal, however, does not end the matter. Within the press what was anti-state as regards content appeared as something particular, but from the aspect of its form it was something universal, that is to say, subject to universal appraisal.
However, now the thing is turned upside-down: the particular now appears justified in regard to its content, what is anti-state appears as the view of the state, as state law; in regard to its form, however, what is anti-state appears as something particular, that cannot be brought to the general light of day, that is relegated from the open air of publicity to the office files of the governmental critic. Thus the instruction wants to protect religion, but it violates the most general principle of all religions, the sanctity and inviolability of the subjective frame of mind. It makes the censor instead of God the judge of the heart. Thus it prohibits offensive utterances and defamatory judgments on individuals, but it exposes you every day to the defamatory and offensive judgment of the censor. Thus the instruction wants the gossip of evil-minded or ill-informed persons suppressed, but it compels the censor to rely on such gossip, on spying by ill-informed and evil-minded persons, degrading judgment from the sphere of objective content to that of subjective opinion or arbitrary action. Thus suspicion must not be cast on the intention of the state, but the instruction starts out from suspicion in respect of the state. Thus no bad frame of mind must be concealed under a good appearance, but the instruction itself is based on a false appearance. Thus the instruction wants to enhance national feeling, but it is based on a view that humiliates the nation. Lawful behaviour and respect for the law are demanded of us, but at the same time we have to honour institutions which put us outside the law and introduce arbitrariness in place of law. We are required to recognise the principle of personality to such an extent that we trust the censor despite the defects of the institution of censorship, and you violate the principle of personality to such an extent that you cause personality to be judged not according to its actions but according to an opinion of the opinion of its actions. You demand modesty and your starting point is the monstrous immodesty of appointing individual servants of the state to spy on people's hearts, to be omniscient, philosophers, theologians, politicians, Delphic Apollos. On the one hand, you make it our duty to respect immodesty and, on the other hand, you forbid us to be immodest. The real immodesty consists in ascribing perfection of the genus to particular individuals. The censor is a particular individual, but the press becomes the embodiment of the whole genus. You order us to have trust, and you give distrust the force of law. You repose so much trust in your state institutions that you think they will convert a weak mortal, an official, into a saint, and make the impossible possible for him. But you distrust your state or organism so much that you are afraid of the isolated opinion of a private person; for you treat the press as a private person. You assume that the officials will act quite impersonally, without animosity, passion, narrow-mindedness or human weakness. But what is impersonal, ideas, you suspect of being full of personal intrigue and subjective vileness. The instruction demands unlimited trust in the estate of officials, and it proceeds from unlimited distrust in the estate of non-officials. Why should we not pay tit for tat? Why should we not look with suspicion on precisely this estate of officials? Equally as regards character. From the outset one who is impartial should have more respect for the character of the critic who acts publicly than for the character of the critic who acts in secret.
What is at all bad remains bad, whoever personifies this badness, whether a private critic or one appointed by the government, but in the latter case the badness is authorised and regarded from above as a necessity to realise goodness from below.
The censorship of tendency and the tendency of censorship are a gift of the new liberal instruction. No one will blame us if we turn to the further provisions of the instruction with a certain misgiving.
"Offensive utterances and defamatory judgments on individuals are not suitable for publication.
"Not suitable for publication! Instead of this mildness we could wish that an objective definition of offensive and defamatory judgments had been given.
"The same holds good for suspicion of the frame of mind of individuals or" (a significant or) "whole classes, for the use of party names and other such personal attacks."
Inadmissible, therefore, also are classification by categories, attacks on whole classes, use of party names - and man, like Adam, has to give everything a name for it to exist for him; party names are essential categories for the political press,
"Because, as Dr. Sassafras supposes, Every illness for its cure Must first receive a name."
All this is included in personal attacks. How then is one to make a start? One must not attack an individual, and just as little the class, the general, the juridical person. The state will - and here it is right - tolerate no insults, no personal attacks; but by a simple "or" the general is also included in the personal. By "or" the general comes into it, and by means of a little "and" we learn finally that the whole question has been only of personal attacks. But as a perfectly simple consequence it follows that the press is forbidden all control over officials as over such institutions that exist as a class of individuals.
"If censorship is exercised in accordance with these directives in the spirit of the censorship decree of October 18, 1819, adequate scope will be afforded for decorous and candid publicity, and it is to be expected that thereby greater sympathy for the interests of the Fatherland will be aroused and thus national feeling enhanced."
We are ready to admit that in accordance with these directives for decorous publicity, decorous in the sense understood by the censorship, a more than adequate field of play is afforded - the term field of play is happily chosen, for the field is calculated for a sportive press that is satisfied with leaps in the air. Whether it is adequate for a candid publicity, and where its candidness lies, we leave to the readers' perspicacity. As for expectations held out by the instruction, national feeling may, of course, be enhanced just as the sending of a bow-string enhances the feeling of Turkish nationality: but whether the press, as modest as it is serious, will arouse sympathy for the interests of the Fatherland we shall leave it to decide for itself; a meagre press cannot be fattened with quinine. Perhaps, however, we have taken too serious a view of the passage quoted. We shall, perhaps, get at the meaning better if we regard it as merely a thorn in the wreath of roses. Perhaps this liberal thorn holds a pearl of very ambiguous value. Let us see. It all depends on the context. The enhancement of national feeling and the arousing of sympathy for the interests of the Fatherland, which in the above-cited passage are spoken of as an expectation, secretly turn into an order, which imposes a new constraint on our poor, consumptive daily press.
"In this way it may be hoped that both political literature and the daily press will realise their function better, that with the acquirement of richer material they will also adopt a more dignified tone, and in future will scorn to speculate on the curiosity of their readers through communication of baseless reports taken from foreign newspapers and originating from evil-minded or badly informed correspondents, by gossip and personal attacks - a trend against which it is the undoubted duty of the censorship to take measures."
In the way indicated it is hoped that political literature and the daily press will realise their function better, etc. However, better realisation cannot be ordered, moreover it is a fruit still to he awaited, and hope remains hope. But the instruction is much too practical to be satisfied with hopes and pious wishes. While the press is granted the hope of its future improvement as a new consolation, the kindly instruction at the same time deprives it of a right it has at present. In the hope of its improvement it loses what it still has. It fares like poor Sancho Panza, from whom all the food was snatched away under his eyes by the court doctor in order that his stomach should not be upset and make him incapable of performing the duties imposed on him by the duke.
At the same time we ought not to miss the opportunity of inviting the Prussian writer to adopt this kind of decorous style. In the first part of the sentence it is stated: "In this way it may be hoped that". This that governs a whole series of provisions, namely, that political literature and the daily press will realise their function better, that they will adopt a more dignified tone, etc., etc., that they will scorn communication of baseless reports, etc., taken from foreign newspapers. All these provisions are still matters for hope; but the conclusion, which is joined to the foregoing by a dash: "a trend against which it is the undoubted duty of the censorship to take measures", absolves the censor from the boring task of awaiting the hoped-for improvement of the daily press, and instead empowers him to delete what he finds undesirable without more ado. Internal treatment has been replaced by amputation.
"To approach this aim more closely, however, requires that great care be taken in agreeing to new publications and new editors, so that the daily press will be entrusted only to completely irreproachable persons whose scientific ability, position and character guarantee the seriousness of their efforts and the loyalty of their mode of thought."
Before we go into details, let us make one general observation. The approval of new editors, hence of future editors in general, is entrusted wholly to the "great care", naturally of the state officials, of the censorship, whereas at least the old censorship decree left the choice of editors, with certain guarantees, to the discretion of the publisher:
"Article IX. The supreme censorship authority is entitled to inform the publisher of a newspaper that a proposed editor is not such as to inspire the requisite trust, in which case the publisher is bound either to take another editor or, if he wants to retain the one designated, to furnish for him a security to be determined by our above-mentioned state ministries on the proposal of the above-mentioned supreme censorship authority."
The new censorship instruction expresses a quite different profundity, one could call it a romanticism of the spirit. Whereas the old censorship decree demands an external, prosaic, hence legally definable, security, on the guarantee of which even the objectionable editor is to be allowed, the instruction on the other hand takes away all independent will from the publisher of a newspaper. Moreover, it draws the attention of the preventive wisdom of the government, the great care and intellectual profundity of the authorities, to internal, subjective, externally indefinable, qualities. If, however, the indefiniteness, delicate sensitivity, and subjective extravagance of romanticism become purely external, merely in the sense that external chance no longer appears in its prosaic definiteness and limitation, but in a fantastic glory, in an imaginary profundity and splendour - then the instruction, too, can hardly avoid this romantic fate.
The editors of the daily press, a category which includes all journalistic activity, must be completely irreproachable men. "Scientific qualification" is put forward in the first place as a guarantee of this complete irreproachability. Not the slightest doubt arises as to whether the censor can have the scientific qualification to pass judgment on scientific qualification of every kind. If such a crowd of universal geniuses known to the government are to be found in Prussia - every town has at least one censor - why do not these encyclopaedic minds come forward as writers? If these officials, overwhelming in their numbers and mighty owing to their scientific knowledge and genius, were all at once to rise up and smother by their weight those miserable writers, each of whom can write in only one genre, and even in that without officially attested ability, an end could be put to the irregularities of the press much better than through the censorship. Why do these experts who, like the Roman geese, could save the Capitol by their cackling remain silent? Their modesty is too great. The scientific public does not know them, but the government does.
And if these men are indeed such as no state has succeeded in discovering, for never has a state known whole classes composed solely of universal geniuses and encyclopaedic minds - how much greater must be the genius of the selectors of these men! What secret science must be theirs for them to be able to issue a certificate of universal scientific qualification to officials unknown in the republic of science! The higher we rise in this bureaucracy of intelligence, the more remarkable are the minds we encounter. For a state which possesses such pillars of a perfect press, is it worth the trouble, is it expedient to make these men the guardians of a defective press, to degrade the perfect into a means for dealing with the imperfect?
The more of these censors you appoint, the mare you deprive the realm of the press of chances of improvement. You take away the healthy from your army in order to make them physicians of the unhealthy.
Merely stamp on the ground like Pompey and a Pallas Athena in complete armour will spring from every government building. Confronted by the official press, the shallow daily press will disintegrate into nothing. The existence of light suffices to expel darkness. Let your light shine, and hide it not under a bushel. Instead of a defective censorship whose full effectiveness you yourselves regard as problematic, give us a perfect press to whom you have only to give an order and a model of which has been in existence for centuries in the Chinese state.
But to make scientific qualification the sole, necessary condition for writers of the daily press, is that not a provision concerning the mind, no favouring of privilege, no conventional demand? Is it not a stipulation as regards the matter, not a stipulation as regards the person?
Unfortunately the censorship instruction interrupts our panegyric. Alongside the guarantee of scientific qualification is the demand for that of position and character. Position and character!
Character, which follows so immediately after position, seems almost to be a mere outcome of the latter. Let us, therefore, take a look at position in the first place. It is so squeezed in between scientific qualification and character that one is almost tempted to doubt the good conscience that called for it.
The general demand for scientific qualification, how liberal! The special demand for position, how illiberal! Scientific qualification and position together, how pseudo-liberal! Since scientific qualification and character are very indefinite things, whereas position, on the other hand, is very definite, why should we not conclude that by a necessary law of logic the indefinite will be supported by the definite and obtain stability and content from it? Would it then be a great mistake on the part of the censor if he interpreted the instruction as meaning that position is the external form in which scientific qualification and character manifest themselves socially, the more so since his own position as censor is a guarantee for him that this view is the state's view? Without this interpretation it remains at least quite incomprehensible why scientific qualification and character are not adequate guarantees for a writer, why position is a necessary third. Now if the censor were to find himself in a quandary, if these guarantees were seldom or never present together, where should his choice fall? A choice has to be made, for someone has to edit newspapers and periodicals. Scientific qualification and character without position could present a problem for the censor on account of their indefiniteness, just as in general it must rightly be a surprise to him that such qualities could exist separately from position. On the other hand, ought the censor to have any doubts about character and science where position is present? In that case he would have less confidence in the judgment of the state than in his own, whereas in the opposite case he would have more confidence in the writer than in the state. Ought a censor to be so tactless, so ill-disposed? It is not to be expected and will certainly not be expected. Position, because it is the decisive criterion in case of doubt, is in general the absolutely decisive criterion.
Hence, just as earlier the instruction was in conflict with the censorship decree owing to its orthodoxy, now it is so owing to its romanticism, which at the same time is always the poetry of tendency. The cash security, which is a prosaic, real guarantee, becomes an imaginary one, and this imaginary guarantee turns into the wholly real and individual position, which acquires a magical fictitious significance. In the same way the significance of the guarantee becomes transformed. The publisher no longer chooses an editor, for whom he gives a guarantee to the authorities, instead the authorities choose an editor for him, one for whom they give a guarantee to themselves. The old decree looked for the work of the editor, for which the publisher's cash security served as guarantee. The instruction, however, is not concerned with the work of the editor, but with his person. It demands a definite personal individuality, which the publisher's money should provide. The new instruction is just as superficial as the old decree. But whereas the latter by its nature expressed and delimited prosaically defined provisions, the instruction gives an imaginary significance to the purest chance and expresses what is merely individual with the fervour of generality.
Whereas, however, as regards the editor, the romantic instruction expresses the extremely superficial definiteness in a tone of the most easy-going indefiniteness, as regards the censor it expresses the vaguest indefiniteness in a tone of legal definiteness.
"The same caution must be exercised in the appointment of censors, so that the post of censor shall be entrusted only to men of tested frame of mind and ability, who fully correspond to the honourable trust which that office presupposes; to men who are both right-thinking and keen-sighted, who are able to separate the form from the essence of the matter and with sure tact know how to set aside doubt where the meaning and tendency of a writing do not in themselves justify this doubt."
Instead of position and character as required of the writer, we have here the tested frame of mind, since position is already there. More significant is that whereas scientific qualification is demanded of the writer, what is demanded of the censor is ability without further definition. The old decree, which is drawn up in a rational spirit except in respect of politics, calls in Article III for "scientifically-trained" and even "enlightened" censors. In the instruction both attributes have been dropped, and instead of the qualification of the writer, which signifies a definite, well-developed ability that has become a reality, there appears in the case of the censor the aptitude for qualification, ability in general. Hence the aptitude for ability has to act as censor of actual qualification, however much in the nature of things the relationship should obviously be the reverse. Finally, merely in passing, we note that the ability of the censor is not more closely defined as regards its objective content, and this, of course, makes its character ambiguous.
Further, the post of censor is to be entrusted to men "who fully correspond to the honourable trust which that office presupposes". This pleonastic pseudo-definition, to select for an office men in whom one has trust that they (will?) fully correspond to the honourable trust, certainly a very full trust, reposed in them, is not worth further discussion.
Finally, the censors must be men
"who are both right-thinking and keen-sighted, who are able to separate the form from the essence of the matter and with sure tact know how to set aside doubt where the meaning and tendency of a writing do not in themselves justify this doubt".
Earlier, on the other hand, the instruction prescribes:
"Considering this" (namely, the investigation of tendency), "the censors must also pay special attention to the form and tone of writings for the press and insofar as, owing to passion, vehemence and arrogance, their tendency is found to be pernicious, must not allow them to be printed."
On one occasion, therefore, the censor has to judge of the tendency from the form, on another occasion, of the form from the tendency. If previously content had already disappeared as a criterion for censorship, now form also disappears. As long as the tendency is good, faults of form do not matter. Even if the work cannot be regarded exactly as very serious and modest, even if it may appear to be vehement, passionate, arrogant, who would let himself be frightened by the rough exterior? One has to know how to distinguish between form and essence. All semblance of definitions had to be abandoned, the instruction had to end in a complete contradiction with itself; for everything by which tendency is supposed to be recognised is, on the contrary, determined by the tendency and must be recognised from the tendency. The vehemence of the patriot is holy zeal, his passionateness is the sensitiveness of the lover, his arrogance a devoted sympathy which is too immeasurable to be moderate.
All objective standards are abandoned, everything is finally reduced to the personal relation, and the censor's tact has to be called a guarantee. What then can the censor violate? Tact. But tactlessness is no crime. What is threatened as far as the writer is concerned? His existence. What state has ever made the existence of whole classes depend on the tact of individual officials?
I repeat, all objective standards are abandoned. As regards the writer, tendency is the ultimate content that is demanded from him and prescribed to him. Tendency as formless opinion appears as object. Tendency as subject, as opinion of opinion, is the censor's tact and his sole criterion.
But whereas the arbitrariness of the censor - and to sanction the authority of mere opinion is to sanction arbitrariness - is alogical consequence which was concealed under a semblance of objective definitions, the instruction on the other hand quite consciously expresses the arbitrariness of the Oberprasidium; trust is reposed in the latter without reserve, and this trust reposed in the Oberprasident is the ultimate guarantee of the press. Thus the essence of the censorship in general is based on the arrogant imaginary idea that the police state has of its officials. There is no confidence in the intelligence and goodwill of the general public even in the simplest matter; but even the impossible is considered possible for the officials.
This fundamental defect is inherent in all our institutions. Thus,for example, in criminal proceedings judge, accuser and defender are combined in a single person. This combination contradicts all the laws of psychology. But the official is raised above the laws of psychology, while the general public remains under them. Nevertheless, one could excuse a defective principle of state; it becomes unpardonable, however, if it is not honest enough to be consistent. The responsibility of the officials ought to be as immeasurably above that of the general public as the officials are above the latter, and it is precisely here, where consistency alone could justify the principle and make it legitimate within its sphere, it is precisely here that it is abandoned and the opposite principle applied.
The censor, too, is accuser, defender and judge in a single person; control of the mind is entrusted to the censor; he is irresponsible.
The censorship could have only a provisionally loyal character if it was subordinated to the regular courts, which of course is impossible so long as there are no objective laws governing censorship. But the worst method of all is to subject the censorship to censorship again, as by an Oberprasident or supreme college of censors.
Everything that holds good Of the relation Of the press to the censorship holds good also of the relation of the censorship to the supreme censorship and that of the writer to the supreme censor, although an intermediate link is interposed. It is the same relation placed on a higher plane, the remarkable error of leaving matters alone and wanting to give them another nature through other persons. If the coercive state wanted to be loyal, it would abolish itself. Every point would require the same coercion and the same counter-pressure. The supreme censorship would have to be subjected to censorship in its turn. In order to escape from this vicious circle, it is decided to be disloyal; lawlessness now begins in the third or ninety-ninth stage. Because the bureaucratic state is vaguely conscious of this, it tries at least to place the sphere of lawlessness so high that it escapes the eye, and then believes that lawlessness has disappeared.
The real, radical cure for the censorship would be its abolition; for the institution itself is a bad one, and institutions are more powerful than people. Our view may be right or not, but in any case the Prussian writers stand to gain through the new instruction, either in real freedom, or in freedom of ideas, in consciousness.
Rara temporum feticitas, ubi quae velis sentire et quae sentias direre licet.
Signed; By a Rhinelander
- "It is the rare happiness of times when you may think what you wish and say what you think." Tacitus, Histories 1.1