The War for the Public Mind: Political Censorship in Nineteenth-Century Europe

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The War for the Public Mind: Political Censorship in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Robert Justin Goldstein, ed. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000. 280 pp. $64 hbk.

Robert Justin Goldstein has compiled an insightful, well-written volume about the sweep and consequences of censorship in nineteenth-century Europe. While disappointing in some important respects (the book has but a thin analytical patina, for example), War for the Public Mind offers a useful overview for scholars of international communication and of media censorship. Goldstein, a professor of political science at Oakland University in Michigan, has collected contributions about censorship regimes in nineteenth-century France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Russia, and the Austrian Empire. Together, they comprise an absorbing account.

Censorship was a principal tool for Europe's elites in seeking to thwart the political demands and aspirations of the Continent's emergent middle classes. Restrictions on the press, literature, theater, art, cinema, and caricature effectively "limited the choices of tens of millions of Europeans," Goldstein writes. There can be little doubt, he maintains, that "the insipid quality of much of the nineteenth century European stage," as well as of "most pre1850 European journalism," can be attributed substantially to censorship. That conclusion, however, is not necessarily endorsed by all contributors to War for the Public Mind.

Charles A. Ruud writes in his chapter that "even when state intervention was most severe, Russian literature, journalism, art, and music clearly flourished...."

Such inconsistency is not a serious flaw, given that censorship restrictions themselves were typically vague in formulation and porous in application. Several of the book's most intriguing passages describe the ways in which European journalists, artists, authors, and actors imaginatively defied, subverted, or eluded censorship. In France, for example, writers jailed for censorship offenses in the late nineteenth century were known to face fresh charges that stemmed from their writings while in prison.

Nineteenth-century censorship regimes were anything but static. Periods of severe repression often were followed by an easing of restrictions-and such relaxation invariably brought on an exuberant flourishing of nonofficial media. (The pattern is certainly not unfamiliar to contemporary observers of news media in democratizing states. …