In other countries, censorship is accepted as inevitable in times of war, and it has been imposed to varying degrees even in peacetime. In the Middle Ages, attempts to silence heresy through intimidation, particularly through the establishment of the Inquisition, were examples of censorship, as are modern instances of book banning. The absolute monarchs of the 17th and 18th cent. imposed strict controls, and because the Reformation had resulted in a reshuffling of the relations between church and state, these controls were used to persecute opponents of the established religion of a particular state, Roman Catholic or Protestant. A form of book-banning was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in the Index, a list of publications that the faithful were forbidden to read. The last edition of the Index was published in 1948; in 1966 Pope Paul VI decreed that it would be discontinued. Paradoxically, in the lands under Calvinist domination (such as Geneva, Scotland, and England of the Puritan period) where the ideals of liberty and freedom first blossomed, regulation of private conduct and individual opinion was rigorous, and censorship was strong.
Strict censorship of all forms of public expression characterized the Soviet Union throughout most of its 74-year history. Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, which won the 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature, was not permitted publication there, and the novels of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, considered by many to be masterpieces, were banned in 1966. Soviet censorship largely ended in 1986 under Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost (openness).
In Britain during the 19th and 20th cent., the object of censorship has most often been literature regarded as obscene. With the passage of the Obscene Publications Act in 1857, there followed many criminal prosecutions and seizures of books. This law remained in effect until 1959, when a new law provided that the opinion of artistic or literary experts could be submitted as evidence in deciding obscenity cases and that work alleged to be obscene had to be judged as a whole rather than in part. However, when the editors of an underground periodical, Oz, were convicted in 1971 for violating postal laws, an appeal court held that a periodical need not be judged as a whole, an apparent reversal of the 1959 act.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.