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Comstockery

noun [uncountable]

excessive censorship of literature and pictures which are considered obscene or immoral

'The rapidly increasing popularity of the Internet, which can be used to transmit all kinds of information, including "indecent" digitized images and words, may spawn a new age of Comstockery.'

In R. Corn-Revere, 'New-Age Comstockery: Exon vs. the Internet'. Cato Policy Analysis 232 June 1995

such classic works as James Joyce's Ulysses and literary giants such as Tolstoy and Balzac have been subjected to this form of censorship

Comstockery describes an unfair, self-righteous form of censorship, and has led to the destruction of vast quantities of literature and photos perceived to be immoral. Such classic works as James Joyce's Ulysses and literary giants such as Tolstoy and Balzac have been subjected to this form of censorship.

Background – Comstockery

The term Comstockery derives from one Anthony Comstock (1844–1915). In 1873 Comstock became secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. In the same year he went to Washington to lobby for stronger laws on obscenity, carrying a huge cloth bag full of publications and information on contraception and abortion. He was subsequently empowered to enforce a new law, the Comstock law, which prohibited publications 'of an indecent character' and the mailing of 'any article … intended for the prevention of conception or the procuring of abortion'. The law enabled him to go to any post office and inspect mail he suspected might be obscene, and in his lifetime he oversaw the destruction of 160 tons of literature he considered immoral.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 10th February 2003.

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