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Episode 30 – Northern Lights, The Scandinavian Press Freedom Breakthrough

In the 1760s and 1770s, Sweden and Denmark-Norway shortly became the epicenter of press freedom protections in Enlightenment Europe.

In 1766, the Swedish Diet passed the Press Freedom Act, making Sweden the first country in the world to provide constitutional protection to both the principles of press freedom and freedom of information. In 1770, Denmark-Norway, under the de-facto rule of German physician Johan Friedrich Struensee, became the first country in the world to abolish any and all restrictions on press freedom. Almost overnight, both Sweden and Denmark-Norway experienced a new vibrant public sphere with debate, discussion and trolling.

But in 1772, King Gustav III ended Sweden’s so-called Age of Liberty — and with it, the era of the liberal press. That same year, Struensee lost not only his power, but his hands, legs — and head — as he was dismembered and ousted in a coup that severely restricted press freedom.

But how did Sweden and Denmark-Norway become trailblazers of press freedom, if only for the briefest of time? Find out in this episode where we explore:

  • How Sweden’s Age of Liberty introduced parliamentarism but kept freedom of speech suppressed by censorship
  • How writers like Peter Forsskål and Anders Nordencrantz argued for press freedom inspired by Enlightenment ideals
  • How Peter Forsskål’s “Thoughts on Civil Liberty” was banned but still inspired a new generation of Swedish politicians
  • How the MP and priest Anders Chydenius paved the way for the Press Freedom Act in the Swedish Parliament
  • How Struensee became the man behind the throne of the mentally ill King Christian VII
  • How Struensee tried to usher in Enlightenment Now! with 1800 orders and edicts in 16 months
  • How Struensee eliminated two centuries of censorship with the stroke of a pen
  • How Struensee’s tsunami of Enlightenment reforms and sexual liberation came back to haunt him in critical pamphlets and newspapers
  • How Struensee had to compromise his free speech ideals in 1771
  • How Struensee was ousted and executed by disgruntled nobles who ended his free speech experimentation and cracked down on dissent
  • Why critical writings about herring fishery should never be allowed

Why have kings, emperors, and governments killed and imprisoned people to shut them up? And why have countless people risked death and imprisonment to express their beliefs? Jacob Mchangama guides you through the history of free speech from the trial of Socrates to the Great Firewall.

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Litterature:

  • Amdisen, A. (2012). Struensee: til nytte og fornøjelse : den utrolige historie om livlægen, der blev dronningens elsker, kongens bedste ven og Danmarks enevældige hersker. Copenhagen, DK: Lindhardt og Ringhof.
  • Bailyn, B. (1968). Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Buringh, E. & van Zanden, J. (2009). Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries. The Journal of Economic History 69(2).
  • Den Store Danske (2014, December 2). Angliviel de la Beaumelle. Retrieved from here.
  • Fukuyama, F. (2012). The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. London, UK: Profile Books Ltd.
  • Grześkowiak-Krwawicz, A. (2012). Queen Liberty: The Concept of Freedom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Leiden, NL & Boston, MA: Brill.
  • Hofverbeg, E. (2016, December 19). 250 Years of Press Freedom in Sweeden. Library of Congress. Retrieved from here.
  • Israel, J. (2011). Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750–1790. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Israel, J. (2006). Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670–1752. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Laursen, J.C. (2005). Censorship in the Nordic Countries, ca. 1750–1890: Transformations in Law, Theory, and Practice. Journal of Modern European History 3(1), Censorship in Early Modern Europe, pp. 100–121.
  • Laursen, J.C. (2000). Spinoza in Denmark and the Fall of Struensee, 1700–1772. Journal of the History of Ideas 61(2), pp. 189–202. Retrieved from here.
  • Mchangama, J. & Stjernfelt, F. (2016). MEN: Ytringsfrihedens danske historie. Copenhagen, DK: Gyldendal.
  • Nokkala, E. (2016). Peter Forsskål – Skrivfriheten och offentlighetsprincipen. In: Wennberg, B. & Örtenhed, K. (eds.) Fritt Ord 250 år – Tryckfrihet och offentlighet i Sverige och Finland – ett levande arv från 1766. Pp. 167–204. Sveriges Riksdag. Retrieved from here.
  • Nordin, J. (2017-8). The Swedish Freedom of Print Act of 1776 –Background and Significance. Journal of International Media & Entertainment Law 7(2), pp. 137–144. PDF retrieved from here.
  • Nygren, R. (2016). TF 1766 i sin historiska och rättsliga kontext: Ett försök till sammanfattning. In: Wennberg, B. & Örtenhed, K. (eds.) Fritt Ord 250 år – Tryckfrihet och offentlighet i Sverige och Finland – ett levande arv från 1766. 167–204. Sveriges Riksdag. Retrieved from here.
  • Reporters Without Borders – For Freedom of Information (2019). 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Retrieved from here.
  • Riksdagen (2019, May 7). The History of the Riksdag. Retrieved from here.
  • Skuncke, M.-C. (2016). Tryckfriheten i riksdagen 1760–62 och 1765–66. In: Wennberg, B. & Örtenhed, K. (eds.) Fritt Ord 250 år – Tryckfrihet och offentlighet i Sverige och Finland – ett levande arv från 1766. Pp. 167–204. Sveriges Riksdag. Retrieved from here.
  • Stjernfelt, F. & Langen, U. (forthcoming).
  • Wennberg, B. & Örtenhed, K. (eds.). Fritt Ord 250 år – Tryckfrihet och offentlighet i Sverige och Finland – ett levande arv från 1766. Sveriges Riksdag. Retrieved from here.

Primary sources:

  • Chydenius, A. (1766, April 21). Betänkande om tryckfriheten 1766 [Additional report on the freedom of printing]. Retrieved from here. English translation retrieved from here.
  • Forsskål, P. (1759). Tankar, om Borgerliga Friheten [Thoughts on Civil Liberty]. Retrieved from here. English translation retrieved from here.
  • King Adolf Fredrik (1766, December 2). Maj:ts Nådige Förordning, Angående Skrif- och Tryckfriheten; Gifwen Stockholm i Råd-Cammaren then 2. Decembr.1766. [His Royal Majesty’s Gracious Ordinance Relating to Freedom of Writing and of the Press, Delivered at Stockholm in the on December 2, 1766.]. PDF retrieved from here.  . English translation retrieved from here.
  • Molesworth, R. (1694). An Account of Denmark: As it was in the year 1692. Retrieved from here.
  • Thiele, J.R. (1772). Den Stormægtigste dronning Caroline Mathilde til Hæst [pasquinade]. Retrieved from here.
  • Thiele, J.R. (1772). Grev Struenses Bedrifter, saa og hans velfortiente Skiebne [pasquinade]. Retrieved from here.
  • Thiele, J.R. (1772). Det store Sørge-Sæt [pasquinade]. Retrieved from here.
  • Thiele, J.R. (1772). Caroline Mathilde på Kronborg [pasquinade]. Retrieved from here.
  • Thiele, J.R. (1772). Nu vender Lykken sig, Grev Struense [pasquinade]. Retrieved from here.