Regina Schwartz ~ Northwestern University
Milton and Idolatry

Milton was preoccupied with idolatry from the beginning of his literary career, from the "Nativity Ode" to its end, in Samson Agonistes, and throughout his political and religious prose, he inveighed against idolaters for enslaving the mind, the will, and nation. For him, regicide was justified because the idolatrous King enslaved his subjects. But Milton also authored the great tract on free speech, Areopagitica, that was to become one of the cornerstones of the U.S. First Amendment's commitment to liberty and toleration. As spokesman for liberty, he seems embarrassingly bigoted when he inveighs against Catholics. As such, Milton brings a contemporary question into clear focus: is idolatry only the name we give to our enemies, a mystification for intolerance? Or is there some concept of enslavement, of error, of falsehood, that is still a legitimate category for evaluation? If so, how do we know idolaters when we see them?

Respondent: Dennis Danielson ~ University of British Columbia