Professor Nadine Strossen, one of the world’s great civil libertarians, in conversation with Eric Heinze, Professor of Law & Humanities at Queen Mary University of London and renowned British free speech expert, on the critical issue of Free Speech.
What is offensive? A great deal, in the brazen internet age when we are besieged on all sides by voices – including those which shout ‘Silence!’ and cite the damage being done by extreme views: discrimination, incitement to violence, psychic injury. In a free society is free speech an absolute, or is enough enough?
The United States is the front-line in this debate, because the First Amendment provides significant protection for free expression. The support of many liberals has waned, however, and the new enemies of a society which has become too open are apt to quote philosopher Karl Popper: ‘If we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.’
In the case of ‘hate speech’, what constitutes intolerable intolerance? Does causing offence qualify? Does mockery qualify? And when the politics of identity becomes a crucial determinant, where do the possiblities for offendedness end?
And who decides? If you empower a government to restrict speech today, tomorrow it may be ourspeech that is restricted. More or less everything that challenged the establishment – not least the civil rights movement – has had to fight censorship, and it is hard to point to any social progress that did not depend on freedom of speech.
Nadine Strossen argues that we protect speech because it has an effect, positive or negative – that a democracy succeeds only when the thoughts and aspirations of all its citizens are rights, to be expressed regardless of viewpoint. That the way to resist hate and promote equality is not censorship but argument.
Join us on July 3rd to debate the new relevance of that old Voltairean chestnut: ‘I hate what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’