Image - blowhorn, detail from book cover of Free Speech

Past Event

The History of Free Speech from Socrates to Social Media

Hailed as the “first freedom,” free speech is one of the bedrocks of democracy. But it is a challenging principle, subject to erosion in times of fear and upheaval. Today, both in democracies and in authoritarian states around the world, it appears to be on the retreat.

Jacob Mchangama traces the fascinating legal, political and cultural history of this idea by telling stories of free speech’s many defenders—from the ancient Athenian orator Demosthenes and the ninth-century freethinker al-Rāzī, to the anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells and modern-day digital activists. Mchangama describes how the free exchange of ideas underlies all intellectual achievement and has enabled the advancement of both freedom and equality worldwide. Yet the desire to restrict speech is also a constant, and he explores how even its champions can sometimes be led down an authoritarian, restrictive path when the rise of new and contrarian voices challenge power and privilege of all stripes.

Mchangama's Free Speech demonstrates how much we have gained from this principle—and how much we stand to lose without it.

Notes

MLF: Humanities

Author photo courtesy the author; main image: detail from book cover of Free Speech.

February 16, 2022

The Commonwealth Club of California
United States

Speakers
Image - Jacob Mchangama

Jacob Mchangama

Founder and Executive Director, Justitia (Danish think tank); Host, "Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech" Podcast; Author, Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media

Image - George Hammond

In Conversation with George Hammond

Author, Conversations With Socrates

Format

10–11 a.m. program
(all times PST)