Free Speech — Timothy Garton Ash

This is a considered and level-headed approach to free speech. Ash avoids the platitudes and black-and-white dogmatism of the more extreme woke and anti-woke thinking. Instead, he tries to go back to first principles: about what is good and bad about free speech and what happens when it gets pushed too far in various directions. He discusses what the rules concerning free speech should be, and also the laws (they aren’t necessarily the same). In the end he distills it down to ten principles:

1. Lifeblood: We – all human beings – must be free and able to express ourselves, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of frontiers.

2. Violence: We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.

3. Knowledge: We allow no taboos against and seize every chance for the spread of knowledge.

4. Journalism: We require uncensored, diverse, trustworthy media so we can make well-informed decisions and participate fully in political life.

5. Diversity: We express ourselves openly and with robust civility about all kinds of human difference.

6. Religion: We respect the believer but not necessarily the content of the belief.

7. Privacy: We must be able to protect our privacy and to counter slurs on our reputations, but not prevent scrutiny that is in the public interest.

8. Secrecy: We must be empowered to challenge all limits to freedom of information justified on such grounds as national security.

9. Icebergs: We defend the internet and other systems of communication against illegitimate encroachments by both public and private powers.

10. Courage: We decide for ourselves and face the consequences.

Each of these “commandments” gets a whole chapter to itself. There are so many important points, such as the fact that respecting a person is not the same as respecting the things they believe. It’s frustrating when discussions get shut down because people don’t understand this.

The ideas in books like Free Speech should help resolve this sort of thing so people can actually talk to each other, rather than talking past one another or at one another. Perhaps then we will be able to learn from each other and maybe, finally, we can all just get along.

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