Free Speech: And Why You Should Give a Damn – Jonathan Zimmerman

Free Speech

Summary

A detailed, well-cited argument for the value of free speech, along with a quick history of the many times we've ignored that value.

Review

Just like it says on the box. That’s what you get with Free Speech – an argument for why free speech is important, why you should care, and how many people on all sides get it wrong these days.

It’s a slim book, but it manages to cover the highlights of the history of US free speech, along with a cogent argument for why it’s important – though seemingly without ever quoting two key principles of the free speech movement: “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence”, and “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. He does refer to Justice Brandeis (author of the former), and perhaps doesn’t get to Voltaire (author of the latter) due to the US focus. These principles, however unspoken, do permeate the book.

Zimmerman’s argument, while impassioned, researched, and literate, is also fairly scattershot in presentation He jumps from point to point and time to time with abandon, and the nominal chapters are generally more guideposts in his writing than clear pathways. Happily, his central point comes through clearly – free speech is important, and it’s one that is important to make, in these days of content warnings, easily hurt sensibilities, and false claims of ‘cancelation’ or censorship.

There’s a certain Constitutional illiteracy among not just today’s sides, but among historical leaders, judges, and even Supreme Court justices. This seems to be a country incapable of learning from its mistakes, and so we make them over and over and over – particularly with respect to speech. We’re at a low point of speech protection, which may get worse before we come to our senses again, and books like this can – I hope – slow our fall.

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