Free speech: its past, present and future

Jacob Mchangama in conversation with Professor Paul Cartledge

female activist protesting with megaphone
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Date and time
16 February 2023
6.30 pm
£6.00 (non-members)


How can we better understand and conceptualise both the benefits and challenges of free speech?

It has been said that ‘free speech is the bulwark of liberty; without it, no free and democratic society has ever been established or thrived’. But how can we protect it whilst addressing legitimate concerns surrounding misinformation and hate speech?

In this online ‘in conversation’ event, Danish lawyer and human-rights advocate, Jacob Mchangama, will explore the past, present and future of free speech with Paul Cartledge, Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University.

Drawing on Professor Cartledge’s expertise in ancient history and democracy, the conversation will begin with a discussion of where and how the very idea of free speech originated.

Jacob and Paul will explore the ancient concepts of “Isegoria” (equality of all in freedom of speech) and “Parrhesia” (speaking candidly). And the difference, indeed conflict, between “egalitarian” free speech in Athens vs “elitist” free speech in the Roman Republic. Using illustrative examples – including the trial of Socrates and the Peterloo Massacre – they will explain how this conflict between egalitarian and elitist free speech has been a major fault line through ancient, medieval, and modern history.

What lessons can the difficulties of invoking the ideal of free speech in the ancient world tell us about the difficulties of operationalizing this ideal in today’s digital world? And how can we create a resilient global culture of free speech that benefits everyone?

jacob mchangama

Jacob Mchangama

Jacob Mchangama is a lawyer, human-rights advocate and global expert on free speech. He is founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law.

Jacob’s writing has appeared in a wide range of international media outlets including the Economist, Washington Post, BBC, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal and Politico.

Following the success of his podcast series Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech, Jacob published his book Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media in 2022. The book traces the riveting legal, political and cultural history of this idea. It reveals how the free exchange of ideas has underlined all intellectual achievement. And enabled the advancement of both freedom and equality worldwide.

Portrait of Jacob Mchangama: Courtesy of Justitia

professor paul cartledge

Professor Paul Cartledge

Professor Paul Cartledge is A.G.Leventis Professor of Greek Culture Emeritus in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge. He is also Senior Research Fellow at Clare College, Cambridge, specialising in all aspects of the history and culture of ancient Greece.

Paul has a particular interest in the continuing impact of ancient Greek achievements on our own societies and cultures. In 2021, he was named Commander of the Order of the Honour, one of the highest honours the Greek state can give for his “contribution to enhancing Greece’s stature abroad.”

He is the author, co-author, editor or co-editor of some 30 books, including the critically acclaimed Democracy: A Life.