Free speech: its past, present and future

Posted on: January 5th, 2023 by mlpEditor

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?