Sub­texts Ti­mothy Gar­ton Ash’s Free Speech: Ten Prin­ci­ples for a Con­nected World

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Civil so­ci­ety: Talk­ing pol­i­tics on­line

For those who par­tic­i­pate in the Amer­i­can ex­per­i­ment by vot­ing in elec­tions, there is a prize wait­ing at the end of this long haul to the fin­ish line: Ti­mothy Gar­ton Ash’s Free Speech: Ten Prin­ci­ples for a Con­nected World (Yale Univer­sity Press). This pres­i­den­tial elec­tion has been de­fined by in­creas­ingly charged rhetoric — be­tween the can­di­dates, in the me­dia, and among friends, rel­a­tives, and bick­er­ing strangers on the in­ter­net. Ash’s 10 prin­ci­ples are de­signed to in­crease our free­dom of ex­pres­sion while bring­ing back a level of deco­rum in the dis­course that is needed if the ex­change of ideas is to rise above the vit­ri­olic scream­ing match it has be­come. He shows how tech­nol­ogy has fun­da­men­tally dis­rupted com­mu­ni­ca­tion of news and events around the world, shift­ing power bal­ances from those with money and in­flu­ence to those with a video cam­era and a YouTube ac­count. He dis­cusses the rise of on­line hate speech in anony­mous fo­rums and how that dif­fers, for in­stance, from teach­ing fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect his­tory, rooted in per­sonal bias, to chil­dren in a class­room.

Ash is the Isa­iah Berlin Pro­fes­so­rial Fel­low at St. Antony’s Col­lege, Univer­sity of Ox­ford, and a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity. His pre­vi­ous books in­clude Facts Are Sub­ver­sive: Po­lit­i­cal Writ­ing From a Decade With­out a Name, pub­lished in 2011 by Yale Univer­sity Press. Though Free Speech is a schol­arly work, it is ac­ces­si­ble to any­one will­ing to sink into the kind of in­tensely rel­e­vant read­ing that is made for the most in­ter­est­ing col­lege classes, in which the pro­fes­sor is con­ver­sa­tional with­out try­ing to be cool and is de­lighted to an­swer ques­tions. The elec­tronic ver­sion of Free Speech is even richer with in­for­ma­tion than the 491-page printed book, as each link in the text takes read­ers fur­ther into the pri­mary and sec­ondary sources that sup­port the writ­ing. For more in­for­ma­tion about those sources, visit www.freespeechde­bate.com. — Jen­nifer Levin

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