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