Chapter

General Introduction: Free Speech, Democracy, and the Suppression of Extreme Speech Past and Present

James Weinstein and Ivan Hare

in Extreme Speech and Democracy

Published in print February 2009 | ISBN: 9780199548781
Published online May 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191720673 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199548781.003.0001
General Introduction: Free Speech, Democracy, and the Suppression of Extreme Speech Past and Present

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In addition to introducing the general topics covered in the volume, this chapter sketches the ambivalent relationship between free speech and democracy that has existed since the birth of modern democracy. From the beginning it was recognized that the right of the people to criticize governments, laws, and social conditions is inherent in the very concept of rule by the people. But also from the outset democratic governments have claimed the power to limit criticism deemed so extreme as to endanger other basic societal values. For instance, in 1798 Congress passed the Sedition Act; during World War I the Allies imprisoned anti-war protestors; and in subsequent decades these democracies suppressed advocacy of anarchism, fascism, and communism. The verdict of history is that most of this speech suppression was contrary to the right of people to express dissenting views in a free and democratic society. Will history render a similar judgment on contemporary suppression of extreme speech? Or is this suppression justified because it aims to protect interests of individuals rather than interests of the state?

Keywords: Sedition Act; democracy; World War I; anarchism; fascism; communism

Chapter.  3772 words. 

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration

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