Christopher Hitchens on Free Speech

Moving and thought-provoking, and worth revisiting in the light of recent events.

 

In Defence of Liberty

FIRE!!! Fire… fire… fire! Now you’ve heard it. Not shouted in a crowded theatre, admittedly, as I realise I seem now to have shouted it in the Hogwarts dining room. But the point is made. Everyone knows the fatuous verdict of the greatly over-praised Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who, asked for an actual example of when it would be proper to limit speech or define it as a [criminal] action, gave that of shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. It’s very often forgotten what he was doing in that case was sending to prison a group of Yiddish-speaking socialists, whose literature was printed in a language most Americans couldn’t read, opposing President Wilson’s participation in the First World War and the dragging of the United States into this sanguinary conflict, which the Yiddish-speaking socialists had fled from Russia to escape. In fact it could be just as plausibly argued that…

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