Jacob MchangamaApr 6, 2022
A History from Socrates to Social Media
Basic Books 2022
Jacob Mchangama, founder and director of the think tank Justitia, has written a one-volume history of freedom of thought, which ranges from the lone Demosthenes of 4th-century BCE Athens to the recent controversies regarding Donald Trump. In Free Speech: A History from Socrates to Social Media (Basic Books, 2022), Mchangama argues that the history of freedom of thought has recurrent themes, such as a free speech entropy: the perception of rulers or governments that if speech is not restricted then social or political decline or disorder is inevitable. Mchangama also notes how restrictions usually have the unintended effect of emboldening the speakers and making the forbidden speech even more attractive to potential listeners. This history also reveals advocates of free speech less familiar to Western readers, such as the ninth-century Persian scholar Ibn al-Rawandi, a theologian and later skeptic whose life illustrates the debates possible in medieval Islam. Mchangama reviews the modern debates regarding freedom of thought and the latest iterations of arguments about whether free speech will lead to social decline and chaos. Mchangama is a champion of free speech but his history provides a fair minded account of the concerns of speech restrictionists throughout history.
Ian J. Drake is Associate Professor of Jurisprudence, Montclair State University.