The Free Speech Wars review – from censorship to cancel culture

A stimulating guide, edited by Charlotte Lydia Riley, unpacks the arguments that are raging around free speech

Free speech is impossible. Merely to be intelligible, all communication depends on shared rules. Some of those are basic (you can read this because we both know English), but most are contextual (how you interact with your scary new boss is different from the way you address your children). Who can speak, who gets heard, and who makes the rules about what one can say is always about power, as much as about judgments of harm and danger.

Faced with what we can all agree are illegitimate restrictions of speech (murdering cartoonists, say, or suppressing peaceful protest), it’s natural to cry “Censorship!”, and to celebrate “free speech” as a fragile yet vital political norm – especially when the terrain is, say, Hong Kong, Thailand, Belarus or Iran. Yet when it comes to the everyday chaos of our cacophonous culture in the west, it’s much harder to see eye to eye on what kinds of speech rules are necessary, desirable, or legitimate anywhere – on Twitter, in print, or at work.

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