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Freedom of speech is considered one of the most fundamental human freedoms, especially in modern liberal democracies. It has become de facto THE litmus test of overall freedom that citizens of any society enjoy. And yet, the notion that we should have this freedom is relatively recent. The modern understanding of this freedom can more or less be traced to John Stewart Mill's "On Liberty," although there have been acknowledgements of the importance of freedom of speech that precede that work.

This very short introduction covers some of those historical developments, but most of the book is dedicated to the contemporary controversies that surround various interpretations and limitations of the freedom of speech. In particular, the book deals with the famous quote of Oliver Wendell Holmes that freedom of speech does not entail falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre and similar instances where speech can lead to physical or psychological harm. The book gives other examples of where our abstract notions of freedom of speech may collide with reality. The author is very good at appreciating the fact that the real world is very different from an academic discussion seminar, and many practical considerations oftentimes need to be taken into the account when deciding what should and should not be protected as free speech.

I find this book to be operating from a slight (perhaps unconscious) bias in its treatment of blasphemy and pornography. It seems to imply that religious and anti-religious "speech" (however one defines it) is really not categorically different from other forms of speech and ideas, while on the other hand the author is willing to concede that there is something categorically different when it comes to pornography. While I in fact more or less agree with the conclusions or the general attitude of the author to how these two categories of speech should be handled, I think that religion is a fundamentally separate category of speech and needs to be handled as such. For if this were not the case, if religion were just yet another set of ideas amongst many, then all the laws that have been enacted to ensure the "separation of church and state" would be very grievous violations of the freedom of speech. And this, I am sure, neither the author nor most people this day would find a desirable way to interpret freedom of speech.

The last chapter deals with the intrinsic conflict between freedom of speech and the modern notion of copyright. Lime in most other discussions of the limitations of free speech that are presented in this book, it is quite clear that there are significant differences of opinion of what constitutes fair use of copyrighted material, across the world and within any given country. The arrival of the internet has only complicated these matters further. This could be a subject of a book in its own right, but this very short introduction does a fairly good job of at least bringing up all the main issues.

Based on all the controversies that have transpired over the years when the free speech is concerned, it is virtually certain that this will continue to be a much discussed topic for the foreseeable future. This little introduction, however, will continue to be relevant as an accessible overview of this fascinating topic for years to come. It is probably one of the most informative such introductions that are currently available.
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on 19 April 2012
One might have expected from a book on the subject of Free Speech a vigorous defence of the concept, but the book seems to be an apology for intolerance and the justification of persecution - not that I am suggesting that Warburton ever intended to do that, but he is an academic, and intolerance seems to be the air academia breathes of any who dare to doubt the veracity of the currently favoured orthodoxies, and this book does not fail to toe the line. An Amazon review is not the place to take to pieces every thing that is wrong with this book - life and band-width are too short. Suffice to say I think he is wrong not merely morally but frequently in the historical basis of his judgements and on almost every page.

There are in the West now, various designated Victims. One may not under any circumstance say anything critical of such groups for that is Hate Speech. The very term posits its own judgement and begs the question. There is a pecking order of these alleged victims. Criticising, all others, is not merely acceptable but indeed encouraged.

Merely apply, by way of example, Mill's corn-grower argument to Tram-Girl (not of course that any right thinking person could ever for a second even partially support her obnoxious tirade against her fellow travellers) to see how in modern Britain the very reverse of Mill's example is the case; nor of course in the case of the Muamba Tweeter could anyone suggest that anything less than two months imprisonment for a momentary and drunken lapse of taste where the man deserved to be expelled from University (only two months before his finals) was anything less than entirely justified, even though Muamba himself never saw or could have seen the obnoxious tweet.

Had I had the misfortune to be a student at a seminar given by the author on this subject I would have walked (and I trust said something pertinent before doing so) before seeking a refund.

Mill must be turning in his grave.
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on 24 September 2014
I was beginning to think the entire 'A Very Short Introduction' series were good, then I came across this one! Not only badly thought out, but also badly written. On some pages it is as though two different authors have written alternate paragraphs, without looking at what the other has written.

I would note ALL of the other books I have read in this series have been by people currently eminent in their fields; to me 'Freelance Philosopher' sounds like a euphemism for unemployed. If this is the standard of the authors prose and though it surprises me none.
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on 31 May 2014
I cannot speak for the quality of the entire book, mind you as I did not intend to waste my time much past page 14, on which the author states that the UK does not have a Bill of Rights. I picked this book up precisely because of my dissertation research in which I'm examining the attitudes toward the 1689 Bill of Rights and the British constitution in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the legislation of the Two Acts in 1795, so to state out right that this bill does not exist leaves the author with very little credibility to be honest.

No, the 1689 Bill of Rights is not on par with the Declarations of Rights of Man in France or the Bill of Rights in the US constitution, but it remains a crucial part of the Revolution Settlement of 1688 and a foundation of the British mixed government, so to ignore it because it might make your argument somewhat more difficult seems problematic, irresponsible, and perhaps downright lazy.

He cites that in 2005, the UK forbid public protest within a certain amount of distance from the Houses of Parliament, something that would have been more difficult to do if the UK had a bill of rights. This is on page 15, which I struggled to get past as well. Does he think one can stroll up to the White House to protest without certain safeguards? That one can just protest on the steps of the Capitol without prior notice or proper permission?

After page 15, I put the book down. Icannot take you seriously if you do not intend to get the facts of history straight.
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on 27 January 2013
It's weird how I reviewed this book on free speech and it's disappeared! This is a great book and it was written in a way that makes you think about things like porn as free speech, or even what the BNP say. Should we censor things that might be dangerous, and who decides what's right or wrong? I got this book from a friend who was at university. It's not a hard read, though, and I think everyone should read this book.
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on 27 September 2010
This is a really useful and clever book with organised chapters, plenty examples of recent events/ historical event relating to the topic of Free Speech. A strong focus into John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty' and has clearly devided into separate parts according to Mill's different arguments. Also included critiques and own thoughts according to new incidents. Love it. great start on political philosophy.
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on 21 May 2015
Fast delivery for course. Pertinent and interesting.
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on 21 November 2011
Warburton writes, "John Stuart Mill was explicit that incitement to violence was the point at which intervention to curb free speech was appropriate. Mere offensiveness wasn't sufficient grounds for intervention and should not be prevented by law, by threats, or by social pressure." "A spirit of toleration should not include a prohibition on causing offence." Times columnist Oliver Kamm agreed, "Free speech does indeed cause hurt - but there is nothing wrong in this."

As US Justice Brennan said in Texas v. Johnson, which upheld the right of dissenters to burn the US flag as a protest, "If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable."

Virtually anything can be seen as offensive, and something that is both true and important is bound to offend somebody.

But in Britain today, it seems that we have the right to have free speech, as long as we don't use it. So members of the English Defence League are arrested and the group Muslims against Crusades is disbanded for saying things that some find offensive. But it is legitimate, if unjust and idiotic, to call for Sharia law here, and it is also legitimate, and just, to oppose Sharia law.

This government is trying to suppress dissent. It is expanding its police powers to control and limit expression, narrowing our rights of democratic participation.

The meanings of symbols like the poppy are in the realm of opinion and argument, so the state must not impose a politically correct interpretation on us. The state abused Remembrance Day, when poppy-sellers demanded that we stand `shoulder to shoulder' with the armed forces serving in the war against Afghanistan.

War demands consensus and recruitment of the media. We must resist the warmongering drive for conformity. Some may find it offensive to be told that that their country's armed forces are used not for national self-defence, not for any national interest, but for illegal aggression. But if the truth hurts us, then we must ask why.
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on 7 June 2015
Very good.
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