Freedom of Speech

Elizabeth Powers (Ed.)

The History of an Idea

256 pages
ISBN 9781611483666

The essays in this volume portray the debates concerning freedom of speech in eighteenth-century France and Britain as well as in Austria, Denmark, Russia, and Spain and its American territories. Representing the views of both moderate and radical eighteenth-century thinkers, these essays by eminent scholars discover that twenty-fi rst-century controversies regarding the extent of permissible speech have their origins in the eighteenth century. The economic integration of Europe and its offshoots over the past three centuries into a distinctive cultural product, "the West," has given rise to a triumphant Enlightenment narrative of universalism and tolerance that masks these divisions and the disparate national contributions to freedom of speech and other liberal rights.


"The violent protests against a cartoon picturing the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper in 2006 rekindled the debate on permitted limits to public utterance in Western liberal democracies and prompted the editor of the present collection of essays to organize a series of talks at the Columbia University Seminar on Eighteenth-Century Culture to examine the intellectual underpinning of contemporary notions of free speech. The eight essays, and editor's introduction and conclusion, are impressive in the wide range of their discourse and coherence...The editor's conclusion [is that] in Western democracies freedom of speech encourages 'a marketplace of diverse, competing, rapidly changing and unrestrained opinions' (p.196). What has to be offered to newcomers to the West is not any exceptional provision but the economic means to participate in that market."

--W. Gareth Jones, Journal of European Studies, Volume 43-76

About the editor:

Elizabeth Powers was chair of the Columbia University Seminar on Eighteenth-Century Culture from 2003 to 2010.


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