The Dimensions of Free Speech
The right’s test for healthy speech — that it should somehow be “free” and unrestrained — is a weak diagnostic compared to the ideas of isegoria (equal speech) and parhēsia.
March 26, 2022
In recent years, we, as a society, are paying more attention to speech — not necessarily to what is being said, but rather to who is saying it. In particular we’ve looked to give more recognition and credit to those who speak uncomfortable truths when they come from less privileged backgrounds. For decades this has been the fundamental principle of the politics of difference, and it continues in the anti-racist movements of today.
From some corners of the right, this has met with resistance. Fundamental to this position is that truth is truth, no matter who says it. Favoring certain speakers leads to things like “reverse racism” or a malevolent “cancel culture.” Thinkers on the right furthermore claim to stand for free speech. They defend a position, which is not unconvincing, that privileged speakers can also speak the truth.
While it’s challenging to refute the proposition that “truth is truth,” the right’s test for healthy speech — that it should somehow be “free” and unrestrained — is a weak diagnostic compared to the ideas of isegoria (equal speech) and parrhēsia (freedom from disenfranchisement), which I discussed this week with Nicholas Gruen. These concepts provide a more robust way of looking at how speech should be treated in society — and how giving them our attention can restore a sense of common purpose to the public sphere.
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