March 23, 2022

#BookLaunch: Free Speech - A Global History from Socrates to Social Media

This event was held on 17 March 2022 hosted by the Academy of Ideas and the Free Speech Union: 

Free speech is often hailed as the ‘first freedom’ and the bedrock of democracy. Free exchange of ideas underlies all intellectual achievement and has enabled the advancement of both freedom and equality worldwide. But free speech is also a challenging and even contentious principle that today is often considered to be under threat.

In his new book, Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media, Jacob Mchangama traces the fluctuating history of this idea, arguing that it is not enough to have free speech legally enshrined – it has to be culturally accepted too. While the desire to restrict speech has been a constant, what are the threats from free-speech sceptics that we should worry about most today and how have they come to be? At a time when ideas, language and even history itself are the target of contentious interventions to restrict the free exchange of ideas, what can a wide-ranging historical perspective on free speech offer us in the contemporary battle to speak freely and challenge orthodoxies?

LECTURER: Jacob Mchangama
lawyer, human rights advocate and former external lecturer in human rights at the University of Copenhagen. He is the founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. His writings have appeared in a wide range of international outlets including The Economist, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Politico, The Wall Street Journal Europe, El Pais, France24, Deutsche Welle, and Al Jazeera. This book builds on his podcast ‘Clear and Present Danger: A History of Free Speech’, which has reached an audience of over 220,000 unique listeners in more than 120 countries across the world.


Dr Joanna Williams
director of Cieo; author, Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity

Toby Young
general secretary, Free Speech Union

CHAIR: Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas. The discussion will be followed by a wine reception, hosted by Basic Books.

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