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FREE SPEECH: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media

March 17, 2022 at 7:00 pm - 9:30 pm UTC+0

Join Jacob Mchangama, author, lawyer, and founder and director of Justitia, a Copenhagen-based think tank focusing on human rights, freedom of speech and the rule of law, as he introduces his new book, Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media. Following a short lecture, Jacob will be joined in conversation by writer and director of Cieo Dr Joanna Williams and general secretary of the Free Speech Union, Toby Young, chaired by Claire Fox, director of the Academy of Ideas. The discussion will be followed by a wine reception, hosted by Basic Books.


About the book

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?


About the speakers

Jacob Mchangama is a 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 is director of Cieo and author of Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity.

Toby Young is general secretary of the Free Speech Union and associate editor of The Spectator.

Claire Fox is director of the Academy of Ideas, an independent peer in the House of Lords and author of I STILL Find That Offensive!


Praise for Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media

Readers on both the right and the left seeking insights into modern day debates over free speech will welcome this evenhanded and wide ranging history. Publishers Weekly

Freedom of speech has emerged as a major issue of this decade, but missing is the intellectual background… Jacob Mchangama lays out this context with deep erudition, strong writing, and a light touch. Steven Pinker

This outstanding book gets it in one: free speech, as that right and privilege has been fought for and exercised as a key component of our always fragile democracies, is currently experiencing the greatest threat imaginable. To learn exactly how and why, and what we can do to eliminate or minimise this threat, everyone needs to read this deeply researched and powerfully written, truly global history covering everything from the face-to-face world of the ancient Greeks to our own, very different world of anonymous digital media. Paul Cartledge, A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture, emeritus, University of Cambridge


About the event

Keynote Lecture Theatre, David Game College, 31 Jewry Street, London, EC3N 2ET. Nearest tubes Aldgate (3 minutes walk) or Tower Hill (4 minute walk).

Door open 6.30pm

Lecture and discussion 7pm

Wine reception 8.30 – 9.15pm (complimentary glass with ticket).

Tickets are £10 waged/£5 concession.


Promo codes have been sent to FSU Members and AoI Associates, giving them a 20% discount, please check your inbox and follow the link in the invitation email.

Refunds are discretionary.


March 17, 2022
7:00 pm - 9:30 pm UTC+0
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The Free Speech Union
020 3920 7865
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David Game College
31 Jewry Street
London, EC3N 2ET United Kingdom
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