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School of Law

Free speech is the most important right of all


A century ago the term ‘human rights’ was widely unknown. Yet in barely half a century it has now become standard throughout the world. Protesters from New York to Hong Kong, from Caracas to Rangoon are demanding human rights. In a sense, human rights are more alive today than ever before. Yet in another sense we have entirely destroyed them. Governments and experts have ruined them by failing to distinguish between human rights and human goods. It is easy for people to agree on basic goods. No one wants to be tortured or unfairly tossed into prison. Certainly, it is good for governments to respect such basic goods. But that is not enough. People must have total freedom to demand their rights – openly and without fear. Where they cannot do so, they are not living under a system of rights at all. It is time to recognize that free speech sets the necessary condition for the possibility of all human rights.

Speaker Profile

Eric Heinze (Maitrise, Paris; JD, Harvard; PhD, Leiden) is Professor of Law and Humanities at Queen Mary University of London. His new book The Most Human Right: Why Free Speech is Everything will be published by the MIT Press in Spring 2022. His other books include Hate Speech and Democratic Citizenship (2016), The Concept of Injustice (2013), The Logic of Constitutional Rights (2005); The Logic of Liberal Rights (2003); The Logic of Equality (2003); Sexual Orientation: A Human Right (1995), Of Innocence and Autonomy (2000). His research has published in a wide range of leading law journals including the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Harvard Human Rights Journal, Modern Law Review, Ratio Juris, Legal Studies, International Journal of Law in Context, Michigan Journal of International Law, Journal of Social & Legal Studies, Canadian J. of Law & Jurisprudence.

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