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School of Law

Liberal versus Democratic Conceptions of Free Speech

Date: 3 November 2022

The Centre for Law, Democracy, and Society is delighted to host a debate on free speech with Professor Matthew Kramer (Cambridge) and Professor Eric Heinze (Queen Mary) moderated by Dr John Adenitire (Queen Mary).

Debates about free speech ordinarily pit critics against advocates, asking whether a particular kind of speech ought to be penalized or permitted. However, in our discussion we took a different approach. While agreeing on the exceptional importance of free speech, the two speakers will put forth two different foundations for this freedom, reflecting contrasting beliefs about more basic political outlooks. According to Matthew Kramer, liberals maintain that the principle of freedom of expression morally prohibits any system of governance from legally forbidding any mode of communication except when some mode of communication is constitutive of serious communication-independent misconduct. Contraventions of the principle of freedom of expression by a system of governance are simultaneously overweening and degrading and are thereby violative of the paramount moral responsibility of every such system. By contrast, Eric Heinze argued that the paramount value of free speech lies in individuals’ abilities to participate in civil, social, and political life: free speech advances democracy only insofar as government plays an active role in promoting inclusive citizenship. These two scholars’ positions may at times overlap, yet they can also entail concrete differences about the role of government in regulating speech.

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