This course will explore the idea of free speech—its justification, its relationship to various forms of censorship, and its proper limits—as a historical, philosophical, legal, and ultimately, political question. In the first half of the course, we will explore the long history across the West of the regulation of various kinds of ideas and their expression, from malicious gossip to heresies, and read classic arguments for and against censorship, copyright protections, and standards of taste and decency and of truth. In the second part of the seminar, after looking at how the idea of freedom of speech came to seem an essential prerequisite for democracy as well as individual liberty, we will take up the historical and philosophical questions posed by such recent dilemmas as whether or not hate speech deserves the protection of the First Amendment, the distinction between art and pornography from the perspective of freedom of expression, speech during wartime, and the transformative effects of the internet on the circulation and regulation of ideas. We will end the semester by thinking about the globalization of the idea of free speech as a human right and its implications, both positive and negative. Readings will range from Robert Darnton’s The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France, to D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to documents concerning the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo and law review articles about Citizens United v. FEC. We will also make considerable use of local resources, from museums to the library.
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