FREE SPEECH FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE by Nat Hentoff

FREE SPEECH FOR ME BUT NOT FOR THEE

How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other

KIRKUS REVIEW

In a sometimes confused, sometimes admirable polemic, Hentoff (John Cardinal O'Connor, 1988, etc.) argues against restraints on free expression in a wide variety of contemporary contexts. Hentoff does not limit his discussion to legal cases arising under the First Amendment, which prohibits only government interference with free expression. Instead, he tries broadly to illustrate "Americans' unbounded hypocrisy concerning free speech." Thus, he sees, and deplores, censorship whenever an individual or private organization dislikes speech enough to express a desire for its suppression. For instance, Hentoff finds insidious censorship in an incident in which parents disliked a book (Huckleberry Finn) enough to try to remove it from a high-school reading list, and in another case in which a high school sought to compel a student to read an assigned book that the student found offensive. One might argue that the first case raises a literary question rather than a free-speech issue, and that the second case does not involve suppression of speech but, rather, the right of a school to set its own curriculum. Also, Hentoff sometimes fails to acknowledge that freedom of speech can include the right to express a desire to suppress others' free speech (e.g., he condemns the movement to boycott orange juice for the purpose of expressing opposition to Anita Bryant's antihomosexual campaign as being "in contempt of [her] right of free expression"). Nonetheless, Hentoff identifies many genuine threats to free expression--e.g., the use of federal lawsuits to stop demonstrations, and a broad "antipornography" statute that would allow people to enjoin the display of works of art or literature they found offensive--and he nicely points out, through many examples, that the desire to suppress free speech is universal and without political affiliation. Hentoff's sentiments are laudable, and he astutely analyzes the hypocrisy of the left and the right about free-speech issues. Nonetheless, those seeking a clear and consistent analysis of the meaning of free speech will be disappointed.
Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1992
ISBN: 0-06-019006-X
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1992




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