A field guide to the challenges of setting standards for free speech in a "cosmopolis" of diverse cultures.
Working from a classically liberal standpoint, noted political analyst Ash (Professorial Fellow/St. Antony's Coll., Oxford; Facts Are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade Without a Name, 2010, etc.) sets forth 10 principles to guide consideration of speech policies by governments, corporations, and other institutions. His aim is to encourage the advancement of "more and better free speech" and a well-considered discussion of "where the limits to freedom of expression and information should lie in important areas such as privacy, religion, national security and the ways we talk about human differences." While not concerned exclusively with the Internet, the author points out that it has brought all of humanity into immediate contact with one another, vastly increasing the possibilities for both mutual understanding and explosive strife. He gives particular attention to such problems as information access within closed societies like China and the "assassin's veto" threatened by Islamic extremists. The book's particular strength is that Ash delves into each of his proposed principles in extensive detail, meticulously examining the complexities inherent in each and the difficulties involved in articulating principles comprehensible and potentially applicable within and across political and cultural boundaries. Regrettably, an indulgence in marginal or purely illustrative issues occasionally creates unnecessary length and density. Ash's principles are a basis for discussion, not a coherent program. He is generally content to explore the issues without attempting to resolve them into specific policies, in part because different nations and cultures will have to accomplish this in their own ways. Their value lies in the possibility that in open societies, "international standards and international comparisons…can have traction, especially when amplified through free, diverse media," while elsewhere, they may encourage individuals "to engage, in their own languages and contexts, with more intransigent compatriots or coreligionists.”
A thorough and well-argued contribution to the quest for global free speech norms.