Free Speech and Why It Matters is a short book by Andrew Doyle on the ever popular subject of free speech. If you’re not very familiar on the subject, this is a great introductory book on the matter. The 2 - 4 page chapters breaks down the argument for free speech into easily digestible chunks. It’s something that you can pick up and read for 10 minutes and walk away knowing that you’ve learnt something. The book has a strong argument for why free speech is necessary to have a successful and ultimately free society, meanwhile also tackling some of the popular criticisms that one finds when defending free speech.
Although Andrew doesn’t bring anything explicitly new to the table, he does show how good of a writer he is. He compresses the argument for free speech into 98 pages with elegance. His way with words is not something to be overlooked, I had to reread some of his sentences a few times to really appreciate his linguistic ability.
Andrew does a good job of combining the age old defences of free speech and gives some modern examples of what happens when we lose our way with our most precious freedom. He takes us everywhere from Ancient Greece, to the founding of America, then right back to modern universities.
He touches on some very hot few hot topics that are sweeping the western world, specifically that of cancel culture and hate speech.
Here’s a few quotes he has to say on each of the topics:
“In the midst of the hysteria there has been little opportunity for sober discussion of the issues, and many people have been discouraged out of fear of reprisals. Cancel culture does not seek to criticise, but to punish, and leaves little scope for redemption.”
“Ultimately, the question of who gets to define ‘hate speech’ is insurmountable. In order to establish the parameters, one has fist to navigate a set of abstract concepts – ‘hate’, ‘offence’, ‘perception’ – that are hopelessly subjective. Inevitably, the decision is outsourced to an authority figure or political body, one with its own biases, preferences and inherent goals of self-preservation that cannot be overcome.”
“Defending free speech means defending the rights of those whose speech we despise. Uncontroversial ideas require no such protection.”
I have been watching the free speech conversation for some time now. So while I don’t regret reading this book, I didn’t learn anything new - I figured as much before reading it. However, I do recommend this book for people who already know the arguments for free speech, but need a quick refresher in response to the changing times. I also highly recommend this for those who are completely new to the free speech issue and would like to get a bit more well versed into why free speech is such a necessary component to our society.
I give it 4/5 star.