Free Speech in an Open Society

Our society is becoming increasingly diverse, splintering into more and more ethnic and religious groups with differing values and ways of life. Such pluralism intensifies social conflict as our different beliefs clash. Controversy swirls around myriad issues: “family values,” publicly funded art, sexist and racist speech, abortion beliefs, flag-burning. Will we end up like Yugoslavia, torn apart by hatred as each ethnic group tries to suppress all the others? Do we Americans have any values that can bind us together?

Rodney Smolla gives an eloquent answer in FREE SPEECH IN AN OPEN SOCIETY. He powerfully argues that our society’s commitment to the First Amendment, the freedom of expression, is a core value. Free speech allows us to deal constructively with our conflicts of values and beliefs and gives us an alternative to coercion and violence.

Smolla’s book is a scholarly, but eminently readable treatment of current free speech issues: the relationship between speech and action, the limits of hate speech, the problem of obscenity and public art, the impact of the new electronic technologies on issues of privacy and censorship.

Throughout the twelve chapters, each of which carefully explores a specific aspect of the First Amendment, Smolla’s central message is loud and clear: Freedom of speech is what guarantees us an open society.