Free Speech for Me — but Not for Thee Summary

Free Speech for Me — but Not for Thee

Nat Hentoff forces us to face how little we Americans actually believe in the First Amendment. He reveals our intolerance, not by offering abstract arguments about the meaning of free speech but by following Supreme Court Justice William Brennan’s advice on how to educate people about the Constitution: “Tell them stories! Tell them stories!”

Hentoff presents case after specific case of well-intended people censoring the speech of those who disagree with them. He tells the story of the attempts to ban books such as HUCKLEBERRY FINN because its stereotypes of African-Americans are offensive to many, especially liberals. He details the persecution of Lenny Bruce in the 60’s for his “obscenity” and examines Catherine Mackinnon’s arguments for the censorship of pornography. He tells stories about the hate-speech codes on university campuses throughout the country, and about the good citizens of Skokie, Illinois, who tried to stop the American Nazi party from parading through their streets.

Hentoff is passionattely committed to opposing censorship wherever he finds it, whether on the Right or on the Left. Even though he is a committed liberal, he has the courage to attack the intolerance of the liberals as vigorously as he does that of the conservatives. He makes it abundantly clear that there is no free speech for me unless there is free speech for thee.