The Claremont Review of Books published JMC faculty partner James Stoner’s review of four recent books on free speech, including a book by JMC fellow Sigal Ben-Porath. Freedom of speech is a topic of particular importance to the Jack Miller Center because it occupies a central role in America’s Constitutional order. Free speech is not only a centerpiece of American political thought—it is also an essential feature of a robust academic culture. Protecting speech on campus safeguards professors’ ability to teach students Founding political thought and the Western tradition.
In recognition of free speech’s importance in American political life and higher education, the Jack Miller Center made the freedom of speech the 2017 Constitution Day theme and offers academic resources exploring the law, history, and theory behind the freedom of speech.
The Free Speech Debate
Whatever else might be said about American exceptionalism, free speech’s status in American law really is exceptional. Although free speech is affirmed in international documents such as the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, there it is typically qualified by other imperatives, or even openly subordinated to other goods. The First Amendment, by contrast, is absolute: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” How can any American patriot not exalt such rights?
Floyd Abrams certainly does in The Soul of the First Amendment. Abrams’s eminence as a First Amendment lawyer goes back to his work with Alexander Bickel on the brief for New York Times Co. v. United States (the Pentagon Papers case) in 1971, and continued with his winning argument for Senator Mitch McConnell in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). Abrams’s book recounts the bipartisan triumph of what might be called free-speech absolutism, from its first stirrings a century ago to its dominant position on the Supreme Court today, all the while contrasting American law with British or European. Though the First Amendment’s language applies strictly to Congress, Abrams accepts the incorporation doctrine that extends its prohibition to the states. He asserts, as well, that it binds the executive and judiciary, not just the legislature.
Professor James R. Stoner, Jr. (Ph.D., Harvard University, 1987) is Hermann Moyse, Jr., Professor and Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute in the Department of Political Science at LSU. He is the author of Common-Law Liberty: Rethinking American Constitutionalism (Kansas, 2003) and Common Law and Liberal Theory: Coke, Hobbes, and the Origins of American Constitutionalism (Kansas, 1992), as well as a number of articles and essays. In 2009 he was named a Senior Fellow of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, New Jersey; he has co-edited three books published by Witherspoon, The Thriving Society: On the Social Conditions of Human Flourishing (with Harold James, 2015), The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (with Donna M. Hughes, 2010), and Rethinking Business Management: Examining the Foundations of Business Education (with Samuel Gregg, 2008). He was the 2010 recipient of the Honors College Sternberg Professorship at LSU.
Dr. Stoner has taught at LSU since 1988, chaired the Department of Political Science from 2007 to 2013, and served as Acting Dean of the Honors College in fall 2010. He was a member of the National Council on the Humanities from 2002 to 2006. In 2002-03 he was a visiting fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, where he returned in the 2013-14 academic year as Garwood Visiting Professor in the fall and Visiting Fellow in the spring. He has teaching and research interests in political theory, English common law, and American constitutionalism.
Sigal Ben-Porath is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her doctorate in political philosophy from Tel Aviv University in 2000. She was awarded two successive Tel Aviv University President’s postdoctoral grants. In 2001-2004, she was a postdoctoral research associate at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University.
Dr. Ben-Porath has been teaching at Penn GSE since 2004. At Penn, she served as a special assistant to the university president. She is executive committee member of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, and the chair of the faculty advisory board for Penn Press. From 2012-2013 she was affiliated with the Safra Center for Ethics at Tel Aviv University. She is currently an associate member of the political science department and the philosophy department at Penn.
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