Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa


  • Daniel Jacobson (a1)

“ 'Free speech' is just the name we give to verbal behavior that serves the substantive agendas we wish to advance”—or so literary theorist and professor of law Stanley Fish has claimed. This cynical dictum is one of several skeptical challenges to freedom of speech that have been extremely influential in the American academy. I will follow the skeptics' lead by distinguishing between two broad styles of critique: the progressive and the postmodern. Fish's dictum, however, like many of the bluntest charges, belongs to neither class exclusively. As an initial characterization of the distinction between these critiques, progressive skepticism claims that freedom of speech is a bad thing, while postmodernist skepticism claims it to be conceptually impossible. Both forms of skepticism hold the classical liberal endorsement of free speech and condemnation of censorship to be both naive and reactionary. Skepticism about free speech flourishes at universities in the United States and is especially well represented among professors at the country's most prestigious law schools. As legal scholar Robert Post approvingly observes: “Liberated from traditional inhibitions against official suppression of speech, the left has mobilized to pursue a rich variety of political agendas.”

Hide All
I would like to thank my fellow contributors to this volume for their comments; Erin O'Connor for the invaluable resource of her Weblog, Critical Mass at; and especially Ellen Frankel Paul for extremely helpful editorial suggestions.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 8
Total number of PDF views: 36 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 222 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.