Free speech in America is at a troubling impasse. At one extreme, the champions of free speech embrace the ultra-libertarian view that every limit on expression, no matter how benign, is a fatal step toward tyranny. At the other, the custodians of public virtue deploy star-chamber methods to enforce an ideology, congealed from political correctness, that grows ever more invasive, intolerant, and inhuman. Can any free nation, especially one as big and diverse as the United States, sustain a tradition of free speech? 

In this online seminar, fellows will situate the classic debate over free speech in both the contemporary landscape and the broader historical context. Fellows will explore the challenge of preserving the Western ideal of free speech in a world where democratic governments seem paralyzed by political and cultural polarization; powerful tech companies have become unwilling content regulators; and authoritarian regimes deploy digital technology for surveillance, censorship, and propaganda.

Image: George Caleb Bingham, Stump Speaking, 1853-54


Martha Bayles on Taming the Furies: Free Speech in a Fractured Republic


Martha Bayles

Martha Bayles is an Associate Professor of Humanities at Boston College, where she teaches a year-long course titled, “From Homer to Dante” and various senior seminars. Her research centers around popular culture and cultural history. She has previously served as a lecturer at Harvard University and Claremont McKenna College.

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