“Freedom for the Thought that We Hate’

In honor of recent Supreme Court decisions, a 2008 interview with the late legal scholar and journalist Anthony Lewis (1927-2013) about his book, “Freedom for the Thought that We Hate’ and First Amendment Rights. Hosted by Richard Wolinsky.

From Wikipedia: Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment is a 2007 non-fiction book by journalist Anthony Lewis about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of thought, and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The book starts by quoting the First Amendment, which prohibits the U.S. Congress from creating legislation which limits free speech or freedom of the press. Lewis traces the evolution of civil liberties in the U.S. through key historical events. He provides an overview of important free speech case law, including U.S. Supreme Court opinions in Schenck v. United States (1919), Whitney v. California (1927), United States v. Schwimmer (1929), New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), and New York Times Co. v. United States (1971).

The title of the book is drawn from the dissenting opinion by Supreme Court Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in United States v. Schwimmer. Holmes wrote that “if there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”[1] Lewis warns the reader against the potential for government to take advantage of periods of fear and upheaval in a post-9/11 society to suppress freedom of speech and criticism by citizens.

The book was positively received by reviewers, including Jeffrey Rosen in The New York Times, Richard H. Fallon in Harvard Magazine, Nat Hentoff, two National Book Critics Circle members, and Kirkus Reviews. Jeremy Waldron commented on the work for The New York Review of Books and criticized Lewis’ stance towards freedom of speech with respect to hate speech. Waldron elaborated on this criticism in his book The Harm in Hate Speech (2012), in which he devoted a chapter to Lewis’ book. This prompted a critical analysis of both works in The New York Review of Books by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

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