Reconsiderations September 2018
Milton, Mill & the limits of free speech
On the complexities and responsibilities of free expression.
The importance and influence of a free press have been recognized for centuries. Thomas Carlyle mistakenly attributed the phrase “Fourth Estate” to Edmund Burke, who (Carlyle claimed) once said that “there were three Estates . . . but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all.” The presence of that Fourth Estate—which daily engages in acts of questioning and retelling—ideally keeps the people informed and thereby allows them to exercise their sovereignty. On New Year’s Day 2018, A. G. Sulzberger, the then-new publisher of The New York Times, offered a familiar boast, writing that “There was a reason freedom of speech and freedom of the press were placed first among our essential rights. Our founders understood that the free exchange of ideas and the ability to hold power to account were...
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