Free Speech in Peril

A conversation with Timothy Garton Ash.

Does the rise of authoritarianism in so many different countries, and the corresponding threat to minorities, make you think differently about these issues?

I have a very clear view, which is that mature democracies should try to go beyond hate speech laws. It was different in some earlier situations, like Britain in the 1960s, when kids of Pakistani origin were routinely being beaten up on the way home from school. A law was passed, which if you look at it looks like a hate speech law, but the justification was about the probability of violence, which I think is where we should draw the line, and not the much, much broader category of hate speech. The category I use a lot in the book is dangerous speech rather than hate speech. That’s speech that actually significantly increases the probability of violence in a particular context.

Much of the push for hate speech laws is old-fashioned and simplistic sociology…