Discussing the Limits of Free Speech with The Londonist

Do extremists continue to preach underground when they get banned?

trafalagar square protest

Earlier this week I sat down with the author N Quentin Woolf, host of the Londonist Out Loud podcast, to talk about free speech, its value and its limits.

The audio of our discussion has just been published.  You can listen via the Acast player below, and there are download and iTunes links on the Londonist website.

One tricky question Quentin put to me concerned the issue of banning extremist speech. I asserted that is such speech is proscribed, it goes underground where it cannot be monitored or challenged. Quentin asked whether there was any evidence that such extremists did actually continue preaching illegally, or whether it effectively cauterised the flow of extremist speech.

My opposition to such speech is a moral rather than pragmatic – as I said in the discussion, I think humans should thrash out competing ideas in public. Nevertheless, I recognise that evidence concerning the efficacy of such bans would be interesting in itself. My gut feeling is that although fewer extremist speeches will be made to fewer people, those that are made will become even more extreme. I’d love to read some research that deals with this.

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