Journals Higher Education



Published: 15 December 1994

352 Pages

5-5/16 x 8 inches

ISBN: 9780195093834

Also Available As:


Bookseller Code (06)

There's No Such Thing As Free Speech

And It's a Good Thing, Too

Stanley Fish

We are in an era when much of what passes for debate is merely moral posturing. We see traditional family values versus the cultural elite, and free speech versus censorship. We hear reflexive name-calling--the terms "liberal" and "politically correct" are used with as much dismissive scorn by the right as "reactionary" and "fascinst" are by the left. Amid this controversy, Stanley Fish has emerged as a brilliantly original critic of the culture at large, praised and pilloried as a vigorous debunker of the pieties of both the left and the right. His mission is not to win the cultural wars that preoccupy the nation's attention, but rather to redefine the terms of the battle.
In There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, Fish takes aim at the ideological gridlock paralyzing academic and political exchange in the nineties. In his witty, accessible dissections of the swirling controversies over multiculturalism, affirmative action, canon revision, hate speech, and legal reform, he goes straight to the core of the platitudes cherished by both the left and the right. In these fascinating essays, gathered from numerous sources including his celebrated debates with Dinesh D'Souza, Fish takes stock of the conservative rallying cry of transcendant values and the liberal icons of equality, tolerance, and non-discrimination. He argues that, more often than not, these are only stalking horses for barely hidden agendas (the assault on civil rights, he notes, has advanced under the David Duke banner "Equal Rights for All; Special Privileges for None"). Not even the sacred concept of free speech escapes his lash; free speech, Fish says, is what is left over when a community has determined in advance what it does not want to hear. The boundaries of tolerance are always being redrawn in the process of political struggle--and he finds good reason to put "hate speech" beyond the pale. If left leaning readers take comfort from such arguments, they will be discomforted in the second part of the book when Fish turns his searing critical attention to some of their cherished ideals and programs (including the expansion of tolerance and the politicization of humanistic studies), and the movement for reform in legal studies. Fish concludes with and irresistibly wry critique of the academy with "The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos," an extraordinary look at some of the more puzzling, if not out-and-out masochistic, characteristics of a life in academia.
Penetrating, fearless, and brilliantly argued, There's No Such Thing as Free Speech captures the essential Fish. It is must reading for anyone who cares about the outcome of America's cultural wars.