Free speech as a limiting concept: a comment on Gelber, Jones and free speech discourse

Lawrence McNamara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of this brief commentary is to discuss critically the arguments presented by Katharine Gelber and Paul Jones. My intention is not to take issue with specific points in their papers (though I will do so in one particular respect), but to explore the general thrust of their arguments in terms of free speech discourse. Loosely speaking, while Gelber and Jones explore what free speech principles might do for their respective areas of inquiry, I am more concerned with the other side of the coin: what might these areas of inquiry tell us about free speech principles? I start by summarizing very briefly (and at the great risk of oversimplifying and skewing the authors’ arguments) what I see as the core argument in each paper. This is done with a view to establishing a comparative and critical point from which to consider free speech principles. I then want to identify three ways in which the papers together illuminate some problems with freedom of speech. I want to make one point: “Free speech”, I want to suggest, is a concept that hinders rather than helps the democratic project that underpins the two papers. To say that our authors are concerned with a concept or idea or law called “free speech” does not do justice to either their arguments or their goals. To draw on a geographical metaphor used by Toni Morrison, my aim is to suggest the possibility of mapping the conceptual terrain differently, even if I am not sure exactly what such a new map would look like.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages8
JournalUTS law review
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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