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The Right of Dissent and America’s Debt to Herodotus and Thucydides
Journal of International Studies (Revista Estudos Institucionais) (2015)
  • Ronald D. Rotunda
Abstract
The United States prides itself as a country that respects free speech, the right of all persons to criticize the government even in times of war. However, it was not always so. The events related to World War I brought the first cases raising free speech issues to the U.S. Supreme Court. While several justices, in particular, Oliver Wendell Holmes, praised free speech, the Court upheld all the Government prosecutions of dissidents. It has taken nearly a century since those cases for the Supreme Court to come full circle and now protect those who criticize the Government in time of war. When the Court changed its views to create the modern protections, it relied on philosophical justifications for free speech that go all the way back to the ancient Greeks, 2,400 years ago. The modern justification for free speech relies on these philosophers from ancient Greece. There is little new under the sun. While governments typically believe that, for the public good, they must censor speech and squelch dissenters in time of war, the Greeks believed that their free speech made them stronger, not weaker. There are those who argue it is more difficult for a democracy to go to war because it cannot conduct the war successfully if the people oppose it and dissenters remain free to criticize. That is a good thing, not a bad thing. In modern times, no democracy has warred against another. As Pericles reminds us, “[t]he great impediment to action is, in our opinion, not discussion, but the want of knowledge that is gained by discussion preparatory to action.” As other countries embrace democracy and protections for dissidents, our increased freedoms should bring us more peace and less war.


Keywords
  • Free Speech,
  • First Amendment,
  • Herodotus,
  • Thucydides,
  • Pericles,
  • American Constitutionalism,
  • U.S. Supreme Court,
  • Freedom of Speech,
  • War,
  • Right of Dissent,
  • Marc Antony,
  • Bill of Rights,
  • Louis Brandeis,
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes
Publication Date
2015
Citation Information
Ronald D. Rotunda, The Right of Dissent and America’s Debt to Herodotus and Thucydides, 1 REVISTA ESTUDOS INSTITUCIONAIS (JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES), 144 (2015).