Freedom of expression: an overview of the main theories

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Author: Aleksandr Kul'nev

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2019-2-92-104

Keywords: freedom of expression; freedom of speech; theories of freedom of speech; автономия личности


This article looks at different theories of freedom of speech, specifically the way scientists and judges articulate its legal nature. The author concentrates on three main theories that have had the highest impact on the doctrine in Russia, the United States, and other countries. The first theory was articulated by John Stuart Mill, who focused on the role of free thought and speech for the process of accumulation of knowledge. It was further developed by US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Holmes. As Justice Holmes famously stated, truth has to win at the marketplace of ideas. In other words, it is people who have to decide what is true, not the government. According to the second theory, the main reason for the defense of free expression is its contribution to the effective functioning of the democratic process in the country. Researchers like Alexander Miekljohn, Cass Sunstein, and Owen Fiss insist that it is important to ensure that diverse ideas (especially political ideas) are represented in discourse. Finally, autonomy theory emphasizes the importance of free speech for the self-development and self-realization of people and for their moral independence from the state. All these theories are important for contemporary lawmakers and law-enforcers. On a general level, they help to understand why free speech is a very special and fragile civil liberty, which is not to be taken lightly. More specifically, Mill’s truth theory shows why legislators in Russia and many other countries are wrong to ban so-called “fake news” on the Internet. At the same time, autonomy theory clearly shows that “hate speech” or “extremism” laws are more than problematic. Democratic theory provides some insights into the problem of political division and offers some policies for combating it on the internet. This branch of theory insists that internet companies must see that governments ensure that diverse points of view are presented on everyone’s social media feed.

About the author: Alexander Kulnev – Postgraduate student, Law Faculty, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Kulnev A. (2019) Svoboda vyrazheniya mneniya: obzor osnovnykh teoriy [Freedom of epression: an overview of the main theories] Stravnitel'noe konstitutionnoe obozrenie, vol. 28, no. 2, pp. 92–104. (In Russian).


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