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The Indispensable Right: Free Speech in an Age of Rage (Hardcover)

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A timely, revelatory look at freedom of speech—our most basic right and the one that protects all the others.

Free speech is a human right, and the free expression of thought is at the very essence of being human. The United States was founded on this premise, and the First Amendment remains the single greatest constitutional commitment to the right of free expression in history. Yet there is a systemic effort to bar opposing viewpoints on subjects ranging from racial discrimination to police abuse, from climate change to gender equity. These measures are reinforced by the public’s anger and rage; flash mobs appear today with the slightest provocation. We all lash out against anyone or anything that stands against our preferred certainty.

The Indispensable Right places the current attacks on free speech in their proper historical, legal, and political context. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were not only written for times like these, but in a time like this. This country was born in an age of rage and for 250 years we have periodically lost sight of the value of free expression. The history of the struggle for free speech is the story of extraordinary people—nonconformists who refuse to yield to abusive authority—and here is a mosaic of vivid characters and controversies.

Jonathan Turley takes you through the figures and failures that have shaped us and then shows the unique dangers of our current moment. The alliance of academic, media, and corporate interests with the government’s traditional wish to control speech has put us on an almost irresistible path toward censorship. The Indispensable Right reminds us that we remain a nation grappling with the implications of free expression and with the limits of our tolerance for the speech of others. For rather than a political crisis, this is a crisis of faith.

About the Author


Jonathan Turley is a law professor, columnist, television analyst, and litigator. Since 1998, he has held the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School. He has served as counsel in some of the most notable cases in the last two decades, including representing members of Congress, judges, whistleblowers, five former Attorney Generals, celebrities, accused spies and terrorists, journalists, protesters, and the workers at the secret facility Area 51. Turley has testified before Congress over 100 times, including during the impeachments of Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. He was also lead counsel in the last judicial impeachment in US history. He has written for The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostLos Angeles Times, and USA TODAY. Called the “dean of legal analysts” by The Washington Post, Turley has worked as a legal analyst for CBS, NBC, BBC, and Fox. In a study by Judge Richard Posner, Turley was found to be thirty-eighth in the top 100 most cited “public intellectuals” (and the second most cited law professor).

Praise For…


The Indispensable Right is a courageous, provocative case by one of America’s most prolific public intellectuals for resurrecting natural law or embracing an autonomous basis for the protection of free speech. Not all First Amendment defenders will be persuaded––but one needn’t sign on to Turley’s robust view of free speech to appreciate the unique clarity and deep historical research he brings to his argument. Read this insightful book to understand the peril of today’s broad-based assault on free speech.

—Michael J. Glennon, Professor of Constitutional and International Law, Tufts University, author of Free Speech and Turbulent Freedom: The Dangerous Allure of Censorship in the Digital Era.

"Jonathan Turley’s magnum opus should be required reading for everyone who cares about free speech—certainly including anyone who questions or criticizes strong free speech protection. This a unique synthesis of the historical, philosophical, artistic, and even physiological bases for protecting free speech as a right to which all human beings are inherently entitled, and Turley provides riveting accounts of the courageous individuals, throughout history, who have struggled and sacrificed in order to exercise and defend the right. The Indispensable Right is an indispensable book."

—Nadine Strossen, former president of the American Civil Liberties Union

"Brilliant and intellectually honest, Jonathan Turley has few peers as a legal scholar today. With The Indispensable Right, he has given us a robust reexamination and defense of free speech as a right. Rich with historical content and insight, this superbly-written book calls out both the left and the right for attacks on free speech while offering in the final chapter a path forward." 

—William P. Barr, former Attorney General and author of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller One Damn Thing After Another.

"This efficient volume is packed with indispensable information delivered with proper passion. Jonathan Turley surveys the fraught history of “the indispensable right” and today’s dismayingly broad retreat from its defense. He is especially illuminating on how the concept of “harm” from speech has been broadened to serve the interest of censors."

—George F. Will, Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist.

"The First Amendment has consumed Jonathan Turley for more than thirty years. Lucky for us that he waited until now, amidst a climate of unprecedented rage rhetoric, to deliver a master class on the unvarnished history of free speech in America. The Indispensable Right is enlightening and engaging. It is also cautionary tale against state overcorrection of the often acrimonious, free exchange of ideas that are an essential part of the human experience."

—Michael Smerconish, host of CNN’s “Smerconish”

"During these often-bitter times, Jonathan Turley is my “go-to” commentator for smart, clear and honest analysis on any difficult legal controversy."

—Jim Webb, former U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Navy, and bestselling author

"Jonathan Turley’s book is the rarest of accomplishments: a timely and brilliantly original yet disciplined and historically grounded treatment of free speech. He dispels the view that our current social turmoil is “uncharted waters”—from the 1790’s Whiskey Rebels to the 1920’s Wobblies to the 1950’s communists, we’ve been here before—and argues persuasively that free speech is a human need and that we must resist the urge to restrict speech as “disinformation” or “seditious” or offensive to “woke” sensibilities."

—Michael B. Mukasey, former Attorney General and U.S. District Judge

"Jonathan Turley is one of the most astute and most honest analysts of the intersection of politics and law. Thirty years in the making, this book brilliantly proposes means for preserving the most important Constitutional right: the right to free speech. Elegantly written, exhaustively researched, and passionately argued, Turley has given us a superb and necessary tract for our time."

—Stephen B. Presser, Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus, Northwestern University School of Law

"Jonathan Turley recognizes free speech as an essential good—an activity that is central to our very nature as human beings. This is in sharp contrast with those who defend free speech as merely instrumental to some other value, like democracy or the pursuit of truth; rationales that are then used to justify limiting speech in ways that obstruct human flourishing. In this important book, he explains why free speech has historically come under threat during periods of rage and proposes policies that will protect freedom of speech from those who would today destroy this indispensable right."

—Randy E. Barnett, Patrick Hotung Professor of Constitutional Law, Georgetown University Law Center


Product Details
ISBN: 9781668047040
ISBN-10: 1668047047
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: June 18th, 2024
Pages: 432
Language: English