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Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment

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More than any other people on earth, Americans are free to say and write what they think. The media can air the secrets of the White House, the boardroom, or the bedroom with little fear of punishment or penalty. The reason for this extraordinary freedom is not a superior culture of tolerance, but just fourteen words in our most fundamental legal document: the free express More than any other people on earth, Americans are free to say and write what they think. The media can air the secrets of the White House, the boardroom, or the bedroom with little fear of punishment or penalty. The reason for this extraordinary freedom is not a superior culture of tolerance, but just fourteen words in our most fundamental legal document: the free expression clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution. In Lewis's telling, the story of how the right of free expression evolved along with our nation makes a compelling case for the adaptability of our constitution. Although Americans have gleefully and sometimes outrageously exercised their right to free speech since before the nation's founding, the Supreme Court did not begin to recognize this right until 1919. Freedom of speech and the press as we know it today is surprisingly recent. Anthony Lewis tells us how these rights were created, revealing a story of hard choices, heroic (and some less heroic) judges, and fascinating and eccentric defendants who forced the legal system to come face-to-face with one of America's great founding ideas.


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More than any other people on earth, Americans are free to say and write what they think. The media can air the secrets of the White House, the boardroom, or the bedroom with little fear of punishment or penalty. The reason for this extraordinary freedom is not a superior culture of tolerance, but just fourteen words in our most fundamental legal document: the free express More than any other people on earth, Americans are free to say and write what they think. The media can air the secrets of the White House, the boardroom, or the bedroom with little fear of punishment or penalty. The reason for this extraordinary freedom is not a superior culture of tolerance, but just fourteen words in our most fundamental legal document: the free expression clauses of the First Amendment to the Constitution. In Lewis's telling, the story of how the right of free expression evolved along with our nation makes a compelling case for the adaptability of our constitution. Although Americans have gleefully and sometimes outrageously exercised their right to free speech since before the nation's founding, the Supreme Court did not begin to recognize this right until 1919. Freedom of speech and the press as we know it today is surprisingly recent. Anthony Lewis tells us how these rights were created, revealing a story of hard choices, heroic (and some less heroic) judges, and fascinating and eccentric defendants who forced the legal system to come face-to-face with one of America's great founding ideas.

30 review for Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Lewis offers a brief biography of the most oft-cited portion of the American Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. Exploring free speech and expression through the eyes of America's political and social evolution, Lewis presents a well-grounded political and constitutional treatise on the subject. Looking first to the evolution of free speech in the United States, Lewis explores it as a reaction to the lack of such opportunity when the Thirteen Colonies were part of the British Empire. Sedition a Lewis offers a brief biography of the most oft-cited portion of the American Bill of Rights, the First Amendment. Exploring free speech and expression through the eyes of America's political and social evolution, Lewis presents a well-grounded political and constitutional treatise on the subject. Looking first to the evolution of free speech in the United States, Lewis explores it as a reaction to the lack of such opportunity when the Thirteen Colonies were part of the British Empire. Sedition and libel became the most popularly adjudicated actions, especially between individuals and the burgeoning published press. Acceptance of freedom to express oneself in the spoken word and in print was by no means as far-reaching as it is today, even though it was ensconced in the constitutional documents of the country. It took time and an evolutionary process of the courts to accept new and deeply-rooted understandings of these freedoms. Lewis shows how the Supreme Court shaped free speech and expression in the 20th century, trumping some of the early interpretations of the Amendment, and tightening the reaction to laws that sought to impede these rights. Lewis also explores the press angle and freedom to shield sources as a mean of garnering free speech. By not having to openly reveal the names of those who offered information to flex the journalistic muscle of freedom of expression, the courts ruled that the First Amendment worked both to encourage expression and to protect it from government intrusion. While cases and precedent evolved through to the latter part of the 20th century, there was surely a great surge in open interpretation from the 19th century, which appears all but barren in its legal proceedings on speech. Adding personal expression through action into the mix of this biographical piece, Lewis shows how Americans and their varied personal beliefs found refuge in an open interpretation of the Amendment, though time and political fear shaped or suspended some fundamental rights for periods of time. Lewis mentioned the German Scare of the Great War, Japanese internment camps of the Second World War, and racial profiling during the early stages of the War on Terror, all of which were events wherein the Federal Government played on the emotions of the public (and the press) to push through laws or actions that blatantly violated personal rights. It was only the courts, who are reactionary and not proactive in their adjudication, who kept the leash of the US Constitution tightly in hand. Tackling such a political powder keg as the First Amendment, Lewis does present the reader with a well-developed exploration of the constitutional and political foundations behind a right that pushes the boundaries of tolerance and acceptance of all peoples. Succinct, yet detailed enough to make strong arguments, Lewis succeeds in what he sought to do with this tome, that will likely enlighten those who have the patience to wade into the discussion. Lewis is able to offer his views in an effective manner without an awkward attempt to inculcate ideas. Using numerous legal sources, cases, and historical settings, Lewis is able to present a strong case for the effective use of the First Amendment, while also pointing out when the courts dropped the ball. As constitutional interpretation falls to the courts (though I could open a chasm by mentioning the role the courts have in this regard), Lewis shows how a decision made at one point was reversed or completely contradicted at another point in time. Evolution of opinions and judicial understanding came as America grew, though the political and emotional blinders were clearly evident, perhaps a throwback to support the general sentiments held by the populace. That said, Lewis also shows that the courts do not fall prey to letting public sentiment determine the direction in which the constitutional winds blow. I suspect this ability to effective present strong arguments and cases comes from a long history of exploring the judicial system. This benefits the reader who might not be as well-versed, even if they are eager to learn. Lewis is a decent teacher and makes his arguments transparent, leaving the reader to decide if they agree or have an opinion of their own; the crux of this book in action. Kudos, Mr. Lewis for this wonderful exploration of political and constitutional arguments. You tell things in such a way that the information flows freely without boring the reader will too much minutiae. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

  2. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    See the title? That's the point. See the title? That's the point.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Anya

    Exciting title, but as soon as you crack open the cover, the truth is revealed... this book is boring boring boooooringggg. If only I didn’t have to read it for class...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Anthony Lewis' Freedom for the Though That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment is exactly that: a brief if thorough examination of the development of the legal right of free speech in the United States from the original drafting of the amendment, the century or more of neglect by the courts during the 1800s, on through its rapid elevation by the Supreme Court as one of, if not the, most fundamental rights guaranteed under our Constitution. While the first couple of chapters are organized Anthony Lewis' Freedom for the Though That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment is exactly that: a brief if thorough examination of the development of the legal right of free speech in the United States from the original drafting of the amendment, the century or more of neglect by the courts during the 1800s, on through its rapid elevation by the Supreme Court as one of, if not the, most fundamental rights guaranteed under our Constitution. While the first couple of chapters are organized primarily chronologically, the rest of the book is organized thematically so that Mr. Lewis can consider the application of the First Amendment's free speech, expression, and assembly guarantees in various contexts, including hate speech, balancing against other constitutional guarantees, and the press. Although the author occasionally injects his own commentary on the normative value/correctness of the courts' First Amendment jurisprudence, overall the text is neutral and informative. Furthermore, save for some negative references to President George W. Bush's "War on Terror", the sections of text containing Mr. Lewis' personal opinion are clearly phrased as such and could be skimmed/skipped quite easily if the reader is so inclined. I would recommend this book to anyone, regardless of educational background, who is interested the development of First Amendment law in this country.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dani Kass

    Lewis's writing is casual and compelling, reading more like a thriller I couldn't put down than a book on the history of the First Amendment. He doesn't get too deep into cases, but still gives a detailed overview of judicial, legislative and cultural history and provides a stream of smart analysis and comparisons which really made me question my core beliefs. It's very basic for those who already have a good understanding of the First Amendment, but it's a quick read to rejog your memory. For o Lewis's writing is casual and compelling, reading more like a thriller I couldn't put down than a book on the history of the First Amendment. He doesn't get too deep into cases, but still gives a detailed overview of judicial, legislative and cultural history and provides a stream of smart analysis and comparisons which really made me question my core beliefs. It's very basic for those who already have a good understanding of the First Amendment, but it's a quick read to rejog your memory. For others, it's a great starting place to know what cases and issues are worth reading into in more depth.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Papaphilly

    This is a great book to read for a history of the First Amendment. It is not an easy read and it takes lots of concentration. There is plenty of heady ideas flowing and it is not always what you expect. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment is part history of how the First Amendment was developed and part law of the cases that expanded a once narrowly viewed right. Anthony Lewis builds his case like the pyramids, strong base rising up majestically. But like the This is a great book to read for a history of the First Amendment. It is not an easy read and it takes lots of concentration. There is plenty of heady ideas flowing and it is not always what you expect. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment is part history of how the First Amendment was developed and part law of the cases that expanded a once narrowly viewed right. Anthony Lewis builds his case like the pyramids, strong base rising up majestically. But like the pyramids, it is often tedious, but necessary to complete the project. The subject is fundamental to us Americans and it is treated with the gravitas it deserves. There is a reason the Title is what it is. It serves as both the base for the entire book as well as a reminder why freedom of expression and press is so venerated. If you can preserve the freedom for the thought we hate, then you can preserve the freedom for the thought we hold dear and that process was both hard and long in coming.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Interesting review of First Amendment law consumable by laypersons.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pat Healy

    This book works best when Lewis sticks to history, where he does an excellent job of breaking down the various things that we talk about when we talk about "freedom of speech". The few occasions where Lewis injects personal opinions don't really fit in what is largely a brief examination of how the First Amendment has been shaped by the courts over the years. That minor quibble aside, this is a fascinating read, with lots of excellent nuggets from the highs and lows of judicial interpretation of This book works best when Lewis sticks to history, where he does an excellent job of breaking down the various things that we talk about when we talk about "freedom of speech". The few occasions where Lewis injects personal opinions don't really fit in what is largely a brief examination of how the First Amendment has been shaped by the courts over the years. That minor quibble aside, this is a fascinating read, with lots of excellent nuggets from the highs and lows of judicial interpretation of the Constitution.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Shaw

    Lewis describes the development and interpretation of the First Amendment, and by consequence, free speech specifically, in the United States. Within this discourse is the evolution of the Court’s opinion on what free speech constitutes, how it is to be provided, and how it is to be balanced or consolidated with other rights. Lewis gives the information in an accessible but thorough manner, and his work has given me greater appreciation and even enjoyment of the freedoms that the First Amendment Lewis describes the development and interpretation of the First Amendment, and by consequence, free speech specifically, in the United States. Within this discourse is the evolution of the Court’s opinion on what free speech constitutes, how it is to be provided, and how it is to be balanced or consolidated with other rights. Lewis gives the information in an accessible but thorough manner, and his work has given me greater appreciation and even enjoyment of the freedoms that the First Amendment provides. I recommend this book for those interested in Communication or Politics.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chip

    Well-written and interesting study of the First Amendment, and without question worth the read - but it could have been better. It seemed at times a collection of articles rather than single (albeit chaptered) tale, and Lewis's political editorializing in the latter portion of the book, although infrequent, was unexpected and at times jarring. Well-written and interesting study of the First Amendment, and without question worth the read - but it could have been better. It seemed at times a collection of articles rather than single (albeit chaptered) tale, and Lewis's political editorializing in the latter portion of the book, although infrequent, was unexpected and at times jarring.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    This is a solid introduction to the history of the first amendment, and encourages the reader to delve further into the subject. I think it should be required reading for intro to American Government classes. It's not exhaustive, but no single volume could be. As I said, it's an introduction, but a stirring one. This is a solid introduction to the history of the first amendment, and encourages the reader to delve further into the subject. I think it should be required reading for intro to American Government classes. It's not exhaustive, but no single volume could be. As I said, it's an introduction, but a stirring one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I expected this to add to my existing knowledge of the First Amendment, but it just served as a refresher course. Skip this book if you have a working knowledge of the subject.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Zhijing Jin

    The epistemology of this book: we analyze the past and present of a phenomenon (e.g., Freedom of Thought) to conclude something useful. This way is following control theory, where a system, instead of perfectly planning everything beforehand, adjusts according to positive and negative feedbacks. What is a good example of control theory? Imagine you are sending a rocket into space. It is really hard to do it by the top-down approach, namely designing the whole trajectory using math and physics form The epistemology of this book: we analyze the past and present of a phenomenon (e.g., Freedom of Thought) to conclude something useful. This way is following control theory, where a system, instead of perfectly planning everything beforehand, adjusts according to positive and negative feedbacks. What is a good example of control theory? Imagine you are sending a rocket into space. It is really hard to do it by the top-down approach, namely designing the whole trajectory using math and physics formula, because even some perturbation in the air when the rocket is flying can make your pre-calculated math equations fail. And, it is impossible to predict correctly every single bit of perturbation in the air at the exact moment when your rocket flies there. Under such conditions, control theory helps people repeatedly do "get-feedbacks-and-adjust". For example, when the rocket is leaning towards right, then use propellent to make it a bit back to the left. Such a model (rather than top-down pre-design, we adjust *smartly* as things go on) is very applicable! (Example 1) The yes and no's of what should be counted as Freedom of Thoughts, as mentioned in this book. The author pictures the whole historical trace of Freedom of Speech in the US, by enumerating important free speech case law. - Main act: Figure out the decision boundary of what counts as legal freedom of thoughts, and what illegal - Method: Case-by-Case analysis, and try to develop some *empirical* theories based on these cases. (Epistemology: Inductive reasoning) Let's start to go through the list of cases (to learn how US people in the law system adjust according to control theory): - [Yes] The First Amendment: constitutionally protecting the freedom of speech, press, and thoughts - [No] 1907's Patterson v. Colorado -> "bad tendency" test: speech is illegal if it has a tendency to harm public welfare. A newspaper publisher is charged because it accused Colorado judges of acting on behalf of local utility companies. - [No] 1919's Abrams v. United States -> "bad tendency" test: antiwar activists were convicted because they passed out leaflets encouraging workers to impede the war effort - [No] 1919 case Schenck v. United States -> "clear and present danger" test: An antiwar activist did not have a First Amendment right to advocate draft resistance. - [No] Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918: individuals who protested against President Woodrow Wilson's sending of soldiers to Russia were tried and given a twenty-year jail sentence - [No] 1927 case of Whitney v. California -> "clear and present danger" test: it is illegal to help establish the Communist Labor Party of America, a group charged by the state with teaching the violent overthrow of government. - [No] 1928's Olmstead v. United States: basic privacy protection outlaw freedom of press. - [Yes] 1931's Stromberg v. California: A 1919 California statute banning red flags was unconstitutional. - [Yes] 1964's New York Times Co. v. Sullivan: speech about issues of public impact should be unrestricted, vigorous and public, even if such discussion communicates extreme negative criticism of public servants and members of government. Look, it's so much fun to deepen our understanding of something through many examples! (Example 2) How Jury is added to the legal system, and how it evolves. (Example 3) Very very complicated things such as social reforms (Example 4) Companies testing out a beta version of their product (Example 5) Our life model! Note that we always have a partial observation of the world, so we have to make imperfect decisions -> gather more information -> adjust new decisions. That's why the idea of reflection looks attractive to people (e.g., many people's role model, Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography mentions that he reflects soooooo many things for himself, and very frequently; the quote "I reflect myself on three aspects every day," or "吾日三省吾身" in Chinese from

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mae

    The history of the first amendment gives Americans the broadest freedom of speech, especially the press. Undoubtably the freedom of thought is the fundamental of democracy, how to balance the interests with privacy/press privilege sometimes even the fears would be difficult and frustrated. One potential issue was also raised that the judge election could introduce the same problem - money talks - as the politician election. To end this book with Judge Holmes: one of the valuable functions of diss The history of the first amendment gives Americans the broadest freedom of speech, especially the press. Undoubtably the freedom of thought is the fundamental of democracy, how to balance the interests with privacy/press privilege sometimes even the fears would be difficult and frustrated. One potential issue was also raised that the judge election could introduce the same problem - money talks - as the politician election. To end this book with Judge Holmes: one of the valuable functions of dissenting speech, including speech that advocates violent revolution, is its capacity to generate some of the grievances, aspirations and mobilizations that force political adaptation and transformation. . . . Probably the most energizing contribution that the freedom of speech can make is simply to leave people free to follow their political thoughts wherever they might lead—free, that is, to think the unthinkable regarding political loyalty, consent, obedience and violence.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

    This book was exactly what its title promised, a thoughtful analysis of the way the first amendment was conceived and how its interpretation has changed throughout the life of this country. Lewis gives the reader the context necessary to understand the step-by-step expansion that each Supreme Court decision gave it and how it became enshrined in our political life. Lewis also does a good job in comparing how the US judiciary’s understanding of free speech differs from the European or Canadian un This book was exactly what its title promised, a thoughtful analysis of the way the first amendment was conceived and how its interpretation has changed throughout the life of this country. Lewis gives the reader the context necessary to understand the step-by-step expansion that each Supreme Court decision gave it and how it became enshrined in our political life. Lewis also does a good job in comparing how the US judiciary’s understanding of free speech differs from the European or Canadian understanding. He treats the reader to a thoughtful discussion of the cost-benefit analysis that have to be made between defending free speech and censoring hate speech. Overall, Lewis book was quite informative and valuable in understanding the role that interpretation must have in our defense of the constitution.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    An interesting account of the history of the First Amendment in the United States, with relevant court cases explained thematically, rather than chronologically. Usually I wouldn't like that, but here it makes sense. I was surprised to learn that the FA was widely ignored until the 20th Century, and that the Founding Fathers had little to say about their intent in creating it. A good look at the tension between freedom of speech/freedom of the press and other rights, such as the right to a fair An interesting account of the history of the First Amendment in the United States, with relevant court cases explained thematically, rather than chronologically. Usually I wouldn't like that, but here it makes sense. I was surprised to learn that the FA was widely ignored until the 20th Century, and that the Founding Fathers had little to say about their intent in creating it. A good look at the tension between freedom of speech/freedom of the press and other rights, such as the right to a fair trial.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jenni

    I thought this was really intersting, but it was definitely try and textbookish at times. It's so interesting to hear the context of some of the decisions that were made and commentaries of Supreme Court Justices over the years in light of the dumpster fire that is our political system in America these days. The role of the First Amendment and of the Freedom of the Press are so important to the freedom we hold dear. I thought this was really intersting, but it was definitely try and textbookish at times. It's so interesting to hear the context of some of the decisions that were made and commentaries of Supreme Court Justices over the years in light of the dumpster fire that is our political system in America these days. The role of the First Amendment and of the Freedom of the Press are so important to the freedom we hold dear.

  18. 4 out of 5

    100 More!

    It's concise, informative, and exactly what it says it is. Mr. Lewis wears his biases on his sleeve so it's easy to ignore them if you want to receive just pure information rather than his opinions. It's a solid recommend for anyone interested in the subject matter. Hear more here: https://soundcloud.com/geo-flores-709... It's concise, informative, and exactly what it says it is. Mr. Lewis wears his biases on his sleeve so it's easy to ignore them if you want to receive just pure information rather than his opinions. It's a solid recommend for anyone interested in the subject matter. Hear more here: https://soundcloud.com/geo-flores-709...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Having stumbled across Freedom for the Thought that We Hate recently, it is now one of my favorite books. It is a well researched, sober, and thoughtful exploration of the history of the first amendement - mostly focusing on free speech - from before the founding of the United States to the most recent SCOTUS decisions. This is a book that I would highly recommend to others.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Dahlman

    This is a very difficult read due to the number of court cases in the book. However, it does bring up interesting points and tracks some of the Court's opinions over time. I noticed that it also points out some of the Court's failings and some flaws in Originist's arguments. A thought provoking read, not sure if I will pick it up again, but thought provoking for sure. This is a very difficult read due to the number of court cases in the book. However, it does bring up interesting points and tracks some of the Court's opinions over time. I noticed that it also points out some of the Court's failings and some flaws in Originist's arguments. A thought provoking read, not sure if I will pick it up again, but thought provoking for sure.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Leanne

    A great overview of important US court decisions about free speech; I found lots of interesting little tidbits I'd look up on the side while I read. This book focuses on freedom of speech in its literal meaning, as in freedom from government limits on speech (and not the more recent "cancel culture" arguments that often smudge the term into a vague catch-all). Definitely worth reading. A great overview of important US court decisions about free speech; I found lots of interesting little tidbits I'd look up on the side while I read. This book focuses on freedom of speech in its literal meaning, as in freedom from government limits on speech (and not the more recent "cancel culture" arguments that often smudge the term into a vague catch-all). Definitely worth reading.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Bob Blanchard

    Given the current dialogue on the First Amendment and censorship, I p[kicked this book to help me better understand the full concept of "freedom of speech and freedom of the press." This book does present a thorough background on the Founding Fathers' views on those freedoms and how the Supreme Court rulings have solidified the primacy of them in our society. Given the current dialogue on the First Amendment and censorship, I p[kicked this book to help me better understand the full concept of "freedom of speech and freedom of the press." This book does present a thorough background on the Founding Fathers' views on those freedoms and how the Supreme Court rulings have solidified the primacy of them in our society.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Forget everything you think you know about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the first amendment. The founders (and later the courts) didn't have the same ideas about these freedoms as we do in the 21st century. Forget everything you think you know about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the first amendment. The founders (and later the courts) didn't have the same ideas about these freedoms as we do in the 21st century.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Buescher

    A good overview of the history of decisions re the First Amendment; also, interesting comparisons with Britain and the Common Law. There is only a smattering about Free Speech and Campaign Finance; and Lewis acknowledges that this would be an entirely separate book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vinay

    Fascinating history. Deserves a much longer review (which I'll write soon enough) but loved the contours of what constitutes freedom of speech in the US - pertinent lessons for India as well. Fascinating history. Deserves a much longer review (which I'll write soon enough) but loved the contours of what constitutes freedom of speech in the US - pertinent lessons for India as well.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Darren Chaker

    By Darren Chaker - great book, to the point and illustrates the evolution of the First Amendment.

  27. 5 out of 5

    mh

    Good, short book. Only 56,000 words. I'll probably reread this someday. Good, short book. Only 56,000 words. I'll probably reread this someday.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    An entirely unremarkable, and remarkably liberal, survey of First Amendment court cases.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andy Green

    A good, shorter read on the history of the First Amendment on how the Freedom of Speech is not historically absolute.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    Although not the most systematic read on this fascinating topic, Lewis’s essay-style recounting of the main threads of First Amendment thinking is informative, colorful and often entertaining!

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