Teresa Bejan has written an article for The Atlantic (2 December) in which she frames the current debate on university campuses about the right to free speech in terms of two opposing ancient Athenian concepts of Freedom of Speech.
“The conflict between what the ancient Greeks called isegoria, on the one hand, and parrhesia, on the other, is as old as democracy itself,” she writes. “Today, both terms are often translated as 'freedom of speech,' but their meanings were and are importantly distinct. In ancient Athens, isegoria described the equal right of citizens to participate in public debate in the democratic assembly; parrhesia, the license to say what one pleased, how and when one pleased, and to whom.”
She goes on to say that these two ancient concepts of free speech “came to shape our modern liberal democratic notions in fascinating and forgotten ways. But more importantly, understanding that there is not one, but two concepts of freedom of speech, and that these are often in tension if not outright conflict, helps explain the frustrating shape of contemporary debates, both in the U.S. and in Europe—and why it so often feels as though we are talking past each other when it comes to the things that matter most.”