Ten great quotes about free speech which aren’t from Voltaire or George Orwell

by Oxford Students for Life

What would it matter, anyway, if Oxford Students For Life were to be no-platformed by Oxford University Students Union? Student politics isn’t that big a deal, is it? Well, perhaps not, but here’s the point. The difference between liberal democracy and authoritarianism does often lie in little things. In a liberal democracy, if someone tries to take away your basic rights, you can have recourse to the existing institutions and they will defend you. That’s what happened last week: someone tried to take away our free expression, we had recourse to OUSU Council, and OUSU Council defended us. Well done, OUSU Council.

Even so, the vote was close enough that this might be a good moment to remember some of the most powerful statements in favour of free speech. And though we may not include the one by a certain French author, we will defend to the death your right to quote it.

1. Aung San Suu Kyi

‘Democracy acknowledges the right to differ as well as the duty to settle differences peacefully. Authoritarian governments see criticism of their actions and doctrines as a challenge to combat. ’

2. Benjamin Franklin


‘Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.’

3. Noam Chomsky

‘Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech.’

4. Lucien Bourjeily

‘Freedom of expression is actually a way for people to know themselves better, and to understand themselves better. Because without it, you become a stranger to yourself.’

5. John Stuart Mill


‘The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.’

6. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.’

7. Philip Pullman

‘No one has the right to live without being shocked.’

8. Peggy Noonan

‘We don’t need to ‘control’ free speech, we need to control ourselves.’

9.  Jacques Barzun

‘Democracy, to maintain itself, must repeatedly conquer every cell and corner of the nation. How many of our public institutions and private businesses, our schools, hospitals, and domestic hearths are in reality little fascist states where freedom of speech is more rigorously excluded than vermin?’

10. Neil Gaiman

‘If you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.’