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Clear and Present Danger - A history of free speech

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Episode 26 – Oslo Freedom Forum Special with Megha Rajagopalan and Yuan Yang

June 4th, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the bloody culmination of the Chinese government´s Tiananmen Massacre of pro-democracy students and activists. But all public discussion and memories of the massacre have been erased within China itself. In our second episode from the Oslo Freedom Forum we will take a trip behind the Great Firewall into modern day China where the most ambitious and sophisticated attempt to control the flow and content of information in the history of mankind is...


Episode 25 – Oslo Freedom Forum Special with Larry Diamond

Today´s episode is going to be a radical departure from the chronological timeline of the general podcast so far. I´m currently in Oslo for the annual Oslo Freedom Forum, organized by the Human Rights Foundation. The Oslo Freedom Forum is a unique gathering of human rights and democracy activists from all over the world joining forces to connect, share ideas and build alliances to strengthen freedom and undermine authoritarianism. To take advantage of the Oslo Freedom Forum I have decided to...


Episode 24 – Expert Opinion: Stephen Solomon part two - The Sedition Act

In 1787, the newly authored U.S. Constitution was sent out to the states for ratification. Despite fierce objections from Anti-Federalists, the Constitution did not include a bill of rights protecting freedom of speech and the press. The Anti-Federalist newspaper the Independent Gazetteer published an ironic comment on what the future of free speech would look like if the Constitution was ratified: Ah! what glorious days are coming; how I anticipate the brilliancy of the American court! …...


Episode 23 – Expert Opinion: Stephen Solomon part one - The First Amendment

The First Amendment of the US Constitution was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791. This “Great bulwark of liberty” provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” In this conversation with professor Stephen Solomon we will explore the origins...


Episode 22 - Fighting Words - Free Speech in 18th Century America, Part II

In the second half of the 18th Century American, Patriots showed that freedom of the press was a potent weapon against authority. Not even the world´s most formidable empire could stop them from speaking truth, lies and insults to power. In 1765 the announcement of the Stamp Act kicked off a tsunami of dissent in colonial pamphlets, newspapers, taverns and town meetings. The outpouring of protest shaped a public opinion increasingly hostile to taxation without representation and in favor of...


Episode 21 - The Bulwark of Liberty - Free Speech in 18th Century America, Part I

18th century America was impacted and influenced by the so-called Glorious Revolution in the Motherland. And no-one had a bigger impact on American attitudes towards freedom of speech than Cato’s Letters written by the Radical Whigs John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon. Cato´s Letters created a powerful free speech meme, that went viral in the colonies: “Freedom of Speech is the great Bulwark of Liberty”. The reach of Cato’s principles grew exponentially as colonists liked, shared and commented...


Episode 20 - The Seeds of Enlightenment

1685 was a watershed year for events that would lead to what we call the Enlightenment. France´s Sun King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and initiated a policy of religious persecution of Protestants. In England, the Catholic James II assumed the throne to the horror of the protestant majority in Parliament. From their exiles in the Dutch Republic, the French philosopher Pierre Bayle wrote his groundbreaking defense of religious tolerance “Commentaire Philosophique” and John Locke...


Episode 19 – Expert Opinion: Steven Nadler on Spinoza’s ‘book forged in hell” and the right to “think what you like and say what you think”

Baruch Spinoza (also known as Benedict de Spinoza) was born in Amsterdam in 1632. While his given name means “blessing” in both Hebrew and Latin, Spinoza’s “Theological-political treatise” from 1670 was condemned as “a book forged in hell.” Spinoza himself was denounced as a dangerous heretic or atheist by religious and secular rulers alike, and was pilloried in the court of public opinion. Spinoza’s apparent crime consisted in systematically eroding the foundation of revealed religion and...


Episode 18 - Colonial Dissent: Blasphemy, Libel and Tolerance in 17th Century America

Americans are more supportive of free speech than any other people. 95 % of Americans think it’s “very important” to be able to criticize the government without censorship and 77% support the right to offend religious feelings. But in 17th Century colonial America, criticizing the government, officials or the laws was punishable as seditious libel and could result in the cropping of ears, whippings, boring of the tongue and jail time. Religious speech was also tightly controlled. Blasphemy...


Episode 17 - Global Inquisition

In the 16th Century Spain and Portugal globalized the inquisition by spreading the fight for religious orthodoxy and against heresy, blasphemy and apostasy to the Americas, Africa and Asia allowing inquisitors to pry into the souls of men on five continents. In Episode 17 we try to answer questions such as: You can subscribe and listen to Clear and Present Danger on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, YouTube, TuneIn and Stitcher, or download episodes directly from SoundCloud. Stay up to date...


Episode 16: Expert Opinion - Michael Shermer

In this episode, we join up with historian of science Dr. Michael Shermer to investigate the cross-fertilization between science and free speech. Michael Shermer is a prolific writer on science, philosophy and morality and has appeared in numerous documentaries, talk shows, and TED talks. Among the topics discussed are: Dr. Michael Shermer is a Historian of science, Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, founder of Skeptic Society and the Skeptic Magazine and author of Heavens on...


Episode 15 - Paper-bullets and the forgotten martyrs of radical free speech

Episode 15 returns to Europe and formative events in 17th Century England, where a mostly forgotten group of radicals demanded a written constitution guaranteeing free speech, liberty of conscience, and democracy. But who were the Levellers? What was the historical context of their radical demands and why were they ultimately crushed by former allies? Listen and find the answers to such questions as: Who was the first English author to demand full religious toleration for both heretics and...


Episode 14 - ‘Universal Peace’: Religious tolerance in the Mughal empire

Episode 14 leaves the West and heads to 16th and 17th Century India and the Mughal empire. In particular, the rule of Akbar the Great. A century before John Locke’s “A Letter Concerning Toleration,” Akbar developed a policy of “Universal Peace” repudiating religious compulsion and embracing ecumenical debate. We’ll also discover why the history of the Mughal empire still tests the limits of free speech and tolerance in modern India. Among the questions tackled are: Why, how, and to what...


Episode 13: Expert Opinion - Jonathan Haidt

In this episode, we do a bit of time travel and leave the 17th century for a discussion of free speech on American college and university campuses today. Our guest is New York University professor Jonathan Haidt, who is a co-author with FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff of “The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure,” which is already among Amazon’s top 20 bestselling books. But in looking at the present challenges to free speech on...


Episode 12: Expert Opinion - Teresa Bejan

We enter the early modern age with an expert opinion featuring Teresa Bejan, associate professor at Oriel College, Oxford University and author of “Mere Civility: Disagreement and the Limits of Toleration.” In this episode, Jacob and Teresa will discuss political thought on tolerance and the limits of religious speech in early modern England and colonial America. The episode investigates the writings of intellectual rock stars John Milton, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke and the less famous...


Episode 11: The great disruption - Part II

In episode 11 we continue to survey the wreckage after hurricane Luther was unleashed on Europe with the Reformation. When the Reformation mutated and spread across the continent a burning question arose: Can people of different faiths live together in the same state? Should social peace be based on tolerance or intolerance? We look into questions such as You can subscribe and listen to Clear and Present Danger on iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, TuneIn, and Stitcher, or download episodes...


Episode 10: The great disruption - Part I, the printing press and the viral Reformation

The disruptive effects of the internet and social media on the spread of information are unprecedented. Or are they? In episode 10 of Clear and Present Danger, we cover the invention, spread, and effects of the Gutenberg printing press: What significance did this new technology have for the dissemination of knowledge and ideas?Why was the printing press instrumental in helping a German monk and scholar break the religious unity of Europe?What happened when new religious ideas raged through...


Episode 9: Expert Opinion - Christine Caldwell Ames

Our last stop in the Middle Ages is an interview with professor Christine Caldwell Ames, who is an expert on medieval heresy and inquisition in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The discussion highlights the similarities and differences between Christianity, Catholic and Orthodox, Judaism, and Islam when it comes to defining and policing orthodoxy. Among the topics discussed are: Was the Medieval Inquisition motivated by worldly power or religious zeal?What effect did the Medieval...


Episode 8: The hounds of God - medieval heretics and inquisitors

From the High Middle Ages, Europe developed into a “persecuting society,” obsessed with stamping out the “cancer” of heresy. But questions about how this was accomplished — and the consequences of these developments — abound: We try to answer these questions — and more — in the latest episode of our Clear and Present Danger podcast. You can subscribe and listen to Clear and Present Danger on iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, TuneIn and Stitcher, or download episodes directly from...


Episode 7: Expert Opinion - Peter Adamson

In our second expert opinion episode, Jacob Mchangama talks with Peter Adamson, who is a professor of philosophy at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and host of the podcast “History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps.” We’ll discuss medieval freethinking and freethinkers from both the Islamic world and the Latin West. Where was the soil most fertile for medieval freethinking? What was the impact of Muslim philosophers like Avicenna and Averroes on European thought? And finally, who makes...