The Most Human Right
Why Free Speech Is Everything
- Next Big Idea Club nominee
208 pp., 6 x 9 in, 2 figures
- Published: April 12, 2022
- Published: April 12, 2022
A bold, groundbreaking argument by a world-renowned expert that unless we treat free speech as the fundamental human right, there can be no others.
What are human rights? Are they laid out definitively in the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the US Bill of Rights? Are they items on a checklist—dignity, justice, progress, standard of living, health care, housing? In The Most Human Right, Eric Heinze explains why global human rights systems have failed. International organizations constantly report on how governments manage human goods, such as fair trials, humane conditions of detention, healthcare, or housing. But to appease autocratic regimes, experts have ignored the primacy of free speech. Heinze argues that goods become rights only when citizens can claim them publicly and fearlessly: free speech is the fundamental right, without which the very concept of a “right” makes no sense.
Heinze argues that throughout history countless systems of justice have promised human goods. What, then, makes human rights different? What must human rights have that other systems have lacked? Heinze revisits the origins of the concept, exploring what it means for a nation to protect human rights, and what a citizen needs in order to pursue them. He explains how free speech distinguishes human rights from other ideas about justice, past and present.
“Despite the recent controversies over free speech, few people have a clear idea of why it's so fundamental. This insightful and penetrating analysis shows how free speech is not just another good thing we have a right to, like food and protection from abuse, but a prerequisite to the very concept of a 'right.' (If you disagree, would it be OK for authorities to prevent you from saying why?)”
Steven Pinker, author of Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters
“This engaging book makes a compelling case that freedom of speech constitutes an essential prerequisite for a regime in which other rights can be claimed by all individuals openly, candidly, and without fear, rather than bestowed by government as a matter of discretion.”
Nadine Strossen, author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship
“A vitally important book about the most basic of human rights. We forget the importance of free speech to open and democratic societies at our peril.”
James Bloodworth, journalist and author of Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain
“Human rights are often presented as a package—a set of interdependent and indivisible norms. Eric Heinze argues forcefully that free speech must have priority. Against the injustices of our world and the orthodoxies of reformers alike, Heinze has issued an articulate and provocative challenge.”
Samuel Moyn, author of Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War
“Eric Heinze is one of our most thoughtful, informed, and imaginative scholars of freedom of speech. His book will reward a close reading.”
Robert Post, author of Citizens Divided: Campaign Finance Reform and the Constitution
Eric Heinze has produced a book which cuts through years of muddled thinking on the subject. It is required reading for anyone who allows the phrase 'human rights' to cross their lips... [Heinze] reconnects the idea of rights to the primacy of free speech... an ingeniously simple argument.
The Irish Times