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Meiklejohn, Hocking, and Self-Government Theory
Communication Law and Policy  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-08-04, DOI: 10.1080/10811680.2021.1937003


The philosopher Alexander Meiklejohn ranks among the most renowned First Amendment theorists. In Free Speech and Its Relation to Self-Government, published in 1948, he lays out four propositions: The First Amendment is intended to facilitate political discourse; its principal concern is the rights of listeners rather than those of speakers; the government has an affirmative obligation to improve the system of free expression; and effective political deliberation requires structure and rules. Together, these propositions add up to Meiklejohn’s self-government theory of the First Amendment. But he was not the first: All four propositions appear in a book published a year earlier by another philosopher, William Ernest Hocking, a member of the Commission on Freedom of the Press. This article critically examines the two men’s versions of self-government theory in the context of their backgrounds, their political philosophies, and their animating concerns about free speech.