Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



As educator and philosopher Alexander Meiklejohn has won a lion's share of the honors of his profession. Few have seen so clearly, or done more to enrich, the meaning of America. When in a provoking little volume' that appeared in 1948, Mr. Meiklejohn examined the meaning of democracy and free speech and found that Mr. Justice Holmes' clear and present danger test was incompatible with both, he obviously struck fire. His theme was that when men govern themselves it is they and not government who must judge as to the wisdom, fairness and danger of ideas. This means that unwise, un- fair and unsafe thoughts must have a hearing as well as those that are otherwise. For to the extent that "citizens who are to decide an issue are denied acquaintance with information or opinion or doubt or disbelief or criticism which is relevant to that issue, just so far the result must be ill- considered [and] ill-balanced.... It is that mutilation of the thinking process of the community against which the First Amendment to the Constitution is directed." The principle of free speech thus springs from the necessities of self-government. "It is a deduction from the basic American agreement that public issues shall be decided by universal sufferage.'' From that founda- tion Mr. Meiklejohn argued that the Supreme Court, following the lead of Mr. Justice Holmes, has persistently held that speech may be constitutionally limited. "The court has interpreted the dictum that Congress shall not abridge the freedom of speech by defining conditions [clear and present danger] under which such abridging is allowable." In a recent law review article this argument is brought up to date and embellished."