Are we creating a problem that future generations will not be able to solve? Could the early decades of the 21st century even come to seem, in the words of the internet pioneer Vint Cerf, like a “digital Dark Age”? Whether or not such fears are realised, it is becoming increasingly clear that the migration of knowledge to formats permitting rapid and low-cost copying and dissemination, but in which the base information cannot survive without complex and expensive intervention, requires that we choose, more actively than ever before, what to remember and what to forget.
Free speech is complicated and comes at a high price. We pay for it in terms of other things we also need to care about: public order and security, children’s needs, private reputations, civic courtesy, cultural worth, the social dignity of vulnerable minorities. As Timothy Garton Ash makes admirably clear in his wise, up-to-the-minute and wide-ranging new survey, “Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World,” most of the difficult arguments about free speech bear on its price in terms of other things that also ought to matter to us.
Smoke is a mess of a book. It's long and untidy, the dialogue is implausible, the action bottlenecks about halfway through, but it works. It works because it feels psychologically true: Imagine the relief of being in the right, of all your microdecisions and weaknesses and passing thoughts being judged and found pure, of not having to bear the guilt of success at someone else's expense. Of deserving it.
If the same cannot be said today, if dictators are no longer seen to hold the power of life or death over their subjects, if the archcriminals of Cambodia, Sudan and Rwanda are indicted and sometimes even punished, in short, if the idea of international justice has gradually gained a semblance of meaning, we owe it to two ideas, or more precisely two concepts — as well as to the two men who brought them to life: Hersch Lauterpacht for the concept of the crime against humanity and Raphael Lemkin for that of genocide. Philippe Sands, a professor of law at University College London, recounts the life and work of both men in “East West Street: On the Origins of ‘Genocide’ and ‘Crimes Against Humanity.’ ”