An Interview with Jordi Pujol, Author of “The Collapse of Freedom of Expression”

Jordi Pujol is an associate professor of media ethics and media law at the School of Church Communications in the Pontifical University of Santa Croce in Rome. The University of Notre Dame Press is thrilled to publish his newest book, The Collapse of Freedom of Expression: Reconstructing the Ancient Roots of Modern Liberty (February 2023), as part of the Catholic Ideas for a Secular World series. He recently answered some of our questions about his research and writing processes.

When did you first get the idea to write this book?

I started to do my research on freedom of expression almost ten years ago, while I was working on my Master’s thesis in Rome.

Free speech is a controversial topic in many areas around the world. What can readers find in your book that will resonate with them today?

Free speech is a complex and multifaceted topic that often requires specialization, but at the same time a holistic view can serve to answer the main foundational problems. My book offers the latter: a full account of the main problems with freedom of expression through trans-disciplinarity.

How did you research this book?

In layers. During the past decade, I’ve looked at the problems generated by the exercise of freedom of expression through different disciplines: theology, political science, legal studies, philosophy of language, and communication. In this regard it is important not only to have good readings but also valuable academic conversations. I’ve benefitted very much from both examining works of scholars and conferring with outstanding scholars in major American universities where I’ve been a visiting scholar.

What did you learn while writing it?

I have seen the power of expression used for both good and for evil, and I think I’ve better understood the interest and tactics of those in power to weaponize this potential. I’ve learned the difficulty of placing limits on freedom of expression—it’s not a legalistic scientific formula, but a balance of legal and moral principles that must examine the specific case.

In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?

During the writing process I faced a challenge: on one hand, following my European mindset, I tended to a theoretical approach, orienting myself to solve the main abstract dilemmas and challenges posed by the different disciplines that I explored to look at freedom of expression. On the other hand, the formation that I acquired in major American universities pushed me to explore the principles through specific cases. The final outcome contains a mixture of both.

Who is the biggest influence on you and your work?

The main influence on my work has been professor John Durham Peters, whose work pushed me to read the classics on free speech, including Milton and Mill, and to face the hot topic of freedom of expression that is the harm done by expression. I’ve also been blessed by a very generous mentor at Santa Croce: Professor Norberto González Gaitano. He patiently guided me in the first steps of my research, and introduced me to the field of the philosophy of language.

What is your writing schedule like?

I try to protect the first hours of my day for academic work because my head is clearer from distractions. Later in the day, I respond to emails and schedule meetings.

What advice would you give to a writer who wants to start a book?

I’d invite him or her to recognize that writing, reading, and thinking go together. Therefore, it’s crucial to find their own method to take advantage of the academic work that they do, the connections of ideas that they make while reading, discussing, teaching, or simply reflecting during a walk. In the end, it’s an attempt to not let anything valuable slip away. To succeed in this enterprise, order is key: and that’s a hard one!

Who would you like to read The Collapse of Freedom of Expression and why?

All people passionate about public discourse, particularly emerging scholars. You receive more severe criticism from young scholars than from experienced ones, and that is a sign of youth. Academic maturity tempers your opinions. At the same time, I also value the openness to listen and sincerely engage in discussion.

What books are you currently reading?

The list of pending book is long! I’m currently finishing my reading of Erika Bachiochi’s The Rights of Women. I’m also reading: How Fear Works by Frank Furidi, Roma Desordenada by Juan Claudio de Ramón, and some essays on the exercise of power and authority.

What project are you working on next?

I’m planning to write a book with another colleague on the right to information within the Roman Catholic Church. I’m teaching in a School of Church Communications and we would like to address this key topic from multiple fronts: public opinion, right to know, and information offices.