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The ancient concept of parrhesia ('telling all') represents both an ideal form of speech that is direct and bold and the conditions in which it can take place. What happens in situations that lack institutional protection of free speech? Is free speech a necessary condition for frank political expression? To address these questions, I turn to a collection of medieval Arabic fables KalÌla wa Dimna. Through these stories their Persian translator, Ibn al-Muqaffa', instructs his readers in how to educate princes through using metaphor. While Ibn al-Muqaffa' depicts how to speak frankly in his own context, he teaches us also about the limits of what frank speech means in the history of Western political thought. Ibn al-Muqaffa' reveals that the presumption that we must be direct when we communicate our views is linked intimately with the liberal separation of private and public matters and how we define the public sphere and appropriate forms of political action therein.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Chicago., Email: jlondon@uchicago.edu

Publication date: January 1, 2008

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