The Harm in Hate Speech, continued.

Coverage of Jeremy Waldron’s new book continues with another hugely positive commentary from Stanley Fish in the New York Times:

[H]arms to dignity, he contends, involve more than the giving of offense. They involve undermining a public good, which he identifies as the “implicit assurance” extended to every citizen that while his beliefs and allegiance may be criticized and rejected by some of his fellow citizens, he will nevertheless be viewed, even by his polemical opponents, as someone who has an equal right to membership in the society. It is the assurance — not given explicitly at the beginning of each day but built into the community’s mode of self-presentation — that he belongs, that he is the undoubted bearer of a dignity he doesn’t have to struggle for… Waldron’s thesis is that hate speech assaults that dignity by taking away that assurance.

And in conclusion:

[W]hat about the harm done “to the groups who are denounced or bestialized in pamphlets, billboards, talk radio and blogs? … Can their lives be led, can their children be brought up, can their hopes be maintained and their worst fears dispelled in a social environment polluted by those materials”? Waldron answers “no,” and he challenges society and its legal system to do something about it. But the likelihood that something will be done is slim if Waldron is right about the state of First Amendment discourse: “[I]n the American debate, the philosophical arguments about hate speech are knee-jerk, impulsive and thoughtless.” Not the arguments of this book, however; they hit the mark every time.

Do yourself a favour and read Fish’s whole post. Previous post on this topic by me here.

(Hat Tip: Mirror of Justice).


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