The Harm in Hate Speech, continued.

Brian Leiter reviews Waldron’s new book, calling for an expansion of the core argument. From the abstract:

If the moral urgency animating Waldron’s case is the need to protect the vulnerable from harm, why limit that to the harm of losing assurance of “equal standing” or (as he sometimes says) the psychological harm of “distress”?

Consider, for example, what I call “the Ryan case: a powerful congressman, Paul Ryan, proposes to eviscerate and eventually eliminate Medicare, thus threatening to deprive millions of vulnerable, elderly people of essential healthcare. Surely assurance of access to healthcare when in need is at least as important as assurance of dignity in public. Why is this harm, then, not also a candidate for legal redress? I argue that Waldron’s view does not have the resources to distinguish the Ryan case, but I do not offer that as a reductio of his position. To the contrary, it seems to me a virtue of Waldron’s book is that by making an often vivid case for the harm that the content of speech can inflict on the vulnerable, Waldron forces us to take seriously Herbert Marcuse’s old worry: namely, that while the toleration of harmful speech “in conversation, in academic discussion…in the scientific enterprise, in private religion” is justified, perhaps “society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake.” Waldron does not explore that implication of his argument, but it is one that warrants renewed consideration if one shares Waldron’s core intuition that harm to the vulnerable, even harm inflicted by speech, deserves legal notice.

Previous posts on The Harm in Hate Speech here, here and here.

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