The Harm in Hate Speech

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Overview

Every liberal democracy has laws or codes against hate speech—except the United States. For constitutionalists, regulation of hate speech violates the First Amendment and damages a free society. Against this absolutist view, Jeremy Waldron argues powerfully that hate speech should be regulated as part of our commitment to human dignity and to inclusion and respect for members of vulnerable minorities.

Causing offense—by depicting a religious leader as a terrorist in a newspaper cartoon, for example—is not the same as launching a libelous attack on a group’s dignity, according to Waldron, and it lies outside the reach of law. But defamation of a minority group, through hate speech, undermines a public good that can and should be protected: the basic assurance of inclusion in society for all members. A social environment polluted by anti-gay leaflets, Nazi banners, and burning crosses sends an implicit message to the targets of such hatred: your security is uncertain and you can expect to face humiliation and discrimination when you leave your home.

Free-speech advocates boast of despising what racists say but defending to the death their right to say it. Waldron finds this emphasis on intellectual resilience misguided and points instead to the threat hate speech poses to the lives, dignity, and reputations of minority members. Finding support for his view among philosophers of the Enlightenment, Waldron asks us to move beyond knee-jerk American exceptionalism in our debates over the serious consequences of hateful speech.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books

[Waldron's] book sheds light on a number of difficult issues, and occasionally exposes the difference between historical fact and fiction...He elegantly and convincingly advocates that our leaders should not only avoid the use of hate speech themselves, but also condemn its use by others...We should all do our best to preserve President Ford's conception of America as a place where we can disagree without being disagreeable. An understanding of the arguments in Waldron's book may help us to do so.
— John Paul Stevens

Boston Globe

To the (mostly white) liberals who say they hate the content of hate speech, but defend its right to exist under the First Amendment (often while patting themselves on the back for their tolerance), Waldron replies, in essence: easy for you to say. In this brief, eloquent book, he urges readers (at a bare minimum) to think about how hate speech feels from the point of view of its targets...From key court battles Waldron teases out the ideas that matter in deciding how to balance free expression with a free society, one in which everybody can "know that when they leave home in the morning, they can count on not being discriminated against or humiliated or terrorized."
— Kate Tuttle

Times Higher Education

This is a wonderful book. It conveys complex ideas in an accessible and convincing way...Jeremy Waldron has put together a clear and compelling rationale for hate-speech laws—the harm that it causes to human dignity.
— Katharine Gelber

New York Times

Waldron...challenges society and its legal system to do something about [the harm done by hate speech]. 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.
— Stanley Fish

American Prospect

The Harm in Hate Speech is the fullest embodiment of arguments that Waldron has been developing for years...Waldron's treatise is primarily a philosophical defense of hate-speech regulation. He argues that hate speech is an "environmental" problem that pollutes the atmosphere of security and dignity that society should provide to all its members...Speech intended to intimidate or malign destroys this assurance...While we should continue to protect the free speech of those we disagree with, The Harm in Hate Speech makes a compelling case that they are not the only ones who need defending.
— Daniel Townshend

Louis Michael Seidman
We have plenty of free speech in this country, but not nearly enough free speech about free speech itself. In this elegantly written, fair minded, and carefully reasoned book, Jeremy Waldron raises important issues about the real harm caused by certain kinds of speech. His argument is certain to give even free speech absolutists pause.
George Kateb
Jeremy Waldron's vigorous defense of restricting hate speech will benefit those who agree with him and those who do not. The book is clearly written, both subtle and inventive in its arguments, continuously stimulating, and shows a remarkable generosity of spirit. This is quite an achievement.
Timothy Garton Ash
Waldron is a legal and political thinker at the height of his powers. Even, or perhaps especially, for someone who disagrees with his position on hate speech legislation, this book conveys a subtle, rich, rigorous and deeply challenging argument.
New York Review of Books - John Paul Stevens
[Waldron's] book sheds light on a number of difficult issues, and occasionally exposes the difference between historical fact and fiction...He elegantly and convincingly advocates that our leaders should not only avoid the use of hate speech themselves, but also condemn its use by others...We should all do our best to preserve President Ford's conception of America as a place where we can disagree without being disagreeable. An understanding of the arguments in Waldron's book may help us to do so.
Boston Globe - Kate Tuttle
To the (mostly white) liberals who say they hate the content of hate speech, but defend its right to exist under the First Amendment (often while patting themselves on the back for their tolerance), Waldron replies, in essence: easy for you to say. In this brief, eloquent book, he urges readers (at a bare minimum) to think about how hate speech feels from the point of view of its targets...From key court battles Waldron teases out the ideas that matter in deciding how to balance free expression with a free society, one in which everybody can "know that when they leave home in the morning, they can count on not being discriminated against or humiliated or terrorized."
Times Higher Education - Katharine Gelber
This is a wonderful book. It conveys complex ideas in an accessible and convincing way...Jeremy Waldron has put together a clear and compelling rationale for hate-speech laws--the harm that it causes to human dignity.
New York Times - Stanley Fish
Waldron...challenges society and its legal system to do something about [the harm done by hate speech]. 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.
American Prospect - Daniel Townshend
The Harm in Hate Speech is the fullest embodiment of arguments that Waldron has been developing for years...Waldron's treatise is primarily a philosophical defense of hate-speech regulation. He argues that hate speech is an "environmental" problem that pollutes the atmosphere of security and dignity that society should provide to all its members...Speech intended to intimidate or malign destroys this assurance...While we should continue to protect the free speech of those we disagree with, The Harm in Hate Speech makes a compelling case that they are not the only ones who need defending.
Choice - S. B. Lichtman
This book develops a theory of hate speech that challenges existing U.S. legal rubrics. U.S. courts have repeatedly held that the First Amendment forbids criminalization of hate speech, but Waldron advances a broader view of the link between free expression and important social values such as tolerance and inclusiveness...If dignity is a concept that is valued by a polity, Waldron argues, then there are important reasons to distinguish hate speech from other forms of expression that merit legal protection. An elegant synthesis of modern legal philosophy and leading cases, as well as a critique of the positions of prominent legal theorists such as Ronald Dworkin and C. Edwin Baker, the book is a readable, thought-provoking contribution to the literature.
Times Literary Supplement - Nigel Warburton
Waldron is firmly on the side of the hate speech legislators. He wants free speech dogmatists to think again, and presents a series of challenges to the prevailing view in the U.S.
Kirkus Reviews
A vigorously argued, intelligent challenge to the "liberal bravado" of U.S. First Amendment scholars. In an eloquent reply to free-speech advocates, Waldron (New York University School of Law; Torture, Terror, and Trade-Offs: Philosophy for the White House, 2010, etc.) moves step by step in building the argument as to why hate-speech laws are good for a well-ordered society. In many enlightened democracies in Europe, as well as in Canada, the use of threatening, abusive speech or behavior to stir up racial hatred is prohibited by law. Americans, on the other hand, are vociferously more guarded about the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court has opposed regulation on free speech only since 1931, when it struck down a California law forbidding the display of a red flag as an oppositional symbol. Subsequently, the government, Christian Church and public officials were deemed sufficiently strong enough not to need regulation of attacks on them, while even the Ku Klux Klan could indulge in hate speech "unless it is calculated to incite or likely to produce imminent lawless action." But racial and ethnic minorities are vulnerable, Waldron writes, and a liberal democracy's "assurance" of their protection from attack and denigration are not secure when hate speech is allowed free rein, such as in the time of public hysteria after 9/11. The author argues that the damage caused by hate speech is like an "environmental threat to social peace, a sort of slow-acting poison" that robs the intended victims of their dignity and reputation in society. Waldron's analogy between hate speech and pornography--in terms of the defamation of women--is particularly noteworthy. He responds carefully to the notion of free speech as a necessary part of democracy's "marketplace of ideas" and looks to the Enlightenment philosophes for their views on toleration and defamation. A spirited defense without being heavy-handed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674065895
  • Publisher: Harvard
  • Publication date: 6/8/2012
  • Series: Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures , #2005
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 692,460
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 2.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeremy Waldron is University Professor, New York University School of Law, and Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, All Souls College, University of Oxford.
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 3: Why Call Hate Speech Group Libel?



What we call a thing tells us something about our attitude towards it, why we see it as a problem, what our response to it might be, what difficulties our response might throw up, and so on. So it is with the phenomenon that we call in America “hate speech,” a term that can cover things as diverse as Islamophobic blogs, cross-burnings, racial epithets, and bestial depictions of members racial minorities, genocidal radio-broadcasts in Rwanda in 1994, and Nazis marching in Skokie, Illinois, with swastikas and placards saying “Hitler should have finished the job.” When we call these phenomena “hate speech”—as we do and as I often will in these pages—we bring to the fore a number of connotations that are not entirely neutral.

First, the term “hate.” The kind of speech whose regulation interests us is called “hate speech,” and that word “hate” can be distracting. It suggests that we are interested in correcting the passions and emotions that lie behind a particular speech act. For most of us, the word highlights the subjective attitudes of the person expressing the views or the person blogging or publishing the message in question. It seems to locate the problem as an attitudinal one, suggesting, I think misleadingly, that the task of legislation restricting hate speech is to punish people’s attitudes or control their thoughts. The idea of “hate speech” feels, in this regard, like the idea of “hate crimes”—offenses that are aggravated in law by evidence of a certain motivation.

In that connection, people may be excused for thinking that the controversy over the use of mental elements like racist motivation as an aggravating factor in criminal law is also relevant to the controversy over racist expression. In fact, though the two ideas—hate speech and hate crimes—do have a distant connection, they really raise quite different issues in our thinking about law. The idea of hate crimes is an idea that definitely does focus on motivation: it treats the harboring of certain motivations in regard to unlawful acts like assault or murder as a distinct element of crime or as an aggravating factor. But in most hate speech legislation, hatred is relevant not as the motivation of certain actions, but as a possible effect of certain forms of speech. Many statutory definitions of what we call hate speech make the element of “hatred” relevant as an aim or purpose, something that people are trying to bring about or incite: for example, the Canadian formulation that I mentioned in Chapter One refers to the actions of a person “who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group….” Or it is a matter of foreseeable effect, whether intended or not: the British formulation refers to speech that, in all the circumstances, is “likely to stir up hatred.”

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