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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If you've already read and understood Jonah Goldberg's book _Liberal Fascism_, you'll be prepared for the worldview articulated in this book. Goldberg memorably quotes the late comedian George Carlin as saying that if fascism ever comes to America, it will be in the form of "smiley-face" fascism. I can't think of a better example of contemporary "smiley face" fascism than the propositions argued for in this repugnant book.
I have a hard time with the star-rating system for a book like this. It is well-written and generally coherent. Many of the arguments are weak, or operate under a completely different set of assumptions from those of classical liberalism (which undergird the U.S. Constitution), but that is beside the point. Waldron is a competent, if not brilliant, writer of prose. However, I (and, I believe, many others regarded as "First Amendment absolutists" by the authoritarian Right or Left) find Waldron's views to be anathema to our principles. Quite simply, I find his views revolting, as I would find the views of someone who argues for torture of prisoners. This is why I give the "story" (although this is nonfiction, exposition) or content one star. I have no problem with the narration; these are not Dennis Holland's ideas, they are those of the writer.
In a nutshell, Waldron argues that the United States should follow the example of other "civilized" countries (like Germany, England, Sweden, etc.) and enact "hate speech" legislation to criminalize "hate speech." This is actually quite ironic given recent developments in Europe, in which right-wing "xenophobic" parties are rapidly consolidating their hold on power, as part of a reaction to years of domination by left-wing multiculturalist regimes. Europeans are sick of seeing people butchered in the street by immigrants from Pakistan or Somalia and then having their justifiable outrage branded as "Islamophobia." If anything, the hate speech codes in Europe have only led to worsening tensions between native Europeans and immigrant Muslims.
Now, of course, in the U.S.A., terroristic threats (telling someone you are going to kill or hurt him/her) are not protected speech; they are considered assault or aggravated assault in the criminal codes of every state. Reasonable people consider these limits sensible, because we all understand that our liberty ends only when it infringes on someone else's. Saying "I hate your guts" does not pose a threat to someone; saying "I am going to beat you senseless" does.
Waldron would take it a step further, though, to criminalize statements such as:
"All Muslims are terrorists." "Muslims get out of the USA." "Islam = 9/11."
Now, we may as reasonable people regard these statements as ridiculous or extreme, but since they do not actively incite violence against a particular person or group of persons, they are protected by the First Amendment. Waldron does not accept this. He believes that if you make a statement such as this you should be subject to fines or jail time.
One of the core tenets of classical liberalism (which today would probably be identified as a mixture of conservatism and libertarianism) is John Stuart Mill's "harm principle," similar to Frederic Bastiat's conception of the proper function of the law. The legitimate function of government, or the law, according to Bastiat and Mill, is to prevent us from doing harm to our neighbor or our neighbor from doing harm to us. Any government or law that goes beyond this and attempts to protect us from ourselves is necessarily tyrannical.
Authoritarian left-liberals like Waldron pay lip service to Mill's harm principle via issues like gay marriage and pot legalization, since they know it is hard to argue against. But on limiting speech, they twist the harm principle by blurring the line between offending and harming. To say that American Muslims, for example, are "harmed" by the presence of Islamophobic (and who gets to determine what is and what isn't Islamophobic?) books, films, graffiti, bumper stickers, or t-shirt slogans is really stretching it, and one rolls his eyes at Waldron's rhetorical gymnastics undertaken in order to equate offending someone or making him/her uncomfortable with physically harming them.
Waldron is also a very shallow thinker who cares little for exploring the ramifications of what he proposes. Heaven knows how many books, new or old, would have to be censored. As repulsive as I find the ideas in _Mein Kampf_, for example, it is important to have the book available for historical study. Would one, in a Waldron hate speech regime, need a special dispensation from the government to read a work like that? What about someone wanting to read the works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, or Arthur Gobineau? Better yet, how would a book like Nicholas Wade's controversial _A Troublesome Inheritance_ fare? Would pharmaceutical research into race-based and ethnicity-based treatments (such as Bidil, for example) be shut down?
Waldron is a liberal law professor, and of course is in love with constructing new rules and regulations to harass the rest of us, clog up the courts, and put more people in jail.
I'll end this review by mentioning that I went to hear Dr. Waldron speak about his book last year at a university I won't identify. During the Q&A afterwards I asked him whether or not he would consider as "hate speech" statements made in a book to the effect that non-Muslims should avoid social contact with and not take Muslims as friends or associates. After some hemming and hawing, he finally said yes. I then asked him whether or not he would consider an explicit comparison of Muslims with apes and pigs to be hate speech. With much less hesitation, he said yes. So, I asked, what would you do about the passages in the Koran, mainly found in Sura 5, which command Muslims not to take Christians or Jews for friends, and compare Jews to apes and pigs? His response was so filled with stumbles and fumbles that there were even a few twitters of laughter from the audience. It came down to "there will have to be an exception for holy books." Oh, in that case, what if I start a new church and write a holy book filled with "hate speech"?
The old maxim, from Sun Tzu, I think, is: "Know your enemy." If you love our First Amendment freedoms, you need to be aware of and understand the threats to them. Waldron is one of them. So while I don't give this book a positive rating, I suggest that if you are a classical liberal, you will want to take this opposing view into consideration and read or listen to the book. We cannot counter our opponents' arguments if we do not know what they are.