Stewart Summary

Public Reason Approaches

  • Political liberalism: “No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.” (Mill)
  • Public reason is grounded in equal moral respect and concern for all citizens.
  • When a democracy fails to have these appearances, it becomes dysfunctional.
  • Therefore, the law should not remain neutral with respect to social appearances.

Hate Speech: 

The goal of hate speech is to “send messages to the targets” that they are either not welcome in the society, or are not recognized as full members of the society (Waldron 2012, 1-5). The effect of hate speech, Waldron contends, is two-fold. First, hate speech threatens the public good of inclusiveness, and represents an environmental threat to social peace. Second, it threatens to dignity and social standing of certain members or groups within society, by sending messages that they are not proper objects of society’s recognition and concern.


Main Argument

1. It is important in a democratic society that all citizens and resident members feel assured of their safety, security, and dignity.

2. Hate speech functions to undermine the availability of these important assurances, particularly for oppressed or marginalized populations who very well may need them the most.

3. There is shared responsibility for the creation and maintenance of such a society, viz., for the creation of a society that minimizes hate speech, takes seriously how the society appears to all members, and does its best to approximate the “well-ordered society” with regard to societal appearances. This partially includes laws against hate speech.

Why Appearances of Commitment to Justice, and Equal Dignity and Respect Matter

“Rawls stipulates that in a well-ordered society ‘everyone accepts, and knows that everyone else accepts, the… principles of justice” (Rawls quoted in Waldron 2012, 69). Such a society, Waldron remarks, “bears its values on its sleeve, making clear to all comers the fundamental principles of liberty, equality, and dignity that it embraces” (Waldron 2012, 69). This presentation of visible assurances of a society’s commitment to the principles of liberty, equality, and dignity for all helps secure the assurance for all citizens that they personally will be treated with dignity and respect within that society.

Without such assurances—equally available to all members—we undermine that democratic culture and its ability to provide for and support all citizens equally.

Hate speech is a “world making” activity—the pervasiveness of hate speech has the ability to construct a visible world which is contrary to the liberal ideals of liberty, equality, and dignity, and instead reinforces oppression, inequality, and hatred.

Why does it matter which visible appearance a society has, viz., why does it matter what a society “looks like?” It matters because the appearance of society, either as one which upholds or upends liberal values, has tangible consequences for how members of that society will interact and behave. If the look of society, for instance, sends the message to some that they are superior to other groups, those individuals might feel empowered to act in ways that tend to oppress others. Similarly, if the society fails to convey assurances of security to vulnerable groups of citizens, they might be doomed to live with a self-protective fear. The two of these in tandem will surely lead to inevitable inter-group conflict.

What was implicitly assured to minority groups (their safety, security, and respect) become visibly challenged in a society that allows the promulgation of hate speech (Waldron, 2012, 88)

Key Point: Hate speech is, in effect, a call to arms. It is a way of seeking out the collective force needed to collectively reshape the visible environment, and to reshape it in such a way that sends the message that it is not an environment that welcomes or protects certain groups of people. If we accept this view, it follows that the regulation of hate speech has two aims: the upholding of the public good of assurances for all, and the blocking of attempts to construct rival public goods that threaten to upend those assurances.