State Speech as a Response to Hate Speech: Assessing ‘Transformative Liberalism’

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 22 (3):639-655 (2019)
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‘Transformative liberals’ believe that the state should use its non-coercive capacities to counter hateful speech and practices, by seeking to transform the views of those who hold hateful and discriminatory beliefs. This paper critically assesses transformative liberalism, with a particular focus on the theory developed by Corey Brettschneider. For Brettschneider, the state should engage in ‘democratic persuasion’ by speaking out against views that are incompatible with the ideal of free and equal citizenship, and refusing to fund or subsidise civil society groups that hold such views. My critique has five parts. I first rebut two central justifications for transformative liberalism, regarding complicity and the undermining of equal citizenship. Second, I show that some of the central policies that Brettschneider advocates are in fact coercive. Third, I raise concerns about the nature of the complex and contestable judgments that transformative liberalism requires the state to make. Fourth, I argue that Brettschneider’s view has various troubling implications. Finally, I argue that many of these problems derive from his adoption of a thick conception of free and equal citizenship, resulting in an overly broad definition of hateful viewpoints and of hate speech. A defensible version of transformative liberalism would use a significantly narrower conception.

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Paul Billingham
Oxford University


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