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State Speech vs. Hate Speech: What to Do About Words that Wound?

1 January 2006


This is, indeed, another work on the subject of hate speech regulation in the United States. And yet, it is not just another such work. For my goal here is not to settle the jurisprudential arguments regarding the possibility of any specific hate speech regulation, either extant or yet to be conceived, withstanding a Constitutional test. Nor is it my intention to demonstrate, on the basis of a comparative study of existing legislation, that such regulation either is or is not effective in addressing or redressing the social ills of hatred, discrimination, and inequality. Rather, I will achieve greater analytical clarity about just what the harms of hate speech are. I do so in order to reinvigorate the question about regulation with a new view of what exactly the object needing attention is, by demonstrating that though there are real harms here, the state cannot provide a regulatory remedy (at least qua criminal justice). Thus, in my conclusion I will assert that the question of what we might do differently in response to hate speech can only be answered —however provisionally—insofar as we first confront how we need to think differently about it. Specifically, I will argue that we need to replace the emphasis on redressing harms once they have occurred with a new emphasis on addressing, and ultimately eliminating, the conditions which make those harms possible in the first place.


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