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The Harm in Hate Speech (Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures) Hardcover – June 8, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


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. (Louis Michael Seidman, Georgetown University)

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. (George Kateb, author of Human Dignity)

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. (Timothy Garton Ash, St Antony's College, University of Oxford)

A vigorously argued, intelligent challenge to the "liberal bravado" of U.S. First Amendment scholars. In an eloquent reply to free-speech advocates, Waldron moves step by step in building the argument as to why hate-speech laws are good for a well-ordered society...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. (Kirkus Reviews 2012-04-15)

[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 New York Review of Books 2012-06-07)

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 Boston Globe 2012-05-27)

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 Times Higher Education 2012-05-31)

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 New York Times 2012-06-04)

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 American Prospect 2012-06-15)

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. (S. B. Lichtman Choice 2012-12-01)

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. (Nigel Warburton Times Literary Supplement 2013-01-04)

About 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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Product Details

  • Series: Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures (Book 2005)
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (June 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674065891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674065895
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,011,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Mark bennett on January 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The author makes an argument against the broad traditional American view of Speech rights. He wants to create a legal and constititional window for the censoring and suppression of certain speech which he groups under the catch-all title of "hate speech". He invents a "group" right: the right to "dignity" which he then balances off against the right to speech in the system he describes. He tries to define his proposals as a positive (withdrawing a protection) rather than negative (banning something) but I really wonder if that sort of difference means anything at all?

Waldron is good at showing the reality of speech today. Of showing the limits under the current American system of law that already exist and how the preceptions of many don't quite line up with the reality of the system. While the arguments in that respect are well made and potentially educational, I don't think that they help his case much. The limits of free speech under the current system do not themselves say anything about the wisdom of new limits on speech.

What concerns me about the book is that he is hiding a broad set of concepts and changes to what speech rights means behind a "straw man" called hate speech. His straw man gives him easy examples which are difficult to argue against and at the same time allows him to avoid nearly all the broad consequences of his proposals.

The idea of dignity he presents both goes beyond just the issue of "hate speech" and raises difficult questions as a general principle. The book edges toward the logical consequences of applying "dignity" to images of women. Various advertising images and most especially pornography could well be argued as acting against the right to "dignity" of women.
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20 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Abe Krieger on October 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The author took on a subject that most avoid, and for that I congratulate him. At the same time, his arguments are almost always based on false premises.

Early on, the author says the publisher of hate speech wants to exclude, beat, and drive out the object of his attacks. Exclusion is NOT the same as beat, the latter being clearly against the law. "Drive out" is tricky, for unless the publisher causes harm to the persons and/or their properties - both clearly against the law separate and apart from hate speech legislation - then the persons may have left (or not left) for any number of other reasons. The liberal links exclusion and beaten because, for the liberal, they are one and the same. For the rest of us, there is a world of difference. Over the past Jewish holidays, I had any number of guests to my home, every one of them Jewish. Clearly I knowingly "excluded" all other peoples, but I certainly didn't and wouldn't beat those peoples. Should I be arrested?

The author spends a lot of time extolling and defining a "well-ordered society". Well, the really well-ordered societies are the most homogeneous ones - small towns in which everyone is white and Christian, Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, Japan, etc. The beloved diversity is the enemy of a well-ordered society, so the author avoids this inconvenient truth.

Hate speech is a slippery slope, starting with defining hate speech. The author says that anything that affects the "dignity" of another individual is hate. Better build more law schools and prisons because we are ALL in trouble by this definition. Is 'NO SHARIA LAW' hate speech or a valid opinion? If I look at someone and smirk, is that hate thought? If a black person smirks at me, is that NOT hate thought by virtue of his melanin?
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7 of 15 people found the following review helpful By raphael cohen-almagor on October 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Harm in Hate Speech is important and an invaluable resource. I read it with great interest.

Waldron argues that there is a sort of public good of inclusiveness that our society sponsors and that it is committed to. Hate speech undermines this public good, or it makes the task of sustaining it much more difficult than it would otherwise be. Hate speech creates an environmental threat to social peace, a "sort of slow-acting poison, accumulating here and there, word by word, so that eventually it becomes harder and less natural for even the good-hearted members of the society to play their part in maintaining this public good".

Waldron maintains that hate speech undermines the dignity of the person. A person's dignity is not just some Kantian aura. It is their social standing, the fundamentals of basic reputation that entitle them to be treated as equals in the ordinary operations of society. Hate speech aims "to besmirch the basics of their reputation, by associating ascriptive characteristics like ethnicity, or race, or religion with conduct or attributes that should disqualify someone from being treated as a member of society in good standing". Hate messages undermine the targets' equal status in the community, their entitlement to basic justice and to the fundamentals of their reputation.
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