The Limitations Of John Stuart Mill On Hate Speech

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There are other instances when the harm principle has been invoked but where it is more difficult to demonstrate that rights have been violated.For example, hate speech. Most liberal democracies have limitations on hate speech, but it is debatable whether these can be justified by the harm principle as formulated by Mill. One would have to show that such speech violated rights, directly and in the first instance.(I am interested here in hate speech that does not advocate physical violence against a group or individual. If it does, it would, like the corn dealer example, be captured by Mill 's harm principle as speech that can be prohibited). The United States is an outlier amongst liberal democracies when it comes to hate speech. The most…show more content…
To ban speech for this reason, i.e.,for the good of the speaker, tends to undermine the basic right to free speech in the first place. If we turn to the local community who were on the wrong end of hate speech we might want to claim that they could be psychologically harmed, but this is more difficult to demonstrate than harm to a person 's legal rights. It seems, therefore, that Mill 's argument does not allow for state intervention in this case. If we base our defense of speech on the harm principle we are going to have very few sanctions imposed on the spoken and written word. It is only when we can show direct harm to rights, which will almost always mean when an attack is made against a specific individual or a small group of persons, that it is legitimate to impose a sanction. One response is to suggest that the harm principle can be defined in a less stringent manner than Mill 's formulation. This is a complicated issue that I cannot delve into here except to say that Mill does not seem to be significantly concerned with the potential dangers of psychological harm.…show more content…
One is that it is too narrow; the other is that it is too broad. This latter view is not often expressed because, as already noted, most people think that free speech should be limited if it does cause illegitimate harm. George Kateb (1996), however, has made an interesting argument that runs as follows. If we want to limit speech because of harm then we will have to ban a lot of political speech. Most of it is useless, a lot of it is offensive, and some of it causes harm because it is deceitful, and because it is aimed at discrediting specific groups. It also undermines democratic citizenship and stirs up nationalism and jingoism, which results in harm to citizens of other countries. Even worse than political discourse, according to Kateb, is religious speech; he claims that a lot of religious speech is hateful, useless, dishonest, and foments war, bigotry and fundamentalism. It also creates bad self-image and feelings of guilt that can haunt persons throughout their lives. Pornography and hate speech, he claims, cause nowhere near as much harm as political and religious speech. His conclusion is that we do not want to ban these forms of speech and the harm principle, therefore, casts its net too far. Kateb 's solution is to abandon the principle in favor of almost unlimited

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