Jeremy Waldron’s new book, “The Harm in Hate Speech,” might well be called “The Harm in Free Speech”; for Waldron, a professor of law and political theory at New York University and Oxford, argues that the expansive First Amendment we now possess allows the flourishing of harms a well-ordered society ought not permit. Waldron is especially concerned with the harm done by hate speech to the dignity of those who are its object. He is careful to distinguish “dignity harms” from the hurt feelings one might experience in the face of speech that offends. Offense can be given by almost any speech act — in particular circumstances one might offend by saying “hello” — and Waldron agrees with those who say that regulating offensive speech is a bad and unworkable idea. But harms to dignity, he contends, involve more than the giving of offense. They involve undermining a public good, which he identifies as the “implicit assurance” extended to every citizen that while his beliefs and allegiance may be criticized and rejected by some of his fellow citizens, he will nevertheless be viewed, even by his polemical opponents, as someone who has an equal right to membership in the society. It is the assurance — not given explicitly at the beginning of each day but built into the community’s mode of self-presentation — that he belongs, that he is the undoubted bearer of a dignity he doesn’t have to struggle for.
more from Stanley Fish at The Opinionater here.