Skip to main content

Hate Speech, Dignity and Self-Respect

Abstract

This paper engages with the recent dignity-based argument against hate speech proposed by Jeremy Waldron. It’s claimed that while Waldron makes progress by conceptualising dignity less as an inherent property and more as a civic status which hate speech undermines, his argument is nonetheless subject to the problem that there are many sources of citizens’ dignitary status besides speech. Moreover, insofar as dignity informs the grounds of individuals’ right to free speech, Waldron’s argument leaves us balancing hate speakers’ dignity against the dignity of those whom they attack. I suggest instead that a central part of the harm of hate speech is that it assaults our self-respect. The reasons to respect oneself are moral reasons which can be shared with others, and individuals have moral reasons to respect themselves for their agency, and their entitlements. Free speech is interpreted not as an individual liberty, but as a collective enterprise which serves the interests of speakers and the receivers of speech. I argue that hate speech undermines the self-respect of its targets in both the agency and entitlement dimensions, and claim, moreover, that this is a direct harm which cannot be compensated for by other sources of self-respect. I further argue that hate speakers have no basis to respect themselves qua their hate speech, as self-respect is based on moral reasons. I conclude that self-respect, unlike dignity, is sufficient to explain the harm of hate speech, even though it may not be necessary to explain its wrongness.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Brown notes that a number of states have laws against the public expression of hate-fuelled attitudes, manifest in derogatory language used to describe certain minority groups (Brown 2015, pp.23–26).

  2. 2.

    For a different approach to dignity and hate speech, see Heyman (2008, esp. Ch. 10).

  3. 3.

    Corey Brettschneider (2012) argues that hate speech should be permitted but that the state should encourage vigorous counter-speech which re-asserts liberal democratic values. The implication of his argument for ‘value democracy’ is that it hate speech’s victims have their civic status secure.

  4. 4.

    Compare the somewhat similar perspective in Rostbøll (2011), albeit one that emphasises deliberative democracy.

  5. 5.

    Onora O’Neill briefly articulates a similar view in her discussion of public reason. ‘Expression is parasitic on communication, and all successful communication requires some sort of recognition or uptake by the other’ (O’Neill 1989, p.31).

  6. 6.

    Specifying the contours of this duty is not easy because we plausibly have some right not to listen to or read others. Yet imagine a person who is comprehensively shunned by everyone in society; everything she says is utterly ignored. It’s also plausible to think that, by violating the minimal consideration requirement, the rest of us are failing to meet a duty we owe her (cf. West 2012, p.231).

  7. 7.

    For helpful comments on this article, I am grateful to Corrado del Bò, Matteo Bonotti, Alex Brown and Caleb Yong, as well as two anonymous reviewers for this Journal.

References

  1. Altman A (1993) Liberalism and campus hate speech: a philosophical examination. Ethics 103(2):302–317

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baker CE (2009) Autonomy and hate speech. In: Hare I, Weinstein J (eds) Extreme speech and democracy. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 139–157

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  3. Braddon-Mitchell D, West C (2004) What is free speech? J Polit Philos 12(4):437–460

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Brettschneider C (2012) When the state speaks, what should it say? How democracies can protect expression and promote equality. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  5. Brown A (2015) Hate speech law: a philosophical examination. Routledge, New York

    Google Scholar 

  6. Darwall S (1977) Two kinds of respect. Ethics 88(1):36–49

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Dillon R (1997) Self-respect: moral, emotional and political. Ethics 107(2):226–249

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Heyman SJ (2008) Free speech and human dignity. Yale University Press, New Haven

    Google Scholar 

  9. Honneth A (1995) The struggle for recognition: the moral grammar of social conflicts. Polity, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  10. O’Neill O (1989) Constructions of reason: explorations of Kant’s practical philosophy. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  11. Rawls J (1999) A theory of justice, revised edn. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  12. Rostbøll C (2011) Freedom of expression, deliberation, autonomy and respect. Eur J Polit Theo 10(1):5–21

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Scanlon TM (1972) A theory of freedom of expression. Philos Public Aff 1:204–226

    Google Scholar 

  14. Simpson RM (2013) Dignity, harm and hate speech. Law Philos 32(6):701–728

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Waldron J (2010) Dignity and defamation: the visibility of hate. Harv Law Rev 123:1597–1657

    Google Scholar 

  16. Waldron J (2012a) The harm in hate speech. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  17. Waldron J (2012b) In: Dan-Cohen M (ed) Dignity, rank and rights. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  18. West C (2012) Words that silence? Freedom of expression and racist hate speech. In: Maitra I, McGowan MK (eds) Speech and Harm: Controversies over Free Speech. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 222–248

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  19. Yong C (2011) Does freedom of speech include hate speech? Res Publica 17(4):383–403

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jonathan Seglow.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Seglow, J. Hate Speech, Dignity and Self-Respect. Ethic Theory Moral Prac 19, 1103–1116 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-016-9744-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Freedom of speech
  • Hate speech
  • Jeremy Waldron
  • Dignity
  • Self-respect