Liberalism, Book/Article Reviews

New Brettschneider Book

Corey Brettschneider, a political philosopher at Brown, has just published an interesting and thoughtful new book, When the State Speaks, What Should It Say? How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote EqualityI’m participating in a reading group on the book over at the Public Reason blog (a blog devoted to political philosophy that you should all add to your blogroll!). Here’s a brief summary of the book:

How should a liberal democracy respond to hate groups and others that oppose the ideal of free and equal citizenship? The democratic state faces the hard choice of either protecting the rights of hate groups and allowing their views to spread, or banning their views and violating citizens’ rights to freedoms of expression, association, and religion. Avoiding the familiar yet problematic responses to these issues, political theorist Corey Brettschneider proposes a new approach called value democracy. The theory of value democracy argues that the state should protect the right to express illiberal beliefs, but the state should also engage in democratic persuasion when it speaks through its various expressive capacities: publicly criticizing, and giving reasons to reject, hate-based or other discriminatory viewpoints.

Distinguishing between two kinds of state action–expressive and coercive–Brettschneider contends that public criticism of viewpoints advocating discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation should be pursued through the state’s expressive capacities as speaker, educator, and spender. When the state uses its expressive capacities to promote the values of free and equal citizenship, it engages in democratic persuasion. By using democratic persuasion, the state can both respect rights and counter hateful or discriminatory viewpoints. Brettschneider extends this analysis from freedom of expression to the freedoms of religion and association, and he shows that value democracy can uphold the protection of these freedoms while promoting equality for all citizens.

Most of our readers will find much to disagree with in Corey’s book but its worth challenging your own views every once in awhile! In my post, I grapple with Corey’s view that the state has the moral authority to try and transform discriminatory religious beliefs that threaten the value of free and equal citizenship. I think the state is a bad theologian and that people of faith have insufficient reason to accept its judgments about what counts as a publicly relevant religious belief. But do check out the posts (as they’re written by some really fine political philosophers) and make up your own mind.

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Author: Kevin Vallier

    Mr. B. has got a great idea. Next, let’s put the state in charge of licensing parents. What the hell could go wrong in eaither case?

    • good_in_theory

      What, exactly, is the connection between public persuasion and a licensing requirement? Sounds like the point of the book is to distinguish between the two, which shouldn’t be too hard for one to figure out.


        Gee willikers, you sure got me there, I’m feeling oh so dumb this morning–and you are such a smart, smart, young man. Except, if you read the post, Mr. B. is proposing that we grant the state the moral authority to decide which points of view require rebuttal, i.e. “democratic persuasion,” and which are peachy keen. Just as authorizing the state to license parenting gives it the moral authority to decide who is an acceptable parent, and who is not. Now that shouldn’t be too hard to figure out, should it? Especially for a smart, smart, young man like you, right?

        • good_in_theory

          Oh, well you emphasized the word *decide*, so clearly there’s no difference between *deciding* to make a speech and *deciding* to require a permit prior to action. No difference at all between state officers *deciding* what to talk about in a public address and *deciding* what to regulate with police power. Nope, *decisions* about persuasion and *decisions* about coercion are the same.

  • Sean II

    Does this site have a tag for “What could possibly go wrong?”

    If not, have you ever considered creating one? It might come in handy.

    • SimpleMachine88

      yes, what would the people with guns do when people don’t listen?

      • Sean II

        I have some empirical data on this point. In the early 1980s Nancy Reagan went on “Different Strokes” and used democratic persuasion to tell me that I should just say no to drugs.

        I did not take her advice.

        Later that year, she personally dispatched agents of the state to my junior high school’s Sadie Hawkins dance, and had me arrested for possessing a 1/8 ounce bag of marijuana along with a few Percocet.

        (NOTE: This is no mere anecdote. I have it on good authority that several million people went through a similar or even worse experience after ignoring Nancy’s recommendation.)

  • SimpleMachine88

    If you’re looking for a liberal voice, the state is the wrong place.