Liberal democracies are in the business of protecting individuals and their rights. Central among these are the rights to free expression, freedom of association, and freedom of conscience. Liberal democracies are also in the business of sustaining a political environment in which citizens are regarded as political equals. In exercising their rights, some citizens will come to hold beliefs and viewpoints that are fundamentally at odds with the idea that all citizens are their equals. That is, in a free society, some citizens will come to endorse views which reject the idea of a society of free and equal citizens. Such cases seem to put the liberal democratic state in a bind. It must permit citizens to adopt and express illiberal and anti-democratic viewpoints, or else violate its commitment to the core freedoms it prizes. Yet the spread of such viewpoints, and sometimes even their very expression, can threaten the equality other citizens and undermine the stability of a democratic society. What should the state do?
In his new book, When the State Speaks, What Should it Say? How Democracies can Protect Expression and Promote Equality (Princeton University Press, 2012), Corey Brettschneider proposes a view he calls “value democracy” to address this kind of quandary. He claims that although the democratic state must permit the adoption and expression of even hateful views, it nonetheless can object to and criticize them. That is, Brettschneider makes a case for thinking that the state is permitted to—and in some contexts must—employ its expressive power to combat hateful viewpoints. The book hence addresses fundamental philosophical questions concerning free speech, equality, and the authority of the democratic state.