Democratic legitimacy,political speech and viewpoint neutrality
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionEkeli, K.S. (2020) Democratic legitimacy,political speech and viewpoint neutrality. Philosophy & Social Criticism, https://doi.org/10.1177/0191453720931902. 10.1177/0191453720931902
The purpose of this article is to consider the question of whether democratic legitimacy requires viewpoint neutrality with regard to political speech – including extremist political speech, such as hate speech. The starting point of my discussion is Jeremy Waldron’s negative answer to this question. He argues that it is permissible for liberal democracies to ban certain extremist viewpoints – such as vituperative hate speech – because such viewpoint-based restrictions protect the dignity of persons and a social and moral environment of mutual respect. According to Waldron, well-drafted narrow hate speech bans are not democratically illegitimate, and they do not undermine systemic democratic legitimacy – that is, the legitimacy of a democratic political system. In contrast to Waldron, I will argue that democratic legitimacy requires viewpoint neutrality to respect persons as thinking agents. I will defend a civil libertarian doctrine of viewpoint neutrality, and this doctrine requires that citizens in liberal democracies ought to have a legal free speech right to do moral wrong – that is, a legal right to express and defend any political viewpoint or idea, even if it is morally wrong to express, or expose others to, such views. It will be argued that any viewpoint-based restriction on public discourse (including narrow hate speech bans) is democratically illegitimate, and that such restrictions undermine systemic democratic legitimacy.