Author Archives: Jennifer Rubenstein

Brettschneider Reading Group: Chapter Four, Democratic Persuasion and State Subsidy

I have learned a great deal from Corey’s book and the blog posts so far; I appreciate the opportunity to kick off our discussion of Chapter 4.  Because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US I’ve written up this post in advance; my apologies if the discussion has already moved beyond the questions I pose.


In Ch. 3, Corey argued that states ought to engage in “democratic persuasion.”  That is, in their role as speakers and educators, they should try to persuade their citizens to accept an ideal of free and equal citizenship.  Corey defended the state’s use of democratic persuasion against, on the one hand, the objections of neutralists disconcerted by the specter of a nosy, paternalistic, and heavy-handed “Invasive State,” and on the other hand, the objections of prohibitionists or Militant Democrats worried that mere persuasion is impotent to prevent a society from sliding into hatefulness (a.k.a. the “Hateful Society”).

In Ch. 4, Corey further develops his account of democratic persuasion in a way that is meant to quell the concerns of Militant Democrats.  If citizens’ internal reflections, their efforts to persuade one another and the state’s own symbolic and educative initiatives fail to persuade citizens to adopt the ideal of free and equal citizenship, then states have another set of tools at their disposal: they can deny state subsidies and tax-exempt status to groups with hateful viewpoints.  The burden of Ch. 4, then, is to show that these tools are a) strong enough to persuade severe racists, misogynists and homophobes to change their beliefs (thus helping to avoid the Hateful Society), but b) not so strong that in employing them, states fail to respect their citizens’ rights to free expression and association (thus staving off the Invasive State).

So far, Corey has emphasized the reasoning component of democratic persuasion.  But in Ch. 4 he reminds us that “democratic persuasion is a term of art meant to describe the various capacities of the state and citizens that can be employed to transform hateful viewpoints…” (109, my italics).  The denial of subsidies and tax-exempt status are therefore aspects of democratic persuasion and so not coercive— even though, as Corey says, they have more “bite” than reason alone.

There are at least three ways that states can use financial incentives and disincentives to engage in democratic persuasion: they can spend money on democratic persuasion directly, e.g. by erecting monuments or funding the development of school curricula.  They can provide and withhold grants to “private” organizations, such as student groups at public universities.  Finally, they can provide and withhold tax privileges and exemptions, particularly non-profit status.

Corey argues that all individuals should have the minimum resources necessary to exercise their rights of free speech and association.  (In an aside he notes that this requirement “suggests the general importance of a just distribution of wealth” [113]).  For example, if the KKK marches to protest racial equality, it should be provided with police protection.  But the state is under no obligation to help individuals or groups with hateful viewpoints ensure that their message is accepted by those who hear it: the KKK has a right to taxpayer-funded police protection, not taxpayer-funded megaphones.  Indeed, the state has a duty to not promote the message of groups with hateful viewpoints.  Among other reasons, this is because the content of such viewpoints (e.g. “people are politically unequal”) runs counter to the underlying reasons why individuals have a right to express such viewpoints (they are politically equal).  The state must therefore clarify that while it protects the KKK marchers’ freedom of speech, it is not neutral between the KKK’s views and those of the counter-protesters: it thinks that the counter-protesters (whom the police also protect) are right, and the KKK marchers are wrong.  In protecting the counter-protesters, the state both secures their right to freedom of speech and also engages in democratic persuasion, explaining the underlying reason why both the KKK marchers and the counter-protesters have a right to free expression and association: they are all free and equal.

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