Category Archives: Discussion

Call for Papers: Free Speech, Public Deliberation, and Global Affairs, University of Tromsø, 17-19 June, 2014

The Pluralism, Democracy, and Justice Research Group

invites you to the conference

Free Speech, Public Deliberation, and Global Affairs

17–19 June 2014

University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway

Keynote speakers:

Andreas Føllesdal (University of Oslo)

Carol C. Gould (City University of New York)

David Held (Durham University)

Andrew March (Yale University)

Christian F. Rostbøll (University of Copenhagen)


Submission deadline: 15 March 2014

The aim of the conference is to provide a robust forum for exploring contemporary problems of democratic deliberation and freedom of speech on a local and global level. Special emphasis will be placed on the interplay between democratic legitimacy and freedom of speech. read more...

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Brettschneider Reading Group: Conclusion – Value Democracy at Home and Abroad

I’ve been appallingly remiss in fulfilling my duties this time around. In an effort to make good, I’ve spent several days poring over these excellent commentaries and discussions, as well as reacquainting myself with Corey’s wonderful book, which has taught me much about my own suspicions that the liberal’s paradox really isn’t much of a paradox at all.

The liberal-democratic state (broadly conceived) can take it’s own side in an argument, and we should be clear on when, how, and against whom it may permissibly do so. I share some of Sarah’s concerns about reflective revision; and I wonder, along with Jon and Simone and others, about the distinctiveness of coercion. Still, I think Corey’s careful elaboration of democratic persuasion is a powerful and attractive way to proceed.

Thankfully (for me) my task is less demanding than that executed so well by all of you in the preceding discussions. Corey’s concluding thoughts are appropriately tentative and cursory, inviting us to consider how his approach might fare beyond U.S. shores.

I share Corey’s optimism that democratic persuasion will fare reasonably well in that regard, although I want to introduce some possible complications, several of which have been hinted at, or stated outright, in preceding comments.

Posted in Books, Discussion, Posts, Reading Group | Tagged | 6 Comments

Brettschneider Reading Group: Introduction and Chapter 1

I’m very pleased to begin our reading group on Corey Brettschneider’s new book: When the State Speaks, What Should it Say? How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality. In this post I’ll offer a brief summary of the introduction and chapter 1, and I’ll raise some issues for discussion. I hope that we’ll have a lively discussion in the comments section, involving both the other contributors (see here for a list of the other contributors and the full schedule), and also others who are following along.

One caveat: I’m using an e-book version of the text, which means I lack access to the hard copy page numbers, so I can’t provide direct citations and any quotes will lack page number references.


Corey begins with a helpful proposal: we might learn more about some of our deepest political commitments and ideas if we start our philosophical reflections by identifying dystopias rather than utopias. The two dystopias that shape the direction of Corey’s project are the Invasive State and the Hateful Society. The Invasive State is one where agents of the state are constantly monitoring our conversations and behavior—even in apparently nonpublic places like the home or our places of worship—always looking to clampdown, with coercive force if needed, on racist, sexist, or other forms of hate speech. This dystopia is one where the equal moral status of citizens is vigorously protected, but at the price of some of our most cherished liberties. But the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction. In the Hateful Society, racism and sexism are rampant, despite the fact that, formally, each person’s equal rights are protected. In this dystopia, the state makes no effort to halt the growth of hateful and inegalitarian ideologies, beyond the formal protection of standard rights and liberties, and so these ideologies grow and undermine equality and social justice.

How can liberal democratic theory be designed to avoid these two dystopias? Some, whom Corey calls the prohibitionists, argue the state must do more than merely protect the basic rights and liberties of citizens: the state can and should use its coercive power to ban hate speech when necessary. This is the approach followed by many contemporary democratic societies, with the United States being a notable exception. Others, whom Corey calls neutralists, insist the state must never interfere with political speech and must remain resolutely neutral toward different moral and political viewpoints: all it can permissibly do is protect our liberal rights and freedoms to the best of its ability.

But both the prohibitionists and the neutralists, Corey suggests, lack the theoretical resources necessary to assure us that their views can successfully deal with the problem of hate speech. Corey argues that we ought to reject both of these approaches in favour of a third approach: one that does more to combat hateful ideologies than the neutralists would allow, but not as much as the prohibitionists would like. Corey agrees with the neutralists that the state must not use its coercive power to prohibit speech: even people with the most hateful ideological views have the right to express those views. Corey thus endorses what’s sometimes called the ‘viewpoint neutrality’ interpretation to the right to free speech, an interpretation that’s embodied in American legal doctrine. But that doesn’t mean the state is toothless to prevent the spread of radically inegalitarian and hateful ideas. The state need not remain silent in the face of such ideas. The state can and should speak out against such ideologies, indeed Corey argues that there’s an obligation for the state to articulate the reasons that justify citizens’ basic rights and liberties, and these reasons will be grounded in the fundamental political values of a democratic society, in particular, the idea of citizens as free and equal members of a political community. The state can speak in a number of ways: members of the executive and judicial branches can explain the underlying rationales for laws, and the state can promote political values like equality via public education, public monuments, national holidays, and other expressive acts. The state can also promote the values of equality and liberal toleration via tax subsidies and other incentive schemes. Corey’s approach to dealing with the potential problem of hate speech is thus democratic persuasion: even if the state must maintain viewpoint neutrality when exercising its coercive power, it can and should speak out in favor of equality and against intolerance in its expressive capacities. And this view about the importance of democratic persuasion is grounded in Corey’s broader theory of democracy—what he calls value democracy—whereby democracy, although neutral between competing reasonable conceptions of the good and conceptions of justice, is nevertheless grounded in substantive moral ideas, ideas that ought to be articulated and defended by liberal democratic citizens and public officials.

Posted in Books, Discussion, Posts, Reading Group | 6 Comments

PHILTV on Public Reason and Religion (Kevin Vallier and Jason Brennan)

Jason Brennan (Georgetown) and I (Bowling Green) have put together a conversation on public reason/political liberalism and its treatment of religious contributions to public life (which would not have been possible without the help of the great folks over at Phil TV, especially David Killoren). In the video, I argue that there are relatively unexplored versions of public reason that are considerably friendlier to religious contributions to public life than public reason’s proponents and detractors believe. Jason presents me with a number of sharp challenges and observations.

Watch us here.

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Petition on the AHRC and “The Big Society”

The petition can be found here and I urge readers to consider signing it. It makes a point of principle, not politics: that the UK-based Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) — which funds research in areas such as law and philosophy — should remove mention of “The Big Society” in its details of strategic research funding priorities. “The Big Society” was a campaign slogan of the Conservative Party. The principled objection is that the policial campaign slogans of any party should not be included. This would be true if the then AHRB had included “The Third Way” after the 1997 election which saw Tony Blair become Prime Minister. This is not about which political party you prefer, but a statement of principle. read more...

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Most Cited Works in Political Theory

As part of a project to assess the relative impact of different works of political theory I ran a google scholar citation search on the authors listed below.  Works had to be at least 10 years old, and with a minimum of 100 citations.  I’ve listed them in order of citations/year.

Arendt, Rawls and Habermas are special cases and I’ve listed their top two cited works.  Google lists Arendt’s and Habermas’ works multiple times so I suspect they are undercounts. Obviously works with appeal outside of political theory and philosophy get a good deal more traction.

The list is simply based on people who came to mind as I was doing this.  I stopped when I realized how much time I was spending, so  this is hardly complete.  If you have additions and wish to contact me (or post) I’d be grateful. (rehfeld [@] read more...

Posted in Books, Discussion, Posts | 17 Comments