Social Justice Usage
Source: Stengel, Richard. “Why America Needs a Hate Speech Law.” Washington Post, October 29, 2019.
Since World War II, many nations have passed laws to curb the incitement of racial and religious hatred. These laws started out as protections against the kinds of anti-Semitic bigotry that gave rise to the Holocaust. We call them hate speech laws, but there’s no agreed-upon definition of what hate speech actually is. In general, hate speech is speech that attacks and insults people on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation. …
Let the debate begin. Hate speech has a less violent, but nearly as damaging, impact in another way: It diminishes tolerance. It enables discrimination. Isn’t that, by definition, speech that undermines the values that the First Amendment was designed to protect: fairness, due process, equality before the law? Why shouldn’t the states experiment with their own version of hate speech statutes to penalize speech that deliberately insults people based on religion, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation?
All speech is not equal. And where truth cannot drive out lies, we must add new guardrails. I’m all for protecting “thought that we hate,” but not speech that incites hate. It undermines the very values of a fair marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is designed to protect.
New Discourses Commentary
Hate speech is an object of central concern in much of the activism motivated by Critical Social Justice. Speaking generally, hate speech is considered to be any form of expression that might “spread, incite, promote, or justify hatred, violence, and discrimination against a person or group of persons,” which is a rather broad definition. As the Theory of Critical Social Justice understands all such things in terms of the systems of power it posits as defining social realities, activists who have taken on elements of Theory are likely to see hate speech as any form of expression that maintains or justifies “dominance” thus creating, perpetuating, or rationalizing systems of oppression and marginalization of minoritized groups.
Generally, advocates of Critical Social Justice and many others with similar sympathies support “banning” hate speech, that is, making it illegal or removing its protections under various guarantees of freedom of speech and expression. Currently in the United States, hate speech remains Constitutionally protected speech under the First Amendment, though this is not the case in many other advanced democracies. The arguments for banning hate speech typically range from the ways that it can allegedly uniquely cause harm and trauma to ways that it can potentially be used to promote and spread intolerant ideologies like racism and sexism.
In the most extreme forms, demands for suppressing or “banning” hate speech stem from claims that it can, in that way, create fascist and other potentially genocidal “hate” movements that are unstoppable except through extreme applications of military force (perhaps including civil or world war). These more extreme interpretations can be traced rather directly to the writing of Frankfurt School Critical Theorist and father of the New Left, Herbert Marcuse, particularly his 1965 essay “Repressive Tolerance,” which makes these arguments explicitly (see also, tolerance). To make this point clear, what follows is a long quote from near the end of “Repressive Tolerance”:
Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance: … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word. The traditional criterion of clear and present danger seems no longer adequate to a stage where the whole society is in the situation of the theater audience when somebody cries: ‘fire’. It is a situation in which the total catastrophe could be triggered off any moment, not only by a technical error, but also by a rational miscalculation of risks, or by a rash speech of one of the leaders. In past and different circumstances, the speeches of the Fascist and Nazi leaders were the immediate prologue to the massacre. The distance between the propaganda and the action, between the organization and its release on the people had become too short. But the spreading of the word could have been stopped before it was too late: if democratic tolerance had been withdrawn when the future leaders started their campaign, mankind would have had a chance of avoiding Auschwitz and a World War.
The whole post-fascist period is one of clear and present danger. Consequently, true pacification requires the withdrawal of tolerance before the deed, at the stage of communication in word, print, and picture. Such extreme suspension of the right of free speech and free assembly is indeed justified only if the whole of society is in extreme danger. I maintain that our society is in such an emergency situation, and that it has become the normal state of affairs. Different opinions and ‘philosophies’ can no longer compete peacefully for adherence and persuasion on rational grounds: the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is organized and delimited by those who determine the national and the individual interest. In this society, for which the ideologists have proclaimed the ‘end of ideology‘, the false consciousness has become the general consciousness—from the government down to its last objects. The small and powerless minorities which struggle against the false consciousness and its beneficiaries must be helped: their continued existence is more important than the preservation of abused rights and liberties which grant constitutional powers to those who oppress these minorities. It should be evident by now that the exercise of civil rights by those who don’t have them presupposes the withdrawal of civil rights from those who prevent their exercise, and that liberation of the Damned of the Earth presupposes suppression not only of their old but also of their new masters. (Links/bold added)
To summarize Marcuse’s critical argument, the existence of a world in which fascism could arise constitutes a perpetual state of “clear and present danger” with regard to the possibility that such movements will come into existence and seize power if allowed the opportunity. (NB: and immanent fascism can be substituted with immanent, i.e. white supremacy, systemic racism, sexism, and all of the abuses relevant under intersectional analysis, as happens within Critical Social Justice – see also, realities.) Therefore, Marcuse argues, it is necessary to suppress any speech or expression that could allow such movements to form or activate (see also, conservative and liberal) in order to preserve a free society from the threat of immanent fascism (see also, anti-fascism and Antifa). This attitude Marcuse refers to as a “discriminating tolerance” (or, in the title but not the body of his essay, a “repressive tolerance”) that is intolerant of (or repressive of) intolerance, effectively as a means of proactive self-defense against the “clear and present” threat of abuses of systemic power like fascism, racism, sexism, and all the rest. Thus, under such an analysis, hate speech—that expression that could precipitate such abuses out of their “clear and present” immanence in society—must be suppressed.
Thus, within Critical Social Justice and related activism, hate speech is considered intolerable. It is also defined solely according to their understanding of systemic power, which is the only problem with sufficient immanence to pose a “clear and present” threat of harm or genocide. Thus, for Critical Social Justice, hate speech is any form of expression that could potentially be construed to support any of the forms of systemic bigotry within its purview. As the postmodern influence on Critical Social Justice sees such expression as part of the dominant discourses—ways things are spoken of—and the critical theory influence sees them in terms of dominant and hegemonic ideologies—the worldviews of the elite, which are broadly accepted by the populace at large (see also, false consciousness)—any expression that supports these sorts of things should be deemed hate speech and banned. This view is at the heart of both call out culture and cancel culture, which seek to expose and eliminate all problematic speech and those who create it.
In practice, that means that it defines as hate speech and seeks to repress any form of expression that it can problematize, which is essentially anything, given enough patience, grievance, and creativity. In its broadest understanding, then, it could refer to anything that doesn’t proceed from a critical consciousness, i.e., that which accords with critical theories, especially those for “Social Justice,” possibly including microaggressions. All speech with “hateful” intent will qualify, and all other speech will be analyzed according to highly interpretive claims about “impact” (see also, impact versus intent, close reading, and discourse analysis). That is, Theoretically speaking, Critical Social Justice could call to ban any speech it disagrees with as a form of “hate speech,” which is rather a lot like one of those things you read about in real totalitarian regimes or in dystopian novels that, we hope, could never happen in reality.
Importantly, Marcuse’s implication and Critical Social Justice’s views about the “systemic” or “immanent” nature of these problematics is that they are also defining characteristics of the “inequitable” status quo. Marcuse argues this explicitly in a 1968 postscript to “Repressive Tolerance,” writing:
However, the alternative to the established semi-democratic process is not a dictatorship or elite, no matter how intellectual and intelligent, but the struggle for a real democracy. Part of this struggle is the fight against an ideology of tolerance which, in reality, favors and fortifies the conservation of the status quo of inequality and discrimination. For this struggle, I proposed the practice of discriminating tolerance. To be sure, this practice already presupposes the radical goal which it seeks to achieve. I committed this petitio principii in order to combat the pernicious ideology that tolerance is already institutionalized in this society. The tolerance which is the life element, the token of a free society, will never be the gift of the powers that be; it can, under the prevailing conditions of tyranny by the majority, only be won in the sustained effort of radical minorities, willing to break this tyranny and to work for the emergence of a free and sovereign majority—minorities intolerant, militantly intolerant and disobedient to the rules of behavior which tolerate destruction and suppression. (Links/bold added)
Theorists of Critical Social Justice are likewise abundantly clear that systemic “hate” is intrinsically a part of the status quo, which therefore must be dismantled and replaced by a critical consciousness (see also, woke and revolution). Under such a society, it is believed, there would be no hate speech (thus attendant harms of hate speech) because those with critical consciousness know better and everyone else can be duly punished. Thus, the call to ban, criminalize, or socially punish “hate speech,” as Critical Social Justice and other critical theories define it, is part of a larger project to remake society on its terms, which—pace Marcuse—looks an awful lot like a dictatorship and an elite.
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Revision date: 5/8/20