Does Regulating Hate Speech Undermine Democratic Legitimacy? A Cautious ‘No’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Andrew Reid

Colleges, School and Institutes


This paper critiques the version of the argument that the regulation of hateful speech by the state undermines its democratic legitimacy made by Ronald Dworkin and James Weinstein (hereafter the Legitimacy Argument). It argues that in some cases the harmful effects of hateful speech on the democratic process outweigh those of restriction. It does not challenge the central premise of the Legitimacy Argument, that a wide-ranging right to freedom of expression is an essential political right in a liberal democracy. Instead, it uses ideal and nonideal theory as a framework for judgements about the regulation of hate speech. The mistake underpinning the Legitimacy Argument is that it assumes that other conditions pervade that make an ideal democratic procedure possible when they do not. In reality the state can be put in a position where, whatever course of action it takes with regard to the regulation or non-regulation of hate speech, some citizens will not be able to participate fully in political deliberation. Under such conditions there remain strong pro tanto reasons not to regulate hate speech on democratic grounds, but they are not all-things-considered reasons, and there are also pro tanto reasons to regulate hate speech that might outweigh them in some cases. This leads to the cautious conclusion that while there might be a normative justification for the regulation of hate speech in individual instances, the debate is best understood as one between competing pro tanto reasons, and must be approached on a case-by-case basis.


Original languageEnglish
JournalRes Publica
Early online date6 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 May 2019


  • Hate speech, Legitimacy, Ideal theory, Democracy