Karl Loewenstein, Robert Post and the Ongoing Conversation between Europe and America Over Hate Speech Laws
48 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2012
Date Written: 2012
European countries restrict hate speech, the United States does not. This much is clear. What explains this difference? Too often the current discussion falls back on a culturally rich but normatively vacant exceptionalism (American or otherwise) or a normatively driven convergence perspective that fails to address historical, cultural and experiential differences that distinguish countries and legal systems. Inspired by the development discourse of historical sociology, this article seeks to record instances where Americans or Europeans have argued their approach to hate speech laws was more “advanced” or “modern.” This article focuses on two authors whose writing appears to make these claims: Karl Loewenstein and Robert Post. A German Jewish émigré fleeing Nazi Germany, Loewenstein warned Americans that fascism was a new, modern phenomenon that required a new democracy, one that could protect itself by restricting speech. Post’s position on democracy is quite different – he finds hate speech restrictions largely incompatible with democratic legitimacy. While at times Post shows an exceptionalist unwillingness to judge Europe for its lack of hate speech laws, at other points he is quite willing to say that a stable successful democracy does not ban hate speech. Tracking the competing claims of Loewenstein and Post opens the door to a more fluid analysis of European and American positions on hate speech – one that is both comparative and normative.
Keywords: America, Europe, freedom of speech, hate speech, development, democracy, Karl Loewenstein, Robert Post, historical sociology
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